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Arts and Entertainment

Catching Up With Eddie Izzard Before He Takes Over The Hollywood Bowl

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Nothing seems to be impossible for Eddie Izzard. He once ran 43 marathons in 51 days for charity. He performed his current show, Force Majeure, in three languages in three hours. And in five years, he'll be running for public office in the United Kingdom.

His acting career has included roles in Hannibal, The Riches, Ocean's Twelve and Thirteen and Velvet Goldmine. But he's probably best known for his comedy specials, and whether he's in "boy mode" or "girl mode," the experience is both hilarious and insightful.

He was the first solo comedian to play the Hollywood Bowl, and on Saturday, June 6, he'll return to the venue with Force Majeure. LAist caught up with him last week and—among other things—learned why those in the "cheap seats" will want to arrive early.

LAist: It looks like you've been traveling quite a bit lately! Cannes a couple days ago, Fargo today…

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Eddie Izzard: So true, but I'm used to it. And yesterday, my promoter told me I might be playing Antarctica in the future. We'll see what happens. I don't know whom I'd be playing to...a bunch of penguins?

Didn't you use a fake penguin to draw a crowd's attention when you first started out as a street performer? Your career could come full circle.

Wow, maybe one percent of people who interview me know about the penguin! Yeah, it would definitely be full circle.

In addition to the penguin, there was also a hippo. I'd put it on my head, stand in a doorway and start singing, "I've got a hippo on my head…" I was wearing a long white suit and it was all quite weird, and one time I saw someone I'd gone to school with. He turned to me and said, "Oh! How are you doing?" And I obviously looked like I was doing terribly!

Eddie Izzard (photo by Amanda Searle) You've talked in the past about how you want your comedy to be universal. Looking back at some of your earlier specials, even the more timely bits have held up remarkably well. Has that surprised you?

I try to do stuff that's historical. I will be going into politics in five years, but I limit political references in my comedy. That stuff becomes dated weekly, so I just leave it alone and talk about the big ideas behind it.

So I will stand on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl, and say, "Hey, let's start things off with human sacrifice!" And that's exactly what I've said in the 27 countries where I've performed this show.

It's great that you'll be doing a special pre-show Q&A at the Hollywood Bowl for the people in the cheaper seats [sections Q, R, S, T, U, V, W and X—doors will open at 6 p.m. and the chat will start at 6:30]. What prompted you to do that?

Well, I love doing Q&As. I used to sign things, but after you reach a certain level of popularity, you get this incredibly long queue after the show, and in order for everyone to get a nice signed thing, you're just sort of scribbling and saying "thank you" in rapid succession. It becomes this almost machine-like interaction. It's not good for them and it's not good for me.

So I started doing Q&As in alleyways by parking structures, which I loved. I was on a soapbox, and I had a microphone and a speaker, just like back in the street performing days. Then I moved to the foyers of theaters, which felt more like the Russian Revolution in a way. It's probably a better way of doing it, but out in the street it had a very visceral feel.

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And I imagine you can have a little more fun in the Q&A environment.

Yeah, that way more people are involved and those in the "less desirable" seats can feel special too. I know some people have the perception that the seats at the back of the Bowl aren't as good, but I've sat back there, and I actually feel it's a better view than down below, because you get the majesty of the Hollywood Bowl—the whole of the mountains, the whole of Los Angeles—plus you can see and hear very clearly.

And didn't you run from the stage to the very top of the Bowl the last time you played there? I bet your marathon experience helped with that.

I did do that, and I'd like to do that again, probably at the end of the show. Last time, I thought the Hollywood Bowl was five levels, but it's actually seven, so during the last two I was thinking, "Whew, OK, here we go…" But it was wonderful.

What's one of the most popular pieces in your current show?

I'm doing the sequel to Death Star Canteen, one of my most well-known pieces—the idea of Darth Vader going down to the canteen during a chill-out time, when they're not blowing up planets. People are wondering who this guy in the big black helmet is, and the person behind the counter is saying, "What do you want? You need a tray," and he's saying, "I don't need a tray!" People seem to love it and it turned into this whole Lego animation thing that has a life of its own.

