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Monday, January 3rd, 2005

Cake or Death? Eddie Izzard article from Being There.

Cake or Death?

Eh, so the man wears a dress.

I mean, I dig the dress. I dig transvestites. I respect and envy the men who have shapelier eyebrows than I. Yet, I see so few of them that I still do a double take, which is a shame because the world needs more of ‘em.

Eddie Izzard can wear the shit out of a high, Chinese-style collar (he wears small flowers well). And it’s the collar and the lipsticked lips and the blue eyelids that I see first. After a while, I don’t even look at any of the clothes, and I’m mesmerized by the big, whirling blue eyes and the lips barking bullshit at mach speed.

He’s a straight guy in a pair of platform heels, but you forget all of that upon the realization that Eddie Izzard is absolutely nuts.

“Yes, I’m a professional transvestite so I can run about in heels and not fall over cause, uh, you know, if women fall over wearing heels, ah, that’s embarrassing, but if a bloke falls over wearing heels, then you have to kill yourself.”

Let’s start at the very beginning, shall we?

Edward John Izzard was born in Adan, Yemen in 1962, reportedly while his parents were there on business. A year later, his parents moved the family to Northern Ireland, and then, after a bit of time and a lot of unrest, to South Wales. Not long after this, Eddie’s mother died of cancer. He was only six years old.

Most of Eddie’s youth was spent auditioning for plays and not winning many parts. He was relentless until he won the role of a jailer in Shakepeare’s Comedy of Errors. It was, in theory, a minor role, but as he was handcuffed to the main character, he got himself noticed and learned he could upstage anyone else on the boards with him. It was then that he realized he was a natural ham, and after being given a couple more roles from the same teacher who directed him as the jailer, Eddie was off.

“I’m a one-man idiot.”

Eddie gave Sheffield University a whirl, although a degree in Accounting and Financial Management in Mathematics was not to be. This was fine; Eddie started writing, directing and starring in his own plays. He went to the Edinburgh Festival, and afterwards was regularly scheduling shows in both places. But something was amiss. He couldn’t figure out what it was he had to do to jump start his career. He spent 1984 pretty much watching TV. The year after, he came out as a (straight) transvestite.

He performed in a dress a few days later, but knew that at this point, he didn’t want to make it a focus while trying to build a name for himself. So he performed, makeup free and in pants, with a friend from Sheffield as one half of a comedy duo. They weren’t very good. They developed a sword fighting bit, and were slightly less horrible. Eddie faired much better when he went his own way in 1986. By the end of the 80s, he was performing regularly in clubs in London, and the years he spent cutting his teeth on stand-up were paying off.

In the early 1990s, Eddie’s brand of comfortable psychobabble took off. At the end of 1991, he played his last shows at the Comedy Store in London, and performed more and more shows in bigger and better venues all over London, until he took to the stage at the Ambassador Theatre in 1993.

"‘Cause Jesus I do think did exist, and he was, I think, a guy who had interesting ideas in the Gandhi-type area, in the Nelson Mandela-type area, you know, relaxed and groovy; and the Romans thought, "Relaxed and groovy?! No, no, no, no, no!" So they murdered him. And kids eat chocolate eggs, because of the color of the chocolate, and the color of the... wood on the cross. Well, you tell me! It's got nothing to do with it, has it?"

Of course, Eddie had to launch more than his act. He had to sell himself as a straight, dress wearing man.

According to Eddie, he spent years analyzing his cross dressing tendencies. That time of introspection resulted in, of course, a great self-awareness, but also a comfort in his own skin. While Eddie he doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously, he doesn’t pretend that the dress and the heels are just a gimmick. He is what he is, what he refers to as an ‘executive transvestite’.

What he is, above all, is so charming. He is self-deprecating, sometimes gently, sometimes not so much. He is thoughtful and pensive; openly tearing apart and peering into things while his audience watches (it is obvious that this man spends way too much time thinking about stuff no one else bothers with). He is a gentle yet intense person dealing biting observations. Do not confuse Eddie’s gentleness with overt femininity, however. Eddie’s impatient, bratty and a genuine guy.

