DVDTalk Interview - Eddie Izzard
by Geoffrey Kleinman
Eddie Izzard is probably the most inventive and creative comic out there today. His fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style of comedy is electric, entertaining and often enlightening. We had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Eddie Izzard at one of the dates for his current sold out Sexie tour just as his latest DVD Circle was about to hit stores. Izzard talks about the role of DVD in his act, the importance of French Subtitles (especially for the naughty bits) and why Christopher Walken is the holy grail of impersonations.
Were you involved at all with the French subtitles on the Circle DVD?
Not involved in that I wrote them myself, but yes involved in saying that I'd like to have them. But why? What's your thought?
You've got a very complex style to some of your humor and so I was curious to see how that translates. We had the Circle DVD on with the French subtitles and my wife was laughing, I asked her if she was laughing at the English or French and she said the French.
Did she say it matched up though?
Yes she did, but for some reason she found it funnier what you were saying in French.... Go figure.
Getting the subtitling done is not that expensive comparatively, and so I said let's go for it on the Circle DVD. In America there are only three languages subtitled, but in the rest of the world it's subtitled in nine languages. I wanted to make sure that the companies who do our subtitling have a sense of humor. I have watched French subtitles go by in films and said 'hang on, that's not right.' When people say fuck the titles say 'punta', because 'punta' is prostitute, which is literally is the strongest French swear word you can use. I like seeing the swear words, I think it's good for kids to learn swear words in different countries. Because that's the first thing you ever learn.
The thirst for languages starts with swearing...
Yeah, if you want to get kids interested in a Language teach them swear words. It's absolutely the way to do it. Very propper people won't understand this, but when I went to France and I was in school I just sat down with the kids and said here are our swear words, what are your swear words? That wasn't planned, it just happened. I've realized, that is the way in - make some something naughty or dangerous or sexy or rock n' roll or whatever and for language that is giving them the swear words. And then you'll know when you go France if someone is using them on you, and you can come back with your own ones. Or German ones, Spanish ones, it's great.
What thing have US audiences responded to that you never thought would translate?
In this show, there's something I talk about that is different in England than the situation in America. We go to late night 24 hour shops, they tend to be all petrol stations, these stay open, but they lock the main door and you have to deal through a night window which is probably bullet proof glass and you have a dish where you pass through your money. A whole culture has grown up where you're out side and you're ordering things from within the grocery bit of the shop attached to the petrol station. Usually the guys running it are Asian, they go around and you're saying.... 'No go around...further back' and you have to do all this through a little slit in the glass. So the guys gone back too far away and he can't hear you any more, you've lost your sound, he's standing in the middle of a mini mart, and you're saying 'not that box, the next box' , you know where it is because you come in during the day. But you end up ordering things from this guys by hand signals. So this whole thing does not happen in America. In America the mini-marts are all open. I came up with this whole story, because as you are giving all these instructions a queue is forming, it's two in the morning and it's a queue of murders, and I used to act out all the various low life you see at the petrol station at two in the morning. People asking for lots of chocolate and they're standing there with different weapons. I'd mime all this out and the queue would be nine or ten people long, and this worked very well in Britain. I thought, how can this work in America? I found it worked by just explaining it. I spoke about Britain and how it is, and once people understood the context it translated. I found that very interesting because it meant you could talk about anything as long as you explain the reference points. So everything translates. Human is Human, is not nationality - that's my big theory. So there is nothing that seems to not work.
How much of your show is planned and how much just happens?
Any night the material will go - the first thing I do might be three weeks old, the second piece might be two months old, the third piece is three days old, it's just a complete jumble of stuff that I've ad libbed over a period of time. I found it's more interesting if I constantly keep it more fluid and molten, that's why I try to stay open to ad libbing new and interesting stuff. When you're ad libbing you also feel more relaxed. it's fun and that's when the best performance happens. So I just try and keep it loose. The amount I probably ad lib on any given day is probably only about five percent, and sometimes I've done up to thirty minutes. I've really gotten to not worry. If you're not worried then you'll open up and you can actually go on with it with a 'hey fuck it let's have fun' attitude and see where we get to. Sometimes it clicks and sometimes it doesn't. As we get closer to the day a show is actually recorded, it gets more and more precise. So you have to work it out, 'Ok We're going to keep this bit, it's the right shape'. It's a tricky ole thing to do especially at the beginning where it's very molten and bubbly and gradually you're working it out.
I see you've got dates scheduled for a Sexie DVD, what do you have planned for that DVD?
There will be extras and we're putting stuff together for it, but to be honest I don't know if there will be anything on it where people go 'Oh my God I've never seen this on a DVD before'. I'm more concerned with trying to do a good show first. It would be nice to have something new and completely different on every DVD but it's like a movie where the characters are the same so it can be difficult to come up with new stuff.
For your show, where do you draw your inspiration from?
Really from all of life. I've just been doing some researching stuff earlier. I like taking information that I've researched over the years and saying 'Hey I kind of like this' for the show. I'm now actively getting lots of DVDs. You can't talk about subjects just straight on, it's never that great if it's straight on, you've got to have an interesting angle. So I kind of just suck up lots of information from all these DVDs.
So are there particular DVDs of late that have made an impression on you?
There are these two DVDs: one which is about someone who followed the Y chromosome back to Africa and the other which followed the mitochondria DNA through the female back to a woman in Africa and it proves like we're all African. It's a bit like one of those where the dinosaurs went of the earth because one of those huge meteorites, and somebody said 'No maybe they just walked off and shot themselves', it looks pretty much like they did, any way and we're all Africans.
Do you remember the Titles of the DVDs?
Journey of Man and The Real Eve is the second one.
In your show you talk about reading the Koran, on the plane. Anything in it strike you as funny?
No, The Bible, the Koran, I don't think they contain anything funny and that's part of the problem. Religions don't have a sense of humor, that's why everything is very literal. And none of the people who came along ever wrote any of this stuff down. Abraham, the grand daddy of the big three faiths never wrote anything down, it was all oral history at that time. Jesus came along, other people wrote that down what happened with him a hundred years later which is like saying 'What did he say again, Oh I don't know... just put something down.' It's all very weird, so they lose a sense of humor. They're all codes of living and the Koran is mixture of a book of ethics and spiritual book and 'this is what God said'. Mohammed didn't write that down, all the oral stories, other people wrote down. It refers back to Mohammed in the Koran as saying 'Oh they don't believe in him, so they don't believe in me'. So that's interesting, so again he's got someone else translating or adapting or getting it into formal words when he might not have approved of, we don't know.
Are any subjects taboo or is everything fair game?
No, you can talk about any subject. Some people will go out and say 'Oh, Humans what bastards they are', 'People who die I think that's really funny', I wouldn't talk about it like that, people who die aren't a comedy subject, even religion I don't see as a comedy subject but I would like to try to get over a point. In a way you're talking about September 11th, death is not funny but, can we learn anything from this? Is there anything that in there which we're taking as standard that if you twist around, and say this is very back to front, we're looking at it in a very odd way? You get the humor out the way we look at things.
You don't do a lot of impressions, but now and then one seems to slip through, I remember you did Christopher Walken at the end of your performance here in Portland for the Sexie show. Do you have a favorite person to impersonate?
Oh Christopher Walken is my favorite. I've seen a number of people do him. I wanted to do Christopher Walken before and that's why it was so weird that Michael Gaston, fellow cast mate of A Day in the Death of Joe Egg had an impression with him doing Shakespeare. I just need other people to do impressions and I can follow their impressions.
How did the trivia track on the Circle DVD come about and who picked the trivia?
I just heard about it on another DVD and I thought that it was a very good idea, especially in light of all the rubbish that I go through. I felt it was a nice way of doing something that would fit in with what I do. There's a lot of good information that's tricky to fit in the show so I was able to do it in that track. Trying to get interesting things on DVDs is curious. It's really good that there are all these opportunities are there. It's a wonderful time to be around with these things, I can carry around about 60 DVDs that takes up hardly any space. 60 Videos would be a bloody trunk full.
Do you find you have a lot of time to watch DVDs on the road?
I make time to do that, because a lot of these are research ones: one's about the Universe, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam. They're good, because even though you're trying to read the Koran or read the Bible, it's very hard to get through them all. Where you can get a DVD that's an hour and a half long and absorb a lot of the information from them. It's like a slightly slow version, the analog version of the Matrix information in the back of the neck thing - supposed to be available soon.
Matrix Reloaded? It's towards the end of the month
Not that, the actual thing in the back of the neck - Ten Years...
So you could just download before going on stage?
Yeah or just download before you do school exams or stuff.
Want More Eddie? Read our Previous Interview with Eddie Izzard 'Dress to Kill'