Monday, July 25, 2011

Eddie Izzard is My Hero

"So then God created the world, and on the first day he created light and air and fish and jam and soup and potatoes and haircuts and arguments and small things and rabbits and people with noses and jam – more jam, perhaps – and soot and flies and tobogganing and showers and toasters and grandmothers and, uh … Belgium."

Eddie Izzard in Glorious (1997)

Eddie Izzard is one of my favourite stand-up comedians, but most people in Malaysia would probably only know him as the voice of Reepicheep in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, if they know him at all. His British, absurdist, surrealistic, stream-of-consciousness comic sensibilities may not be for everyone's cup of bees, but even when his routines fail, they fail hilariously. Huge portions of his shows are ad-libbed (or at least they appear to be) owing to his dyslexia which makes it very difficult for him to work from a script. His exploratory tangents frequently take on entire lives of their own and he often rely on his audience - which he interacts with freely - to remind him what he was going on about before he sidetracked himself. It gets me every time when he says with a huge sheepish smile on stage: "I've forgotten my entire show!"

He's also a transvestite and did most of his shows in high heels, ladies' apparel, and a large, unapologetic amount of makeup. He does however fancy girls (and rightly pointed out that most trannies are heterosexual) and have described himself at different times as an "executive" or "action" transvestite, a "male tomboy", a "lesbian trapped in a man's body", and a "complete boy plus half a girl".

"Women wear what they want and so do I," he explained, and it's impossible to argue with that logic.

Eddie Izzard in Stripped
Eddie Izzard on his Stripped tour, when he's in "blokey mode".

Recently, I read a story about him which made him one of my favourite persons in the world.

There's a necessary preamble to this tale. In November 2008, more than 10 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks were carried out by Muslim jihadists across Mumbai including Cama Hospital (a women and children's hospital) and the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower luxury hotel. A 28-year-old Englishman from Hampstead, Will Pike, was staying there in the Taj Mahal Palace with his girlfriend at the time of the terrorist strike. Fearing for their lives, they tried to escape by making a prison-break rope from bedsheets, curtains and towels and lowering it down from their 3rd floor room, 60-feet above street level. Will went first, fearing that it might not hold - and by Murphy, it didn't.

"Clearly I never did my Boy Scout knot badge because my knots were rubbish. The last thing I remember was falling. The next thing I was on the ground looking at the bone shards sticking out of my wrist," Will commented with characteristic British stiff-upper-lipped-ness, which was admirable considering that he ended up not being to ever walk again after his nasty tumble. He did however expressed disappointment that his unfortunate collision with the pavement had forced him and his girlfriend to give up their tickets to Eddie Izzard's show at the Lyric Theatre.

Will's father, Nigel Pike, wrote to Eddie Izzard asking if the cross-dressing comic could send a note to his son to cheer the lad up. Izzard refused.

Eddie Izzard in Dress to Kill

Instead, he turned up unannounced at Will's room in the spinal unit of a London hospital and performed his entire 90-minute act by Will's bedside.

Oh bugger, I think some jam just flew into my eyes. His publicist and spokeswoman, when asked, said that the visit was a private affair (essentially saying 'It's none of your beeswax') and declined to offer further comments. I couldn't find any interviews in which Eddie Izzard references this incident either.

In that same year, Eddie Izzard also ran 43 marathons in 51 days taking in 27 miles a day on average, 6 days a week for 7 straight weeks covering 1,100 miles across the United Kingdom to raise money for Sport Relief, a charity for the underprivileged in the UK and the world's poorest countries. He was 47 years old at the time and had no prior experience in long distance running. At this point, I'm actually far more impressed by his physical feat than his philanthropy.

Eddie Izzard running for Sport Relief
I love how his outfit was so colour-coordinated.

Eddie Izzard is also an atheist. He said, "I was warming the material up in New York, where one night, literally on stage, I realised I didn’t believe in God at all." That happened during his Stripped tour in 2008, preceding his involvement in Sport Relief and his heartwarming impromptu private performance for Will Pike. While he had always mined religion (Christianity in particular) for comedic material, he always used them in such a silly, good-natured manner that I never suspected that he's a non-believer until I actually read about it.

"God killed my mother too soon and Hitler too late," said Izzard in the only time he divulged bleaker thoughts on the question of God's nonexistence.

Quite apart from atheistic intellectuals and rational polemicists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and others godless big-names that most contemporary atheists draw inspiration from, Eddie Izzard is my atheist hero. He embodies two of the qualities which I feel are most underrepresented and under-appreciated in the atheist community: Humour and humanity. We have those things in abundance. We should put them on display where people can see them.

P.S. I first learned about him watching an interview of Regina Spektor (one of my other favourite persons in the world) where she recounted a story about her freaking out backstage. Eddie Izzard, who was there, emptied a bag of crisps and then told her to breathe into it, telling her paternally that he gets terrible stage frights too. And I would instantly like anyone who is nice to Regina Spektor because she is the single cutest, most darling creature on this planet.

Would like cake please,
k0k s3n w4i


fevrier said...

i read through the entire thing. amazing or what?

tendol said...

I like regina spektor, too. the first time i heard her songs, i was on a trip to Ladakh and my British friend in the car played some of her songs. it was right when we were ascending to the top of a mountain pass and the roads became long and winded and the climb, steep. Fidelity and On the Radio are two of my fav songs of hers.

k0k s3n w4i said...

beve: well done, beverly! you earned a gold star sticker for effort!

tendol: it's hard to pick favourites from regina spektor's discography, but i have a soft spot for one more time with feelings, on the radio, the call and wallet.