Comedy preview: Eddie Izzard seeks world record on current tour

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From the May 29, 2014 edition

By Jesse Tigges

There isn’t a better name than “Force Majeure,” a French term meaning superior, uncontrollable force, for standup comedian (and actor) Eddie Izzard’s current world tour. Izzard is truly a force on this one — performing in five continents (and possibly more than 60 countries) and in five different languages (English, French, German, Spanish and Russian).

Izzard spoke with Alive last week from Atlanta, having recently kicked off the U.S. leg of the tour, about why he’s undertaking such a daunting — and record-setting — standup project, its future and some memorable experiences so far.

“Force Majeure is a very ambitious tour. Was that the original design?

I decided if you’ve got your head on right, you’re just trying to grab some attention from all the myriad things that are happening. The gossip column is the best way to get yourself published, but it’s a double-edged sword. I don’t want to play that game.

If you’re not doing that, you’ve got to think outside of the box on what to do. So I’m constantly trying to do things like that. People say “world tour” and they do five countries. Well, let’s really make this a world tour.

I think of myself as an international minor celebrity. I’m quite well-known seemingly all around the world, but not very well-known. So this minor celebrity thing seems to stretch and because people can grab things from the internet and the “Death Star Canteen” goes out there and fronts me.

How many countries will the “Force Majeure” tour be performed in?

There are a lot of countries in Europe, so it does add up. There’s still Australia and New Zealand, Poland, China. I might put Japan in there, and the Spanish-speaking countries, where there could be 10 to 15 of those. We were claiming 25 countries, but in fact it’s probably going to be — the record is apparently just short of 60, for a band, so we shall see where we get.

Would you like to break the record for a world tour?

I may as well have a look at it. It depends how much time I have. If I was just a touring comedian, then it would be easy to do. You just keep going until you hit 60. And with the languages now … you can stack up a lot of places.

I don’t throw televisions out of hotel windows or do gossip columns, so it’s kind of fun to do something else that might grab a little bit of attention. [Performing] in multiple languages is the most interesting at the moment, because I don’t think that anyone has ventured into this area.

Has there been a particularly memorable experience or performance?

I was playing in France at the Olympia; it’s such an icon for Paris. I was playing 140-seaters; the Olympia is a 2,000-seater. I didn’t know if I could do that jump — Bowie [and] Hendrix played there.

It was French and British people working really hard to try and sell the tickets. We sold out on the last day. I was looking … at every seat to see if I could see any spare seats. And I couldn’t see a single one.

It’s been 200 years since the battle of Waterloo and there’s always been this continual scratchiness between the British and the French — which I hate — and that we had the two groups, speaking the different languages, working together to try and sell the show out was phenomenal.

And you’re doing a special performance in Normandy for the anniversary of D-Day.

On D-Day’s 70th anniversary, I’m doing these three gigs in three languages. I’ve been very supportive of the veterans before — all veterans.

I thought I’d do a gig in French and English and … then I thought well, why don’t I add in German? I included Germany because they’ve tried very hard to be a very upright and responsible country, [since] having gone through this phase where [Nazis] kidnapped the country for 12 years and forced them to do unbelievably inhumane acts. We have come a long way since 1945, and we should celebrate that and the people who fought for that.

[I’m going to donate] money to charities in these countries and the German one is called Stolperstein, which means Tripping Stones. A German artist has gone around countries in Europe … and put brass stones into the ground in front of places where the Nazis took someone away and murdered them. So it’s there for all time to remember that that person lived in that house.

Are you a big history buff?

Yes, my show is full of history. I realized that no one was doing history and I sort of dived in. I have this theory that the history plus the change in society, multiplied by the change in technology, equals the future.

It’s good for people with a positive heart who give a damn about humanity to look back to see where we keep going wrong, to try and head that off as we go into the future. Society moves forward slowly and technology makes us jump forward. But we keep repeating certain things ... once you’ve gotten rid of a Hitler, out comes an Idi Amin. It happens around the world, and it happened before and it happens, less and less I hope, now.

[Arts_Feature_Eddie Izzard1_0529 courtesy Amanda Searle; Arts_Feature_Eddie Izzard2_0529, Arts_Feature_Eddie Izzard3_0529, Arts_Feature_Eddie Izzard4_0529 courtesy Andy Hollingworth Archive]