Talking to Eddie Izzard feels a lot like watching him careen through one of his routines: he is free-associative, tangential and often brilliant. Americans who only know Izzard as Wayne Mollow, the con-artist family man who could suave the spots off a leopard, on FX's "The Riches" are about to see a lot more of him. This month he takes his new stand-up act on the road in his nationwide tour, "Stripped." He has also just finished shooting "Valkyrie," a biopic starring Tom Cruise as Claus von Stauffenberg, the Nazi officer who led a failed plot to kill HItler, and he is lending his voice to "Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian."
NEWSWEEK's Brian Braiker caught up with Izzard, the funniest transvestite alive, to discuss, in no particular order: his new act, Wikipedia, God, sharks, cross-dressing, Nazis and Tom Cruise. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: Why is your new tour called "Stripped?"
Eddie Izzard: The heels got too high on the last two tours. Now I've just gone back to blokey mode, so I've got all this movement back which I couldn't do before. The set is leaner, what I'm wearing is leaner and just focusing on what I'm talking about. I keep talking about God and I come to all these different conclusions. I'm talking about the whole civilization, trying strip that back, as well. The last 5,000 years we did everything. I put out my idea what we're doing here. I think it's all random. If there is a God, his plan is very similar to someone not having a plan.
So no do drag at all this time?
I might be wearing a bit of eyeliner, but less than Keith Richards wears. I don't call it drag anyway; I'm not wearing a dress.
Do you see yourself more as an actor or a comedian these days?
What I first wanted to do was to be an actor. I've had more time being a stand-up. It's a trial-and-error method with me. Some people are natural. I just bulldoze in and sometimes I nail things and sometimes I suck it up. My stand-up is quite good now, people say. It's just like a big conversation each time. Every gig is a rehearsal.
Is your style different at all on "Stripped?"
It's walking through my brain. I'm quite good at taking in information so I voraciously inhale Wikipedia—which may have some things wrong in it, but I think is generally more information than we had before. Last tour we didn't have Wikipedia. And then Discovery Channel and History Channel. I can take it in and retain what I think are the most important facts.
Sounds like you're grappling with big themes.
I find them interesting. There was no religion in my life growing up. Did God invent us or did we invent God? I've also noticed that if one religion is right then all the others have got to be wrong. Right now, all the way back in civilization, most people have been worshipping the wrong thing. Surely if there is a God, he should be a bit pissed off about that. He'd be boiling us in oil, sending us plagues of frogs.
You're very political, but what you don't really grapple with on stage is current events, topical stuff.
I keep walking around it because I talk about historical politics or social politics. It's a practical thing. If you talk about party politics right now, you record a show and in six months the material is dead. In five years people look back and go "what's he talking about?" Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were in a big tussle back then?" I'm watching the election. I want a Democrat to get in.
You studied finance, accounting and mathematics. Is any of that still relevant to you?
I liked it. Whatever you find you can do easily, you go, "Hey, I love this subject, the teacher gives me good marks and I'm not even working." I'm [still] interested in economics because I'm very into European politics now. I want to go into that later on.
Do you want to run for office?
Yeah. Don't you think I should?
Sure. Why not?
If you think I should and I think I should, then I should. I do like people and trying to make things work. We've got to make it work in Europe. People are very worried about sovereignty and the loss of sovereignty. I think the stakes are if we don't make the European Union work, then the world is screwed. End of story.
Do you have any big ideas for Europe?
Logical governance is the thing. It already exists. It's called subsidiarity, which is based on Catholic theology and is basically the idea that governance happens at its logical level.
If you were to launch any sort of serious bid for office, do you know when that would be?
No, not quite. It's a decade away.
You mentioned Wikipedia. Has technology made you a better or a different comic than you otherwise would have been?
I think a different comic. I never used to research anything. I used to let research come to me. I used to sit there watching telly, and a program about sharks came on and then I'd know about sharks. Now you can say, "Sharks, how do they work?" Then you go online and find out that they haven't evolved in 2 million years—which means they're very happy where they are just killing and killing. Also I can do gigs and just advertise on the Internet. In fact most of this tour was just put out on the Internet first.
How was it like working on "Valkyrie"?
It was great. They've delayed it again coming out. Two people I know have seen it and really like what they saw.
Did you see any of the back and forth between Tom Cruise and the German government
Yeah, I was there for that. You could see why the Germans were saying what they said, and you could see why Tom was saying what he said. It got to a place where everyone sort of calmed down and we could go and film. And they did film the execution of Stauffenberg and three other officers in the place where he was shot. It's a good story for Germany to get out. I'm very positive about the Germans. They went bats--t crazy for 12 years, but all these kids are running the gig now. All the other countries—America, Britain—we've gone bats--t crazy, but we've spread our bats--t crazy out over 200 years. They did it all in one lump.