"I like my coffee like I like my women. In a plastic cup." What does that mean??

He rejoices in the silly, but there’s also a whole lot of stupid out there, and Eddie doesn’t handle the stupid with kid leather gloves with rabbit fur trim. If you’re a dumbass, you’re pretty much a dumbass, and he’ll say so. And then he’ll look suitably sheepish and “ashamed”, all “oops, my bad.” And then you’ll all sit around and have a laugh about it, and think Eddie’s, like, the greatest guy in the world. He’s definitely one of the funniest.

He’s also got to be one of the smartest stand-up guys you’ll ever see. Eddie peppers his routines with historical references that would only make a Jimmy Kimmel devotee’s eyes glaze over. He pokes a lot of fun at Americans in particular (gently and lovingly, mind you), but it’s there, it’s funny, and it’s true:

“The founding fathers landed in 16*mumble*. They set off from Plymouth and landed in Plymouth! How lucky is that? ‘This is Plymouth? We’ve just come from Plymouth! We’ve gone round in a circle. Lads, back on the boats.’ They finally got there and said, ‘Ahh, this is where our God has brought us to. We can – we can practice our religion here. We can raise a family. There’s nobody here!… excuse me. There’s nobody here! Yes, a land empty of human existe – who the fuck are these guys? What’s all this, please? No, we don’t want any of your food, thank you very much. Just put some clothes on!’”

In 1994, after his run at the Ambassador, Eddie debuted his Unrepeatable show. It was followed by Definite Article in 1996, Glorious in 1997, Dress to Kill in 1998, and Circle in 1999-2000. After taking Circle on the road, Eddie was nominated for three Emmy awards for his Dress to Kill HBO Special. He won two, one for Outstanding Writing in a Variety, Music or Comedy Program and the other for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety, Music or Comedy Program. All have been released on DVD in North America, with the impressive Dress to Kill standing out from the rest (in Paris, Eddie performs in French). In 2003, he toured with Sexie, easily selling out venues across the UK on his 21 date run there. His visit to North America was greeted by now rabidly loyal subjects, and other celebrities (comedians and otherwise) are regularly spotted among them.

In between tours and writing and eyebrow shaping, Eddie has been appearing in film and theatre productions. A couple of years ago, he starred in A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (Peter Nichols) as Brian, one half of a young couple dealing with the ongoing perils of marriage, the trials of their careers, and the pains of life, essentially. Bri and Sheila turn to their senses of humor and a bit of fantasy to help them cope. It has been generally agreed that the role was made for Eddie, and he was nominated that year for a Tony.

His love of film and his simple need to be entertained by what he watches has led to his choosing an eclectic roster of roles over the last ten years. Among them were Velvet Goldmine with Ewan McGregor; The Avengers; Mystery Men; and Shadow of the Vampire, with Willem Dafoe and John Malkovich. He has a role in the now-playing Ocean’s Twelve, with George Clooney and Brad Pitt, and over the next two years, he’ll appear in Romance and Cigarettes, a movie musical with an awe-inspiring cast including James Gandolfini and Susan Sarandon, and lend his voice to The Wild, an furry and adorable animated feature set for release in 2006. Also out in 2006, a movie based on the book Five Children and It by E. Nesbit; Eddie will voice It, shockingly. Eddie has no plans to tour on a grand scale for the next few years. His intentions, as you may well have guessed, are to focus on his film career. Just as well, when the hell would he find the time to tour? But he just wrapped up a few nights at The Coronet Theatre in LA, so he’ll never run away for good. He couldn’t if he wanted to, thank God.

Essential Eddie:

Dress to Kill (1999) – a sight to behold is Eddie sashaying across a stage, languid and unhurried, while his eyes bug out and he chatters away. While his fingers twitch and poke at the air, he gleefully charges at America, genocide, Europe, dead queens, World War II, and just about every religion you can think of. Hell, someone should. While he’s really glad you’re there, it’s possible he’d keep on long after you’d buggered off and shut the door behind you.

By Shel Desormeaux href="" target="_blank">

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