Comedian Eddie Izzard Returns to Fresh Air.
British comedian, stand up performer, and actor Eddie Izzard. Izzard is currently selling out venues in the US and Canada, with his new stand up show “Circle”. He has won over fans with his quirky comedy and his cross-dressing. The Chicago Tribune says "Izzard lives up to his billing. He's very bright, very fast and very hip.” As an actor, Izzard has appeared in the films Mystery Men, The Avengers, and the Velvet Goldmine.
DATE May 30, 2000 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: British comic Eddie Izzard discusses his career and
his life as a transvestite
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Eddie Izzard has been called the queen of comedy, the coolest straight man
alive in high-heels, frosted hair and drop-dead red lipstick. But as Ron
Wertheimer wrote in The New York Times, `The first thing you notice after you
notice that he's wearing high-heels is how smart he is.' His interests range
from ancient history to society's latest offenses, and his mind leaps from one
to another in an extreme-of-consciousness monologue.
Izzard is one of England's stars of stand-up comedy and has become quite
popular in the US. His life as a transvestite is the subject of some--but
just some--of his material. He's on a US tour with his new show "Circle."
Last year, he played Lenny Bruce in a British production of "Lenny." He's
appeared in the films the "Velvet Goldmine" and "Mystery Men" and is in the
forthcoming film "Shadow of a Vampire." His one-man show "Dress to Kill" has
a successful run in the states in 1998 and was adapted into an HBO special.
Here's an except of it.
(Soundbite from "Dress to Kill")
Mr. EDDIE IZZARD (Comedian): And I was going to join the Army when I was a
Unidentified Man: Yeah?
Mr. IZZARD: Because--this is true--because, you know, if you're a
transvestite, you're not a drag queen. People think drag queen, but, no, it's
actually a male tomboy. That's what it is. Because gay men, drag
queen--there we go--and male tomboy, they're transvestites or male lesbians,
because most transvestites fancy women. This is just a little bit of
information here because no one knows. No one (censored) knows at all. So
it's much more running, jumping, climbing trees, putting on makeup when you're
up there type of thing, you know.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IZZARD: And I used to keep all my makeup in a squirrel hole up the tree,
and the squirrel kept all the makeup on one side and he kept his nuts on the
other side, and...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IZZARD: ...and sometimes I'd get up the tree, that squirrel would be
covered in makeup. `La, la, la, la, la. Oh, oh, yeah, oh, sorry. What?
Wrong color for me? What?'
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: I spoke with Eddie Izzard after a recent performance in Philadelphia
of his show "Circle."
You describe yourself as a transvestite, but last night, you looked very
butch. You were wearing, aside from the high-heel boots...
Mr. IZZARD: And the trousers, which were actually women's trousers, even
though I don't call them women's trousers, but they were sort of--I think they
zip up the other way around, but...
GROSS: Oh, no, that's the only difference between men's and women's trousers,
for the most part, is, like, which side the button is on of the fly, yeah.
Mr. IZZARD: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. So it is nonsense anyway.
Mr. IZZARD: But I didn't actually go into explain that I'm not really a
transvestite, because I think that no one is a transvestite, because I don't
think it means anything anymore. It's a very second millennium idea, I
believe. I think now we're in the third millennium, I'm a vestite, if
anything. I'm a clothes wearer. Women have total clothing rights. Men
should have total clothing rights. It's there for men to take them if they
want, especially in Western society. It's more difficult than in the Islamic
situation. I think they're quite wild in Islamic country, but I will just
wear whatever I want, but my sexuality is sort of male lesbian, male tomboy.
And that's what it's been since I was four. But I will wear whatever I want,
like women can, and that's great that women can and men just go to play
catch-up on it.
GROSS: And do you feel like sometimes you have butch moods and sometimes you
have more fem moods?
Mr. IZZARD: Yes. I think so. I do feel somewhat really a cross between a
butch and a fem lesbian in a male body, but I'm not bothered by being in a
male body so much anymore because I can wear what I want when I want. Because
again, people get fixated about what you're wearing, but it's more internal
than that. But the only way seemingly to access the internal is to
externalize or to--because people in the street will react to how you're
looking. It does seem to be a very external thing being what people consider
to be transvestite, as, of course, women transvestites, but no one calls women
transvestites. And probably women who are transvestites would not consider
themselves transvestites. But they do exist, and I have had letters from
women. I've had people come up to me, `I think I might be a transvestite,'
you know. But who would want to use that term? Because it's got such
negative baggage on it.
GROSS: When you're on stage performing, do you feel like considerably
different if you're wearing, you know, a dress vs. if you're wearing, you
Mr. IZZARD: No. No. Because the show I did before, the last show, I was
wearing a skirt, so I just got to keep changing it every night, but not
really. All you do is you move differently in heels. The heels I was wearing
last night are slightly more difficult to move in than the heels I'm wearing
today. And it's practicality against, `Oh, well, I quite like those heels.'
So I don't feel hugely different. I don't approach the comedy differently.
And that's something that I sort of wanted to do, which is that, you know, my
personality is the same. I'm just trying to land this alternative sexuality
in a place that fits into society more than transvestite has been considered
vogue because it's--transvestites are just way out on the fringe still, and
gay and lesbian people are much more part of society. And, you know, they've
moved a long way since the '50s, whereas transvestite hasn't.
GROSS: Here in the States, though, it seems a lot of gay groups are adding,
like, transgendered people to their titles.
