Living the dream: Eddie Izzard
Published 27/11/2009 | 05:00
It's been quite a while since we've had the pleasure of an Eddie Izzard live show.
His appearances in the Mean Fiddler, Ambassador and National Stadium during his rapid ascent to fame with Definite Article, Glorious and Dress to Kill are the stuff of comic legend. I still consider Izzard's performances around this era to be the finest nights of stand-up entertainment I've ever seen.
With the exception of a late-night guerrilla gig in Vicar St in 2006, Izzard hasn't played Dublin since the old Point Depot in 2003. "Playing the Point was great, but I do remember it had a feel of metal," he recalls. "I'm looking forward to seeing the new interior."
Izzard remembers exactly when he thought it would be fun to give the enormodomes a lash. "I remember playing in Cardiff and Steps were playing the arena, whilst I was performing in the theatre. I didn't see any reason why the rock' n' roll guys should be the only ones allowed to play arenas and stadiums.
"People used to say comedy would never work in arenas and blah blah blah. The Beatles in Shea Stadium was actually a crap gig, but a great event. Now, you've got Barack Obama doing politics to 100,000 people and you've got U2 pushing stadium performing out and experimenting, and that's what I want to do. I wasn't the first comedian to do arenas, but I was probably about the second. And I still like doing small gigs in between -- 500 to 1,000-capacity theatres. Two days ago, I did a 200-seater in New York and tomorrow I do my first arena date on this tour. That's the perfect balance for me."
Izzard has a long association with Ireland, having lived in Bangor, Co Down between the ages of one and five, when his Dad worked for BP in Belfast. "Actually, I first played Grafton Street in 1986, so I'm a kid who went from Grafton Street to two nights in the O2," he reveals. "It's the American dream, or maybe an Irish-American dream."
The American dream and the European dream are two persistent Izzard themes.
"The American dream really is a world dream. It's something everyone can aspire too. The Irish tiger economy may be gone now, but you'll bounce back because your brain drain has stopped. I'm sure that even though the economy has gone a bit tits up at the moment there are more people still staying around. I love it when people go for their dreams. On my Twitter thing, I say that I think like an American."
He may think like an American, but Izzard certainly feels like a European and he was one of the first people to spend a euro in London. He regularly performs in French and even in German. Unsurprisingly, he warmly welcomes the recent Lisbon Treaty referendum result.
"It's very good news. What we're doing in Europe is very advanced between countries that used to kill each other, from Alexander the Great to World War II. It's kind of boring, but if we can't make it work better in Europe, then it won't work anywhere else and we need a fair deal for the planet's 6.5 billion people."
In addition to two Emmys on his mantelpiece, Izzard last year received the James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society in UCD. So, is he a Joycean aficionado? "I'm kind of intimidated by literature of all kinds,' he confesses. "Everyone goes on about how difficult Ulysses is to read, so I haven't read it yet, but it'll probably be fine."
In July, Izzard embarked on a seven-week marathon to raise money for Sport Relief, carrying a flag for each country he ran in and criss-crossing Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England. Eddie ran 1,100 miles -- 30 miles a day for six days a week. It's exhausting even thinking about it.
"Well, I think I'm supposed to work this body hard and maybe we all are. Maybe we're all still supposed to be hunters. I did not have a single cough or sneeze during the entire 51 days, let alone a cold. I'm exhausted, but I feel great. I'm going to keep doing it and I'm going to start running barefoot. I've just done 11 and a half miles and it was fine."
He applies a similar diligent work ethic to his comedy. "I did 34 cities in America last year and I'm going to be playing Madison Square Gardens at the end of this tour, so I have been keeping match fit. I've learnt that you have to keep match fit at all times. It's the same with the running."
Next on the Irish horizon for Izzard is his new tour Stripped. In typical Izzard style, it's a surreal journey through time, history, religion and existence. "Take volcanoes," he begins, "now, we know all about magma and all that stuff. I like going through the whole history of the world and trying to reach some conclusions about things rather than just observations. It would be nice to know how things work. If there is a God, his plan is very similar to someone not having a plan. Maybe he'll come down to me and explain during one of my gigs."
Now that would be a pretty amazing special guest. Izzard also has been supportive of the Irish comedy scene. He regularly invites his old friend Barry Murphy to open for him and at Vicar St he picked an exciting newcomer, Matt Sadlier.
"I'd like to do that more," he says. "I tend to tour on my own rather than linking up with someone else. With Barry, it's a case of sorting it out the night before. I was always trying to get Barry to come to the UK. I know him from Mr Trellis. I remember watching them years ago and thinking that he was an amazingly talented idiot. Is he still doing Après Ski?"
Well, sadly not next summer at any rate, but let's not mention the war. Izzard is also a very avid twitterer and has been known to set up a screen at his shows for people to tweet on.
"It's very intimate, short and quick and that's what I like about it," he says. "It's a text thing and you've got to bunch everything so few letters. Facebook is a place where you go to get some information and have a long conversation. It's not really me, I like doing stuff that has a real sense of immediacy. It's a useful tool for information and entertainment or counteracting things that are wrong in the right-wing press, or just talking about being on the train."
Since his first appearance at London's Comedy Store in 1987, Izzard has had an astonishing career. None other than Bono told him, "I mean, I'm terrified and I have the security of my band, a guitar, a tune. Watching you, I thought, 'Now, this is the top of the food chain'." John Cleese has even called him the lost Python. "And the Pythons were and are my heroes," Eddie says. "What I'm doing is just Monty Python in a stand-up format. They crafted this thing and I've taken that ball and turned it into stand up. The fact that John Cleese said that is unbelievable. I'm immensely honoured."
Eddie Izzard plays the O2, Dublin on December 14 (sold out) and 15, and the Odyssey, Belfast on December 12. Believe -- The Eddie Izzard Story is out now
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