Here's the thing about interviewing comedians. Just one is fine, two can be great because they play off of each other, but put three in a room and you'll be lucky to get a word in edgewise. Not that I needed to – I'm happy to just sit back and transcribe the witty banter later – but we had a full ten minutes with famed comedians Eric Idle, Eddie Izzard and Sophie Winkleman to talk about their new comedy What About Dick?, a film stage production of a radio play written by Eric Idle, about a talking piano illustrating the ribald decline of the British Empire, and I think I got three questions in the whole time. They were too busy pondering the collective pronoun of "comedians," of which there are many in What About Dick?, including Idle, Izzard, Winklelman, Billy Connolly, Russell Brand, Tim Curry, Tracey Ullman, Jane Leeves and Jim Piddock.
Is it a "banana" of comedians? A "warring tribe" of comedians? The world may never know the answer, but the debate, at least, has been captured for all time below.
You can download the very funny and extremely punny What About Dick? at the film's official website. In the meantime, we join the interview, already in progress after a long discussion about Eddie Izzard's malfunctioning cell phone, as the lovely Sophie Winkleman tried to focus on the task at hand.
Sophie Winkleman: Sorry. Carry on. Be strict with us.
CraveOnline: She interrupted my interview with Billy and Russell, with her fabulousness.
Eric Idle: She is fabulous.
Eddie Izzard: Who interrupted you?
She did! She just walked by and Russell had to stare at her for a minute. It was very awkward. Very inappropriate, actually.
Eddie Izzard: That’s so unlike Russell, isn’t it?
Eddie Izzard: [To Sophie] –Who designed the dress?
Sophie Winkleman: Stop going on about the dress! I’ll tell you later.
Eddie Izzard: I like the way it buttons, just here…
Sophie Winkleman: What do you mean?! Eddie, stop it! Carry on. Tell us things.
No, you tell me! Tell me about Eric’s Dick.
Sophie Winkleman: Eric’s Dick is very interesting, and I think it’s going to extend even longer, personally. I’m convinced it’s going to happen. After Eddie’s done his little gap here, he’s going off to very different places to show off next year…
Eddie Izzard: Two year.
Sophie Winkleman: I think we… Two year gap?! Oh, Eddie…
Eddie Izzard: Well, it’s two chunks of gap.
Sophie Winkleman: He’s doing a tour.
Eric Idle: She wants to do it on stage. But she’s on TV, she can’t do it on stage.
Sophie Winkleman: Of course I do! I’ll be done by Christmas. I’ll be free as a bird.
Eric Idle: This Christmas, really?
Eddie Izzard: What’s the show you’re in?
Sophie Winkleman: “Two and a Half Men.”
Eddie Izzard: [Whispers] – You’re in that, yeah…
Sophie Winkleman: [Whispers back] – I know…
Eric Idle: Poor girl. You’re getting paid well.
Sophie Winkleman: Don’t judge! [To me] – Carry on. Sorry. Shhhh… Ask us things.
Eric Idle: So it’ll be Sophie Winkleman’s… Dick.
Sophie Winkleman: Yes. You and I will do it.
Eric Idle: Where there’s a panto. Christmastime.
Sophie Winkleman: Well, he’ll come back and do it. You’ll come back from Latvia and do it, of course he will. It will only be four days.
Eddie Izzard: Latvia’s a comedy country.
I’m huge in Latvia.
Eddie Izzard: Yes, no, this is all true. In answer to your question, “yes.” We’ve often been… What is the question?
I don’t know anymore. Just tell me about the production.
Eddie Izzard: It is the Rat Pack. It is the Rat Pack for the early third millennium, but without that rattish quality, but with more of a cattish quality, maybe. A doggish, dog pack.
Eric Idle: Keep working on this, don’t you. You’ll get somewhere. You’ll get to Ratmandu, won’t you?
Eddie Izzard: I’ll get to Ratmandu. It’s a good analogy, don’t you think?
Eric Idle: It is, but she doesn’t understand it. She doesn’t get the reference. She’s too young.
Eddie Izzard: So Sinatra, and Jimmy Osborne, and, uh…
Sophie Winkleman: Sammy Davis.
Eric Idle: There we go. It’s a bunch of comedians.
Eddie Izzard: What’s a funny line, uh…
You’ll get there.
Eric Idle: We had a… What is the collective noun for a bunch of comedians?
Eddie Izzard: [Thinking] – Sinatra, Jimmy Osborne…
Eric Idle: A “banana” of comedians.
Sophie Winkleman: Is that it? Is that the collective noun?
Eric Idle: What would it be?
Eddie Izzard: I think it’s a “warring tribe” of comedians.
Eric Idle: A warring tribe, really…?
Eddie Izzard: Someone sits down and makes these f*ckers up, don’t they? There’s so many of them.
Eric Idle: Well, yeah, there are collective nouns. But I’m wondering what the collective noun is for comedians. A “shout” of comedians. A “laugh” of comedians.
A “digression” of comedians.
Sophie Winkleman: A “dearth” of comedians.
Eric Idle: A “dearth” of comedians.
Sophie Winkleman: [To me] – Sorry.
There’s an interview in here somewhere. I’ll find it.
Eddie Izzard: In answer to your question, “yes.” Often we’ve tried it. It works. But no, Rat Pack. That’s what I think. So it’s Rat Pack, without so much drink…
Eric Idle: I think the “Rap” Pack.
