Eddie Izzard on Atheism, Transgender, and “The Invisible Bloke Upstairs”

Exactly who is giving Eddie Izzard an award says a lot about the actor-comedian's view of the world, and he expounds on them in this interview.

BY Becky Garrison of Religion Dispatches

March 08 2013 12:49 PM ET

I heard you came out as an atheist during your Stripped tour.
I was an agnostic for a long time just in case He came down—the End of Days, here it is, Rapture time! And I would have said, “Well I was never not on your team.” I would have just argued my way into heaven.

But I thought, let’s put the chips on the table. Let’s just  jump to light-speed and get over that. And then if there is an End of Days, I’m stuffed and it doesn’t matter. I’ve just decided I’m going to live it. And that’s what it was. I suddenly realized I was hiding behind myself and it was best to just come out in front. It’s kind of like being a transvestite. I think gradually people just move on over that.

When did you realize you are a humanist?
I am getting this award as a humanist but… I said I was an atheist in 2008. I remember hearing about the humanists and I always thought of myself as a human being. I don’t know. This is a difficult question to answer. It was probably in my thirties I said I could be a humanist. Before that I was a bit too egocentric.

Why does humanism or atheism matter to you?
It’s common sense that leads to humanism. Generally I like people until they tell me they’re fascists. I then go, “I don’t know what to do with you.” It’s the logical place to be. That and just giving a damn about people. I call myself a spiritual atheist—I don’t believe in gods. I believe in us and that’s how it works.

How would describe yourself as a student or observer of religion?
I’ve become a student of life really. I look for patterns and came up with a theory which history plus change in society multiplied by the change in technology equals the future.

It’s a bit of a glib equation, but humanity keeps repeating things. We have a Hitler and then we had Milošević. Why did that happen? Then you factor in the change in society. No elected government—or even dictatorships—are saying, “let’s have slavery.” No one is putting it forward as a sensible idea.

The Arab uprisings came through Twitter, Facebook, and the internet. So if you put in all that, you should be able to estimate the future. I look at patterns and waves. I looked inside myself to work out why I was transvestite and what was going on. I didn’t come to any conclusions but I dumped guilt and shame.

How to you reconcile believing in human goodness in this time of genocide?
If you add up all the Nazis in World War II who started this out, they were in the tens of thousands. Even now, there’s seven billion of us. One person with a gun can do a hell of a lot of damage and death. It’s all the others, the ones who aren’t picking up guns that I’m talking about.

Notice how people inside the cities tend to vote Democratic. You go outside the cities and it tends all to go Republican. There’s something about living next to each other. I believe the melting pot is the thing that can save the world. I also think there’s a ticking clock. If we don’t get a free and fair world by the end of this century, we might not make it because someone will invent something that size of a pea that will destroy a city. Hitler spent a lot of time trying to persuade people to be really negative. So I’m going to do the opposite, and encourage people to be positive. 

How consciously do you think of your comedy as educational?
I’m just going for entertainment. People used to say my humor is rather gentle. I remember listening to Bill Hicks, who was later on taking on bigger subjects using surreal and political comedy. I realized coming out of Bill Hicks that I’ve got to take on bigger subjects. I’m not trying to educate but I’m encouraging and informing. 

How do you respond to those who say, if you don’t believe in God, then you can’t have a good sense of right and wrong?
This implies you need the invisible bloke to tell you how right and wrong happens. There’s no proof of that because it means that all native tribes should be bad. Also, who was this this invisible person? Can’t he just turn up? We’ve got a few questions. If he knows about good and bad, why didn’t he use any of his powers to stop Hitler? He could have just made it so Hitler’s head came off.

 

A full video of Izzard’s performance and Q&A can be viewed here. In March 2013, Izzard begins a worldwide comedy tour aptly named Force Majeure. This article originally appeard in Religion Dispatches.

Tags: Comedy

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