Mr. IZZARD: Yes, that is brilliant. I mean, because the gay and lesbian
march in London was--I was thinking, well, you know, `Great, couldn't we get
transgen'--I didn't know what the word would be, and then they said it became
the gay, lesbian and transgender march, so I thought, `Oh, that's good.' That
seems to be moving forward. It's just I think we've got to get our image
together because it's quite difficult. There is the frumpy transvestite image
where everyone thinks, `So what? You're going to be big guys with bad wigs on
and sitting around having tea.' And it's got to move forward from that, but
GROSS: Did you think of yourself as a frumpy transvestite?
Mr. IZZARD: Oh, yeah. If you come out as being transvestite, quite often,
it does seem to be blokes who are quite blokey looking, you know, because
there's a big part of boy going on as well as this sort of girl going on. You
do tend to do boy activities, and you'll play sports and football and even
join the Army and stuff like this. So therefore, they can be quite big guys.
And then it's kind of wigs that don't fit and clothes that don't work, because
you don't get a chance--the trouble with being transvestite, if you're in the
closet, is you don't get the chance to go out wearing clothes and then the
people say, `What do you think?' `Oh, that looks good. You know, I think you
should change this'; the whole thing that a young sort of--younger girls and
young women will do, which is trying on things, and their friends will say,
`Oh, that doesn't work with you. Oh, that really works,' you know, just the
thing of just trying things out in society in a normal way.
And if you're in the closet, you're just trying on things and you're just
wearing whatever that you can get from a catalog or something, and so it
becomes--you're just sort of wearing stuff that don't really suit you, and you
have to be right out to be able to get into a sort of look that works. And it
has to be that sort of tomboy area because, quite often, if you are TV, you're
kind of--you know, have a blokey look to you.
GROSS: Before you came out as a transvestite and felt comfortable, like,
wearing whatever you wanted to on stage or, you know, with friends, did you
just dress at home, I mean...
Mr. IZZARD: Yes.
GROSS: ...you know, behind closed doors?
Mr. IZZARD: It's all behind closed doors and with occasionally going out. I
decided at 23, I thought--Was it 23?--well, 21 or 23, I decided I had to sort
of come out. I actually said it out loud, I think. I thought, `I should come
out and tell everyone this,' and I thought, `Well, this is a ridiculous idea.'
And once I'd said it out loud, it became like an idea that wouldn't go away
for me, and I thought, `No, I should just be open with this.' And also, I'm
quite designed for a challenge. My actual genetic thing, it's something
either from my dad or whatever, that we're designed for a bit of a fight, the
Izzards. It's just a family thing. That I needed--you know, I didn't know it
was going to be being TV, but seeing as it came along and I am TV, and I
thought, `Well, I'm going to be out about this, and if people give me hassle,
I'm not going to back down. I'm just going to keep going forward.' So it
sort of sits well with me, and hopefully, if younger generations coming up who
are TV will think, `Hey, well, I'm going to be out and open about this,'
because we need to get people out and find out how many people are TV.
GROSS: So your attitude was basically `I'm going to wear a dress and heels
and fight you.'
Mr. IZZARD: Yeah. Well, I mean, I did have a fight in Cambridge. Some guys
picked on me and they went for me, and I went for them, but there were five of
them. But then I took the main guy to court and won, so...
Mr. IZZARD: Yeah.
GROSS: You took them to court.
Mr. IZZARD: Yeah.
GROSS: What was the trial like?
Mr. IZZARD: The trial was interesting, because it was very low key. It was
just a magistrates court. It was common assault. And he tried to--his main
argument--he had a very cool lawyer actually. You know "Rocky Horror Picture
Show," you know Riff Raff in that? You know the guy who has the long straggly
GROSS: Right. Yeah.
Mr. IZZARD: His lawyer looked like that with a sort of short cut. He just
looked amazing. I was quite intrigued by his lawyer. But anyway, he was
pushing for the idea that I had started a fight, and I talk about this in my
stand-up. Just the idea that a man--a bloke would put on makeup and a skirt
or something and go out looking for a fight is just nonsense. But anyway,
that was what they tried to push, that I'd thrown the first punch, which
wasn't true, so, you know, he got a 200-pound fine, so I got a hundred pounds
of that, so I went and just blew it all on...
GROSS: When you started wearing whatever you wanted to on stage--and
sometimes that would be, you know, a dress or a skirt--did you feel like
audiences responded to you differently or had different expectations of you?
Mr. IZZARD: The first five minutes--that's the key thing. I think the first
five minutes, everyone's going--people who had no expectations were going,
`Oh, what's going on here?' Then after five minutes, it was just, `OK, is the
comedy any good?' So it was a five-minute sort of start-up period where
people think, `Oh, so what's going to happen here?' Because they do think, I
think, that the comedy's all going to be sexuality driven. The sexuality
should not be a part of anything. I mean, I can bring it in--like, if I could
play piano or speak German, I could bring that in, but it shouldn't be like
the whole thrust of it, because that's not where my comedy comes from.
