Izzard: A Force to be Reckoned With
Having conquered stages around the world, comedian Eddie Izzard is now ready to take on Russia one joke at a time.
Published: June 11, 2013 (Issue # 1763)
Izzard is eager to perform in Russia.
British comedian Eddie Izzard, known for his Monty Python-esque stand-up, will be taking on Russia for the first time on June 13, near the end of his three-month world comedy tour “Force Majeure.” In a telephone interview with The St. Petersburg Times, Izzard shared his fascination with Russia, his conception of the “European dream” and how becoming a comedian made him less funny.
Q: You’ve said that you aren’t concerned by what may come of taking your personality and your tour to Russia, despite the fact that you are “walking propaganda for homosexualism,” by your own admission. But are you concerned with Russian audiences getting your jokes?
A: Well, yes. I am concerned about that. But I know that the Irish comedian Dylan Moran has already come in and played St. Petersburg and Moscow, and his gigs seemed to go down well. Obviously not everyone understood everything. I have played in Estonia, Latvia, Serbia, Croatia, Germany and Istanbul as well — places where a lot of different languages are at play. I know that there are a lot of younger people who have been learning English, and that’s great.
I hope it goes well. Obviously it won’t go perfectly. I learned French, so I’ve watched French comedians do shows in French, and sometimes I go, “Ooh, I didn’t understand that bit, but I got all the rest of it.” So I know the problems the audience will be going through. But it’s good to reach out, it’s good to come and say hello to Russia, because I know your history, I know people in Russia have lived through a much tougher time than we’ve lived through in the United Kingdom. So I just want to get out there and say hello to people, and be in St. Petersburg and be in Moscow.
Q: You managed to complete a full comedy show in French, and are planning on learning Russian, among other languages. Why Russian?
A: Well, because there are 150 million of you. I think it’s a good business idea to come in and play in Russian. I think that would be nice. I’m learning German and Spanish and French, so it’d be good to put Russian on the list. It’s another big country. I think it’s politically good to be reaching out, because Russia has always had a tough time from the West, so if some kid from the West is learning Russian, I think that’s a positive thing. And I think that as we go into the future we’ve got to be heading in a positive way at such a moment. During an economic crisis in a lot of countries in the world, when people are heading in negative directions, they start distrusting people. I don’t like that attitude and I don’t think it’s useful at all. I want to be positive about people and come say hello, say: ‘This is the silly humor I do. It comes from Monty Python, but it’s basically based on human beings.’ I’m sure enough Russian people have a really good sense of humor, so I think it will work well.
Q: You plan to run for Mayor of London in 2020, and one of your most well-known, non-comedic feats was running 43 marathons in 51 days. How do you reconcile these goals and accomplishments with your métier of comedian?
A: Well, it just seems to be something that I can do and I want to do. I’ve noticed this thing, that we human beings, we have started civilization and have tried to be civilized. I know we’ve fallen off and gone back to uncivilized ways, but generally, most people in the world would like to live and let live. We should also be doing a lot more exercise than we actually do. People are going to be living to 70, 80, 90 years old, 100 years old, 110! So unless you want your last 30 or 40 years to be really creaky, it’s best to be fit and spend a lot more time doing fitness stuff..
And I’m also interested in all these other things: Doing comedy, doing drama, and politics. It’s better to have a full life. We might not have any more than this one life. I think it’s good to get out there and experience everything.
Q: As a comedian, do you feel pressure to be funny all the time?
A: No, I don’t actually. I very rarely get that at my door. Most of the time people come up to me and say: ‘Hey, the marathons, you did those marathons and that was amazing,’ more than the comedy, more than anything else. I like that. That suits me. They never say, ‘Run round in front of me.’
The weird thing about professional comedians is that we’re funny before we become professionals. We’re funny at school, or in social situations, when you’re having a drink, having a meal. But then as you get more professional you become less funny socially. So that’s a bit of a sad thing. I was much funnier socially before. I kept trying to be funny in social circumstances, and now I don’t try that, so that’s a bit sad.
Q: So you have to deliberately turn off the funny.
A: Exactly so.
Q: You’re in the middle of a pretty epic world tour. What are you most looking forward to?
A: I’m very much looking forward to being in Russia. You probably know that people outside Russia don’t necessarily know what Russians have been through — for hundreds of years and the Second World War — what hellish times people lived through. But I do know this. So I’m pleased that I can go to Moscow, I can go to St. Petersburg. I’d like to play other places, I’d like to get to Volgograd. I just want to do that. Vladivostok would be great — right on the other side of the country. I know about these things and I want to be there. So that’s one of the most exciting things, coming to St. Petersburg and Moscow.
Q: I bet you say that about all the countries you visit…
A: No! Well, Berlin interested me. Vienna, my parents went on honeymoon to Vienna. Istanbul as well, that was nice. But Russia… there’s so much history. And also you have a magic about you. If you’re outside it, it becomes a mythical place that you only see in films. And I had that with America, and I did get to play Los Angeles and the Hollywood Bowl. I have already been to Berlin, and I have been to Vienna, but I haven’t been to Russia, I haven’t played Russia, I haven’t met many Russian people. But when I do, I think, hey, I can get on with Russian people. Even politically, I want to be as an English person saying hello to Russian people. It all works for me. So it isn’t every country that I’m saying that to.
Q: Are you nervous about anything coming to Russia?
A: No. No I’m not. I’ve decided to live a life without nervousness. I know that things can get tough, but things can get tough in different countries. No, after running 43 marathons it’s best not to be nervous about anything.
Q: You say in your Twitter profile that you “think like an American.” What does that mean exactly?
A: It means that I think like a distant relation of what I think of as a good, democratic American. Not a republican American. It’s the economic migrant, those immigrants who came in the late 1800s, early 1900s. That ‘come on, let’s go, let’s work hard, let’s build things, let’s make it.’ And that turned into this whole American dream thing, which can be translated many different ways. But the idea that it is possible, we can go to the moon, we can try this, we can build this, we can do this a different way, let’s think outside the box; that’s what I’m talking about. I could have said it in a different way. The best of America, I like the best of America. The worst of America, I really don’t like. That republican, a lot of money, extremist stuff — I hate that. We get that in every country, not quite as bad necessarily as some of that American stuff. But the best of America, I still like it, I still salute it. So that’s why it’s in there. But I am a geographical Arab as well, born in Yemen, and proud of it.
Q: You’ve riffed on the idea of the American dream and the European dream in your comedy, saying that Europe hasn’t yet quite reached its own dream. Do you think Europe is any closer to realizing its dream now?
A: Yeah, I think I’m living the European dream. If there is such a thing as living the dream in America, the dream is, I suppose, when you have freedom, you can choose to do things, you have maneuverability. I think that’s what it is: Having enough money to say, ‘Hey, let’s go over here,’ or, ‘Let’s do this.’ The European dream is, for me, by my definition of it, to get to a place where you can travel around Europe. I mean, Europe’s such an amazing continent to travel around — seeing Europe, going through the Alps, traveling on trains. We’ve got so much train travel, great train journeys. It’s a wonderful thing. We’re building it. I’m building it in my head. Other people may not be building it, but I feel that I’m living the European dream, right now, at this very moment, as I stand here in Cardiff [Wales] and look out over Cardiff Bay.
Eddie Izzard will be performing in
St. Petersburg on June 13 at BKZ Octyabrskiy, and in Moscow on June 14 at Crocus Hall.