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A Quietus Interview

Eddie Izzard On Music, Transvestitism, And Social Democracy
Luke Turner , January 12th, 2010 13:10

The New Romantics, pulling, make-up and his future as a Labour MP. All in a day's work for Eddie Izzard, Luke Turner discovers

Last year, as Eddie Izzard completed his epic charity run/walk/painful hobble around the UK, we gave him a call to talk about his enthusiasm for music, plans for comedy festivals, why he's a social democrat but punk wasn't for him.

You're one of the first comedians to play places like Wembley Arena. What's the biggest difference playing these big rock-style arena gigs and the theatre circuit?

People say 'oh it's not intimate', but no, it's a big feel, it's a different feel. And we have to do a bunch of them to get good at them. The Beatles at the Shea Stadium was logically a shit gig, a great event but you couldn't hear anything. Then you get to Led Zep playing Madison Square Garden, and the music's good but you still can't see anything. Now you can see and hear anything that's going to be a big visual piece in one of these places, and now I'm going to play Madison Square Gardens.

I remember watching one of your videos where were playing Suede as you walked onstage. Were you a fan?

I was very interested in Suede. I never really plugged into music because I was always more into film and comedy, but I was always of an alternative mindset, and it was the mindset of alternative music that I linked up with. I was encyclopedic about film and comedy rather than music.

Did the performance side of music inspire you?

I knew that if I was going to be a transvestite and not have everyone saying 'we're not going to that' I had to pitch it just right, try and make everything work in exactly the right way, so there was some overlapping from film and music.

But you don't think comedy and music necessarily mixes, right?

I think comedy has to be separate from music festivals. I want us to do comedy festivals. Because it's a 'mind' gig, and at music festivals everyone's completely off their faces so if and when they come to the comedy tent, we're always a poor relation. You never get good fees at the festivals because it's all about the music, which is great but comedy should have its own. That's what I want to get out and do. You have a field, a tent, and it's all comedy. It'll be slightly less get completely off your face, you can have a good drink and a good smoke at a comedy event at a music festival, and you're not getting any of it - people just shout.

I've been planning to do a gig in a field for some time, but I had to get the arenas right first. There are seven, eight, ten of us doing arenas now, and it's great, and I'm going to do arenas in America and Madison Square garden, and then it's 15,000 people, you can go to a field and it's 10,000 people, you just need to be able to work with the numbers.

What can comedians learn from musicians?

How to own it. We use PAs, like the lead singer we sing down the microphone to connect with the audience, but we are putting forward ideas, and I'm acting out weird scenes, which is a different place. But it's about owning the stage, that's what you can learn. We have to own the stage, because we've got no fucking back up, we're just naked. You've got to be so big, so confident, and have it in the pit of your stomach, that's where you've got to send out the confidence from.

Where you into music as a teenager?

Well Squeeze 'Cool For Cats' was the first thing I bought on pink vinyl, then Ian Dury and the Blockheads, but that was my curving round punk, because punk was so anti everything, and anti melodic. I thought I could pretend, but it really isn't me. It was really annoying, because it was such a big movement and I thought fuck, I can't be involved. So I stuck to where I was. My tastes go all over the place, from Mozart to Pulp. I put together these mixes that everything from TV themes to strange Russian things.

Were you much of a clubber?

No, because I can never pull that way. I can pull with the gift of the gab, you see, and clubs are too loud. You can never do anything in a bloody club. But I can dance for hours, in heels or not in heels, but when I was a teenager and trying to pull it's just a bad fucking idea. If you've got the looks you don't have to be that good a dancer, you can stomp around the place and they'll think he's a shit dancer, let's get him off the stage.

You weren't a punk but I could see you as a new romantic

Well that's an interesting thing because I was... the music was more up my street, but it was all about wearing makeup and I was an in-closet transvestite, so one thing I couldn't do was wear makeup. I thought people would say 'oh you must be a transvestite' because I'd take too much care of it or whatever. If you weren't you could say 'no I'm not', but if you were a transvestite you'd lose it because you'd think 'shit they know', and I had to avoid it, because it was too close to the truth. The same with the first round of glam rock, I had to avoid it again because it was too near. A lot of people went into those phases, and then they moved out of it and took all the makeup off; fine, but I wasn't looking to take the fucking makeup off. I couldn't actually go there. I had to come out, be on the streets, and just wear it and have people say 'you look a mess' and I'd think 'shit I'd better get that better'.

Did you have any style inspirations from the music world?

I don't think music affected in that way. It was just the scariest thing, it was trying to find clothes, get clothes that might work. And nothing really helped me, no film, no music, no comedy, no person, I just had to do it, walk outside the door, my own self help in my head.

Have you encountered many fans among musicians?

I think a lot of musicians like what I do when they're sitting in their buses watching DVDs and getting out of their heads, because I do seem stoned. I'm actually not stoned, I can't do them when I'm off my face. I've tried it, but you can't do it at all. You can have a drink but you can't go out of control because the punchlines all start arriving in the wrong places. David Bowie was doing a piece of mine, a fan told me this. A piece where you lie about something, then you break the lie, then you re-lie.

Was that an honour?

Yes. I came into Bowie late, my brother was very into Bowie. I'm a fan of how he drove things, and how he failed in so many ways before he succeeded, the struggle he had.

*Can comedians be more radical than musicians?

You can talk about things. When Bono wants to say something he has to stop the music and say something because people won't hear the lyrics. With comedy you can play with the point in a better way. I don't do party political stuff, but I do social political, historical political and the universal politics of where we come from; where's God and the way the world was made. You can put out interesting points of view, which you can articulate, because it is all about articulation. In music it's a feel gig, so a lot of people won't take in articulate lyrics, they're looking for something to feel, which is great but it's harder to spin it politically. So when I stand for election in 15 years time maybe it'll be easier for me than a musician.

For Labour right? You could join Dave Rowntree from Blur. Labour always attracts more candidates from an arts background

I'm not a socialist, I'm a social democrat, I believe in National Health, it's a great idea, it's a world idea, Barack Obama has got to make sure it gets in. Good God America's got to have it. All these people who jump up and down, like the right wing Euro MP who said the NHS was a hellish thing, it's so wrong, we need that. But then I like individualism, enterprise. All the creative guys, it's individual ideas, how do we do this, how do we make that. I want to empower people to build things, do things, go take over the world, and go take over Madison Square Garden.

Click here for an interview with Dylan Moran