GROSS: What was the turning point where you decided, `OK, I'm coming out
Mr. IZZARD: The turning point was saying it really. I was up in Sheffield,
and I told an ex-girlfriend of mine whose brother was gay, and so that was my
first time of telling anyone. So that was a big release, and then I--it was
somewhere around that time, I just remember saying--looking out a window and
thinking, `I'm going to tell everyone this.' And then I knew it was a line
that I just wouldn't do, but the line just stayed there. I had said it. I
had said it in words, so it just kept floating around my head for about two
years, and I thought, `I've got to do this.' So it just became the obvious
thing that I had to do, just to be able to be honest about it and be truthful
and that gets more information about it, because it does seem like a fringe of
society thing. And, in fact, I feel there's a whole logic to it, and it needs
to be discovered and explained. I still don't know all the ins and outs of
it. I need to sort of place it somewhere in society.
GROSS: Did people look at you differently when you started cross-dressing in
public, as opposed to just in private? I mean...
Mr. IZZARD: No. Well, they never really knew when I was doing it in
private, because that was just me.
GROSS: That's the thing. They didn't know and then I imagine you got a lot
of stares as...
Mr. IZZARD: Oh, yeah, you get a huge amount of stares, and you have to
really sort of...
GROSS: Stare back?
Mr. IZZARD: Well, no, it's not stare back. You don't have enough confidence
for that. You just feel hypersensitive. You feel like everyone's looking at
you, but then...
GROSS: And they are.
Mr. IZZARD: No, they're not actually. They're not actually. Some people
are. Some people are not. I went out and I started studying how people look
at people, just wearing kind of more blokey clothes. And so whereas some
people seem to be looking at you, some people are looking past you, some
people are just walking in that direction. You will feel that everyone is
looking at you when you feel that you--if you went out with a duck on your
head, you'd feel that everyone was looking at you, whereas they might just be,
you know, thinking about--you know, with that sort of glazed eye, thinking of
things to themselves. There's a lot of different ways that people look at
people, and so I had to study that and just get calm about it. And also, you
need to just sort of say, `Well, this is my space, and I'm going to do what I
want.' And yeah, you do need courage to do it, so you have to be kind of bold
GROSS: My guest is British comic Eddie Izzard. More after a break. This is
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Eddie Izzard is my guest. He's a British comic who is currently on
tour in the United States. He's also been in several films, including
"Mystery Men" and the "Velvet Goldmine."
What were your early performing ambitions?
Mr. IZZARD: When I was seven, I wanted to be an actor. I decided--my mother
died while I was six, and I remember doing a play before she died. And I
wasn't that bothered about it. I played a raven, and I got one laugh. And I
wasn't meant to get it, but I said a line back to a friend and got a big
laugh, so I thought, `Well, that's kind of interesting.' But I remember at
the end of that not thinking, `Right, I've got to do more raven parts,'
probably because I didn't want to be a raven. But then she died and then I
remember seeing a play and I thought, `God, this guy is getting applause and
someone was being really funny on stage,' and I thought, `Ah, I'd really like
to do this.'
And I do--I've come to the conclusion that it has something to do with my
mother dying. She was very affectionate. She disappeared, and I was--excuse
me--I was looking for a surrogate affection machine, I'll call it, with the
audience. And so if I did good stuff on stage, the audience would say, `Oh,
that's good,' and it would be like some sort of affection deal with the
audience. And it's quite a healthy way of doing it. I think other people
have done this, so that's why it sort of came in at seven and I wanted to be
just an actor. And I liked comedy, but I didn't realize you could specialize
in comedy, so I just auditioned for all the school roles and got zero, got
GROSS: Really? Nothing.
Mr. IZZARD: Yes. It was, like, either because I was terrible or because
everyone (technical difficulties) had no (technical difficulties) what I could
do, but I'm not sure because I was sort of really annoyed at the time because
I thought, `Give me something. Just give me a part. I want to be in a play.'
And I was trying really kind of cunning ways of trying to root myself into
things and still getting no decent parts. So it wasn't until I was about 15,
16 that I got a decent role. And I was pushing from really seven to eight. I
was really doing odd things to get into shows. But in the end, it gave me a
stamina. It gave me a real-life stamina. So when I went, I came out--left
school and I went into the real world. It, again, took me 10 years to get off
the ground, but I had the stamina of already having 10 years at school where I
was just trying to get any parts. So I--it was quite realistic, my training
GROSS: Well, how did you start comedy?
Mr. IZZARD: Comedy came when--I loved comedy--watching it on television.
The whole family had a good sense of humor, so we'd all sit around watching
stuff on telly. And I discovered Python, really, and I started to realize
these people do this for a living. They just do the comedy stuff, and I
really liked the comedy. I didn't realize you could just do sketches. I knew
about Peter Sellers before. Peter Sellers is probably the first person who
got me into it. And I thought, `Comic actor.' I thought, `Yeah, I could
drive in this comic actor area.' I got into comedy because I realized that
Monty Python existed and did all this stuff on television. So that was '69,
when they started happening in Britain, so I was seven. So--yeah. Yeah, I
don't think I picked it up until later.
GROSS: Now I think your early comedy performances were as a street performer
in England. And from what I read, it sounds like in your early act, you rode
a unicycle, you did sword fighting in the street, worked with trick handcuffs.
Were you planning on joining a circus?
Mr. IZZARD: No. It's--the problem with the street is you cannot do--you
have to do physical situational comedy. Being really analytical, which I
gained from coming out as being a transvestite and having to self-analyze
myself, I gained this gift of intensive analysis. So I analyzed the street,
because I went down and I thought, `Well, I'll get the street in two weeks and
I'll be doing shows and people can give me some money. I can earn a bit of
money this way,' but it took me a year. And people will not respond to spoken
word. If you go out and do stand up, unless you had a huge amplifier behind
you, it--you can't do sketches.
