For the uninitiated, Eddie Izzard's cerebral stand-up (in English and in French) is pure genius.
A few years ago, he was named number 3 of the 100 Greatest Comedians as part of (BBC) Channel 4's ongoing "100 Greatest..." series. I loved this note, from the bio for Channel 4:
Moved to Northern Ireland when he was about two, then to south Wales in 1967
Started his career as a street performer.
He is partially dyslexic and, of course, sometimes wears frocks.
Eddie Izzard: 'We need Europe to be a melting-pot. We need to melt'
This article is from the (RED) edition of The Independent, guest-edited for 16 May 2006 by Bono. Half the revenue from the edition will be donated to the Global Fund to Fight Aids.
Published: 16 May 2006
The first advice that Simon Kelner gave me about editing this paper was to include some pieces that "reflect your humour". "Why?" I thought. "Don't people know I'm really funny anyway?" Apparently not. Best way to get this done was to bring in the first stadium superstar of comedy, Mr Eddie Izzard. We've worked on a film together, Across the Universe, and I can easily talk to him for a couple of hours. This was one I wanted to do myself. So, here's our conversation. The first draft was 11,000 words; this is the edited highlights. I enjoyed it but I'm not sure it's funny.
BONO: How is Mrs Badcrumble?
EDDIE: Mrs Badcrumble... well, she's good. Were you ever taught by a Mrs Badcrumble?
BONO: Yes, well I know she is sort of your... kind of music teacher/mother of God.
EDDIE: Music teacher/mother of... yes, exactly! Well, there was this thing that if you wanted to learn an instrument you had to do the lessons thing. And the lady who teaches you is beyond the age of comprehension, like 140, and the music you learn isn't sexy, and you play it and no one will shag you.
I learnt non-shagging music. If you play that sort of "Snug as a Bug in a Rug" stuff, with those scales going up and down, no one's going to come near you.
BONO: Maybe I wasn't deprived of a musical education after all.
EDDIE: No, I think you had that "thing"... precisely because you didn't have one.
BONO: Punk rock was like my Mrs Badcrumble.
Eddie: Exactly. Punk rock is Mrs Badcrumble with a fag...
BONO: Mrs Goodcrumble!
EDDIE: Mrs Badcrumble with attitude. An old lady who can kick people in the face and say, "Get out the fucking room, I gotta make a noise now". That's the best teacher.
BONO: That might be true of many things. You know, when resistance becomes the thing that drives you... your engine room or whatever...
EDDIE: There are certain people who, if they say, "I want to do this", and everyone says, "No, you can't do it", they go "OK, I won't". And then there are other people who say, "Right, let's do it". You're very good at it. I try to be good at it.
BONO: I have no embarrassment at all. No shame.
EDDIE: That's the key: being able to take humiliation when people say, "Why are you doing this, you are a fool, you're an idiot". And you carry on through it.
BONO: Yeah, I come from a long line of salespeople on my mother's side, and I see myself as a sort of salesman, so I have no problem ringing the doorbell and asking people to let me in. Until I show them the Tupperware, that is...
EDDIE: It's OK if, in your mind, the Tupperware is useful.
BONO: Didn't you live in Northern Ireland?
EDDIE: Yes, I lived in Bangor until I was five. My dad worked for BP in Belfast, and it was the happiest time of my life. I didn't know the politics.
BONO: That's only five years of happiness.
EDDIE: I know. Actually, it was even less because I was born in Aden, in Yemen. I got to Bangor when I was about two, so it was three years. Going to the Ballyholme Primary School, playing with kids, having a gang. I didn't know about politics at the time, but it was a very Protestant town. I was oblivious to all that. I just had fun. My mum was alive, we had bicycles and we threw mud balls at passing cars. It was great. So I have very fond feelings for Northern Ireland.
Do you remember the "trick or treat" killings in County Londonderry, in the bad times?
BONO: Yeah, it was disgusting.
EDDIE: I was touring Ireland at the time and my tour manager said, "We're not going up there", and I said, "It's fine". And he said, "There could be shooting, and they'll target English people", and I said, "They're not going to target English people, they're fighting themselves, they don't care about us performing idiots". They wouldn't go, so I thought, "Well, I will", drove up on my own and played three nights.
BONO: Fantastic. I wanted to do this interview for a few reasons, and the psychology of the performer is one of them. It's something that's not much written about, and I'm not sure performers themselves know that much about it. I'm interested in the idea that you've no choice but to perform. It's like a twitch really, it sort of just comes on."
EDDIE: The performance thing, I've analysed it. I think the desire to perform has something to do with my mum dying, because I don't remember wanting to perform before that. She died when I was six, and at seven I saw a kid on stage in a play and I thought, I want to do that, and that feeling stayed.
The conclusion I have come to is that the audience is a surrogate affection organism for the loss of my mother's affection. A mother gives unconditional love (some mothers don't, but my mother did), but an audience's love is totally conditional. You have to deliver. Consequently, I believe my desperation to deliver is to get this love out of an audience. That is what kept, and keeps pushing me.
