Love, Death and Jazz Chickens

I’ve just finished reading Eddie Izzard’s autobiography Believe Me, subtitled a memoir of love, death, and jazz chickens, although really the book should just be called “Stamina”. Read on to find out why…

When this was published, back in 2017, Izzard identified as male. She now uses female pronouns, so I will refer to Izzard as she/her.

Eddie Izzard is now an established actor and comedic force, but her success did not happen over night. Believe Me shares the story of her slow rise to to the top: from humble beginnings in the 1980s as a street performer in London’s Covent Garden, to having-a-go at the Edinburgh Festival, and to establishing herself on the London comedy circuit a decade later, before making the leap to doing solo comedy gigs.

In the book, Izzard tells us that she doesn’t write down her comedy; she often improvises it, memorises it, and then tweaks it as she goes along, until she ends up with a refined performance. Believe Me is written in a very matter-of-fact style: here are the facts and this is how it happened. Although this is the story of a comedian, the book itself is not funny.

Izzard breaks down her story, detailing her mindset and her approach to her work, letting the reader know exactly how she achieved her success. This is useful information for budding comedians or actors, but for the rest of us, it is often an exercise in psychology. In many ways, her approach can be summed up in a single word, which she often points out to us: stamina.

Tragedy, however, is also at the heart of Izzard’s story; her mother died when Eddie was only six years old, which resulted in she and her brother being sent off to boarding school so that their father could continue to work. Izzard’s recollections from her childhood are heart-breaking; I defy anyone not to be moved by it. Izzard goes on to say that perhaps the reason for her stamina, for her drive to achieve, comes from her belief that if she achieved enough, then her mother might come back.

The other thread that runs through Izzard’s life is the conflict she felt about her gender identity. She realised at a young age that she wanted to wear make-up and women’s clothing, and self-identified as transvestite, before using the term ‘transgender’. Throughout the book she refers to being in “boy mode” or “girl mode”, which would dictate how she would dress. Izzard now identifies as female, although sometimes performs as an actor in “boy mode”.

But, back to stamina.

The book ends with the marathons that Izzard ran in the UK in 2016 (43 marathons in 51 days), to raise money for Sport Relief. Since then, Izzard ran 28 marathons in 28 days, in 28 different European countries in 2020, and last year she ran 31 marathons and performed 31 stand up gigs, in 31 days, from a treadmill in London. Now that really is stamina.

In summary: if you’re expecting a book full of laughs, then you’ll be disappointed. But, if you want a story of how to achieve your dreams, Believe Me could be your stamina muse.

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