Maybe you’ve seen British comedian Eddie Izzard in television and movies. Or you’ve heard he can perform in French and German. Or that he’s a cross-dresser (an “executive transvestite,” he would say) who sometimes takes the stage in makeup and heels.
But the most important thing to know about Izzard is that his surreal standup is some of the funniest comedy around. Picture Darth Vader ordering penne all’Arrabbiata at the Death Star Canteen. Imagine being forced to choose between death and cake. (Most people choose cake.) Or just go to YouTube and watch these bits. Millions of people have.
On Thursday, Izzard, 52, stops at Belk Theater on his “Force Majeure” world tour, an ambitious 25-country expedition billed as the most extensive comedy tour ever. It’s his first Charlotte performance, and it’s sold out. In a recent phone interview, Izzard discussed humor, history and wearing makeup.
Q. As you travel the world, you’re now doing your show in different languages – French and German, and you’re planning to branch out to Spanish, Russian and Arabic. How come?
A. I think it’s putting an open hand out to other cultures and sort of joining them up. We all laugh at the same things, I have found. But only certain groups. There’s a mainstream sense of humor in every country, and a more alternative and Monty Python-esque sense of humor in every country. And that’s the audience that I link up with in America or in Russia or in Germany.
Q. You do a great American accent. Was it hard to master?
A. I find as I go from accent to accent that there’s one thing that is my Achilles’ heel, and I have to nail that shot and then I’m happy with it. It is R’s in America. America really hits the R. I had a friend, he cooked this thing in the oven, and it melted, and he said it came out like “hard, hard tar.” And I thought, that is the three words I have to practice. “Hard, hard tar.” (In England) it’s “haad, haad taa.”
Q. Your fans are apt to get a history lesson when they watch your show. The origins of Stonehenge, for instance. Are you a passionate student of history?
A. I wasn’t at school. I found the facts interesting, but I found writing essays rather tedious. Not my great skill, comparing and contrasting. But I do find it interesting to cross-reference the whole history of world where we keep repeating stuff. And I started talking about it in standup because I thought it would seem a little bit different. So it just stuck. And no one’s really piled into it. There’s not like a huge chunk of people doing history in standup.
Q. I understand you’re not performing in drag as much as you used to.
A. I don’t call it “drag,” by the way. If women aren’t wearing drag when they put on pants, then I’m not wearing drag when I put on a skirt.
I do actually wear makeup and I don’t wear makeup, and I don’t tell anyone what I’m going to wear when I wear it, just like a woman wouldn’t have to check in. They wouldn’t say, “Hillary Clinton, are you going to wear a pantsuit today, or are you going to wear a skirt?”
If women can wear whatever they want to, then men can wear whatever they want to. It should be built into the United Nations charter. It doesn’t matter.
I started wearing whatever I wanted to just be open. And then people thought, “Well, that’s what the comedy’s about.” And this word “drag” came in. And I said, “Well, no, it’s not that. It’s actually about the comedy.”
I will wear more makeup. I will wear less makeup. Gradually, people will get used to it and get bored by it.
Q. You’re considering a 2020 run for mayor of London. If you won, would you still do comedy?
A. No, I couldn’t do comedy because I’d be obviously an elected politician. I could be somewhat comedic in speeches, probably lay into the other side, the opposition. I could also do comedy gigs as benefits to raise money for the Labor Party or for charity. But I wouldn’t be doing it as a business. I’d go into hibernation.
Q. And maybe come back later?
A. And maybe come back later. It worked for Schwarzenegger.