Arts & Entertainment
5 min

Tour de force

Comedian Eddie Izzard is a straight man who identifies as a transvestite — and he’s touring the biggest show of his career

Eddie Izzard's nails have a message for you . . . Credit: N Maxwell Lander
Eddie Izzard talks to Xtra about his big new show, his stance on Russian politics and his nails Xtra

Eddie Izzard doesn’t make any sense. The 51-year-old standup comedian and actor rambles on for hours onstage on subjects ranging from squirrels with tiny guns to short-tempered Greek gods. He leaps from one topic to the next, one foot set deeply in history, the other in modern-day philosophy and hilarity — most of the time in English, sometimes in French and German.

Izzard also identifies as a transvestite. He shouldn’t be one of the most well-known standup comics on the planet, but he is. In November, he’ll bring his latest show, Force Majeure, to Toronto. Xtra sat down with the funny-man in heels to talk about his most extensive tour yet, Russian politics and nail art.

Xtra: Hi, Eddie. This is your most extensive comedy tour ever. Are you nervous?

EDDIE Izzard: I don’t do nerves. If you’re a transvestite, you don’t really do nerves. Everywhere from Kathmandu to Halifax, Nova Scotia — Nova Scotia being Spanish for New Scotland. It’s Latin, yeah? — I was looking to play some towns right up in the Arctic Circle.

Do your tours evolve as you travel along?

Yes! Because you get bored . . . I always start with human sacrifice. That’s my starter topic, and I end up with Lord of the Rings and pipe smoking and Greek gods and the kraken. I went to a boarding school and I had a matron, and they’d give you pills when you’re ill. And Miss K, she was always smoking — she probably would have been smoking two at once if she could. She lived to a ripe old age. I tried to kill her once with nitroglycerin.

For real?

Yes! We had chemistry lessons, when you had a book and you’d mix things, but at the back of the book it taught you how to make nitroglycerin. And I thought, we had to try it. We made this liquid and went around gingerly with it and poured it on the floor; if she stepped in it, she might go up! But she didn’t.

That’s what the Nobel Prize guy did — the nitroglycerin in those sticks so that you could blow stuff up mining, but also people. And do you know why he started the Nobel Prize? Because he died but wasn’t dead. He read his own obituary; they mistook him for his twin brother, who died, and he read it and thought, “I better put my money into something positive.”

How do you think you want to die?

Shot out of a cannon! Running! I don’t know. In the middle of a French gig. “Merde” and then drop.

You’ve been doing this 15 years and proudly identified as a transvestite . . .

I’m just a comedian. Who happens to be a transvestite.

Has that part of you evolved?

It’s gotten to the stage where I can go on with painted nails, girl mode or boy mode, a mixture of modes and not really give too much of a damn about it. If someone screams abuse at me, then I just move on from it. I used to scream back, but that didn’t seem to get me anywhere. So as a human being I’ve moved forward from a place where I didn’t want to tell anyone to coming out — I’ve been out since I was 23 — and now I’m a billion, and transgender people have come a long way, too. We now have the T in LGBT, which I keep calling MGBGT, after the sportscar. As a member of the T group . . . how did lesbians get the front letter, by the way? Do L and G always get along okay?

The more trans people that are out and successful for something else, like an accountant, is good. We in the alternative sexuality community need to get good stuff. Don’t be a bad one. Don’t be a bad trans bookkeeper or banjoist.

It’s an interesting side to you, and people seem to constantly ask about it. Do you get tired of explaining yourself?

No. I know I have to deal with it. I’m very pleased.

Ethnic minorities have gone through this hell, so we have to continue to fight. Maybe there always will be quite a lot to be done. If you draw the graph from ancient Egypt to now, we’re getting somewhere.

You’ve toured in Russia. What are your thoughts on the struggles of gay people there today? Do you deliberately choose to tour there?

I want Russia to get into a better place and change its laws. It has to come through Russia. You want them to be in a better place, and a lot of younger people want that to change. Countries can go forward politically, and sometimes they go backwards. I just played St Petersburg and Moscow to a crowd of about 1,000 in each. I’m going to learn Russian and do it in Russia. It’s tough, but the wall came down, and I want it to be better. I want it to change, but I can’t tell them. In the meantime I’m going to keep doing gigs and being a transvestite there.

You are a very busy man, having just finished filming [the TV series] Hannibal, this tour and a film for BBC next year. You also run marathons and get your nails did . . .

They’re a political statement, you see [he lifts his hands to show his nails]. My nails say “British-European transvestite.” They scream quietly, you see. What I’m saying is you can be both; you can be British and European, you can be Italian-American, you can be African-American, and you can even be African-American and become president! I just do these flags because they politically say where I am.

I get them done all the time. It’s not part of the thing; it’s just me. They are hand painted at a place in London called The Illustrated Nail — she does amazing nail art.

And your other projects?

I’ve done Hannibal, which is shot in Toronto! It’s technically quite hard to pull someone’s organs out of their body; it gets very technical. I think my character is getting very interesting.

I’m also filming Castles in the Sky, in which I’m playing a Scotsman: Sir Robert Watson-Watt, who invented the radar in 1935, before Britain went to war and Canada came and helped us. I’m playing him and he was a meteorologist. Thank you for coming to help us, by the way.

You’re welcome. What’s next, Eddie?

It’s good being busy, and in six years I have to stop this and go into politics and run for mayor of London.

Watch our cute pop quiz with Eddie, and find out what is favourite flavour is cake is! If you need even more Eddie, check out our longer interview.