Edward Izzard is a British stand-up comedian and actor. He has a very individual style of rambling, surreal monologue. He has turned his attention to acting as well as maintaining his demanding touring schedule.
Early life and career
Izzard was born in Aden, Yemen, as the youngest son of John and Ella Izzard. In 1963, shortly before Britain abandoned the capital of Aden, the Izzards moved to Northern Ireland. He lived in Bangor, County Down until 1967, when troubles started brewing there as well, and the family moved to Skewen, Wales, and Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, England. His mother died in March, 1968, of cancer.
Izzard found some degree of solace in comedy after the death of his mother. He drew particular comfort from the works of Monty Python, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, and the early Benny Hill. He began to toy with stand-up at college and, after being ingloriously kicked out of school, he took his act to the streets. Having spent a great deal of the 1980’s working as a street performer in Europe and the United States, Izzard moved his act into the standup comedy venues in Britain, first appearing at The Comedy Store in London in 1987. He refined his material throughout the ‘80’s, and in the early ’90s, he finally began earning some measure of recognition, though originally he did not perform in women’s clothing.
His stand-up work brought him British Comedy Awards in 1993 (for Live at the Ambassadors) and 1996 (for Definite Article). After the British leg of the tour, he took Definite Article to major cities outside the UK including a successful stint in New York City. However, his US breakthrough did not really come until 1998, when Dress to Kill, which was shown on American television channel HBO, went on to earn Izzard two Emmy Awards in 2000. He only rarely appears on television, as he says it uses up material at too high a rate, whereas stage material can be continually re-used in front of different audiences for several months.
In January 2006, the U.S. television network F/X announced the production of a new drama series (co-written by Izzard) called The Riches. Izzard and British actress Minnie Driver star as a married couple, Wayne and Dahlia Malloy, who have been part of a caravan of con-artist Irish travellers swindling their way across the States. As the series begins, Dahlia has just been released from jail, and the Malloys decide to start a new life with their children as law-abiding suburbanites in Louisiana.
He recently appeared in the critically acclaimed movie/musical “Across the Universe” based on the music of the Beatles. On the soundtrack for the movie he sings, “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”.
Izzard has engaged in campaigning work, including opposing the closure of the departments of Drama and of Languages, Linguistics and Translation at the University of East Anglia and supporting the further integration of the UK into the European Union. In May 2005 he appeared on the BBC’s political debate show Question Time, describing himself as a ‘British European’, comparing it to other cultural identities such as ‘African American’. As part of his integration campaigning, he was one of the first people to spend a Euro in London. His pan-European approach has influenced his work: he regularly performs in French, an acquired language, and occasionally in German, in addition to English.
In July 2003, Izzard was made an honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England for ‘pro-Europe campaigning’, ‘his contribution to promoting modern languages and tolerance of other cultures and lifestyles’ and for having ‘transcended national barriers’ with his humour.
In a 2005 poll to find The Comedian’s Comedian, Izzard was voted amongst the top 20 greatest comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders.
In Comedy Central’s list of the 100 greatest standups of all time, he was number 75.
During the 1999 television special It’s… the Monty Python Story which Izzard hosted, John Cleese said Izzard was the “Lost Python”.
Izzard describes himself as an ‘executive’ or ‘action’ transvestite and as ‘a male tomboy’. He regularly cross-dresses both on and off stage and makes it clear that cross-dressing is, for him, not a sexual thing – he simply enjoys wearing make-up and clothing which is traditionally perceived in the West as female-only. He dismisses claims that he is homosexual, saying he is either a straight transvestite or a male lesbian. He has also described himself as “a lesbian trapped in a man’s body”.