Though he first came to prominence as a stand-up comedian with a distinctively whimsical and off-the-wall style, Eddie Izzard has also won plaudits as an actor: he’s appeared on TV in Hannibal, The Riches, and United States of Tara, and in movies including Victoria & Abdul, Ocean’s Twelve and The Avengers.
With his new dark comedy film Get Duked! launching Friday on Amazon Prime, here are some things you might not have known about this supremely intelligent and completely unique performer.
1. He was born in Yemen, where his accountant father was working with British Petroleum at the time.
His parents, both of whom were English, moved to Northern Ireland when Izzard was one and then to Wales when he was five. He later went to school in Eastbourne on England’s south coast.
2. His mother, a midwife and nurse, died of cancer when he was just six years old.
“It devastated me,” he said candidly in an interview a few years ago. “And I believe that I perform as a substitution for the affection that came from Mum. The audience gives you a kind of affection.”
3. He identifies as transgender and gender fluid.
“I have boy mode and girl mode. I am kind of gender fluid,” he told Chicago’s Windy City Times last year. “I want to express both sides of myself, which has always been there. I am a tomboy and tomgirl kind of person.” Asked which pronouns he prefers, Izzard replied: I am going with either ‘he’ or ‘she.’ Either way is fine. If I am in boy mode then ‘he’ or girl mode ‘she.’ People get confused, but thank you for asking.”
4. He’s an Associate Director of Crystal Palace Football Club, who compete in England’s highest division, the Premier League.
Izzard actually told his dad he is transgender after they attended a match at the club’s south London stadium. “My dad had a season ticket in the Arthur Wait stand and sometimes he’d take my brother, sometimes he’d take me,” he recalled in 2016. “At the time I wasn’t seeing him that much and I thought, ‘Why don’t I tell him at a football game?’ We were leaving the ground with all the fans streaming out and we got all the way down to Croydon so I said, ‘Let’s go and get something to eat.’ We went to a café and had sausage egg and chips and I found a back room where no one was in and told him.”
5. He has a pilot’s license.
“I had a fear of flying, so I learned to fly,” he told Vanity Fair in 2013. “I could actually take the bloody thing [plane] down if necessary. It’s fear management, you see.”
6. In 2016, he ran 27 marathons in 27 days as a tribute to Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison during his fight against Apartheid.
Because he spent day five of his marathon stint in hospital, Izzard had to run a double marathon on the 27th day to make sure he kept to his own schedule. According to the BBC, his efforts raised more than than £1.35m ($1.77m) for charity, and when he crossed the final finishing line, he sipped champagne from the bottle and said: “I can’t stand upright. I have a huge blister and I’m exhausted.”
Seven years earlier, Izzard had completed 43 marathons in 51 days, also for charity.
7. He doesn’t just perform his stand-up in English; he’s also performed it in French, German, Spanish, Russian, and Arabic.
He says the key to performing in a new language is not trying to deliver an entire set in that language straight away. Instead, he begins by delivering the lion’s share in English, then adding an extra two minutes a night in the new language. “That’s how I can build it up, pay the bills, and not go mad by having to learn 60 minutes straight off the bat,” he told Babbel in 2018.
8. Dame Judi Dench – with whom he co-starred in 2017’s Victoria & Abdul – sends him a banana every time he launches a new live show.
Izzard writes in his 2018 book Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death and Jazz Chickens: “I think she was going to send me a bunch of bananas but then she ate some of them and decided to send me just one banana with ‘Good Luck’ written on it. She’s got a wonderful sense of humor and she likes my comedy, which is totally bonkers and a great honor for me.”
9. His unfulfilled ambition is to become a Member of Parliament for the U.K.’s Labour Party.
He even served on the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee for several months in 2018. Asked if he would give up performing if he does fulfill his ambition of becoming an MP, he told The Guardian in 2017: “I would. It’s like Glenda Jackson; she gave up acting for 25 years to concentrate on it, then she turns up back as King Lear.”
10. He does a terrific impression of Sean Connery.
Which he got to show off in front of Connery himself at the AFI’s 2009 tribute to the Bond icon. “It’s a great honor to be one of the people he calls… an acquaintance,” Izzard told the audience drolly.
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