Comedian Izzard finds edge on stage

By John Benson

His current stand-up material concentrates on the notion of God.

Despite wearing many hats, British comedian Eddie Izzard feels most at home performing his stand-up comedy before a live audience.

Even though in recent years the 46-year-old funnyman has enjoyed notoriety in feature films and even as a television actor in cable network FX series “The Riches,” Izzard says the stage provides him with a real edge, which is based on an intangible confidence he learned dating back to his meager beginnings two decades ago as an anonymous street performer in London.

“I always feel I’m a street performer, and especially what I learned about street performing hugely informs my stand-up talents,” said Izzard, calling from Cincinnati. “It gives you this confidence that you develop standing on a piece of street where no one wanted to look at you in the first place, so it stays with me always.

“This baptism of fire or the ninja training you have if you’re a street performer, there’s no way you’d learn it if you got anything else going. It’s too hard. People say stand-up is hard; street performing is harder because you have to mangle and handle an audience. We used to physically move people around. It’s incredibly tricky. It teaches you about energy and how crowds work. It was amazing training.”

Izzard is now back on the road with “Stripped,” his first national tour in five years. The comedian, who returns to Cleveland for two dates Friday and Saturday at the Palace Theatre, said his current material is based largely around the notion of God. Specifically, Izzard said over the past few years he’s been transformed from an agnostic into an atheist and he’s using “Stripped” as a vehicle to present his argument.

“What’s kind of interesting is America really seems to be locked in step with God,” Izzard said. “I just see god and the devil inside of people, as opposed to being up in the clouds. And why would he be in the clouds, it’s so damp. Why would he have 4.5 billion years of the Earth and only develop language over the past 100,000 years? Because you can’t have religion without language.

“And if you look at the voting record of God, it’s (expletive). There’s too much death, pestilence, all of that hell. Why did he do all that and if he didn’t do that, then what’s the point of that? He isn’t controlling everything. I’m sure the Jewish people prayed really hard during World War II and nothing seemed to happen. That’s my big conclusion.”

If looking for insight into what makes Izzard tick, look no further than “The Riches,” which is currently in its second season. While Izzard has acted in many feature films, including “The Cat’s Meow” and memorable roles in the “Ocean’s 11” series, it’s “The Riches” that perhaps truly mirrors his personality and irreverent spirit like no other project.

“You sort of take what roles are going, but [‘The Riches’] is edgy because we’re sort of lying and cheating our way to the American dream,” Izzard said. “I don’t think that’s been on wholesome American television as standard fare.

“It’s maybe a post-‘Sopranos’ show, but we are lying, stealing and cheating our way to get it all. Usually it’s supposed to be working hard, praying to God, doing something very nice, and we’re not doing that. We’re just lying cheats, but we all love each other. So it’s good wholesome, family stealing and lying and cheating.”

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