Encore: Eddie Izzard Talks About Coming Out

Jan 1, 2018
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And before I say goodbye to 2017, I want to talk one more time about jazz chickens. Comedian Eddie Izzard was here with me in the studio earlier this year to talk about his book "Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, And Jazz Chickens." And we talked about a lot of stuff. We couldn't get everything in, so I wanted to share it again and include the part about the tigers and some other things that didn't make it the first time around. So yes, there will be tigers. And first - jazz chickens.


EDDIE IZZARD: Cows go roo (ph). Sheep go meh (ph). Ducks go quack. Pigs go oink, all of them. Chickens go cockle-doodle-do (ph) unless you wedge a trumpet on their face.

MCEVERS: If you are a fan of Izzard's surreal standup comedy, you probably can tell where this is going.


IZZARD: (Imitating trumpet). Farmer's wife going, what's that? That's jazz chicken.


IZZARD: We bought a jazz chicken? No, it's the old chicken but a trumpet fell on his face.


IZZARD: What do you mean fell on his face? Well, I wedged it on there. I couldn't stand the cock-a-doodle-do, cock-a-doodle-do all times of day and night. I thought, let's make it jazz.


MCEVERS: Eddie Izzard - comedian, actor, writer - joins me now here in the studio. Jazz chickens is in the title but not in the book. I mean, was that supposed to be true?

IZZARD: They said, there's got to be something funny in there. I do talk about love and death. And jazz chickens is just there to be funny in a way.

MCEVERS: And as much as we're laughing, it's a serious book. You start with the day that you say your childhood ended, the day your mother died of cancer - March 4, 1968. You were 6 years old.

IZZARD: Yeah. It was an unusual thing. Mom and dad decided not to say that this cancer was going to kill her. And then one day, she was gone. And yeah, it doesn't get better. You just put layers and layers over it.

MCEVERS: At some point, and I don't know if it's in that chapter or later, but you write that ever since she died, you feel like, in a way, you've been trying to bring her back.

IZZARD: Well, if I can really do enough interesting things, maybe it will cut through. I just think unfortunately we live and then we die and then that's it, kids. So I don't think mom can come back. And I think she would've got a message back, you know. Truly, one person would have got a message back over the eons and eons of time - 10,000 years of civilization - just one.

MCEVERS: One email.

IZZARD: If one - yeah - one message, one clouds pull aside and it's me, Janine (ph). I died last Tuesday. Anyway, it's great. They get massages up here, and God's nice. He's a bit full of himself but all right. You know, they're all hanging out here. Everyone gets on. It's great. Be nice and you come up here, if not, you go down and it's smelly and it's horrible. It's all cold and hot at the same time.

MCEVERS: So obviously, yeah, you don't mean you would actually bring her back. But you said, like, if you just keep doing enough things.

IZZARD: Yeah. And they're not scatter gun. It's not like, and then I'm going to be a stamp collector, be the most brilliant stamp collector. These are just things that I wanted to do. Remember when we were teenagers, we would all go - I'm going to be an astronaut, no, a beekeeper, no, one of the other. Or you had a few things usually on the boil there. And I've just kept those on the - sort of simmering in the back of my mind. And then I brought a number of them forward like drama and surreal comedy and then playing Hollywood Bowl, doing gigs. I went off to do gigs in Spanish in Madrid and Barcelona, do it in Espanol. And now I can go around America doing it in English and...

MCEVERS: And Spanish.

IZZARD: ...Espanol.

MCEVERS: Because this is a thing that runs through the book. You worked really hard but you also had this confidence that you could do what you wanted to do, right? Some people call it chutzpah. I think you call it pigheadedness.


MCEVERS: Where does it come from? I mean, I feel like I want to be able to bottle and sell it, but I want to know where it...