BONO: Ditto to a similar beginning. It's a signature of singers in particular. Maybe it goes back to that line, "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child". But Lennon, John Lydon, it just goes on and on.
EDDIE: It can be dysfunctional parents as well.
BONO: I wonder if the audience isn't a mother so much as a father figure. At least, it is for me.
EDDIE: The audience is a father figure to you?
BONO: Yeah... I hope we don't sound, like, too fuckin' run amok on Jung and Freud. As Jim Sheridan would say, "The Muddah, it is all about the Muddah...". The loss of my mother definitely started me singing and writing, but the audience was probably some sort of attempt at my father.
It goes without saying, if we were of completely sound mind and proportion in our thinking, we wouldn't be performers.
EDDIE: That's it. I think Madonna's mum died when she was around six, and Orson Welles lost his mother young.
BONO: It is a performance thing - in hip-hop, it is always the missing father, the lost thing.
EDDIE: If you go into a very dark space, Hitler's father died...
BONO: Great performer.
EDDIE: Not good to start off with, but in the end...
BONO: I loved that one he did, what was it, Czechoslovakia, that was a great one.
EDDIE: Well, his mum died when he was young and he was beaten as a child - him and Stalin and Saddam.
BONO: I wanted to talk to you about the European thing.
EDDIE: It's my thing. The EU is now inviting those countries who've been killing each other for centuries to join Europe. There's a sense of stability and, hopefully, peace. Belarus is the only European country that still has a dictator.
BONO: With a great moustache!
EDDIE: Yes, with a very 1950s thing going on...
BONO: He's got an actual Hitler moustache. I've seen it. Isn't it interesting that you can meet somebody and they seem plausible, but there's one thing that screams madness. And with President Lukashenko, in Belarus, it's the tache. He looks normal, then you go, "Oh, my God, he's got a mad tache, silver hair and a black Hitler tache!".
EDDIE: If he could just go, we'd have no dictators in Europe for the first time ever.
BONO: Your desire for Europe is extraordinary to me, but you've followed through on it. I mean, is this where the languages come in? Did you learn French and German at school?
EDDIE: I learnt French at school but stopped when I was 16. When I first visited France, I'd go into a bar or restaurant and say, "Qu'est-ce que ils?". I'd just keep going with my broken French. My rule was, communication first, grammar second.
BONO: I'm amazed that you can do stand-up in French.
EDDIE: Absolutely. My dream is for Europe to become a huge melting-pot. We need to be a melting-pot. We need to melt. So my doing a gig in French is to kick the melting-pot up. I want to do gigs in German, Russian, Spanish. And Arabic, because I was born in an Arabic country and the 9/11 thing.
BONO: Do you consider yourself European?
EDDIE: I consider myself British-European, like there are African- Americans and Italian- Americans. You can be Irish-European. Whether you're Northern or Southern Irish, there's this umbrella of Europeanness. I think if we can make it work in Europe, it's almost a blueprint for the future of the world. If we can get all these countries, with all their languages, coming together to work in some shape or form, then the whole world can work. And if we can't get it working in Europe, the world has got no chance. Those are the stakes.
BONO: Wow, I hadn't thought of it like that.Now, did you become funny to stop being beaten up?
EDDIE: No, I became funny to get girls, actually.
BONO: It's either one thing or the other, isn't it?
EDDIE: At school, there was one girl for every 20 boys, so it was ridiculous odds, and if you weren't head of a sports team...
BONO: You'd better be funny! I'd like to talk about your material. I presume you write some of it beforehand and make some of it up on the spot.
EDDIE: No, I do it all on the spot. A lot of people write their stuff down and then develop it, but I'm inordinately lazy. I have great difficulty writing things down. In the end, I develop bits of material and then, in between those bits, I take the courage to break off, a bit like a jazz musician saying, "I'm going to go off on a solo here, I haven't got a band, it's just me".
BONO: Oh, I'm envious.
EDDIE: It was all improv once. That's why it feels like I'm making it all up. But I'm not.
BONO:Aren't you writing a show at the moment with somebody? That you're acting in? Collaborating on a TV thing?
EDDIE: Yes, I'm involved in the writing thing. There's a show for FX channel, which does The Shield and Nip/Tuck and Rescue Me in America. Minnie Driver and I play the mother and father of a family of American-Irish travellers, just like travellers in Ireland.
BONO: The story of the travellers is amazing.
EDDIE: Yes, it is. They're descendants of travellers who came over because of the potato famine. Some of them do legitimate business, some go around scamming and grifting.
BONO: To return to your line of business, I saw you invent a whole new genre at the G8 in Scotland, doing that piece of agitprop. I thought, "This is 'Stand-up Stadium'". How do you communicate to such a big crowd? 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...".
Anyhow, thank you very, very much for letting me interrogate you. I'm the biggest of your little fans, or the littlest of your big fans, I don't know which. So, up Bangor, and I guess I'll see you down the road?
EDDIE: Yes, absolutely.