• Germany's news in English

'If you want an adventure, learn a language'

Jessica Ware · 31 Jan 2014, 16:36

Published: 31 Jan 2014 16:36 GMT+01:00

It is arguably a plucky decision for a British stand-up comedian to ditch the language of Monty Python when creating comedy in Germany, but Izzard sees his six-week stand-up run in Berlin as central to his European mission.

“We've been making beautiful stuff together for the past 2,000 years, then stopping to kill each other every 250," he told The Local. "If we take out the killing, like we're trying to, we should be able to keep making great things."

It has taken him a decade to bring a German-language show to the stage, something for which he drafted in his linguist brother Daniel, and which resulted in a script - a novelty for the famously quick-witted Izzard.

“We have the same sense of humour,” he said of his brother, pulling a wad of A4 sheets off the dressing table. They contain the script for his show Force Majeure in German. “I mean, look, for the first time ever I have an actual manuscript.”

It took him just three weeks to learn it – at roughly a page a day.

Before embarking on what must have surely been one of history’s oddest German grammar classes, 50-year-old Izzard had just two years of high school German under his belt.

Kicking off an interview with a fellow Brit in German may have seemed absurd, and ran a little like a tutor session, with him asking “is that correct?” from time to time, but for Izzard, it's all or nothing. “In the things I do, I'm more. In those I don't, I'm nothing,” he said.

'Humour is universal'

His affability in person - just as one hopes - quickly chases away his fame, and his enthusiasm for his topic transforms the dressing room in the Imperial Club of the Admiralspalast into a bubble of discussion.

“My theory is that humour can be universal. You use universal jokes, like human sacrifice, like religion, or explain your references.

“That way the smart people get it. It's intelligent and stupid and I knew it would cross over,” he said.

His level of German is outstanding, thanks to a method of learning he calls the “matrix treatment,” and he slaps the crook of his arm as if prepping a vein for a shot of A-grade vocabulary.

Running interviews in German is testament to this, as is the German version of The Avengers he has got on his iPad.

“You absolutely have to push yourself,” he said, gesturing to the screen. “Of course at the beginning of the run I was terrified.”

His Berlin show has already been running for two weeks and he is enjoying life in the city. “I'm here because it's the capital, and for the history and because I love being European," he said. “Berlin is fucked up and crazy and everything a city should be.”

Initially his performance was little more than a recital of a pre-learned script. Izzard knew the jokes as “they're cut out of me, cut out of blood,” he said, but he did not have the ability to juggle them. “I couldn't take the words out and put them in another sentence.”

'If you want an adventure, learn a language'

Now, however, he opens his set with a completely improvised chat, in German, about why he's doing what he's doing.

It's met with rapture, as Germans are almost always thrilled when foreigners give it a go. His attack on German sentence structure and grammar goes down a storm.

His jokey self-mockery is almost native in its self-depreciation.

Sitting among the audience, 70 percent of whom, on a show of hands, identify as native German speakers, it's clear that something is clicking.

People get involved, helping him out when he forgets a word and not only laughing at his jokes, but also equally hard at his mistakes. Schleiderkrank, instead of Kleiderschrank (wardrobe), deserves a mention.

“You're the pioneers,” he told the crowd. “Not the GDR ones, but the modern ones,” he continued, in reference to the fact that they had come to see a foreigner do stand-up in their language.

Still, the biggest laughs go to the more physical parts of his routine - a mole digging tunnels, God using a tablet computer, a horse backing into a wardrobe.

The audience was at its quietest when the topic moved to human sacrifice, but seemed to ease up when they realized he was talking about medieval England.

The Imperial Club is Izzard’s launch pad for a German-wide tour.

Story continues below…

“It was a business decision as well, moving over into German,” said Izzard. “It's an extra 95 million people to perform to if I include Austria and Switzerland.” This isn't just about the money, of course. “I want to tell Germany that we're all the bloody same.”

Already fluent in French and now capable in German, soon to be 51-year-old Izzard is an open supporter of the EU, and of language-learning.

“If you want an adventure, if you want to create a person that is – but also isn't – you, learn another language,” he said. “But this is an adventure you have to choose, it's not like if you don't do it you die.”

Next on his Force Majeure crusade, Izzard will perform in Spanish, Russian and eventually Arabic.

Russia, he admitted to the crowd, could be a tougher gig due to his well-known habit of cross-dressing.

“I'm a transvestite but I'll fight anyone anywhere,” he says, his long red nails glistening.

