There is not one wild animal that is not perfectly fit,” says comedian and actor Eddie Izzard, explaining why he decided to keep fit by running. “Not a squirrel, not a mole, not a tiger, not a giraffe with an inch of body fat. I find that interesting. And we are sitting there with domesticated cats and dogs eating endless pies.”
Because I’m talking to the man who once talked about evil giraffes and cats that mine tunnels instead of purring, I expect him to go off on a riff about overweight lions on fad diets. But he doesn’t. He’s making a serious point. For Mr. Izzard, who makes his Santa Barbara debut Saturday night at Campbell Hall, comedy is purely reserved for when he steps onstage.
But oh, when he steps onstage! His improvised, stream-of-consciousness comedy first came to America’s attention when Robin Williams, on his American tour, brought along Mr. Izzard’s show “Definite Article” as an opening act. Mr. Izzard’s 1999 “Dress to Kill” — which some might say was among the most perfect 90 minutes of stand-up in the last 20 years — blew up HBO and won him some Emmys. Mr. Izzard has vacillated between performing in “girl mode” — in costume as what he refers to as “executive transvestite” — or “boy mode,” his current goatee’d appearance. The comedy is hilarious either way, and he says he has lately maintained “boy mode” as he focuses on acting.
His grifter family comedy-drama, “The Riches,” in which he starred alongside Minnie Driver, had two successful seasons, but ultimately was canceled. Mr. Izzard has appeared onstage in David Mamet plays and has played Lenny Bruce in the revival of Julian Barry’s “Lenny.” And he recently played Grandpa Munster in the remake of the classic TV show “The Munsters,” re-titled “Mockingbird Lane,” alongside Portia de Rossi and Jerry O’Connell. (The show has only aired its pilot, and has yet to be confirmed for a series.)
Mr. Izzard wanted to be an actor from age 7, but found himself getting into stand-up comedy — arguably not the best route into acting. He has persevered, preferring to work in television, where he is allowed larger roles, instead of film, where he’s usually relegated to bit parts.
But despite his increasing television appearances, he hasn’t lost the need to get us laughing. His Santa Barbara appearance is a warm-up for a marathon world tour in 2013 called “Force Majeure,”
Which brings us back to the marathons. In 2009, to benefit Sports Relief, a UK charity, Mr. Izzard ran 43 marathons in 51 days, effectively running the length and breadth of Britain. And he did it with only five weeks of prep and no former experience.
“I thought I should be doing more exercise,” Mr. Izzard says. “So part of it was health, and part of it was to raise money, and part of it was to inspire a kid. It was an adventure. I felt I was born to run, like Bruce Springsteen.”
As he made his way through all parts of Britain, including Northern Ireland, he wore the flag of each appropriate region, from Scotland to Wales. And his Twitter followers saw him through every day.
While some comedians use Twitter either to promote shows or to dish out pithy observations, Mr. Izzard has used his account to highlight various political causes and issue awareness.
“I am going into politics in eight years, so whatever you write can be used against you,” he says. “So I started very boring and I haven’t been very interesting. I know I’m funny on stage, but do I have to be funny (on Twitter)? There’s not rules about it. I thought, ‘I’ll just make it my social place.’ ”
The “eight-year plan,” according to Mr. Izzard, is to become either a member of Parliament or mayor of London, a position held currently by conservative ex-journalist Boris Johnson, who is equally liked and disliked, prone to gaffes and unintentionally funny photo ops. Surely one comedian in office is enough?
“Because (Mr. Johnson’s) offhand and funny, I think it should be no problem (for me),” says Mr. Izzard. “I think being the mayor is better than being a member of Parliament, because you can be your own person — you can say things that are off-message. … (Mr. Johnson) has been going after the prime minister (who is also conservative) and hammering him again and again. … But I don’t like the right wing and I hate the fascists and they keep coming back up. … And I thought that you’ve got to stand up and be counted. On the center left, we just want to get on with our lives, so I thought, ‘I’d better do this.’ ”
Mr. Izzard favors strong ties with Europe, faltering European Union or not. This should come as no surprise for fans of “Dress to Kill,” which is all about putting aside our differences and being groovy. Mr. Izzard has come along to various campaign stops since 2008 and spoken to crowds about policy, though he’s wary of being seen as merely a politician’s celebrity prop.
“The public thinks, ‘Ah, here’s somebody who’s been wheeled out,’ ” he says. “But I point out that I was self-wheeling, I was self-propelled. I had chosen to do it. People can see with my gigs that I’ve exported my comedy around the world. In my comedy, I talk about humanity, that there isn’t a god, that it’s up to us. I stand for fairness and hard work.”
Becoming mayor would take Mr. Izzard out of the entertainment business, perhaps only temporarily. But it shows he has considered stopping one career and starting another. See him while you can.
When: 8 p.m. Sat.
Where: UCSB Campbell Hall
Cost: $44-$55, $17 UCSB students
Information: 893-3535 or www.artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu