UK comic Eddie Izzard gets political: ‘Everything starts breaking up and that’s the way forward for humanity?’
All Eddie Izzard wants to talk about is politics.
The 55-year-old British A-list comic and actor is earnestly indignant as he provides occasionally amusing critiques of British political leaders Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon and Nigel Farage, and – yes – American president Donald Trump.
His preoccupation with politics is understandable. For one, Izzard has been travelling with his record-breaking world tour, Force Majeure, on and off for almost exactly four years – it started in Bucharest on April 29, 2013 and will make its way to the Dubai World Trade Centre for a sold-out show on April 27 – and has probably said everything he has to say about the show several times over.
Another compelling reason for the digression, however, was that we spoke just a few days before the United Kingdom pushed the button on Article 50, beginning the national “Brexit” from the European Union.
A staunch collectivist and self-described “British-European”, Izzard is not happy about the prospect.
“Everything starts breaking up and that’s the way forward for humanity? We all go back to tribalism? We break Britain in half? We go back to pounds, shillings and pence, maybe that’s a good idea?” he says.
“And [former Ukip leader] Nigel Farage’s idea? Oh he doesn’t have any ideas, he just resigned and ran off to hang out with Donald Trump, the most hateful person in the world. That is not the way forward.”
These are not the thoughts of some out-of-touch celebrity weighing in where he is neither welcome nor qualified to comment. Politics run deep in Izzard’s soul. Over the years he has donated tens of thousands of pounds to the Labour Party in the UK, and appeared in several party political broadcasts. He has repeatedly shared a desire to run for Mayor of London, but last year failed in a bid to join the Labour’s National Executive Committee, the party’s administrative body.
“I got 70,000 votes – I think that’s pretty damn good,” he says before pledging another parliamentary run by 2020.
While Izzard remains phenomenally popular with the British public – not least since running 43 marathons in 52 days for the charity Sport Relief in 2009 – sceptics might wonder how a career in comedy qualifies him for political office.
“Just look at 2016, that’s the answer to that,” he deadpans. “But how does being anything [qualify you]? If you’re just a solicitor or a lawyer or a journalist? It’s about the world and if anyone’s got a problem with the comedy, I don’t care – it’s up to the public. They’re going to vote or not vote. But I believe in people. Most people are decent.”
Force Majeure has been described as providing a “magpie’s tour of human history”, using Izzard’s brand of absurdist whimsy to tackle war, royalty and, of course, politics.
Four years after the tour began, Izzard estimates about 50 per cent of the material from the first show remains. Following a two-year break, the tour relaunched in 2016 as Force Majeure Reloaded, a “distilled down” editor’s cut – which still runs to at least two hours. Still, even with the time off and updates, four years seems like a long time to be telling the same jokes.
“There are no rules on touring,” says Izzard. “It’s like a film: some films just run and run, some plays, some musicals – is The Phantom of the Opera now no good because it’s still running? I’ve been going way less time than that.
“The Rolling Stones are playing the same songs after 50 years, and I’ve been doing these bits of stand-up for three years, which compared with 50 is nothing.”
Izzard has not lived a particularly simple life. Born in Aden, Yemen, and raised mainly in Wales, he gravitated towards comedy while a student. After a few gruelling years as a street performer, he found fame in the early 1990s, beginning a ceaseless run of ever-bigger blockbuster tours, as well as acting roles on stage and in films including Valkyrie, Ocean’s Thirteen and Velvet Goldmine.
Over the years, he has often spoken about the huge emotional effect of the death of his mother when he was six. Some have suggested his workaholic tendencies – a desire to be seen onstage and on camera – stem from a need for attention.
“Yes, Mum died when I was a kid and so the audience was a substitute for her, but for it to be a good substitute you’ve got to do good work,” he says.
“I’ve had a very ... I’ve made it quite a hard life for myself. I could have been an accountant, [after] doing accounting and financial management at university. In the end I decided to do this and go for my dreams.
“So, y’know, I want a world where all seven billion people get a fair chance, and it’s got to be this century – maybe halfway through this century – otherwise we’re not going to make it as human beings. I don’t think we’re still going to be on the planet.”
• Eddie Izzard is at Dubai World Trade Centre on April 27. Tickets are sold out.