You can't do sketches or spoken word because there's not enough glue out
there; there's not enough--the audience won't stick around for that. They
need to see something physical situation in front of you. So that's why
juggling and magic and stuff works, visual things. Visual things really kill
out on the street. But the spoken word, it just gets lost in--and people
can't quite hear and then there's no sense of atmosphere and there's too much
other noise going on of wind and rain and cars and people and other people
laughing and so it--you couldn't do stuff like that. You had to do stuff that
was sword fighting, all these really weird tricks and fake knife throwing, I
used to do, or getting on a big unicycle and getting out of a pair of
handcuffs. That ended up as my big stupid show. I wasn't really into the
show, but I could toss a lot of inane, strange comedy in between it, and I
could lace it between the show. And they would stay because I was on the
unicycle and I might die, basically. It was...
GROSS: Exactly. Right.
Mr. IZZARD: It was like a car crash thing. They would think, `This is a car
crash waiting to happen. Maybe he'll die.' You know, even on a tough day,
when it's raining and they still sort of hang around in case I died. I
thought that was my essential glue. It's a sort of, `Will he die? Oh, he
hasn't--he hasn't died. All right. Let's give him five pence.' So that was
the show I ended up with. But I never--what I really liked on the
street--what I really learned was how to start a show.
And in starting a show, you have to build up from nothing. And so there's
about 20 minutes where it takes to build up enough of an audience so that you
can actually start. Because if you start with too small of an audience, you
never actually build further from that. It's quite complicated. But...
GROSS: So how would you start the audience?
Mr. IZZARD: Well, it was--quite often, I'd be just getting--well, I'd put
down tea cozies. I had these tea cozies that looked like animals. They were
a duck tea cozy and--you call them tea cozies, that you put over...
GROSS: The little quilted thing you put over a teapot to keep it warm.
Mr. IZZARD: Yeah. Yeah, that's it.
Mr. IZZARD: And it was a duck and a penguin and a hippopotamus, and I just
bought these. And I used to put them on the ground very slowly. And I
discovered this thing--well, I didn't discover. I noticed other people doing
it on the street, that if you put something very slowly down with a lot of
focus on the street, people will watch you doing it. It'll draw their
attention in because they'll think, `What are you doing?' if you just have a
lot of focus and you put it just very gently down the street. So I was doing
this. And I would take about 20 minutes to put these out. And people would
just sort of form around thinking, `Well, he's going to do something with
these tea cozies.' And then I'd never do anything with them. So I'd just
manage to build up an audience that way.
Or I'd talk to people and I'd sort of--and then I was actually just standing
on the street and just spieling to people. I could just go on and on and on
and build up scenarios, and people would just walk across in front of me, sort
of ignoring the show while I was trying to build a show. And I'd say, `Ah,
this is Jeanine and this Sarah there. They're dressed up at the moment.
They're playing characters. I've employed them to do this. As you can see
them walking through. They'll ignore me. They'll ignore me because they're
very good. They're always in their characters. They never sort of come out
of character.' So I'd impose this scenario. These are just two women walking
across and I would impose the idea that they were actors portraying two women
who happen to be walking across. And then I'd say, `They'll change in five
minutes. They'll come back as different characters.' And then I'd pick two
other people and say, `That's them. That's them now.'
And everyone knew it was rubbish, but it was quite unique because it sort of
worked. And I could do this imposing scenarios thing and sort of get a
certain atmosphere going, as if I was controlling the thing, as if I--you have
to use what's going on and look as if you're the master of ceremonies in this
show, but, in fact, it was just stuff happening around you.
GROSS: Eddie Izzard. He'll be back in the second half of the show. He's
currently on an American tour with his latest show "Circle." He opens in
Seattle tonight, and then goes to San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Back with British comic Eddie Izzard. He's famous for his performances and
for the lipstick, eye makeup and heels he wears. Izzard is a transvestite,
something he talks about, but not a lot in his performances. He's currently
on a USA tour with his new show, "Circle." He opens in Seattle tonight.
Here's another excerpt of his earlier show, "Dress to Kill," in which he's
talking about early American history.
Mr. IZZARD: (From "Dress to Kill") The Founding Fathers in 16--they set off
from Plymouth and landed in Plymouth. How lucky is that, aye? This is
Plymouth. This is Plymouth, we set off from Plymouth. We've gone around in a
circle, lads. Back on the boats. This is Plymouth, too. My God, there's two
Plymouths, back on the boats. Eventually they got to America and go, `Ah,
this is the place that God has brought us to. We can raise a family here. We
can practice our religion. There's nobody here--Excuse me--There's nobody
here. No human soul on this land. Who are these people over there with the
big--what's that feather stuff on their heads doing? Could it--we weren't
expecting you. Our God has brought us here. No, we don't any of your food,
thank you very much. Just put some clothes on, for God's sake. Have you no
Meanwhile, that winter, `Excuse me, do you have any food? I love all that
stuff on your head. It's fantastic, really, very adaptable. Yes, yes.
Lovely. Got your own religion. Fantastic. We've got one, too. Thanks.
Lovely. Yes, we're trying to grow bananas, didn't really work, but thanks.
Thanks for the food anyway. Yes, there's more of us coming, but we all keep
GROSS: Now you were born in Yemen, while your father was working there for
Mr. IZZARD: Yeah.
