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Izzard takes a run at France

Action transvestite, marathon runner and pro-European to his bones, Eddie Izzard has big plans for tours and politics

IN 2009 British comedian Eddie Izzard ran 43 marathons in 51 days for charity event Sport Relief. Samantha Davies spoke to the Europhile comic, who John Cleese called “the Lost Python”, as he takes up another big challenge - performing in French and other foreign languages, and swaps arena shows in Britain for fringe venues in France. He also reveals that, as did another comedy legend, Coluche, he has set his sights on a big political role.

EDDIE Izzard says he isn’t out to crack France or even conquer it but to “infuse” it. “Like tea,” he says.

“I’m just gradually going to come up from the bottom. The idea is that the French will just gradually hear of me by word of mouth.”

He is sitting outside a Starbucks in Lyon, apparently unaware that the students behind him have never seen a man wearing false nails before. He is particularly proud of this set, which are fuchsia-pink except for the third finger on each hand, which are respectively painted with a Union Jack and an EU flag.

“I’m a British European transvestite,” he says, waggling his nails in front of his chest and batting his eyelids wickedly.

“Look, this one is for Britain and this is for the EU. And I’m the first British stand-up comedian to tour France entirely in French.”

He says he has always spoken a bit of French and passed an O-level in it at school. However he also confesses that he is still learning it as fast as he can.

“I was trying my swear words out in the taxi from the airport,” he says. “I think swear words are important, don’t you? I wouldn’t want to sound too formal. Do you know any good slang?”

Izzard is enthusiastic about France and says he has always wanted to explore the country. “It’s such an adventure, being here. I mean, here we are in France and I love it. Everything about it, it’s just all so... French! I’m really making a dream into reality here. I’ve always loved France.”

When asked which bit is his favourite, he says: “Bordeaux, and Menton, and Cannes, and Normandy and Toulouse.” And after a few seconds he adds another list of places including Lyon and Paris.

“I wouldn’t mind living in Paris for a while,” he says, “but then I like everywhere else too.” In reality his schedule is so punishing it is hard to imagine him really living anywhere except out of a suitcase.

“The thing is,” he confides, “I’ve only got six years left and then I’ll be putting my whole comedy career on hold so I can run as the Socialist candidate to be elected as the Mayor of London. So I’ve got gigs all over the place. I’m playing various dates in the States and there’s China and I want to do more performances in other languages: German, Spanish, and Arabic for example.“

I’ve already started learning them,” he says, breaking into a torrent of German. He has just completed a series of dates in France, playing Paris, Lyon and Menton with his show Stripped, speaking in French - a return visit to France after he did a run in Paris, also in French, in 2011 in a small theatre in the Pigalle district.

“People think it’s different, but it’s not,” he says. “Doing the show in French is exactly the same as doing it in English. The laughs, the timing, it’s the same. And the shows have been going really well.”

However his biggest project this year will be the Force Majeure tour, which really is global, covering not only France again, but swathes of Eastern Europe and countries as far flung as Russia and South Africa. And he is quite serious about putting his career on hold in order to run in the 2019 elections for the London mayor.

“Oh, I always do what I say I’m going to,” he says, with a grin. “I did those marathons, I’m touring in French and I’m going to be lobbying hard if they hold a referendum on staying in Europe too.”

He thinks it would be catastrophic for Britain to leave the EU and is also against Scotland leaving the UK.

“We’re all people and we need to be united, not divided. Getting people together is the key to everything.”Izzard is very pro-Europe, taking the view that xenophobia is meat and drink to extreme far right parties.

“They just deal in hatred, so we have to stick together; and Europe is so marvellous – so many countries in such a small space. Whenever you travel round Europe you feel like you’re in a Bond movie, zapping in and out of different cultures all the time. The whole joy of it is all these cultures and languages and traditions. I wouldn’t want to see them homogenised, but doing things together is definitely the way forward.”

That night, in a tiny fringe theatre in Lyon, he proves his point. The show is entirely in French – apart from a certain Anglo-Saxon word beginning with F which cracks the audience up – and everyone is entranced.

Right the way from his account of the French lesson in the taxi, through to the Eddie Izzard impersonation of a panicking giraffe and his final jokes in Latin, they are with him all the way.

The French people there might not have known much about the man they were listening to, but they were definitely ready to be infused. Eddie’s show can be downloaded for e5 from his website which also has details of the Force Majeure tour.

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