IZZARD: It was locked in from coming out in 1985, coming up 32 years ago as transgender or - I was TV when I came out. The language has changed over the years - transvestite, TV, transsexual, TS. We are now at trans and transgender. So I came out in 1985, and it was very difficult to go out and forge your way out and lock it into your life. Once I did that and I pushed back on all that fear and hatred and the feelings that society all around the world was saying to me - you're not allowed to do this. This is wrong. And I'm saying, it's built into my genetics. And I think I have girl genetics and boy genetics, so I'm going to express them. I'm not going to feel shame or guilt. And that has given me the confidence for everything else.

MCEVERS: And you do talk about, though, there's - you have girl mode and boy mode.

IZZARD: Yeah. That's just an articulation of it. If I'm in boy mode, I'm going to look more boyish. Girl mode, I probably look like a boy who's more in girl mode. I use boy-girl as opposed to man-woman. Man-woman is much heavier, more leadened. We obsess about it. Young boys and young girls - very similar. Older men, older women look very similar. Tigers, we have no idea. If you're being savaged by a tiger, you would not say, is this a boy tiger or a girl tiger? We're obsessed about our sexuality - our sexualities. But other animals don't give a monkeys about it. They will - if they're a big tiger, they will attack you. They won't go, is this a man or a woman that I'm attacking? They just go attack.

MCEVERS: I want to talk about your process too about writing about how you come up with some of your bits. I want to listen to....

IZZARD: Can't call them bits.

MCEVERS: Oh, sorry.

IZZARD: I think they're scenes. I know. There's an American standup-language thing. They say, I've got this bit. And it just sounds...

MCEVERS: It makes it sound pretty small.

IZZARD: Yes. It sounds - like I got this bit where I talk about the existence of eternity. I mean, you know, it sounds like someone has forced us to say I've got a bit. No, I've got a nice piece of comedy. I've got a little scene. I've got a little story.

MCEVERS: We're going to banish the bit. Let's talk about one of your scenes. You're talking about something extremely mundane, about how software automatically updates. You know, when you're sitting at your computer and the software is like, oh, do you want to have an automatic update? You're like, yes, please, update. Thank you. Let's listen to that.


IZZARD: No one in this room has read the terms and conditions.


IZZARD: Even the people who wrote it didn't read it.


IZZARD: Anything could be there. We will take your buttocks and sell them to the Chinese. Fine. Swap your knees out? Yes. So let's tape your buttocks to the hot part of a tractor. OK. Put your big toe on your thumbs and swap them out. Yes, yes. And then you get the update and nothing's changed.


MCEVERS: So process-wise, is that you, you know, sitting at home at your computer, the update actually happens and you think to yourself, I'm going to write a scene about this or...

IZZARD: No. It's even more lucid than that. It's actually on stage. Like if I was doing that, I would be on stage talking about something else or something close to it. And then I think, that terms - we don't read it, do we? No one reads it. Do you read it? And you suddenly realize there's a whole lot of areas I can go there. So I just start ad-libbing on the stage. Everything is verbal sculpting. I verbally sculpt from there. So the next night, I will expand upon it more. And I will say, sell my buttocks to the Chinese, whatever it is, you know. And you get this energy that goes into it, and the audience really reacts to the energy.


IZZARD: If you have a PC, I think it's a very similar thing. You open the computer. You switch on the computer. You put the handle in and you turn the handle.

So I write down some ideas in the Notes section of my iPhone. And then I go on stage and I develop them. And I developed "Force Majeure," my latest show, in LA and San Francisco and New York. And I will do that in Paris. And that'll be a salute to France and voting in President Macron. And I'm very positive on Europe. We have to make the world work. Otherwise, this century, it's going to be our century - the first century for the rest of eternity where humanity really gets as fair as possible. Or it's the last century and goodbye humanity.

MCEVERS: Wow. Eddie Izzard, thank you.

IZZARD: Thank you. Cheers.


MCEVERS: Eddie Izzard. I talked to him back in June. He is performing in France this month in French, says so on his website - in French. His Believe Me tour comes to the U.S. in February. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.