One has a Union Jack flag on it, another the EU flag (he's already found a good manicurist in Berlin). 

The Local has tickets to give away to Eddie Izzard's show on February 13th in Berlin. To win, email news@thelocal.com and tell us in one sentence why they should be yours.

Force Majeure runs in Berlin until February 28th. Get your tickets here.

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Jessica Ware (jessica.ware@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
German Mali troops to free France for Isis fight
The Bundeswehr on operation in Mali. Photo: DPA

German Mali troops to free France for Isis fight

1 hour ago

Germany will send up to 650 soldiers to Mali, Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday, to provide some relief to France in its global fight against Isis jihadists.

Judges fine teacher for painting over swastikas
Swastikas are often daubed on mosques and Jewish grave stones, among other things. File photo: DPA

Judges fine teacher for painting over swastikas

2 hours ago

A teacher from central Germany has been ordered to pay a €1,000 fine after he painted over Swastikas which had been sprayed on public property.

Refugee crisis
Merkel tries to hit tough-but-fair note on refugees
Angela Merkel addressing the Bundestag on Wednesday morning. Photo: DPA

Merkel tries to hit tough-but-fair note on refugees

2 hours ago

Angela Merkel continued her balancing act between her party and her principles in a speech to MPs on Wednesday as she attempted to reassure parliament that she had the refugee crisis under control.

Lufthansa air crews call off strike
Lufthansa. Photo: DPA

Lufthansa air crews call off strike

3 hours ago

Air crew union UFO announced on Wednesday that it has decided to call off a planned strike against Lufthansa, after the airline made significant concessions.

Refugee crisis
German asylum law is 'magnet for refugees'
Günter Oettinger. Photo: DPA

German asylum law is 'magnet for refugees'

4 hours ago

Germany's asylum law is responsible for luring so many refugees to Europe and needs changing, said the country’s EU commissioner Günther Oettinger on Wednesday.

Peruvian farmer sues German energy giant
An RWE brown coal mine. Photo: DPA

Peruvian farmer sues German energy giant

5 hours ago

A Peruvian farmer has filed a landmark lawsuit against German energy giant RWE, saying that the company's fossil fuel emissions endanger his family, livelihood and hometown, a German NGO said Tuesday.

Bishop buys €300k altar as refugee home rots
Bishop Konrad Zdarsa of Augsburg. Photo: DPA

Bishop buys €300k altar as refugee home rots

20 hours ago

The Bishop of Augsburg has announced plans to build a €300,000 altar in the city cathedral, just days after complaining that the city was underfunding refugees.

Five foolproof steps to do Advent like a German
The lighting of the first "Adventskranz" candle marks the start of the festive season. Photo: DPA

Five foolproof steps to do Advent like a German

21 hours ago

With the first Sunday of Advent almost upon us, The Local looks at how Germany celebrates the festive season - and what to look out for once Advent begins on November 29th.

Climate chaos threatens Germany, experts warn
Flooding in Bavaria in 2013. Photo: DPA

Climate chaos threatens Germany, experts warn

22 hours ago

Ever-more heat waves and floods will hit Germany over the coming century, posing serious challenges to the country’s agriculture and economy, a new analysis predicts.

Growth boosted by shopping and refugees
File photo: DPA

Growth boosted by shopping and refugees

1 day ago

The German economy posted firm growth for the third quarter, boosted by consumer spending which is fast becoming a cornerstone for German economic expansion, data published Tuesday showed.

Sponsored Article
How to figure out healthcare abroad
German ISS astronaut tells kids to follow their dreams
Sponsored Article
Why family companies need free trade and TTIP
90 percent of Germans want tougher security
Sponsored Article
'Innovative companies like Hövding benefit most from TTIP'
Are you living in Germany's most expensive city?
Sponsored Article
The cheapest and fastest way to transfer money
Should singer accused of homophobia represent Germany at Eurovision?
70 years since the Nuremberg Trials
The German connection in the Paris attacks
Snow expected on 'first weekend of winter'
10 years of Angela Merkel in Berlin
Could soldiers soon be patrolling German streets?
Second German Paris victim was teacher and journalist
'We can't beat Isis with military means'
How will Germany help France fight Isis?
One German confirmed dead in Paris attacks
'Don't take Paris out on refugees': German defence minister
Germany's minute of silence for Paris victims
Nightclub bans refugees for harassing women
OPINION: Refugees must learn to respect German values
The ancient German community at the heart of Texas
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd