After years in Hollywood, you’re going back to stand-up comedy. Which one pays better?
It depends what level you’re on. At the level I’m at, they’re kind of even. If I spend longer on stand-up, I can earn more. And I can set up stand-up gigs easier than acting. That’s the only difference; I can say, “Okay, I want to tour for two years,” and I can go. But if it’s a film, you’ve got to get into someone else’s project.
When you do your stand-up in different countries do you change the jokes?
You don’t tailor it at all. Bands say, “Good evening Moscow… this song is called ‘doo be doo bee’,” and they just go into the song. If you’re going to Moscow, France and New Zealand and you’re just going to do the same songs, why should I change my material? I make it universal so that I’m talking about religion, sexuality, buildings, architecture, cats, dogs and supermarkets.
Any plans to play some of the more unstable corners of the world?
Well it would be crazy to go into an active war zone, but I was born in Yemen, an Arabic country. So I would like to do gigs there at some point.
But you’d probably go light on the make-up, right?
I would play it softly. My stuff isn’t overtly “all these people, they’re a bunch of bastards”. Really, I’m just a bloke talking crap. A guy in Wales said to me, “I thought your stuff would be really…” – then he couldn’t really find a word for it – “but you just talk crap.” I said yes, that’s exactly what it is. He thought it would be all girly stuff like “there was this lipstick that went into a bar”. Instead I’m just like: “Pigs should not be given tractors.”
How do you win over a tough crowd?
I died massively in my early years, but that was just because I was crap. If you’re a starter then you’re fucked, but if you’re experienced and it’s gone tough, there are basic techniques, tighten your material, increase the pace, just put your best stuff out there, then people are like, “Oh yeah – this guy knows what he’s doing.”
In your big US TV show, The Riches, your travelling, con-artist family assume the identities of a wealthy dead couple. That’s not very nice.
We didn’t kill these people, we tried to save them, so let’s take what can be used and keep going. You’re looking at these people and saying aren’t these the biggest bunch of bastards, it’s like looking at the rest of society in that way. We all do things that we shouldn’t.
Have you ever conned someone out of something?
I did a runner from a place I was staying at. Or did I pay? I think I remember running out of the place in the middle of the night very quietly… well, creeping out. I did try and jump a 20p Tube fare once. I got caught – I’m not a brilliant criminal.
Gypsies and travellers don’t have a great reputation. Are you careful not to slag them off?
They’re very close knit. It’s like talking to the Mafia – you don’t say, “Can you tell us all your innermost secrets?” But there are people on the fringes. We can deal with those people.
They probably don’t have TVs anyway. Have you ever had any problems with a ‘carnie’ at a fair?
I’ve had people saying they’re pissed off. It’s like saying Hitler was a straight white man, so therefore all straight white men are Hitler. Do all travellers who live in Louisiana do exactly what we’re doing? No. And while a number of travellers do seem to do criminal activities, there are a lot of travellers who don’t.
Like a rich gypsy, you travel between London and Hollywood. Have you bought a tiny dog or an alpaca llama to fit in?
No – they’d die, because I’d go off on tour. They’d have to feed themselves, opening cans and stuff. Alpacas are no good at that. I live in London but I spend two thirds of the year in Los Angeles. Well, Hollywood. You could say it’s Los Angeles or Hollywood, though one sounds like a city and the other sounds like a place with gold everywhere.
You once did a play where you were naked, called Lenny. Was that the scariest thing ever?
It’s quite liberating, actually. When you first take your clothes off, it’s weird, as long as you don’t ever get dressed again and just walk around naked. If everyone just took their clothes off, it’d be great. You get into the naturist kind of mentality of, “Why the hell not?”
Do you like being famous?
It can be quite silly. But as long as I can go to the shop and buy a packet of crisps, I’m okay. I think some people get to a place where they’re not allowed to go out, they don’t feel that they can go out to the shops any more.
There must have been a point when you thought, ‘Oh shit, I’m famous!’?
There’s some woman on iTunes, who’s written a song about me on the ukulele [Eddie Izzard by Ukelilli, taken from the album Ukin’ In My Sleep]. So, I thought, ‘Well if anything’s making it, that’s making it.’ You’ve got a song out there about yourself on a ukulele.
Why are there no paparazzi shots of you stumbling out of Chinawhite being sick?
Because I tend not to have sex with trees and I don’t fall out of places, vomiting. Maybe I’m just not the right person to be paparazzi fodder. People do take shots of me, but they never use them, it’s like they practice with their cameras on me.
Are you rich enough to give it all up and just watch telly all day?
No. I tend to do things in a way where I’m always just about broke and it keeps me on my toes. It’s not that I blow it all, it’s just that I’m always setting up new things, I prefer to be always working to get somewhere else.
What terrible jobs have you turned down?
All corporate gigs are tough. I try to get people to offer a whole load of money and they say no.
You talk about technology in your routine.Have you been tempted to tamper with your own Wikipedia page?
In a way, but it’s pretty accurate. It’s got a banner over it at the moment saying ‘could we have some more citations please’, but it’s pretty good.
What’s going to be your downfall? Drugs, money or sex?
Well, it should have been sex, when I was outed by the press for being a transvestite. But I’d already told everyone. I think, having tried to express everything girly when I first came out, I’ve gone all the way back to reclaiming the boy stuff that I like. I sort of compartmentalise my life. So I suppose it’s got to be money. Too much of it, ideally.
Finally, if you used your tranvestite-y ways to edit FHM, who would you put on the cover?
I’m trying to go through a Rolodex of all the women I’ve ever seen. Probably Monica Bellucci. But with the stuff she was wearing in The Matrix.
Original interview by Josh Woodfin in the September 2008 issue of FHM UK magazine