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Comedian Eddie Izzard’s five top tips for success

ANTHONY JENKINS/The Globe and Mail

The benefits of the B-list

I'm quite happy to be known as a minor international celebrity – quite well known, not really well known. If I go to a festival where there's a lot of cool, young, open-minded, sexy people then I get a lot of attention and it can be hard to move around, but if I'm going to a place where there are a lot of older, horrible, smelly people then it's quite easy, because none of them know who I am. I just played a couple of festivals in Britain. I had to put a hat on otherwise I would have been stopped for photographs. It's nice, but I'm glad I'm not at a level where I get that everywhere. Many celebrities want to dial it up and dial it down, and that's just not the way it works. You can't want all of the attention when your ego is low and then demand to be left alone when you're feeling great.

The Schwarzenegger school of image evolution

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Maybe some people have trouble thinking of me as a politician, which is why I have been focusing on more dramatic work in terms of my acting. Look at Arnold Schwarzenegger: At first he was a body builder who wanted to be an actor and people weren't so sure about that, and then he started doing action movies and he did Twins and he started to get better. When he said he wanted to be governor people weren't so sure, but then he ended up being a pretty good businessman, which made it easier for the public to see him as a politician. He's not my politics, but he's a great example of how you can lay the groundwork for the direction you want to go in.

Go to university on your iPod

I believe in the importance of getting an education, but I also think there's a hell of a lot you can teach yourself after you've finished school. I dropped out of university, so did Bill Gates and a lot of successful people. If anyone wants to have all of the information I have in my head, get the Melvyn Bragg podcast In Our Time. He gives these half-hour briefings and overviews on just about everything: religious subjects, science subjects, historical subjects, cultural subjects, political subjects. There's a whole back catalogue. It's just unbelievable. You can learn absolutely everything.

Why comedy is like a road trip

My comedy style is somewhat casual and conversational, and maybe that leads people to think that I'm making it up as I go along, but that's not my intention. The way that I prepare in terms of a show is that I work out the main roads. In Canada, I think you call those the highways. It's only when I know that main route cold that I can really feel comfortable exploring the various side roads and improvising a bit in the moment, which only works because I know that main route that I'm coming back to. I've been told that my shows tend to get really good once I'm totally bored with the material. Once it becomes like breathing.

Lessons from the gay plumber

My comedy and my being a transvestite have nothing to do with one another. It's like if you have a gay plumber – so what? I think there was a point when an audience who turned up to see my show assumed that the comedy was going to be in the alternative-sexuality area. The alternative-sexuality community tends to like a certain kind of joke, but my jokes are for people who like comedy. I remember there was a guy in Wales – he was one of the guys who took down the set after a show and he was kind of stunned and he said, "You just talk rubbish." I went, yeah – did you think I was going to do an hour and a half on makeup?

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This interview has been condensed and edited.

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