Page last updated at 08:46 GMT, Friday, 21 November 2008

Talking Shop: Eddie Izzard

Eddie Izzard
Izzard's avoided TV appearances while building his reputation as a stand-up
Eddie Izzard started his career as a street performer, riding a unicycle and escaping from handcuffs.

But he made his name as a comedian with a series of brilliantly surreal stand-up shows throughout the 1990s - tackling subjects like cats drilling for oil, mystic hopscotch, and James Bond's most useless gadget (a pair of trousers that turned into jam).

The seemingly random selection of topics saw him branded the "human search engine" in the US, where he made the leap from stand-up to film.

After appearing in the likes of Ocean's 12 and 13, he landed the lead role in US drama series The Riches.

Following its cancellation earlier this year, Izzard has returned to his stand-up roots with a month-long engagement in London's West End.

The set for your new show, Stripped, is littered with runic symbols, Egyptian pictographs and Cyrillic script. Why?

For this show, I decided to talk about everything that ever happened. It's Wikipedia, you see. It's just perfect for stand-ups because we can inhale Wikipedia and chuck it out in stupid form.

Have you ever been tempted to edit your own Wikipedia entry?

Well, there's only two or three things on my entry, not that I've been looking (I look at it every day).

But it's a real people power thing - you get on there and there's information on everything. You type in spoons, there's stuff on spoons; Cats, there's stuff on cats; Monkeys - all the monkeys. All the different monkeys.

Eddie Izzard Stripped poster
The star, who describes himself as an "action transvestite", often wears flamboyant stage outfits
On your last tour, you played Wembley Arena. Why have you come back to a smaller venue?

Actually, I'd like to go bigger than Wembley. I'd like to play a thousand million people.

But I haven't been in the West End for 12 years, so I thought "why not go back to the West End?" And then, next year, I can go and do Wembley.

What's the difference between a tour and a residency?

I've worked out that I've done my better shows when I'm just sat in one place.

It's really tiring on tour. You have to keep packing up and going to another place. With a residency, I go more bizarre. You just roll in and go: "Hey, Shaftesbury Avenue! So… are there any chickens in tonight?!"

So will you end up with a different show to the one you intended?

Yes. People ask me how much it changes and the most I've ever done, I think, off the top of my head is half an hour.

But I do it for me. I get bored. The person I'm trying to make laugh is me, because I've seen all the shows - I've had to. I couldn't actually not be there.

What's it like when you're riffing? I imagine it's like riding a bike down a hill - exhilarating but a little frightening.

It's like driving. You have to drive and think, "I'm not going to hit something". You have to drive with immense confidence and chat and play with iPods and wind down windows and shout at people.

And then you think, "I don't even remember where I was driving". Everyone's done that - a three-hour drive and they can't remember any of it... And those are my shows.

In 2001, I saw you play a warm-up gig above a pub in Soho and, during the interval, you had to sit by yourself on the fire escape because there was no dressing room - which really drove home the loneliness of being a stand-up comic.

Does the transition from talking to thousands of people on stage to being completely alone affect you?

It is weird. You have a joint relationship with the audience. I feel that I'm not talking at them but talking with them. Then there's this weird cut-off because afterwards, you're not in the same room. You can't all go back and have a coffee.

It's an odd thing, stand-up, because you have to be quite happy in your skin. I think a lot of stand-ups are less happy.

You famously played one of those angry stand-ups, Lenny Bruce. Does comedy need to push boundaries to be relevant?

I haven't heard the bit that Russell Brand and Jonathan did - but that seems to have crossed a line and become this bizarro thing. Personally, I sense where want to go.

People say: "Can you do jokes about cancer?" My mother died of cancer, so I'm not going to do a joke that takes the mickey out of someone who has cancer. But you can go in and talk about how it affects us. In that sense you can talk about anything - even death.

The Riches
Minnie Driver played Izzard's wife in critically-acclaimed series The Riches
Is it true that The Riches has been cancelled?

Yes, but we're doing a film. We're going to write it and we're going to raise money like Barack Obama through the internet. And we're going to shoot it guerrilla-style, using gorillas to actually shoot it. We're going to give them cameras. It's going to be crazy.

Do you think it's possible to make a successful film by harnessing grass roots support on the internet?

At the birth of the internet, a lot of the major companies were going: 'Oh, we can make lots of money from streaming, and we'll own everything'. But I think it's going to break up. A group of kids in Angola will make a film and put it through a satellite and we'll all be watching it.

You speak several languages. Did you ever consider re-dubbing your Riches character for France and Germany?

I thought about doing that, but actually you'd go psycho. It's difficult enough to overdub scenes you've already shot in English. The idea that I'd come in and do it with a bad French accent just isn't worth it.

But your accent has been good enough to perform stand-up in France and Germany.

Well I haven't done the German ones yet! I've said I'm going to do them so many times that everyone's pretty damn sure I've done them. I know the venue I'm doing, which is the Quatsch Comedy Club. They know I'm coming. I just haven't quite got there yet.

You turned up on the BBC during on the night of the US election. Was it exciting to be there?

I was in New York filming and I forced my way into the BBC!

It was very exciting and it was fantastic that Obama got in. I was saying that the third millennium has begun. It's just amazing - slavery, all that hell, the number of black people who died or were kidnapped or treated so badly. And then a black president? It's fantastic.

Eddie Izzard was speaking to BBC News entertainment reporter Mark Savage. Stripped is playing at the Lyric Theatre in London until 23 December.

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