GROSS: Any memories of that period?
Mr. IZZARD: Unfortunately, zero. I was one when I left. And we were gonna
go back, but my dad was there eight years, my brother was there for three
years. And we got--there's a film of it. There's a standard eight film that
my dad took and edited together, and it's--that is my memory essentially,
which is--I know what it looks like on this sort of flickering...
Mr. IZZARD: ...standard eight color movie. And my mum's there. And I'm a
baby. And my brother's there on his own, and then suddenly I turn up and then
he's poking me in the eye. And so I know what it's like there. But we will
go back, but I guess I know it's like lunar, really. It's like flat sands and
then huge mountains coming out of flat sands. So I feel like a lunar
GROSS: Your mother died when you were six. And after that you were sent to
Mr. IZZARD: Yeah.
GROSS: Whenever I see a movie that's set in a British boarding school,
there's always an element of sadism in it where the older boys pick on the
younger boys. And it seems like it was a pretty uncomfortable place to be for
a lot of people. How was it for you?
Mr. IZZARD: It's--the classic one--"Tom Brown's Schooldays" which has this
thing called fagging, which is I think--basically people work as servants for
the older boys and they can beat the hell out of you and that's--I think the
amount of bullying or whatever that went on was typical for any school. They
didn't--you know, there was some that went on but it wasn't overtly in that
sort of stuff you've seen in films. The first school I went to, I really
didn't like. I just didn't like--well, I was six, so I just--it wasn't a
great place to go and it was a bit like being on a desert island. But the
second and the third--the second school I went to had a more healthy place.
First one was in Wales--South Wales. The second one was in the south of
England. And it had a much more--the headmaster there was a decent guy and it
was a generally positive place. There was a certain amount of bullying that
went on, but, you know, that was just what happens in schools. And then by
the time I got to the third school, which is kind of probably harder to deal
with--I was already like, you know, a rock emotionally, like, you know, I
wouldn't cry, I wouldn't--no one was gonna sort of give me a hard time 'cause
I was gonna give them a hard time, so I was already built to resist any
problems that would come up.
GROSS: When you were in boarding school, were you able to use humor in
Mr. IZZARD: Yeah, it was--absolutely. It was to get popular in school and
get popular with girls and just to get popular basically. To get more
popular. Well, 'cause I used to--see, when I was up to 13 I used to play
football, and I lived for football and that was my kind of my--what you call
soccer--but that was the thing I loved. And this is why I'm a male tomboy,
was this football and makeup my--and I was in the first team and, you know,
the school matches and that's what I lived for. I went to the next school and
they didn't play football, so--and I wasn't very good at the other sports, so
I just--I lost a center of where I was going and even though I liked acting
and stuff, I hadn't had any parts up to this point. So I started pushing
slightly more in this acting stuff.
And then I started developing--I could do this comedy in the classroom. I'd
be witty and do those throw lines--those lines that you throw at the teacher.
When they're in between a comment, you can just drop a line and it really
works, cracks the class up. And that was working well. And then there were
no girls at school until the sixth form, until I was about 17. And then a,
you know, few girls turned up and it was bizarre. So you have one girl for 20
boys. So it just didn't--I didn't talk to any girls basically till I
was--because I wasn't playing sports, I wasn't head of the school, I wasn't--I
was just some guy wandering around with greasy hair and acne basically. But
the comedy got me out of that, comedy. Because I found that I could use that
in the class and it just--it was a social tool.
GROSS: How old were you when you started thinking: I'd like to try on a
dress and some lipstick?
Mr. IZZARD: Four.
GROSS: That's really young.
Mr. IZZARD: I think you'll find with most transvestites always--I know gay
and lesbian people--I haven't checked with everyone, but I would--yeah, I hear
different stories from different people. But I feel it's genetic or
chromosomal, built in. So I was four and it struck me. And it's stayed
consistent ever since then, so I just think it's in-built and it's
not--because people say, `Oh, your mother died' and that four--I think, no, I
just don't--see, that--it might be something to do with it and I want to keep
an open mind on it, but I do think it's just been in-built and some sort of
genetic code that I have got. It's a gift, in fact. It's kind of weird, but
it is a gift, and if you come through it all, it just makes you see the world
in a different way.
GROSS: So when was the first time you actually acted on the impulse to wear
makeup or dresses?
Mr. IZZARD: Well, it's quite a bit weird, because my mum died and so I--and
there was no sisters in the family so I had no access to anything until--well,
there was bits--there was occasional stuff at school, but really I got to
college and then when I got to college there was--I was doing theater shows
and there was a whole wardrobe department there so I thought, `Hey, you know,
I'm running this show.' I come into this wardrobe department and just say,
`Let's borrow this one.'
GROSS: Did anyone ever walk in on you before you were out and you had to,
like, make up an explanation about why you were wearing a dress?
Mr. IZZARD: No. No, that didn't happen. I once got some kids chasing after
me saying, `Why are you wearing a dress? Why are you wearing makeup?' But
they were trying to fo--I was trying to get home and they were trying to
follow me, so I thought, `I can't go home now, 'cause they'll know where I
live.' So I thought--well, I started wandering off in a different direction,
and they kept chasing after me until I thought, `Well, I'm gonna talk to
them.' So I stopped and said, `Look, you want to know? Want to talk to me?
