Food for Thought Friday: Eddie Izzard & History Through a Comedic Lens

eddie izzard, comedy, history, british

Today’s Food for Thought Friday is dedicated to Eddie Izzard, comedian, actor, writer, marathoner, and political activist. Eddie is one of Marabou’s favorite comedians for a number of reasons, one of them being the way Eddie talks about history. Below is a snippet from Eddie’s Dressed To Kill tour in which he talks about colonization and how the British Empire was built.

For those of you who can’t watch the video, Eddie says the following about Great Britain,

We built up empires, we stole countries! That’s what you do, that’s how you build an empire. We stole countries with the cunning use of flags.”  ::Laughter:: “Yeah, just sail around the world and stick a flag in.”

“I claim India for Britain!”

And they go, “You can’t claim us, we live here. 500 million of us.”

“Do you have a flag?” ::laughter::

“We don’t need a bloody flag, this is our country, you bastard.”

“No flag, no country! You can’t have one! That’s the rules…I’ve just made up.” ::laughter:: “And I’m backing it up with this gun…lent from the National Rifle Association.”

Eddie covers a lot in under a minute:

  • Empire is built on stolen land through force and violence.
  • He provides a voice of both colonizer and those who will be colonized.
  • The power of flags, pieces of fabric that embody the values and beliefs of a nation.
  • The power of objects to be oppressive in their presence and symbolism.
  • When said in plain terms, the British (or any other empire-builder) taking land already occupied by people is nonsensical and unjustified.
  • “Justification” to colonize countries is made up, fabricated. The line between “civilized” and “uncivilized” has been determined by those with power who want to advance their point of view economically, politically, and socially.
  • Weapons and militarization are more than protection and have historically been used to exercise power and conquer.

Marabou encourages you to watch the clip and then separately read the transcription. For the most part, Eddie’s words are not funny, they’re actually quite blunt. It’s his delivery that gets the laughter. There is laughter because something is funny and there is laughter because something is uncomfortable. Eddie finds the perfect balance in his delivery and content to draw both types of laughter. This balance makes problematic histories a bit easier to hear. Eddie’s work and style are an example of another medium that can be used to talk about difficult histories: comedy. If anything, humor can be used to disarm people so they are more willing to listen and discuss controversial issues. Marabou wonders about other mediums not traditionally associated with history that can be used to initiate conversations and make people more open to listening.

Have you ever found yourself engaged in thinking or talking about history or contemporary social issues though an unexpected/untraditional medium? What was it? Why was it effective?

If you are in the US, Eddie is currently touring and workshopping new material. See his tour schedule here.

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