He may be the world’s first French-speaking more-or-less heterosexual transvestite marathon runner. Wednesday night, Eddie Izzard will add yet another breakthrough to his resume: He will become -- with “Eddie Izzard: Stripped to the Bowl” -- the first comedian to headline the storied Hollywood Bowl.
“I think I’m the first stand-up to do a solo show there,” Izzard says, by phone, with some pride. “I’m not just gonna leave this to the rock ‘n’ roll guys. It’s time for the comedians -- it’s time for us to take over. I think like an American: ‘Let’s go to the moon!’”
His Bowl debut has been a long time coming. Izzard, 49, broke into the British comedy scene in the early ‘90s with an improvisational, sometimes rambling style. (“It’s the oral tradition,” he told the Guardian. “Human beings have been doing it for thousands of years.”)
Izzard’s roots were in a line of British comedy that has remained obscure in the United States even while exerting an international influence: One of his first heroes was Spike Milligan, who created and starred in “The Goon Show,” a wacked-out 1950s British radio program that also featured Peter Sellers.
“I think he’s the godfather of alternative comedy, of surreal comedy,” Izzard says of Milligan. “He influenced Monty Python, which influenced ‘The Simpsons,’ with his weird juxtapositions.”
Python was another key to Izzard’s approach; John Cleese has called him “the lost Python.”
“Python are my gods, really,” Izzard says. “I think my style is Monty Python as stand-up -- just one person doing all the characters. They had discipline. But they had no producers, so they just went where their brains or their hearts wanted to go.”
He says he also admired the way the Beatles broke out of provincial Liverpool to take over the world. “They thought in huge, global ways,” he says. “Their music is just full of attitude and melody and discordance -- an alternative/mainstream crossover. I just love all that. George Harrison said the spirit of the Beatles went out of the Beatles and into Monty Python.”
It took Izzard a bit longer to penetrate the States than it did John, Paul, George and Ringo. (Their Bowl debut came in 1964, just a year after releasing their first album in the U.K.) The comedian’s U.S. breakthrough here was his 1998 “Dress to Kill” tour -- which highlighted his interest in history, cross-dressing and Steve McQueen -- and ensuing HBO broadcast. He’s since made numerous appearances on film (“Oceans Thirteen,” “Valkyrie”) and TV (“The Riches,” “United States of Tara” and a guest voice on “The Simpsons”), but despite providing a voice for this summer’s Pixar movie, “Cars 2,” Izzard has avoided becoming completely domesticated.
In this way he resembles another of his heroes, Los Angeles’ own Richard Pryor. “The way he worked with characters, with voices, very much influenced what I do,” Izzard says. “He had this funny white character: ‘You black people ... .’ He was funny, playful and had a heart.”
Like Pryor, Izzard enjoys pushing limits. Lately he’s become more outspoken about his atheism, and he’s developed a corresponding interest in Charles Darwin. “I like the fact that he did a lot of research; he used facts,” Izzard says. “He went against the current thinking on God. And I’ve decided I’m a spiritual atheist: I went around saying that on a tour, even of the Southern states. It’s easy for us to say that now, especially in Europe. But it wasn’t easy then.”
For Wednesday’s show, he’ll try to channel Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, who is a generation older, especially “his ability to speak to a large audience like you were one person in a pub ... . That’s something I wanted to get. I’m hoping to bring that to the Bowl.”