Come and talk to me?' And then they just ran off. So that taught me
something. I thought they're actually--everyone's just scared of their own
shadow. But that's that kind of bullying thing, because they were pushing,
pushing, pushing, and so I turned around and said, `OK, what do you want to
talk about?' Then they ran.
And I find this with little small, young children, girls and boys, if I'm
wearing makeup, they'll come up to me and say, `You're a girl.' This thing
which, for a boy, when you're at school, is supposed to be the big thing you
GROSS: Oh, that's the biggest insult.
Mr. IZZARD: Yes. And that's the one that's undefendable. You can't--and you
have to say, `No, I'm not.' And they go, `Yes, you are. You're a girl.' And
when I'm wearing makeup now and little kids will come up to me, `You're a
girl,' I go, `Yeah.' And then they stop and they think, `Oh, that's supposed
to work,' and they say, `No, no, you're a girl.' `Yeah, yeah, I am.' And
then they just--you can just see the confusion on their faces. It's almost
like they're getting into a group huddle and saying, `But surely we should say
he's a girl. He should say no. And then we've got him. But if he's saying
yes that's denying the whole--we've got no argument to go to.' And they could
just see that they can't deal with it. They have to wander off shaking their
GROSS: Do you ever go through a period of wondering, well, maybe I'm not just
transvestite, but maybe I really want to be a transsexual? Maybe I really,
like, want to be a woman and maybe I want a sex change and all that?
Mr. IZZARD: Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah, no, transvestite-transsexual are adjoining
rooms with an adjoining door. Because people have said--I've said--defined
before that they are very different. But in my opinion, a
transvestite-transsexual is just a little bit further down the line. I could
change sex, but then when I--I just think I would--I think I would sort of
want to change back in a way because I appreciate more being the male side of
me by being able to access sort of the more feminine side of me. So seeing as
I'm now in a position where I could wear what I want, I think this is fine.
It's not--I don't think anything ever gets to perfect. I don't know what
perfect is. But I'm quite happy in this state, and if I did change sex, I'd
just think--well, I'd be thinking, `Well, I should just change back.' Then I
should change sex again and change back. So I'm OK.
GROSS: Did you ever have to tell a girlfriend who didn't know that you're a
transvestite that you were and then she had to react to the fact that you see
yourself as a male lesbian, which might've been confusing to her?
Mr. IZZARD: Yes, I think it is slightly more difficult in relationships, but
the main--because women think, `Well, how does that reflect on me? What do
you think of me? Or what will other people think of me if I'm going out with
somebody who's a transvestite?' And it gets a little bit confusing for a
woman in that area. But generally it's--I mean, a lot--I thought most women
would just say, `Well, that's it. I don't want to talk to you.' But, in
fact, a lot of women are very positive and supportive and curious about being
out about, being TV. So, yeah, it's a lot different to what I thought it
would be like. A lot better, a lot more positive. Way more positive. If I
had my life over again, I said, I would be TV. Like it seemed like we were so
much simpler, seeing as fancy women, just to be straight, straight, you
know. But it's actually taught me so much and it's so much of a quest thing.
You've learned so much. You've gained so much in confidence and understanding
of how human nature works by being TV and having to come out or being gay or
being lesbian, the whole coming out thing, that I just found it really
GROSS: My guest is British comic Eddie Izzard. More after a break. This is
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is British comic and actor Eddie Izzard. He's currently on
tour in the States with his latest show, "Circle."
Now how's your movie career coming?
Mr. IZZARD: Well, it's sort of--I've still got my foot on the pedal of the
motor bike and I'm going (imitates motorcycle), and it's sort of--I think the
engine's started, but it's still not moving along hugely fast because--I'm
getting small parts, and it's--I don't think I've done great stuff yet. I
mean, like, there's a scene I saw in one of the films I've done, and I
thought, `Ah yeah, now that's decent, that's good.' Because I don't want to
do--I'm trying to do straight roles in the films, straight dramatic roles, as
opposed to comedy, surreal roles. I am trying to--it's slightly in a
different area. And I don't want to bring all this sort of standup thing to
it. I don't want to think, `Ah, right, well, I should do a comedy line here
or something.' Like quite often you see in Hollywood films where someone
who's gotten over doing standup, goes into a film and seems to go into a
standup routine at some point. And I think I don't want to do that. So,
yeah, I'm just gradually getting my--you know, getting my feet, learning how
the camera works and everything. And I've done seven films, small roles. And
one or two of them, you know, one or two scenes I go, yeah, I like that scene.
I like that scene. If I took that scene and that scene, put them into a show
reel, then I could say, `Yes, look, I'm coming along.' I just--I haven't done
anything stunning yet.
GROSS: You have a small part in a forthcoming vampire movie. What's it
Mr. IZZARD: Well, actually the producers have made sure it's not a vampire
movie, so it's not really a vampire movie. It's a story about the making of
"Nosferatu," which was a movie about a vampire. But--so it's not a sort of
"Hammer House of Horror" type thing. John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe star in
it and John Malkovich plays Murnau, who's the German director of the film
"Nosferatu," and Willem Dafoe plays Max Schreck, who played the vampire in
that film. So we're all the German actors and technicians and cameramen who
are making this film. And they go on location, which is very unusual in the
'20s. Like everyone just films in studios. And he decides to go off and do
it on location. So it's--and there's a very nice twist in it, so hopefully
it'll be an interesting film. I don't do anything terribly interesting. I
seem to ask a lot for food. My character just keeps saying, `Is there any
food here? I'm very hungry. I would like to eat some--what is this? This is
blood. What is blood doing here? I need food.' I just go on about food for
hours. So I find that quite funny. But yeah, it's--I want to see it when it
comes out. I need to see it on the big screen because I've only seen bits of
it on the video so far.
