In 2011, Eddie Izzard completed 43 marathons in 51 days for Sport Relief. Currently, he’s on the biggest ever world comedy tour, taking in more than 25 countries. He was also the first comedian to perform a one-man show at the Hollywood Bowl. Plus, he’s the only known English-speaking stand-up to have toured France, performing in French.
‘Yeah,’ says the 51-year-old comic on the phone from Helsinki as I list these achievements. ‘It’s not shabby.’
And yet all this isn’t enough for a questing, driven personality that appears to thrive on completing a series of apparently once-in-a-lifetime challenges. So, in 2020, he’s going to give up the tours, the TV and the films and stand for Mayor of London. Here, Izzard talks about the passion and the belief that has lead him to take on his biggest ever gig.
You are an almost universally loved comic. Why risk it all to run for Mayor of London when you could simply bask in the acclaim?
‘I’m buggered if I’m just going to sit on my hands. I have determination, so I’m just going to push, rather than float by and go, “Oh, that was life, was it? Okay, switch off the lights and I’ll just shuttle off.” But this isn’t something out of the blue; I campaigned [for Labour] in the 2008 election, and in 2010. I’ve put my time in and not been sitting idly on my backside.
'I’ve been quite consistent, I don’t think I’ve been a loose cannon, so hopefully people will realise that I’m there to try to do something positive and help as opposed to just having a go in some sort of crazy way. I’m serious about it and I’m making all the plans I can.’
Was there a specific moment when you decided you were going to do it?
‘When I was practising for the marathons, running down to Richmond and back, there was a bumper sticker on the back of this parked Jeep which I kept going past, and it said, “One life: live it”. I don’t believe in a god, so I think we have only got this one life – maybe there is another one, but no one’s ever managed to get back and say, “Yes, there’s definitely another one” – so I’m living this one to its fullest.
'I’m getting more [job] offers than I’ve ever had in my life, so it’s sort of the worst time to go away. But I’ve got to do this, and if I don’t do it [in 2020] then I don’t think I’ll do it. I tend to make these plans way ahead and then go away and try to put them into action. People know I’m kind of tenacious. If I have ideas about playing Europe and doing gigs in French, or running 43 marathons, it might take me 15 years to get there, but I get there. I’m not mucking about, so hopefully people will believe that.’
What do you feel you can bring to London?
‘I’m for people. I like people; I want people, in the majority, to do well. And I feel I have energy, I feel I can put forward a point of view, I feel I have done things in a slightly different way that people didn’t expect and managed to make things work. I think being Mayor of London would be good for me; it would be a good place for me to see what I can do. I don’t want to go through this life and not at least try one election. And, to be honest, if you look at Boris’s track record before he got to the place he is now, if Boris can do it, I feel I can do it.’
BBC Radio 4 says it struggles to find right-wing comedians to balance its shows. Why do you think stand-ups don’t tend to be on the right?
‘If you’re trying to attack other races or attack women or alternative sexuality, you’d have to get very intellectual about it. Maybe that’s why: if you’re an intellectual right-wing comedian you actually run out of logic, you have to be some sort of brain-blocked person to shove out that hatred.’
What would be your message to London voters?
‘I say let’s go for it: let’s think big, let’s dream big. You don’t have to be bad, you don’t have to be ripping people off, you don’t have to be doing all that “Thatcher’s Britain” and sucking the money out of people. There’s a different way of doing it. We used to have an empire where we just stole people’s countries. We don’t do that any more. Now it’s time to use our imaginations and use our skills.
'At a time when people are very negative about Europe, I’m out there in Europe and I’m breaking open markets, so I think trying to inspire people to do things in different ways is a good thing. I’d like London to keep going up and up as a city and have its place. It’s one of the greatest cities in the world, and I’d like to encourage it.’
Speaking of breaking open new markets, you’re currently on a huge world tour. How do you adapt your stand-up across the globe?
‘I don’t adapt it at all, because I’m talking about human sacrifice, Greek gods, people smoking pipes, the ancient Greek ideal, learning languages… It could go to the capital of Serbia, or Moscow, and they’d know what I’m talking about. The key thing is making your stuff international, making it universal. You’ve got to have an international viewpoint.’
With more comics touring the UK, and therefore more competition, do you see the worldwide market being where the money is?
‘I can’t quite tell, because I’ve been making my stuff international and universal for 15 years. I think it’s definitely an untapped market. It’s a healthy thing; with all the negativity in the world, I just can’t see anything but positives in encouraging people to go and perform [around the world]. Especially comedy, and especially if it’s thoughtful and positive comedy, rather than negative right-wing comedy. If there were a lot more right-wing, racist, sexist comedians wanting to go around the world, I’d say, “Actually, forget that!”’ Ben Williams