Eddie Izzard is about to make a big life change. Rather than simply talk about or skewer our unjust society with his biting stand-up, he finally plans to do something about it by running for a seat in Parliament. But before the audacious actor, comedian and “radical moderate” becomes immersed in political life, he’s embarked on a restless tour for his new show, which he says will be neither a Brexit nor Trump hate-fest, but a rather, a bigger picture endeavor employing broad strokes to cover human politics, sexual politics and the wonders — or “wunders” — of our world, everything from the Big Bang Theory to animals to his personal theories about the meaning of the universe.
Wunderbar, his brand new stand-up show is the kind of heady and surreal spoken word experience that has made Izzard a star beyond his acting roles. It also aims to provide a respite from the endless negativity that permeates both American and British culture at the moment. “It’s a good psychological way of dealing with it,” says Izzard by phone on a tour break. “Go and do something positive, when we — when I — feel negative.”
Like his last comedy tour, Force Majeure five years ago, Wunderbar has international appeal. Majeure was presented in four languages and played 45 countries around the world. He also did it in all 50 states of America. Wunderbar (at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood tonight thrugh Saturday), runs through the end of the year, wrapping up in this country next month and moving to Europe through December.
American audiences love Izzard and his global success proves that comedy with intellectual depth (and sass) can be universal. British humor may have a specific tone and feel but Izzard says he sees no difference between what makes people chuckle in the U.K. where he lives and what makes others giggle anywhere he’s performed.
“Comedy is the same all around the world,” he insists. “Humor is humor. References are national. They do not travel. You can make them travel, but then you have to explain them.”
He says that what differentiates what’s funny globally varies more based more on mainstream mindsets versus alternative ones, which every country tends to have. “The sensibilities of alternative people, they’ve seen a lot of comedy, and they want to see it done differently,” he explains. “I just link up with that audience around the world.”
British comedy and American comedy are inherently not as different as many think, Izzard asserts. “If you watch 30 Rock or Tina Fey’s comedy and that very sardonic, off the wall, ironic style, it goes back to Seinfeld and all way to the Marx Brothers,” he says. “No one has explored the similarities like this, because if you’re a big star in America, why bother with the rest of the world? But this is changing, now an American star can play France and perform in English, French kids are watching stuff in English, so it’s a lingua franca — open source language.”
To prove his point, Izzard shares a one-liner that he says, works in every language: “It’s about Julius Caesar, and I say, ‘Caesar, did ever he think that one day he’d end up as a salad?” he relates. “And that’s the joke, that you know, this historical figure, a guy who murdered a million people, ended up as a salad. If I go on to say it in different languages it always gets the laugh exactly the same way.”
Wunderbar was improvised and developed in French while he performed at the Parisian theater La Nouvelle Seine.”I work-shopped it in French, my second language, which I didn’t actually think was necessarily possible,” he shares. “It was throwing myself in, and though I’ve been doing shows in different languages since ’97, it was still really scary. I did two months working on the show and developed 20 minutes of material, then did it in Germany as well, adding 10 more minutes, then English. ”
The multi-lingual entertainer was born in Yemen and raised in Northern Ireland, Wales, and England, a background that informs his open-minded, creative, often provocative take on life. When he gets personal, Izzard touches upon stories shared in his autobiography, Believe Me, the New York Times best seller that delved into his childhood (his mother died when he was a child), his sexuality, and his life in the entertainment industry, which has included notable acting roles in Oceans 12 and 13, Victoria and Abdul, Across the Universe, and Valkyrie, to name a few.
His stream-of-consciousness comedy, which is more like spoken word and avant-garde theater, remain uniquely mesmerizing, as does his personal style and physical presence. Izzard, who has dated women in the past, made the case for gender non-conforming dress long before it became trendy, calling himself a “transvestite” back when he started his career, and lately using the more widely accepted “transgender.” His flamboyant looks often include makeup, heels and red manicure. (He has stated in previous interviews that he’s OK with either “he” or “she” in terms of pronouns). Advocating for marginalized groups has always been a part of his output, and his show is most definitely not for a conservative crowd. Luckily, Izzard says, every country has its fair share of liberal-minded people, the kind who appreciate what he has to say and the honest and hilarious way he says it. This should serve him well when he moves to politics.
“Interestingly, the percentage of progressives and regressives in every country is about the same,” he says. “The switched-off people, the switched-on, the idiots, the smart people, the religious zealots- pretty much all the same in every country and if you think about it, that’s how it would be. There’s not one country that is just filled with stupid people, every country has smart people too. Humans are just like you’d think they would be, and that’s a beautiful thing. We’re screwed up and we’re together. ”
Eddie Izzard’s Wunderbar runs tonight thru Sat., June 29, at the Dolby Theater, 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Info and tickets at eddieizzard.com/en/shows.
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