British comedian Eddie Izzard has plans to learn how to perform his absurd standup show in Spanish, Russian, and Arabic, because why not?
"I can get by in three languages," the much-traveled comedian says. "English, and I can do good conversational French and OK conversational German."
Izzard tries to speak the native language wherever performs, but will he attempt a Southern accent during his stop at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center this weekend? The answer is no. Humor translates without the benefit of being hyper-local he says.
"There is a certain universality to humor," Izzard says. "Everyone talks about, 'Isn't there a national sense of humor?' Well, there is, but that's like saying America invented jazz, but you can certainly be Chinese and play jazz."
That universal appeal is partly why he keeps Kathmandu, Nepal, on his must perform bucket list.
"I was going to go there, and the deal fell through," he says. "I said, 'Let's just go there and do a gig anyway,' and then an earthquake happened. Kathmandu is constantly on my list."
This marathon of travel — 67 cities this year — and the grueling routine that must accompany it, should be no problem for Izzard, who is an avid runner, having completed 43 marathons in about six weeks in 2009. The marathons raised money for Sport Relief, the more active arm of Comic Relief, for the vulnerable in the U.K. and other countries. Izzard's reputation as a "marathon man" may be why he dubs himself an "action transvestite." The running reshaped the comic, but didn't change his wardrobe or his manicures.
You may have seen hints of both on Izzard on NBC's Hannibal, on FX's The Riches opposite Minnie Driver, or in the final season of Showtime's United States of Tara. He's also been in movies with some of Hollywood's top leading men, including Tom Cruise in Valkyrie and George Clooney and Brad Pitt in Ocean's Twelve and Ocean's Thirteen.
Izzard draws on his movie experience to explain why he won't be doing Southern, humor or the timely or the topical in his show. "I just do the same jokes because humor is human," he told BBC's Rob Cowan.
"I see myself like a film, an independent film," Izzard says. "If you had a really interesting film, if it was playing in Moscow or South Carolina or Capetown or Berlin, it would still be the same message. You don't do a whole South Carolina version of the show," he says.
With that in mind, Izzard sets up long stories like one about a Medieval king. The king's crops have failed and he decides the only way to appease god is to offer a human sacrifice.
"I say, 'Back in the day, they were going to kill Steve.' It was an insane idea back then, it's an insane idea now. Why did we ever do that? And South Carolina would agree and say, 'Sure, that's crazy, why did we ever do that?' It could look lazy, but it is respect for South Carolina to say you deserve the same show as everyone else."
Yes, Charleston will get a chance to laugh at human sacrifice. But don't expect any references to other recent tragedies.
"Too soon is more an American articulation thing," Izzard says. "People say a joke and 'too soon?' becomes the joke. I wouldn't do a joke like that because I am doing a joke about power majorities like Richard the Lionheart. And they have been dead a long time — it's a bit too late to say, 'Too soon?' Those are the people I am laying into. I don't make fun of people who have had a horrible time."
He does make fun of the aforementioned Steve a lot though. So who's Steve?
"Well, I also make fun of Jeff," Izzard responds. "Jeff and Steve. It links to a Dickensian thing of having names that were quite out there. There is a comedy thing to calling somebody silly names. Monty Python did that a lot. I decided I would rather have names that were rather ordinary. There were some kids called the Stevenson brothers I grew up with. They were ordinary, real people. So, people called 'Steve' come up sometimes. Steve is everybody, Steve is Jimmy Stewart."
And just about everybody in the South has had an opportunity to find an Izzard show during his Southern swing of the tour. This spring, he took his show to 25 western cities, and last spring, he performed 50 shows in 32 cities in 64 days. But Izzard says the tour still has the potential to last a long time.
"The tour end is whenever I want it to be. There are no rules. I can tour as long as I want, keep going to new places and taking the show out," he says.
Izzard says he is always fine-tuning the show to keep it fresh.
"I always micro-adjust it. I'm always pulling out the stuff I think is weaker, developing the stuff I think is good," he says. "I do verbal sculpting. The show is a ball of clay, it's a living organism. I'll pull this out, put that back in. I'm constantly changing the ending."
He may tweak the show, but he always brings his painted nails, and they're as colorful as the show's stories. It had to be asked: gel or regular manicure?
"Oh, gels," he says. "I tend to go for a burgundy red. I'm not very dainty. I go around picking up bags and throwing things, so I wear gels. It's very hard-wearing."
With a five-continent tour, it would have to be.