Lego "Death Star Canteen" by Eddie Izzard (note: video includes a few f-bombs)

So I did a sequel to that for this tour where God comes down to a canteen and orders spaghetti alla carbonara, which is being saved for Lord Vader. God ends up fighting Lord Vader and then the head of catering, Mr. Stevens, comes down to break it up.

It's weird because I came up with the Death Star Canteen in 2000 for a show of mine called Circle, which is about how everything goes around in circles and returns back to the beginning—which I think is perhaps the explanation of life. And now we've got Star Wars coming out—again!

Speaking of themes, banjos have been a recurring subject in your act throughout the years and it seems that there's a natural affinity between comedians and the instrument. Billy Connolly started his career playing the banjo, and Steve Martin and Ed Helms are brilliant performers. Why do you think it's a magnet for comics?

For me, the banjo—and I would put the ukulele in there as well—is great because you can make a very close approximation to a banjo/ukulele noise if you have a good microphone. It's also not overtly cool; it's not like an electric guitar. And it's definitely not aggressive-sounding. It's hard to do death metal with a banjo: "Gonna kill everyone! Bunk-bunk-bunk-bunky-bunk-bunk."

Many people mourned the cancellation of the Riches. Given that shows like Arrested Development have returned on Netflix and other media, is there any chance the Riches could be brought back to life?

That's a maybe. We were hoping to do a film but the financing didn't work out and there are so many permissions we'd need to get the thing off the ground. But never say never. Minnie [Driver] had a great idea of how to start off the story, but at the moment, we're all off in different directions. For now, it lives on because people love it.

During some of your earlier tours, you did some workshopping in Los Angeles at Largo at the Coronet. What was it about that venue that made you want to make that your temporary home?

Actually, I was one of the people who played the Coronet before it was Largo. I asked Flanny [Largo owner Mark Flanagan] if I could play the old Largo on Fairfax night after night as I got ready for my tour, but that scheduling didn't work out, so he suggested I try the Coronet. I started playing the room upstairs, but later moved to the main theater. I've learned how to vibe the energy of a building or a space—and that had such a great vibe. And then Flanny later took it over and everyone was playing there.

It really does have a great vibe…

Yeah, it's great having a space like that. A lot of people don't think of Los Angeles as that. L.A. is many different colors. It has the outdoor films at the Cinespia down at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The world should know about that.

It's that kind of grassroots street-cool stuff of L.A. that I love. People think it's all about surface red-carpet eye-candy, but really, a lot of people are just about the work and the vibe, and Largo and Flanny have that.

You recently performed your show for three nights in three different languages. Now that you're trying to learn Arabic, Russian and Spanish, do you think you might tackle a six-language tour in the future?

I think I could do six someday, though it'd be tricky. For the 75th anniversary of D-Day in 2019, I'm going to do four shows in four hours. It'll be English, French, Russian and German.

And I'll be touring France with an all-French show later this year. No English-speaking comic has ever done that. I'll be playing Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland with it as well. And the tour may actually break even. (laughs)

You've performed Force Majeure in Moscow and St. Petersburg. How did you enjoy that?

The Russian people are wonderful. It's true that there is some negativity toward LGBT people in some places, but I've found that in every single country of the world. But there's also a lot of positivity—and it's equally handed out.

After playing 27 countries, I've found that we're all the bloody same. The wise people are handed out in equal percentages in every country. And the idiot people—the hateful people—have been equally handed out too, which is a bit comforting in a way. There's the big "don't know" group in the middle, and they're the ones who really make the decisions after being persuaded one way or the other. And I have a gut feeling that this hasn't changed since the dawn of time!

Your memoir will be released in December. What are you most excited about with that project?

Well, it's just good to get the story out, though I suppose that since it's a story about myself, it could be seen as sort of a flight through one's own ego. But I'm trying to do things in an interesting way. I've had a lot of struggles and a lot of fighting, and I'm still trying to get to the places I want to get to.

There has been lot of failure and some success, so hopefully it inspires other people—no matter what sexuality they are or what country they're from. Maybe they can look at my life and say, "If that idiot transvestite can run a whole bunch of marathons, play the Hollywood Bowl, and travel across France with a French-speaking tour, then what's holding me back?"

Thanks for speaking with LAist, Eddie!

Don't miss Eddie Izzard at the Hollywood Bowl on June 6.