February 7, 1962 – Edward John Izzard:
“I grew up in Europe, where the history comes from.”
Eddie Izzard is many things: surreal stand-up comic, performance artist, stage and film actor, escape artist, unicyclist, marathon runner, writer, political activist and LGBTQ activist. He defines himself as transgender, he cross-dresses, and he identifies as straight. He claims: “I am a complete boy plus half girl”. He believes that being transgender is a matter of genetics and that someday this will be scientifically proven, having gone so far as to have his own genome sequenced.
Izzard was born in Aden, Yemen, where his English parents worked for British Petroleum.
Izzard started out as a street performer and doing his act in smaller comedy venues in the 1980s. His first break came when he appeared in Hysteria III, the 1991 HIV/AIDS fundraiser held at the London Palladium. He made quite a splash, and began drawing larger audiences. In 1993, he had had his first solo show in London’s West End, Eddie Izzard: Live At The Ambassadors. He was nominated for an Olivier Award and won his first British Comedy Award for top stand-up comedian.
Izzard made his acting debut with the lead in the world premiere of David Mamet’s drama The Cryptogram (1994), and then appeared as the title character in Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II the next year. His first film was starring with Robin Williams in The Secret Agent (1996). His second solo show, Eddie Izzard: Definite Article (1996) brought him his second British Comedy Award. He took that show on tour, including NYC, and thn returned to the West End with a new show, Eddie Izzard: Glorious (1997), which he also brought to the USA.
In 1998, Izzard appeared in Todd Haynes’ ode to Glam Rock, Velvet Goldmine, with Ewan McGregor, brought his new show Eddie Izzard: Dress To Kill (1999) to HBO, winning a pair of Emmy Awards, and he played Lenny Bruce in Peter Hall’s West End production of Lenny. Busy girl!
Izzard continued to act in films, including Shadow Of The Vampire (2000) with John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe; and Peter Bogdanovich’s terrific tale of Hollywood History The Cat’s Meow (2001), in which he played Charles Chaplin. He made his Broadway acting debut in a revival of Peter Nichols’ A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg (2002), which was presented on television. You can see him in Valkyrie (2008), Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s Thirteen (2004, 2007), The Avengers (the 1998 spoof of the 1960s camp series one, not the superheroes ones).
Now the good stuff. Izzard:
”I’m a lesbian trapped in a man’s body.”
Izzard has long pursued personal freedom. In 1985, he went out in public for the first time in a dress, heels and full makeup. He was 23-years-old, and he had been planning, and dreading, it for as long as he could remember. He was chased by a group of teenagers who then caught him changing back into his men’s clothing in a public toilet. One of the teens screamed: ‘‘Why were you dressed as a woman?”. Izzard decided in that moment to stop running and to simply explain himself from now on.
The experience proved that there was power in confronting fear rather than avoiding it, and that he would never again let other people define him. Izzard claims that everything became easier after coming out as what he calls ”transvestite or transgender”. Izzard:
”You think, if I can do something that hard, but positive, maybe I can do anything. Before that, I just wore clothes and I had no self-image. As a kid, because you’re younger and you’re thinner, you just have the cute look. Then you think about what you want your look to be, and you think… Actually, I’m a transvestite! But you ignore that, so what do you do? When my standup career was taking off, I was wearing these crap clothes. I just had no sense of anything. I had all these crazy ideas about my act, but the idea of getting in dresses, that I really felt forced to do. When I first came out, I was talking about being a transvestite, and the critics said: ‘He’s a transvestite, but he’s also a mess’. So, I thought I better work on that. If you’re a bloke and you’re wearing a dress, you better try and have a go, or else what the hell are you doing? I needed a lot of work and a lot of help in that area, and that came from other people.”
I admire that Izzard can face down his fears, just like he did with that group of teens. Not only does he perform live in front of huge audiences, he does it despite his fundamental shyness. He became a pilot, despite his fear of heights. He ran 27 marathons in 27 days, despite his lack of any natural athleticism, racing for the South Africa charity for Sport Relief (he significance of the number 27 is from the number of years spent in prison by Nelson Mandela). He began performing his stand-up act in French, German, Arabic, Russian, and Spanish, despite the difficulty of learning these languages and translating his British humor into other cultural contexts.
As reported by World of Wonder writer Trey Speegle: in May 2017, Izzard declared his intention to run for parliament after endorsing Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in the 2017 UK general election. In an interview with The Guardian, Izzard said:
”The plan was always to run in 2020, though Theresa May has changed that with her failed power grab. So now it’s the first general election after 2020.”
Izzard claims that he would give up performing if he were to become a Labour MP:
”It’s like Glenda Jackson; she gave up acting for 25 years to concentrate on it, then she turns up back as King Lear.”
”Hitler had a ‘moderate’ phase. He pretended he was a cool guy. There are pictures of him in a meeting with the first cabinet, offering a chair to someone and holding the door when coming in. But then some things happened and he entered a radical phase. Bush Jr. also pretended he was a good guy until September 11th, and after that we entered a new destructive phase. Brexit and Trump are very bad news, in any case.”
His memoir Believe Me: A Memoir Of Love, Death And Jazz Chickens was published in November. Izzard can currently be seen as Edward VII in Victoria & Abdul opposite Judi Dench.
”I do feel we trans people have crossed into a place of more political acceptance. It’s allowed now. I have boy genetics and girl genetics.”