On February 20. British comedian and self identified executive transvestite Eddie Izzard spoke at Harvard’s Memorial Church to accept the Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism presented by The HSS Cultural Humanism committee at Harvard. Dressed in his signature drag as he sits with me after the event, Izzard sips a glass of wine and cracks open pistachios with long fingernails painted a bright shade of red. A couple of designs on his nails stand out.
1. Fifteen Minutes: I see that two of your nails aren’t red. What’s the story behind those?
Eddie Izzard: That’s the British flag, and that’s the European flag. So I’m a British-European transvestite.
2. FM: That’s a lot of European pride.
EI: Yeah. That’s a political statement. It displays my sexuality and political alignment, and I like it because it’s girly, but it’s also political. So it’s tough-edged, girly, and very shiny and sparkly.
3. FM: Do you have any big future plans? I hear the papacy is vacant.
EI: I’m running for mayor of London, so that’s a big enough plan.
4. FM: What made you decide to run?
EI: I felt like I could be political, and if I wasn’t doing entertainment, I would do politics. Which is slightly bonkers, since I like the entertainment industry and politics looks tougher. But, I thought because the Nazis and fascists keep coming back and keep bringing racism and xenophobia and putting that forward, I felt I should go in. I have a certain amount of energy and new ideas, and I think I should put that into the mix. I should do at least one election and see what happens to see what I can do. Sometimes you have to stand up and be counted.
5. FM: Do you think being a comedian prepared you in any way for politics?
EI: Politics can be very dry, so if you could make a serious speech and make it a little lighthearted, I’m sure people will be thankful for that. And it gives you a certain confidence when talking to people. Just like Al Franken’s gone in, I’m going in. I think Al’s one of the first comedians in the world to go in like this. But I planned it for some time, and I realized Al was doing it. Hopefully I will get to a place where Al is.
6. FM: George Carlin once said that the role of the comedian is to find where the line is drawn and then cross it. In your mind, what is the role?
EI: I think that’s fine for George—I can totally understand what George is saying. I think it’s to entertain in the most beautiful way you know how—to juxtapose ideas in a new way. If you can inform at the same time, then it’s a bonus, but it’s just entertainment. Find the line, and then crossing it that’s interesting. I don’t see that as my main thing. I’m not necessarily trying to cross lines—I do, but it’s not my main drive. If I can point out something without crossing a line, like: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” I was reading about that and saw it was the Golden Rule, and it’s in Christianity, and it’s in Judaism, and it’s in Islam, and it’s in Hindu faith. It’s in all of them, fucking hell. That’s not crossing the line, that’s just saying treat other people as you’d like to be treated yourself. I think that’s the only thing in religion you need. You don’t need the prayers, the fig, the body of Christ, the thing with the hammer—any of that shit, forget it all. Just treat people as you’d like to be treated. Now that gets rid of a whole load of religious paraphernalia, but I think it’s true. That’s all you bloody need.
7. FM: I’m also aware that you were in some hot water a few years ago for recycling jokes. Do you think there’s an unfair expectation of comedians to come up with new material?