GROSS: Earlier you had said something to the effect that there's a certain
logic to being a transvestite. Would you elaborate on that?
Mr. IZZARD: Well, I think the logic that I'm talking about is if you take--if
you look at men and women as these two separate camps, and then you say
there's gay, lesbian and transvestite, transgender people, you think, well,
surely there should be in these two camps of men and women--there's a big crow
bar in between, a big gulf, a big, huge river in between, and that's how it
should be. But I think you need to look at sexuality differently, and then
you can find logic to the alternative sexualities, 'cause if you think that
girls and boys are pretty damn similar when they're growing up until they hit
puberty, like if you dressed a girl as a boy, a boy as a girl, they would look
pretty similar. And then it hits puberty and then there's a spinning out,
which I think Mother Nature says, `Right, OK, you guys are gonna look
differently 'cause we need some of that procreation stuff to happen. And so
I'm gonna make you look quite different.' So you think, oh, I want something
of the other, and then later on in life it goes back to old men and old women
looking pretty similar again. And I think that sexuality is one long straight
line, not this big two camps thing, but one long straight line and everyone is
somewhere along the line.
And this was--when I was trying to look--compare like--once I hit the idea of
male lesbian, it made a lot more sense, a certain things--'cause there's gay
man iconography, lesbian woman iconography, certain things or interests that
will match up a lot of lesbian women, I think, a lot of gay men, transvestite
men and transvestite women, who are sort of totally invisible in society. And
they will link up. But I'm trying to look at is--just talking around to
friends and people I meet--what are the things that sort of link up in each
group? And how they--like, gay men and straight women, there's a number of
things will link up there. And there's some women I say, `Well, you're really
a gay man in a woman's body,' and they'll say, `Well, yeah, I suppose I am.'
And that's kind of curious. And you think, well, is that gay man in woman's
body or gay men or women in man's body? It's interesting the number of
linkups and the way that psychologically different groups will work the same.
So there must be a pattern there. I see a pattern there that can't explain
all of sexuality without it seeming so confusing. Because TV seems so way out
in the fringe, so `I can't deal with this,' but I feel it's--I've come to the
conclusion that I can explain most of the facets of it and knit it into
society because I'm just a person who does a creative job in whatever, but I
happen to be TV. So I'm trying to create that space, and trying to see the
pattern of how all the sexualities link together, I think, is an important
thing to do.
GROSS: My guest is British comic Eddie Izzard. More after a break. This is
GROSS: My guest is British comic and actor Eddie Izzard. He's currently on
tour in the States with his latest show "Circle."
When you describe yourself as a male lesbian...
Mr. IZZARD: Yeah.
GROSS: ...what does that mean to you?
Mr. IZZARD: For me it's trying to say that initially when I said I fancied
women, journalists, even today--I just read one that someone said, `He is a
heterosexual transvestite.' No, I don't say that because it seems like you're
trying to hide. People say, `Well, you're hiding from being gay.' Because
people don't understand that transvestites, 90 percent, I do believe, fancy
women. So male lesbian makes more sense. It takes away from the idea of you
trying to hide in being heterosexual. But also you do seem to--does seem to
be fem and butch lesbian going on in male TVs. It just seems to link up that
way. That's how it seemed to be a way of explaining it to me and as you
explain it, it sort of confuses initially. You say it and then people go,
`Right. What does that mean?' But male tomboy. Tomboy was an easier one,
because everyone can know--like, girls can be tomboys. They can wear makeup
and then they want to climb trees and they want to play football. And just
imagine a male one of those. So I am a bloke who likes to climb trees and
play football and also put on makeup and dress up and go out.
So that's what I was trying--I try--I need to get these little buzz lines,
these little sound bites essentially just so I can explain without taking
hours over it, because it is complex. It is complex, and you have to take a
lot of existing prejudices and theories and say, all right, those are just
dead theories. Forget about that one. Well, I'm being kind of strong with
this in the sense that I might not be right, but I think I'm probably more
right than a lot of people, because I'm my own guinea pig. I can test it out
on my own self as long as I'm honest.
GROSS: Let me ask you a shopping question.
Mr. IZZARD: Yeah.
GROSS: There's a lot of, like, hip boutiques or something and I'll walk into
and people just kind of look at me funny 'cause I maybe, like, don't look,
like, quite like hip enough to qualify to shop there, or maybe it's 'cause
I'm, like, short and they know nothing in their store is gonna fit me. But,
you know, I do get some strange looks, like I don't--like I'm not really a
member of the club, you know...
Mr. IZZARD: Right.
GROSS: ...that really hip clothes club and they know it. What kind of looks
do you get when you go shopping?
Mr. IZZARD: I have trained myself not to take in looks. I've trained myself
to think Elizabeth Taylor and remember hearing about--I thought that would
come in handy. This is Elizabeth Taylor, you know, back in the '50s or '60s.
