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      Marathon Man

      Eddie Izzard
      Eddie Izzard, the fiercely intelligent maestro of whimsical comedy, is a man of extremes. Not content to be one of the most successful comedians in English, he learned and now performs in French. He doesn’t run just one marathon, he runs 43. He doesn’t just dabble in politics - he has plans to become the mayor of London. And he in the midst of his Force Majeure tour, unsurprisingly said to be one of the biggest comedy tours ever undertaken. 

      We spoke to Eddie on a rare day off, and we chatted about the big stuff; Thatcher, Mandela, marathons and...cheese.


      SO EDDIE, YOU’RE IN THE MIDST OF YOUR EPIC FORCE MAJEURE. WHERE ARE YOU NOW?

      I am now in front of Lake Geneva, in Geneva. The sun is shining, the clouds are holding back over the mountains; the Evian is just over there, the rest of Switzerland’s over that way...it’s kind of like I’ve walked into a film.


      ARE YOU GOING TO BE PERFORMING THERE IN FRENCH OR ENGLISH?

      I’ve got two shows in arena’s in English, and one show which is smaller that will be in French. Will be about 200 people or so. I’m still developing my French audience around the French speaking parts of the world.


      DO YOU GET NERVOUS BEFORE DOING A SHOW IN FRENCH?

      No, I’m not nervous. Because I’m doing the old show ‘Stripped’, but I have to start putting bits of Force Majeure into the show. I’m about 60/65% fluent, so there are 35% of words I can’t grab. When you’re ad-libbing in stand-up, at least in English if I’m musing about cheese or architecture - I’ve got that whole lexicon in words in that area. Whereas if I do that in French perhaps I’ll talk about La Cre̬Āmerie... fromage, camembert....I could do a few but I might reach for one one and go “Shit, I don’t know that one!” and it breaks the flow. So I need to improvise as much as I can.


      HAS LEARNING FRENCH TAUGHT YOU ABOUT THE FRENCH SENSE OF HUMOUR?

      Well there is no French sense of humour, in the same way that there’s no British sense of humour, or no American sense of humour. This is my, what seems to be quite a radical, theory. There is none. There is a myth that there’s a sense of humour in every country. So what you might call a French sense of humour would be a French comedian talking about; “François Hollande said this, Nicolas Sarkozy said that...” . They talk about French people and French things, so if you used the same material in England people might think “François Hollande, is he in Holland?”. That’s the more mainstream sense of humour. Then the more alternative ones - the Monty Pythons. Look at the Pythons, even though they were talking about British stuff they were picked up all around the world because they were talking about summarising Proust in 15-seconds, which is an insane idea. It was intelligent/stupid, stupid/ intelligent, thats the key here.


      SO YOU GET LAUGHS IN ALL THE SAME PLACES AROUND THE WORLD THEN?

      In exactly the same places. People are people, and if you live in a city you will know that because you will know French people, Russian people, and German people who you might work with. I mean they might not have a sense of humour themselves - it’s not a national thing. All humans are humans.


      YOU’VE ANNOUNCED YOU’RE PLANNING TO RUN FOR MAYOR IN 6 YEARS. WHAT ARE THE KINDS OF THINGS YOU WANT TO CHANGE?

      I don’t like the right wing. I don’t like what Margaret Thatcher did to the country. I don’t like the people that celebrate that. Yeah, let’s celebrate get-up and go, but you should not put people on the scrapheap of life, she really didn’t care about people. And that is not a good thing, that is not a good example for humanity. So because of the right wing, because the right wing keeps coming back and getting into power and telling us what to do, I think the kids have to get into power as well. Become activists, become politicians. And we need to get things done. We need to give a damn. We need to have a heart.


      YOU WERE ON YOUR TOUR WHEN MARGARET THATCHER DIED. WHAT WAS YOUR TAKE ON THE PUBLIC REACTION?

      I was abroad, but I got the impression that obviously the people who like Thatcher went Ballyhoo on it, and it was like the Queen’s Jubilee. I didn’t believe in the Queen’s Jubilee, I believed in the people’s Olympics. That’s what I believed in. So she didn’t get a state funeral and that was right, so I left it that.


      DO HUMOUR AND POLITICS MIX?

      Well you need humour in politics because politics is very dry. If you think what politics is; war is where you stop arguing and you just force people to do things, this is what the fascists do, people on the right. Politics is where you talk, sometimes you endlessly talk and go around the head of a pin. And it can be very dry, so humour...you need it in there to break it up. A lot of people will not stay for the endless toing and froing on subjects.


      YOU SEEM TO HAVE THE NEXT YEARS OF YOUR LIFE WELL PLANNED OUT. WILL THERE BE A POINT WHERE YOU’VE DONE WHAT YOU WANT TO DO?

      I don’t think there’s a point where you can pull out.....I can see a point way in the future...no, you know creatively, even if I go into politics, at some point I will come out of it and go back into doing creative stuff again. Plans help. It’s quite difficult to learn how to plan, you can’t plan precisely but there’s no harm in planning. George W Bush didn’t have a plan.


      EVERYBODY KNOWS ABOUT YOUR AMAZING 43 MARATHONS IN 53 DAYS FOR SPORTS RELIEF, AND YOU’RE ALSO PLANNING TO RE-ATTEMPT 27 MARATHONS IN 27 DAYS NEXT YEAR. WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR STAMINA AND MOTIVATION FROM?

      Some is genetic and some of it is nurture and some of it is...I mean I failed for so many years, had so much failure from about age 19 for about 10 or 11 years. From that I knew that through determination, if you apply yourself, you can can get through in the end. I want to do well for myself and I want other people to do well. This world will survive if the majority of us have a decent life, not just a few, which is what the right wing is about.


      DO YOU EVER HAVE SELF DOUBT?

      [Pauses] I think confidence is important, and I try to test my confidence. You know, I told everyone I was a transvestite, I’ve been very positive about Europe when the right wing have been demonising it for decades, I go do gigs in America, I did one at the Hollywood Bowl, I do gigs in French now....I will push it. But in a positive way. I don’t jump off a cliff to see if I can do that... the stuff I do is all positive, it all has a reason and can resonate with some young kid who can say “hey that seems a good idea”.


      SO IT’S ABOUT POSITIVITY.

      It’s the Nelson Mandela way. I take my lifestyle from Mandela. That is the greatest person, he towers over people in the whole of the 20th Century. He makes the 20th Century work and he is a black man as well. He’s above skin color, he’s just an example. Its great we can look to him. And he’s a real person. He wasn’t a God, he wasn’t special, he just tried and worked hard and stayed true to his beliefs. And giving a damn about the other side - he learnt Afrikaans, he learned another language. Learning another language is a kind of key thing to enlightenment, if you can struggle through and learn another language its bound to just change your whole axle.


      ARE YOU PLANNING TO LEARN MORE LANGUAGES?

      German and Spanish for next year. I’ll definitely be doing gigs in German next year, and Spanish as well, and Russian after that and then Arabic after that.


      DO YOU EVER CHILL OUT AND DO NOTHING?

      I’m not very good at doing nothing. But what I did for 3 months in Paris (learning French), that was a very good holiday for me. Because I wasn’t actually working hard, and for example these two days off in Geneva; I will actually relax.

      I remember once when I was running up and down to Richmond in training, down the Thames, in beautiful part of London - it’s the best view. And I saw a car with a bumper sticker that said ‘One Life, Live It’ and I thought: “That’s it!”

      Grab life, live it, and try and help other people to live it too.


      See Eddie at the Echo Arena in Liverpool on May 5. www.eddieizzard.com
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