Eddie Izzard is the sexy, funny, intelligent, trans polyglot the English-speaking world has loved for ages – now he is once more touring Germany with his comedy show Force Majeure… in German! And his memoirs have just been translated into German and published by Ullstein as, Believe Me. Mein Leben Zwischen Liebe, Tod und Jazzhühnern.
Exberliner‘s Amok Mama met up with him after his performance here in Berlin and talked about performing comedy in a foreign language and the age-old question of: do Germans have a sense of humour?
So you’re performing comedy in German now?
Ja! Warum der fuck nicht? I mean, warum der fuck nicht? I love combining English swear words with German. My favourite word at the moment is ausgefuckingzeichnet. It’s a great word, a great combination, a great mix of English and German. It’s like peace in our time, you know? Ausgefuckingzeichnet! And it’s bad, too. It’s a bit bad. I like bad words.
One of the reasons why you want to perform comedy in German – or in different languages, I should say – is because you think comedy is international.
I don’t think that, I know it. I have the proof. I have performed in 44 different countries. It’s not that comedy isn’t international, comedy is international, humour has no boundaries. But references – it’s the references that trip people up. Look, you’re English, aren’t you? You’ll know this, having grown up in England – the casual, xenophobic way that English people will say: the Germans have no sense of humour. “The Germans have no sense of humour!” We say the French have a visual sense of humour – but we say the Germans have no sense of humour at all. We stereotype 80 million people in that way. But the truth is, we can find people in England with no sense of humour. We can find people in England with a mainstream sense of humour. We can find people in England with an alternative sense of humour. And the same is true for Germany. Comedy is international. I don’t think it, I know it!
Yeah but have you ever seen “Dinner for One”?
“Dinner for One”?
It’s this show they watch every New Year’s Eve. It’s really bad. With the butler and the lady and all her friends are dead. And they all really love it. I just think if you had seen that show, you’d be like, oh, okay, take it back, maybe comedy isn’t that international after all.
You can’t say 80 million people don’t have a sense of humour! There are mainstream comedy shows in Britain. Have you ever seen British pantomimes? Or what about Carry-On Films? If all you’d ever seen were Carry-On Films, you wouldn’t think British people had a sense of humour.
Carry-On films are really hilarious compared to “Dinner for One”. When the ladies’ tits flop out and stuff.
Well, that’s a very mainstream type of comedy. You have a really mainstream sense of humour, then.
But “Dinner for One” is like a Carry-On but without people’s boobs falling out!
Carry-On films are very mainstream. But there’s alternative comedy too – I saw this alternative guy performing in Hamburg, and you know in German you say “Ich komme aus Hamburg“? He said: “Ich komme aus meiner Mutter.” And I thought: that’s very nice. That’s very clever. Ich komme aus meiner Mutter. You can’t just say, that because of that programme, that “Dinner for One” programme, that all 80 million Germans are not funny, have no sense of humour. It’s not fair and it’s also just inaccurate!
Not 80 million. I would never say that. But, like, 79 million…
Look, I really believe that in all developed countries – and maybe not in developing countries but that’s just because they haven’t had the financial opportunities to develop the industry yet – you get a whole range of comedy, from mainstream to alternative. Just like with music – there’s pop music and there’s alternative stuff. And it’s the same with comedy. It might be true that in Britain we have more surreal stuff – that might be something to do with World War Two, I don’t know. We had Monty Python, and before Python, we had the Goons. Now it might be that in France and Germany, after the war ended, things got more serious – comedy got more serious, more political.
I mean, another thing lots of people say – including lots of Germans themselves, actually – is that the German language doesn’t lend itself well to comedy. Do you find it hard, performing in German?
Of course it’s hard to perform in a second language. It’s hard to perform in any second language, it doesn’t matter what the language is. But I’ve done it and I know it works. You just have to watch your references, that’s all. When I perform internationally, I start off with a reference to human sacrifices. “Human sacrifices, what was all that about?” Because human sacrifices are something that everyone can get, they’re not specific to a certain culture. But you know what as well? I always assume that my audience is intelligent. Actually, I assume that they’re highly intelligent. Wherever I perform, I assume that my audience will get it. And I have this bit on Martin Luther nailing the theses to the church door – he’s nailing away, and he notices that he’s lost number six and he says, well, that doesn’t matter, that was a rubbish one anyway. And I actually wrote this bit in German – and now, when I perform it to English-speaking audiences, I keep it in German. And people get it. People aren’t stupid!