Eddie Izzard is somehow able to fill you with hope even as he explains that this century is likely the last chance that humanity has to save itself. Yes, it sounds bleak, but to hear this come from Izzard’s mouth makes it sound like a rallying cry.
Despite the apocalyptic tone of the performer and activist’s take on the next 80 years, Izzard somehow manages to serve up a bit of sugar to help the fire and brimstone go down. Looking back over his own life and the current state of the world, Izzard keeps circling back to the same word: positivity.
Following up his 2017 autobiography, Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens, the celebrated stand-up comedian is now touring the country with a show based around his own life story. Boiling down the events of one’s life into a single stage show is difficult enough for anyone. That challenge becomes even more immense when you consider Izzard’s evolution from street performer to international celebrity and politician. With that in mind, he is forced to be selective with what he chooses to share with audiences.
“I’m drawn to what interests me, I suppose, or what I think is pertinent to try to develop a sense of what you think about your life. I talk about the day I came out,” says Izzard. “That was interesting because that was a very scary turning point in my life. I think it was a very good thing to do, but 33 years ago it just wasn’t a great time or a great day. Getting into street performing and then stand-up and then dramatic acting, the journeys in those … I choose the pieces which I think are key and dramatic.”
Few entertainers can boast a career with the same level of variety as Izzard — to the extent that he is hardly recognizable from one role to the next. Longtime fans of his stand-up will immediately recall his speed-of-thought delivery and brightly painted nails. American TV audiences may remember Izzard’s turn as the patriarch of a family of con artists on The Riches or a psychotic surgeon forced to self-cannibalize on Hannibal (A show that Izzard describes as wonderful to work on, but sometimes difficult to watch). As he’s spent much of the past few years writing and speaking publicly about his own life beyond all the varied performances, Izzard is unsure if he’s gained any new insight about himself. Instead it seems that Izzard’s always had a habit of scrutinizing his past to better understand how he became the person he is today.
“I’ve been constantly crawling backwards and forwards through my past to present. I sort of do that automatically,” says Izzard. “I look back because I now feel I have this determination thing that could be a genetic gift that I just got lucky to have. So I have a determination gene, but did I have it when I was a kid? Looking back, yes, I was very determined on that occasion and that occasion. Was I always determined?”
For example of this determination, look no further than February 2016 when Izzard ran 27 marathons in 27 days to honor Nelson Mandela and raise money for charity. Not one to shy away from politics, Izzard’s drive has also led him to his current position on the Labour party’s National Executive Committee. A staunch supporter of the United Kingdom remaining a part of the European Union, Izzard acknowledges the wave of xenophobia that has swept across both sides of the Atlantic. Yet, he remains cautiously optimistic that humanity is capable of correcting course — as long as we start down that path sooner rather than later.
“This could be our last century. This is the century where we either wipe ourselves off the planet or we make it work for all 7 billion people in the world. This is the century we have to do that. These next 80 years,” says Izzard. “Moderate people have to get motivated and use their energy. Young people have to vote. They have to get off their asses, get their stuff together, and vote.”
Not one to put all the work onto others, Izzard adds, “As a politician, I feel we have to put forward a positive vision of the future. I’m trying to live that positive vision, as a transgender guy running over 80 marathons, performing in English, French, German, and Spanish. We can all do more. Just do whatever you can that is positive.”