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Running man

British comic EDDIE IZZARD in perpetual motion

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Eddie Izzard

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Eddie Izzard

TORONTO -- Whether running for political office, running marathons or running his mouth, Eddie Izzard rarely slows down.

At the moment, the British comic is ensconced in a bona fide world tour that will wind through Canada, hitting the Burton Cummings Theatre in Winnipeg on Nov. 26, he has a recurring role in the NBC horror series Hannibal, and for whatever reason, has piled his plate with various other goals notable for their sheer audacity, including his aspiration to become completely fluent in German and to run 27 (yes, 27) marathons in South Africa next year. (He completed 43 marathons in 51 days back in 2009, so it's not at all far-fetched).


Oh, and Izzard wants to run for mayor of London in 2020, an ambition the sharp-tongued, sharp-dressed funnyman treats with clear-eyed gravity.

Presumably, the one item not on his crowded to-do list is get a consistent night's sleep.

"Actually, I sleep well," he says, leaning in during a recent chat at Toronto's elegantly exclusive Soho House. "If I ever have bad dreams? I fight in them."

At this, the black-clad comic raises his dukes up to his face -- and he knows a real fight might loom in the not-so-distant future.

For all the goodwill the 51-year-old has amassed with his expertly meandering comic musings, his enthusiastic tackling of dramatic and comedic roles on stage and screen and his extensive philanthropy, it won't mean much once he enters the political arena.

"People will hate me," he says matter-of-factly in discussing his 2020 candidacy. "But people hated me anyway for being a transvestite, so I've dealt with a lot of hatred. They said that wasn't right, coming out and being positive and saying I was transvestite. And over the 25, 27 years since I've been out, things have moved forward as far as being transgender, various people have been more and more positive."

Though he declines to go into too much detail on policy this far out, he describes himself as a centrist who would seek compromise to carry his ideas through. (In a not-entirely-scientific poll in Time Out London earlier this year, 88 per cent of over 2,000 respondents pledged that they would vote for Izzard).

But he also claims to have no illusions about politics. He's often weaponized his fleet wit against the right wing, but now says he's come around to a less black-and-white view of political-spectrum affiliation.

"I've worked out that politics isn't left wing/right wing -- it's centre and extremes," he says.

"Watch the Lincoln film, and that's what you have to go through to get the emancipation of slaves to happen. If you look at all the great movements forward in humanity, they've been somewhat fudged to get to the next level."

With a political career hovering on the horizon, Izzard is even more motivated than usual to keep his entertainment work thrumming.

His world tour was a typically enterprising affair, with stops in Russia, Croatia, Serbia, Latvia, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, South Africa, Turkey, Romania and Sweden, among other locales. He says his sense of humour translates smoothly no matter the audience, blustering that there's "zero difference" between crowds in different countries.

"My stuff is designed for intelligent people, cool people -- people who may not necessarily outwardly look cool but are cool in the brain," says the two-time Emmy winner.

His standup is a shambolic, detour-packed affair that careens from digression to digression with only the sly Izzard really understanding the destination.

It's no different chatting with the endlessly energetic comic in person. A discussion of the various markets he's performed in somehow leads to his musing on the appearance of the Nazi high command.

"Why did they look so un-Aryan? And no one ever went: 'What about them?'" he says.

A conversation about politics is similarly soon transformed into a bizarrely compelling rant about the illogic of human or animal sacrifice ("God created that thing that you just killed, be it human or goat!"), a part of his current stage show. Religion is a frequent topic for the atheist, who also spends a portion of the interview ruminating on the existence of heaven and hell.

"No one's ever got a message back from either heaven or hell: 'I'm in heaven. It's great. There's a spa. Be good, otherwise you'll go to hell and there's no spa.' (Or) 'I'm in hell. It's rubbish. The spa is useless. It's got a spa, but it's just some bloke with a hammer,'" he says.

"If you think of how many religions there are -- there must be thousands, including all the crazy ones -- not one of them has ever gotten a message back from heaven," he adds, winding himself up. "Therefore, ergo, maybe it's not there."

If conversations with Izzard are non-linear, so has been his career path.

He rose to fame as a comic and theatrical actor in the U.K. in the 1990s, but only crossed over in a major way into the United States with the HBO broadcast of his eventually Emmy-winning special Dress to Kill.

Finally, Hollywood came calling with comedic roles. The only problem? Izzard was now interested in drama.

"Drama's what I wanted to do when I was seven, comedy's what I did on the way. (When) it started taking off, I said, well, I'm going to activate drama right now with a separate dramatic agent... But no one really believed that I could do decent stuff. And it took me a long time," he says.

Izzard understands the skepticism.

"I have seen people who've done not good work and then good work and you go: 'Whoa.' And I think I'm one of those people. Because I have seen me do not-good work, and then I started relaxing."

Now, he stares down the rest of the decade as if there's a clock ticking in his ear. Izzard would like to scale the heights of the entertainment business before shutting it down for his mayoral run.

"It's like cooking," he says. "I'm trying to bring things all to a boil at the same time. I've worked out that I need to have enough momentum by May of 2019. I think I have the momentum of comedy now that I could go away for a number of years and come back and people would say: 'Oh, let's see some more of that.' I need the drama just to be a little higher and keep it growing, keep it growing. It's a massive, complicated plan, but I know what I'm planning."

He has his heroes. Former Saturday Night Live writer Al Franken, he points out, was an edge-trotting comedian who successfully transitioned into politics, and Izzard says he's discussed his ambition with the Minnesota junior senator.

But it's another actor-turned-politician he invokes when discussing his plans to temporarily terminate his entertainment career.

"I've got six years to do all the comedy and drama I can do before I go political -- then I put it into deep hibernation. If and when at some point I will stop that, then I will have my autumn years back and I will pump it back up," he says.

"It will be like Arnold Schwarzenegger coming back out after seven years and going: 'OK! Give me my big gun."'


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 14, 2013 C9

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