British comedian Eddie Izzard arrives in Australia for the first time in eight years this month to perform the local leg of his stand-up show Stripped.
As the title suggests, this latest show sees the funnyman stripped of much of his usual feminine accoutrement — audiences will be greeted by a decidedly blokier Izzard than previous shows, where outfits included bustiers, short skirts and six-inch high heels.
“I am a transvestite, and I have that freedom, and that’s great. But I’m also someone who doesn’t always have to be a transvestite,” Izzard told the Star Observer down the line from Los Angeles.
“I have girl mode and boy mode, just like how the human torch can have flame on and flame off. And it should be my choice, as it should for everyone, what clothes they want to wear.
“Plus, my comedy isn’t about what I’m wearing. It’s quite separate from that.”
That might seem an easy notion for audiences to get their heads around at this point in Izzard’s career, but it must’ve been hard for him to keep the focus on his comedy and not his dress when he was starting out in the early 1990s.
Stand-up seems a particularly fraught profession for someone who identifies as a transvestite.
“Some people in the past thought the comedy was in the drag. Even the use of the word ‘drag’ — to me that implies it’s a costume,” he said.
“I’m not dressing up in a costume, in the same way that a woman wearing a dress isn’t wearing a costume.”
As for the oft-discussed topic of his sexuality, Izzard said simply, “I am a straight transvestite. Why wouldn’t I come out if I was gay, if I’m already taking all the flak for being a transvestite? It just so happens that these are the cards I was given.”
Izzard brings Stripped to Australia after performances worldwide. Intimidatingly overachieving, he used a Paris stint as an opportunity to perform the entirety of his show in fluent French.
“It was a long-term dream of mine, and after this, I’m going to do gigs in German, Russian, Arabic and Spanish. It’s not that difficult, you just have to put a lot of time in to learn the language,” he said, with trademark understatement.
“And of course, now the show is very ready for Australian audiences. I don’t think you could get much more ready than performing it in French!”
Australian audiences can expect to hear him musing about “Romans and Greeks and God and supermarkets and dinosaurs and cavemen. All things that a progressive audience can swing with. It’s all stuff that anyone who watches the Discovery Channel would get”.
Much has been made of Izzard’s trademark absurdist, stream-of-consciousness style over the years. It’s not an appropriated technique, though — rather, it’s the by-product of his dyslexia.
Hopeless with scripts, he said he preferred to keep his show forever in his head, allowing him to veer off on wildly divergent paths when the mood struck.
“There are good and bad points to not having a script. I go off on tangents, I mumble quite a bit and sometimes I don’t get to the point.
“But I do like improvising and going off on tangents, and the audience seem to like trying to keep up. I try to give people a little something new each night. I’m always looking for that.”
It’s an approach that’s paid dividends, even in the notoriously broad comedy landscape of America, where one could be forgiven for thinking Izzard’s cerebral brand of humour might go down like a lead balloon.
Has it surprised him the way US audiences have taken to his humour?
“It didn’t surprise me, because I knew the Americans liked Monty Python a lot. To say, ‘Americans won’t get this’ is silly. You have to break it down more — mainstream American audiences won’t get me, but then neither will mainstream Australian or British audiences.
“More progressive liberal audiences enjoy my show. Religious right-wing Nazis? Not so much.”
INFO: Eddie Izzard plays the Sydney Opera House, November 14 and 15, and the State Theatre, November 21, 29, 30 and December 1. He also plays Melbourne’s Palais Theatre, November 22, 26 and December 4. Tickets through Ticketmaster. Tickets also through Ticketmaster.