Eddie Izzard has made a name for himself in his nearly 30 years of performing on stage, not just as an "executive transvestite" (more on that later) but also with his loopy, drawling, discursive style. And it's true, due to his dyslexia, which he discussed in 2010 on BBC radio, he's not performing to a script but rather a "mental map." However, what may seem like meandering cultural digressions are, in fact, keenly honed observations sharp as a poisoned umbrella tip.
"It's not dick jokes, not toilet humor ... not 'two guys walk into a bar' formulaic jokes," Izzard says in a phone interview. "That's what I give to the audience: I assume they are intelligent. I assume they are smart and they want to be smart: 'Hey, I must be doing pretty good to get that!'"
Izzard's audiences have lived up to his assumption of intelligence since his first one-man show won the British Comedy Award for Top Live Stand-up Comedian in 1993. In his colossal Force Majeure tour – the show's been on the road since 2013 – extended musings on human sacrifice, religious history and medieval kings intermingle with "bits on guns, golf, Darth Vader, spaghetti carbonara ... [and] Asian fusion cuisine," according to Izzard, but whether he's talking Star Chamber or Star Wars, never forget that he can do it in four languages equally fluently (and he's working on Russian and Arabic). He's already performed Force Majeure in English, French, German and Spanish as the tour wends through countries speaking those languages, and he's been delivering lines here and there in French since early on – 1999's Dress to Kill featured a sprawling riff describing the plot of Speed in French, among other bounds des coq-à-l'âne en Français.
Another universal language in which Izzard is fluent: soccer, or, y'know, football. When told that Orlando recently gained its own Major League Soccer team, Izzard enthuses, "Football is the perfect American sport, the ultimate American sport. America is about 'anyone can do it,' whether you're from a privileged background or not, and that's what football is: You can be very very tall, you can be very very small, you can be very very wide, you can be skinny as a rake; you just need the determination."
Izzard has never been one to respect limits, physical or otherwise. His stand-up comedy can double as a history lesson; he can reel off great chunks of his act in French, even when performing in America; and just because he was born in the physical body of a man, that doesn't mean he can't wear high heels and makeup and rock a killer manicure.
Izzard's coming-out was subtle but in no way veiled. In that first one-man show, he's in what would become his trademark "executive transvestite" garb: an understated face of makeup, polished nails, floppy-collared and -cuffed shirt, jacket, trousers, boots. By Dress to Kill in 1999, he'd graduated to a smoky eye, burgundy lip and form-fitting silk cheongsam, and the very first joke in the show had to do with his strappy sandals. ("Yes, I'm a professional transvestite ... I can run about in heels and not fall over. If women fall over in heels, that's embarrassing, but if a bloke falls over in heels, you have to kill yourself.")
Concepts of gender identity have come a long way since 1999, though; we're in a moment where we're all (rightly) expected to be conversant with and respectful of a wide spectrum of self-definition. Having spent decades calling himself a transvestite, does Izzard now find himself trying to unpick the differences among transvestite, transsexual, transgender? "Only when I'm doing interviews." OK, so we can assume The Youth isn't sidling up to him in bookstores, then, shyly requesting advice.
Like a lot of actors, Izzard is wide-open candid about some parts of his life, but others are off-limits. A recent documentary covers his coming out "as a cross-dresser" to his father at the age of 23, something he henceforth hid from no one; it also describes his sexuality as "straight" – that is, he dates women – something he prefers not to discuss.
When asked if, then, he might self-define as genderqueer or gender-fluid, he cuts it off. "What's that? All the names keep shifting around," he says flatly. "Transvestite isn't a useful name anymore. I'm trans." With only the merest hint of tetchiness, Izzard says, "We all get given a set of genetic cards. Some are easier to deal with ... I was given the gift of both."
The gift of "both" – French or English? Men's garb or women's? Highbrow or lowbrow? Cake or death? – is a gift Izzard gives his audiences as well. No need to choose; just have it all, and welcome to it.