Seven Questions for Eddie Izzard

The British comedian and actor on performing in Russian, adjusting to a Las Vegas audience and what he learned from Al Franken

 Eddie Izzard | Photo by Amanda Searle

Eddie Izzard | Photo by Amanda Searle

Your tour, Force Majeure, began in March 2013. By its end, you will have performed in 25 countries on five continents. What made you decide to do such an extensive comedy tour?

Well, there’s ego, ambition. When trying to make a statement and reach a lot of people, if you can, go for a world record that will be the most responsive. I’m getting into politics in five years, so I’m going to meet the world.

You’ve been traveling through the U.K. campaigning for the Labour Party and you’ve spent more than 10 years as an activist. Why did you decide to get involved in politics?

It came to me five years ago that I would run for mayor of London in 2020, so I’ve just been trying to be active. Al Franken is very much the model; I’m trying to do what Al Franken has done.

You can’t actually do much as an activist. You can’t just come in and say, “Hey, you should do this policy, or you should do it this way.” So it will be a change in five years’ time if I get elected, where I’ll actually be inside that machine.

You’ve performed Force Majeure in French and German and learned Spanish, Russian and Arabic for the tour. How do you practice those languages on the road?

I have a really different technique. My brother is the language expert. He already learned the languages in advance, and then he translates the shows and I learn them like a play, line by line. And then once I’ve got the show, I continue learning the language afterward. So it’s a radical way of learning language.

Does any of the comedy get lost in translation?

There’s no national sense of humor. Only the references are national. So if you’re American and you say, “I was thinking of Sarah Palin and eating a Hershey’s bar. Then I went down to Santa Monica and I was watching NBC.” If you said that in another country, they would be like “Who’s Sarah Palin?” But if you say a politician or a chocolate bar or you were watching a channel, they would be able to piece it together. So it’s just the references that are the problem.

There’s a mainstream sense of humor and an alternative sense of humor in every country. I just need to hook up with all the people who have a more developed sense of humor, as opposed to the people who are very mainstream and want a very simple joke. That audience doesn’t really get my stuff.

In addition to comedy, you’ve been featured in TV dramas such as NBC’s Hannibal and the Playstation original series Powers. Do you have a preference between darker or funnier roles?

I’ve been doing dramas now for 20 years. Drama was really what I wanted to do in the first place. I’ve spent years developing that technique and separating that from my comedy. Some people get good at comedy, and then they just move sideways. Any reputation I have for drama, I built from the ground up.

The bottom line of drama is to be truthful, and the bottom line of comedy is to be exciting. A lot of people get them mixed up. If you get scared and you’re a comedian doing a drama, you’re not quite sure what to do. You start leaning on your comedy muscles. But you have to learn how to be truthful to the character.

In both Hannibal and Powers, your characters were pretty menacing. Where do you find inspiration when developing characters like that?

In Powers, the characters have superpowers, but they’re not really superheroes. The show is about two detectives who are in the Powers Division, who look into crimes committed by people with superpowers. My character, Wolfe, is very interesting and dark. He’s actually like Hannibal in that he devours.

You have to base every character partially on yourself. There will be different levels of yourself in different characters. For the darkness in characters like Wolfe, you cross it between some of the huge sociopathic people in the world who have been quite happy to devour people. But you have to mix it together to get it to resonate.

You’ve performed in Las Vegas several times, and visited during filming Ocean’s 12 and 13. Is the Las Vegas audience different from your typical audience?

I was sure that the audience in Vegas would not like my style. It’s not for the passing tourist. The last time I was there, I met some [employees] who said they arranged to get the day off so they could come to see me. So it’s more for the people who work there, because my stuff is intelligent but very silly. So the person who wanders in and says, “Who’s this guy?” might feel slightly bamboozled.

Any activities on your Las Vegas bucket list you’ll do when in town?

I don’t gamble, because I learned growing up that the house always wins. I like to do the helicopter rides to the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam. Last time we were there, I saw wild horses at Lake Las Vegas, which was amazing because it was in the heat of the day. So I will be doing stuff in and around Vegas, as opposed to going out and gambling all my life savings.

Eddie Izzard

The Pearl, June 12-13, 8 p.m., $53-$83, 702-944-3200,

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