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Eddie Izzard: Coming Out Gave Me The Confidence For Everything Else

Before we can talk about Eddie Izzard's new memoir, Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death and Jazz Chickens, we have to talk about the jazz chickens. Because of course, cows go "moo," sheep go "baa," and a chicken will cock-a-doodle-doo — unless you get tired of the racket and jam a trumpet over its head.

Full disclosure: There are no actual jazz chickens in the book. "They said there's gotta be something funny in there," Izzard tells me. "I do talk about love and death, and 'jazz chickens' is just there to be funny, in a way." And it's true: There are some very somber moments in Believe Me.

Interview Highlights

On his mother's death

It was an unusual thing ... Mum and Dad decided not to say that this cancer was going to kill her. And then one day she was gone, and, yeah, it doesn't get better. You just put layers and layers over it.

I'm trying to do all these things, because if I do enough, maybe she'll come back ... if I can really do enough interesting things, maybe it'll cut through to the other side. Now, I don't believe in a god — I just think unfortunately that we live and then we die, and then that's it, kids. So I don't think Mum can come back — I think she would have got a message back, you know? Surely one person would have got a message back over the eons and eons of time, 10,000 years of civilization! Just one! One message, one cloud to pull aside and say, "It's me, Janine! I died last Tuesday. Anyway, it's great, they get massages up here, and God's nice, he's a bit full of himself, but alright. They're all hanging out here, everyone gets on, it's great. Be nice, and you'll end up here, if not you go down and it's smelly and it's horrible, it's all cold and hot at the same time."

On his "pigheadedness"

It was locked in from coming out in 1985, coming out as transgender, or, I was "TV" when I came out, the language has changed over the years — transvestite/TV, transsexual/TS — we are now at transgender. So, I came out in 1985, and it was very difficult to go out and forge a way out and lock it into your life. Once I did that, once I pushed back on all that fear and hatred and the feelings that society all around the world was saying to me, "You're not allowed to do this, this is wrong," and I'm saying it's built into my genetics and I think I have girl genetics and boy genetics, so I'm going to express them, I'm not going to feel shame or guilt, and that has given me the confidence for everything else.

On the way he develops his routines

I just start ad-libbing on the stage. Everything is verbal sculpting ... you get this energy that goes into it, and the audience really reacts to the energy. But then after a while, you can get it locked down, and if you get it precisely, "Oh, I'm going to use these jokes in this section," and then it starts become leaden, and then I thought, if I always keep it molten, it will always be live. So I write down some ideas in the notes section of my iPhone, and then I go onstage and I develop them.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kelly McEvers
Kelly McEvers is a two-time Peabody Award-winning journalist and former host of NPR's flagship newsmagazine, All Things Considered. She spent much of her career as an international correspondent, reporting from Asia, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East. She is the creator and host of the acclaimed Embedded podcast, a documentary show that goes to hard places to make sense of the news. She began her career as a newspaper reporter in Chicago.