I've read about her telling how Richard Burton was filming and she turned up
in--he was filming in Italy, so she turns up in Italy, gets the chief of
police to take her out to the set. So it was screaming motorbikes and sirens
and everything. She turns up and gets out in some sort of coat, out of a
Rolls-Royce and out of police cars and just thought, well, you know, that's
the way to do an entrance. And I've found, like, trying on clothes in shops,
if I go up and I say, `I'm a bloke. I'm gonna try on this skirt.' If I say,
`Can I? Can I try on this skirt?' And I think most--I've found that most
people in the shops, `Well, I don't think that's possible at all. We'll have
to kill you first, surely. Surely that's illegal in several states and
hangable. Can we hang him for that?' But I've found that if I say, `I'm
trying this on in there. I'm going now,' then they go, `Ah, fine, right, OK.'
'Cause I'm just trying it on in the cubicle. I just want to buy their
clothes, they want to sell their clothes, so it's a confidence thing. And
I've found that if I asked, then I would get rejected, but if I said, `I am
doing it,' they go, `Fine. You do it.' And that's an interesting attitude
and I have to be just really up front and very knowledgeable.
Like--and of course, you get these people, `Can I help you?' very quickly,
especially if men go up to makeup counters. And I have to say, `Yes, yes, I
want these, lipsticks are no good. I don't like those. Those are kind of
mushy, right.' I have to be very knowledgeable in the area of makeup just so
that they pull back a bit and don't get in my face and say, `Well, these are
very nice. Who's it for?' `It's for me and I want this, that, that, don't
want that, that's rubbish, that's way overpriced and you may as well burn that
(unintelligible) 'cause its useless.' And I kind of get kind of aggressive in
that way so they'll just back out of my face.
GROSS: Would this work for me, do you think?
Mr. IZZARD: Yeah, I think you have to assume your--you have to think
Elizabeth Taylor. You have to think--or a person that's gonna work for you.
You have to just go in and be very disdainful. If you feel you're getting
disdain towards you, double the disdain back, and if they say, `Can I help
you?' say, `I'm sure you can't.'
GROSS: You see, this is how being a theater person can really come in handy.
Mr. IZZARD: Yes, exactly.
GROSS: See, 'cause I don't--I'm not good at that kind of stuff. I mean, I'm
not good at like thinking Elizabeth Taylor. I can't really pull that off.
Mr. IZZARD: No. It's--well, you--no, you--I think you can if you practice.
Don't--Elizabeth Taylor might not work for you, but it worked for me. Just
some--you've got to think someone who you think--well, I'm gonna think of that
person, and just--or try disdain--just try to think, OK, people are gonna give
me hassles so I'm not gonna assume it. 'Cause you don't want to attack if
someone's actually trying to be helpful or whatever.
GROSS: Right, right.
Mr. IZZARD: But you just want to be up there and in that kind of high eyebrow
kind of, `Yes, I don't know if your shop is really worthy of me.' That's what
you really need to think of. Listen to--a Walkman is a very good way of doing
it. I've found going into very--those shops when I first started having a bit
of money and I started going in and there's one person in there and it's very
quiet and everything. You pull out socks and there's a hundred quid...
Mr. IZZARD: ...hundred pounds and you go, `Gee, I can't even breathe in these
socks.' So I found I would just put on a Walkman and I'd be very kind of like
as if I'm designer, 'cause that's the look you come into. You come
into desig--you're a designer. So just say, `I do this thing. This is my
job.' So just be very quick and pull out stuff and throw it back and, `Oh,
this is rubbish,' and then just walk out. And then if you adopt that
attitude, they'll have to bow down to it, because all they're doing is
adopting an attitude of snottiness towards anyone who comes in. So just got
to crank your ego up, get on the raised eyebrow thing and just--a Walkman can
really work because you can just listen to music and they could be saying,
`Can I help you?' and you're just--and they can come right up to your face and
you can just ignore them. 'Cause when people say, `Can I help you?' I never
look at them then. They say, `Can I help you?' 'Cause then you go, `Yeah,
well, probably not.' You know, you just get into a lost thing, so when they
say, `Can I help you?' I just go, `No, I don't think you can.' And I just
make sure that it's one of the last things that's on my mind is talking to
them, because it just takes me into a low status thing, and they must know
what they're doing there.
GROSS: Well, I appreciate all the advice.
Mr. IZZARD: I does work. You just have to practice it. If at first it
doesn't work, just keep thinking, keep in there, keep in the zone.
GROSS: Well, Eddie Izzard, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. IZZARD: Thanks very much.
GROSS: Eddie Izzard is currently on a US tour with his latest show, "Circle."
He opens tonight in Seattle, then takes the show to San Francisco, Los Angeles
and New York. Here's another clip from his earlier show, "Dress to Kill."
He's talking about going through puberty and how just as he was becoming
attracted to girls and wanting to look his best, his body started sprouting
hairs and pimples that made him feel grotesque.
(Soundbite from "Dress to Kill")
Mr. IZZARD: You know, and then I had to chat girls up, and I've never had
the ability, you know. I'd only tagged them before and now I have to use
verbal skills. `Oh, Susie.' You don't have the ability at 13 to be able to
say, `Susan, I saw you in the classroom, the sun came from behind the clouds
and a shaft of sunlight caught your hair, golden framing your face, your eyes
burned blue fire into my soul. I immediately read the words of Dostoyevsky
and Karl Marx. And in the words of Albert Schweitzer, I fancy you.' But no.
No, at 13, you're just going, `Hello, Sue. I saw you in the room. I've got
legs, you know. Have you? Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. There they are. Do you like
bread? Look, I've got a French stick. Yeah. French loaf. Poom. Fah! I
love you.' And you always shouted...
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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