Eddie Izzard: With more sex. Because the Rat Pack never had sex on stage… and that’s essentially what we’re doing.
That we know of…
Eddie Izzard: No, no, they measured it. The CIA were measuring it, with their sexometer. And I believe it’s very sexy. There’s a lot of singing, a lot of comedy, there’s competition between us because we’re all… [Thinks] – Competition from me and no one else…
Eddie Izzard: Me furiously competing like a five-year-old child. Russell Brand, Billy Connolly, Jane Leeves… Is that how you pronounce her last name?
Eric Idle: Jane Leeves? Yes.
Sophie Winkleman: She was your lover.
Eddie Izzard: She was my lover. [Editor’s Note: In the play.]
Eric Idle: She’s very good. Your scenes together with her were wonderful.
Eddie Izzard: Me and Jane, we had oral sex a lot of the time. That’s basically what was going on…
Eric Idle: “Tongue in cheek” humor?
Sophie Winkleman: Oh, god…! [Laughs]
Eddie Izzard: [To Sophie] –Did you just say “I think that the dick will be extended?” Then, “Oh god, tongue in cheek humor.” You can’t. “Tongue in cheek’s” not too bad.
Eric Idle: No.
It depends on the cheek.
Eddie Izzard: It’s a lot of that going on. We’re all bouncing off each other, sometimes with comedy, mostly just bouncing off each other like we’re all big balloons.
A lot of the comedy is the writing and the puns, but you get the impression that you guys are just sort of hanging out. Do you just hang out, or do you just phone people up and say “I’m doing a play…?”
Eric Idle: We hang out. We’ve hung out. But I asked people I knew. I didn’t know Tracey at the time that well. I got to know her better since. Tim Curry obviously knew, from [him] playing King Arthur [in Spamalot]. Billy I’ve known for many, many years. Since the early 70’s. So there was quite a question of “Would you help me do my play, it’s a radio play, you don’t have to learn it, and we’ll do it Saturday and Sunday afternoon.” We did it, originally. And it was very sweet. They all did it, and it was very helpful. Helped me a lot.
I got the impression that it wasn’t too rigorously rehearsed.
Eric Idle: We had no rehearsal! We had one day’s read through, and then the second day we had to get on stage, it was the whole Getty and the cast and the whole set and the cameras and everything. So we only just got on stage and we did a sort of dress that night, with about 300 people. But Russell had no rehearsal at all. But everybody’s really good, you know. They went right into it. So it was pretty good.
What made you want to write a play about a piano?
Eric Idle: Well, I…
Eddie Izzard: The drugs.
Eric Idle: What?
Eddie Izzard: The drugs kicked in. Was it the drugs kicking in?
Eric Idle: Yes, the drugs were kicking in. But I always, it made me laugh, in The Piano, remember they go off to the beach and there’s a f*cking piano sitting there. That image always stuck in my head. When I was doing Merchant Ivory send-ups, I always thought “The Remains of the Piano.” I liked the idea. It holds it all together. And there I thought it was hilarious that the piano would tell the story. Only I find that funny. You know, “It’s not that funny, Eric.” But I kept it in.
Eddie Izzard: No, it’s funny in an Alice in Wonderland type way.
Eric Idle: I don’t know what we would have done if we’d made a film of it! How we’d have… It’s sort of odd, because the piano says, “I’m telling a story.”
Are you thinking about doing something along these lines again, getting this sort of all-star comedy troupe together?
Eric Idle: You know, this is an unfinished experiment. […] We all shared evenly in the profits. Everybody gets the same. But raised the money on the same basis, privately, from James Dyson and Lauren Hutton, people put in money. So nobody’s ever really done a big thing like this. Louis C.K. did it a bit, but nobody’s ever tried out, are we now ready to do downloads properly of things bigger, more entertaining than just somebody’s concert. We will see if somebody will buy it this way. It was nice, we didn’t have to go through studios, we didn’t have to get permission, we raised the money ourselves, it’s just been…
Sophie Winkleman: An independent thing.
Eric Idle: An independent thing. So we’ll see if it works.
Eric, I just have to say this, when I was in high school and had to give my valedictorian speech, I didn’t know what to do so I just sang “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” and sat the f*ck back down.
Eric Idle: Excellent. Thank you.
Eddie Izzard: He was saying it’s the British national anthem, I was claiming it’s the world’s national anthem.
Sophie Winkleman: Yeah, it is.
Eric Idle: That’s very nice.
Eddie Izzard: I bet you they’ve translated it. Have they translated it to other countries?
Eric Idle: Oh yeah. I mean it ends Spamalot.
Eddie Izzard: Spamalot is about to open in France, they will go… [Tries to translate the song to French]
Eric Idle: I’m not quite sure how they would translate that. But Norway, I’ve heard it recently, in Norwegian. Swedish. I’ve heard it in Spanish.
Eddie Izzard: So it is, it is the world’s national anthem. It’s the people’s national anthem, as opposed to a monarchy thing, and obviously everyone here hates the monarchy…
I love the monarchy.
Sophie Winkleman: Quite right! [Editor’s Note: Sophie Winkleman is married to Lord Frederick Windsor.]
Eric Idle: She never, ever pulls that. She’s so far from that. She’s a doll.
Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg