"To make the world work, you can't have some of us doing fine and billions below the poverty line," said Eddie Izzard, a comedian known for his challenging humor and gender-bending outfits. "This century, we're going to have to make it work for all seven billion people, otherwise I don't think the outlook is good for humanity."
These sorts of proclamations are perhaps not what one might expect from a performer with a knack for cerebral jokes about historical popes and the Heimlich maneuver, or for playing Voldemort in The LEGO Batman Movie. But Izzard, who's currently in the midst of a book/comedy tour that includes a stop in Seattle on June 20, is preparing for the unlikeliest costume change of his career, a change for which he's been quietly laying plans since 2008. In the next few years, he says, he's going to run for office.
"Schwarzenegger said, 'I'm going to go in six months' time,' or whatever," said Izzard. "I did 10 years."
Examine Izzard's recent activity, and the signs of political ambition become clear: He canvassed door-to-door in the recent UK election, he's been actively campaigning for the Labor Party, he's embarked on charity marathons for noble causes, and he has a new memoir out entitled Believe Me, reflecting on the life experiences that shaped his sense of right and wrong. Now in his mid-50s, the time just feels right.
"I didn't want to run too late. I'm trying to do an Al Franken," he said. (When Franken ran for senator in Minnesota, he was the same age that Izzard is now.) As for Izzard's constituency, that's to be determined. Somewhere in the north.
Though his study of governance is not quite a lifelong affair, that's clearly no prerequisite for any politician these days. And when the election comes, Izzard will surely bring a theatrical touch to a process that has already been distilled to performance art.
That's not to say that he's treating his eventual run as just another show: "Comedy is very good at saying, 'That's a crazy idea, why the hell are we doing that?' while politics should be about building. I think it maybe should be one-third about tearing into something that's bad and two-thirds about building. Some people make it two-thirds about tearing at things. I think that's what Trump is."
Izzard is under no illusions that his comedy career has fully prepared him for elected office—in fact, he's regarding it as a difficult change of occupations.
"I love the career that I'm doing," he said. "The comedy, the languages, I'm touring around the world. The drama, acting with Judi Dench... that all seems a lot easier than politics. People really go for you. It's a very brutal area of work."
But what's Eddie Izzard's platform? (Referring to his beliefs, not his shoes.) For starters, he seems to have built a solid foundation of populism and outrage at income inequality, Bernie Sanders–style. But that could be a tough sell for whichever northern voters on whose behalf he decides to run.
"In the world of national politics, the idea of thinking about the world doesn't get a lot of traction," he said. "You can argue about the nation and your constituency—people say, 'What are you doing for us? Forget about other people around the world, we're trying to deal with our own situation.'"
But in both his book and his speaking, Izzard returns repeatedly to his desire to bridge the income gap. His goal is "making a world where all seven billion people have a chance."
The timing, he believes, has never been more urgent.
"Just saying, 'Build a wall and hate everyone,' is not going to work," he said. "We have to have an entire world where we live together and work together in some shape or form. And we have to do it this century. Otherwise I don't think we're going to make it."
Izzard's impulse to think globally and act locally is not new. For the last decade, he's endeavored to learn languages like French and Spanish and German so that he can perform his set in the local tongue. Initially a tense struggle, it took several years to become fluent enough that any promoter believed this would actually work—but eventually this cross-cultural fig leaf paid off.
"I remember thinking to myself, 'Wow, these are young Europeans, right here, right now. All having fun,'" he writes in his book. "I thought, 'This is really good. I like this. This is worth fighting for.'"