Nov. 23 (UPI) -- Eddie Izzard's past is on display with a new DVD box set release, but the comedian and activist is laser-focused on his future: breaking the language barrier with his act and learning to use comedy as a political "weapon."
Eddie Izzard: The Definitive Comedy Collection, available Friday in stores, collects stand-up specials from 1994's "Unrepeatable" through 2013's "Force Majeure" as well as a bonus interview, a feature documentary and other content. The 56-year-old comedian said the set is about "playing catch-up."
"The thing is, the box set -- well, two box sets have been out in the U.K., so we thought we should do one in America," Izzard told UPI in an interview. "And it wasn't like 'Now is the time, we've waited and the stars are aligned, let's go for it,' it was more like ... it's just taken its time coming out."
Izzard said releasing the set allows him to focus on the future, including a new stand-up special, an international tour and his political advocacy, which he hopes to parlay into becoming the first openly transgender member of Parliament after 2020.
"I do like doing stand-up and I'm going to do it forever, even though I'm going into politics," he said.
Izzard said once his political career is over he'll "come back and do more."
Politics in Comedy, Comedy in Politics
Izzard has been involved in political advocacy for over a decade, but despite his off-stage activities, the performer said he is wary of including current events-based material in his stand-up comedy.
The comedian brings "social politics" and "historical politics" to his act -- European history and Izzard's own atheism are frequent subjects in his specials -- but there are two reasons he doesn't like to address current political events in his stand-up, the first being that it "dates very quickly."
"You can be going along and talking about the Greeks and dinosaurs and god and none of that dates, then you say, 'So what has [U.S. President] Donald Trump done? What has [British Prime Minister] Theresa May done this week?' and then you're watching it five years later and going 'Oh, they did that?'"
He said the second reason is even more simple: "I don't want to do it. I'll talk about politics in my political career."
Izzard said there's a similarly delicate balancing act when it comes making jokes as part of his political advocacy.
"I've been campaigning in general elections and European elections about 10 years now, you get the sense of when you can use the comedy," he said.
Izzard said when he is campaigning for issues such as seeking a new Brexit referendum he wants to be seen as "a serious activist" and not just "a comedy person that gets wheeled out."
"What I do is I make my point, I talk about what politics should be, what I believe in ... and if I put a joke in, I'll put it in after that," Izzard said. "I'll just say, 'And the other side, they don't know what they're doing, they're a bunch of Muppets, they are. They're just running about, they couldn't even run a zoo.'"
"That's where you get your comedy in, at the end, when you're talking about the other people and their stupid ideas. You have to get everyone used to the fact that you're going to talk about building. Comedy is a good attack weapon, it's not a good building weapon," he said.
Fighting for Europe
The longtime activist said that whatever happens with Brexit during the next two years, he plans to make the European Union the central issue of his political career.
"If you think about it, it's the most advanced political thing that's ever been done by humanity," he said. "A bunch of countries in a continent choosing to try to live together and work together in some type of form. It's never been done before."
Izzard said it's important to safeguard the European Union from "right-wingers" who "are trying to smash it up."
"I'm going to keep pushing for that, because I understand what we're trying to do: we're trying to stop world wars, that's why we initially set it up," he said. "And that's got completely lost in the mush. It has no traction politically, but that's why it's there."
He said the tide of public opinion is changing, especially among British youth.
"People get older and they get more reactionary and more right-wing and they want the 1950s back -- well, they will pass away. And the young people who are around today, they will be here," he said. "It's inevitable that there's going to be another referendum. It's our continent, and our future is there, so I want to fight for it."
Izzard, who identifies as transgender, said he is also pleased with the progress that's been made on LGBT issues since he came out in the late 1980s.
"I'm going to be standing for [Parliament] and being a trans person is not going to be an issue, I don't think," he said. "It might even be a positive thing."
He said living as openly trans is "a way better situation now than it was when I came out 33 years ago."
"Before it was just completely negative and trans people were totally outside society," he said. "That was one of my big goals, to try and say, 'No, I'm a member of society,' and my trick was to not talk about it too much and just get on and do things. So people say, 'Those things you do are quite good. Oh, you happen to be transgender? Whatever, OK.' So that's how I've done it."
Breaking the language barrier
Izzard said his most immediate focus right now is developing his new stand-up special, which he said is unique to his work because he has recently started performing in French, German and Spanish. He said simultaneously developing his new material in four languages with varying degrees of fluency has had some unexpected side-effects.
"It's also made my English tighter, because I'm not that brilliant in French, and I'm definitely not that brilliant in German, so I have to get specific and get to the joke and stop waffling around, particularly because I can't waffle -- it's harder to waffle if you don't know the bloody language. You just gotta get to the point and move on," Izzard said.
Performing for audiences that speak different languages also provides some insight into the universality of humor, the comedian said.
"As long as it's universal, it works. Or even if it's very British-centric, as long as you explain what you're talking about -- what you use is story technique and story logic," he said. "As long as you explain the story, it can get into some human things that are standard."
"I talk about British kings and English kings and people say, 'Well, I don't know those kings,' but I'll tell them about it: 'Look, this guy was an idiot, and he ate a lot, and he exploded and he married six wives,'" Izzard said.
Izzard said German is the most difficult of his current languages, as its different grammar rules can sometimes put a punchline in the middle of a sentence. He said he is still working to master the Spanish version of his stand-up show ahead of an upcoming tour in South and Central America, but he is aiming to eventually add Russian and Arabic to his repertoire.
Eddie Izzard: The Definitive Comedy Collection is available Friday from Comedy Dynamics.