Book Review: Eddie Izzard’s a lot duller and more conventional than you’d think, “Believe Me”

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The best line in Eddie Izzard’s stultifying new autobiography, “Believe Me,” comes in the forward. And the British transgender comic attributes it to one of his idols, the Scots comic Billy Connolly.

Billy’s rule for a life in showbiz, or just life in general? Keep yourself “windswept and interesting.”  Eddie says he’s taken this to heart.

So he isn’t just a transvestite, he’s “an ACTION transvestite,” running marathons for assorted charities around the world, performing his stand-up act in every country that will have him. He ran 27 of these 26 mile endurance races in South Africa not that long ago.

He isn’t just a stand-up comic, he’s a comic who sometimes performs in a dress (as if that’s rare in the UK).

But “Believe Me,” which was inspired by a 2009 autobiographical documentary with half that title (“Believe”) is a crushing bore.

Watch his stand-up specials or samples of them on Youtube and you’ve had his warning shot. He’s better at putting over his material — sometimes in drag, because while he loves women, he loves their clothes and makeup and nail polish, too — than he is at coming up with funny, original comedy.

How he won an Emmy for “writing” his first HBO special (“Dressed to Kill”) would be a mystery, if not for the Emmy voters’ Anglophilia and willingness to grab hold of the hot new “novelty act.”

He confesses as much in the book, which tests one’s patience, right from the get-go. How long do you typically give a memoir to “get to the good stuff?” I’m not that interested in his discovery of his sexuality (very young) or his coming out (drama free, pretty much). I am curious how he went from being a star street performer and Edinburgh Fringe breakout to a stand-up and then film star.

He charts that rise, never once using the word “chutzpah” for the cocky confidence that drove him to book theaters before he was well-established, and basically will himself to success. But he also leaves out jokes that made his early mark, descriptions of the routines that drew crowds on the street (his manic patter comes from that) or his breaks in film.

I loved his work in “The Cat’s Meow,” “Across the Universe” and the new period piece import, “Victoria and Abdul.” I interviewed him a few years back about another film appearance, and found him amusing and charming. He doesn’t address any specifics about his rise so much as name-drop how stunned he is that a lad who didn’t even get into Cambridge (and its Footlights comedy fame pipeline) could share the screen with the likes of Judi Dench, who sends him a banana before every opening night.

He was a phenomenon in Britain, and that led to New York fame, and US tours. But there’s just nothing here to explain it. He dismisses the idea that doing his act in drag added novelty, and unique subject matter for his routines, even though surely that’s part of it.

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He lost his mother while quite young, and thinks he’s still trying to please her, he figures. Not the first to claim that ground, but there it is. The footnotes to the writing — some laborious, some witty — are more telling than recounting his sporting life, love life (demure in the extreme, in his telling) and professional accomplishments, rising above his comfortable middle class upbringing to stardom.

There’s a disarming “It Gets Better” subtext here as he recounts facing down (with extreme politeness) most of those gay bashers he has encountered on the street over the years.

But if you’re not looking for that sort of affirmation, the entertainment value and “Here’s how I did it” revelations of “Believe Me” are sorely lacking.

 

 

 

 

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