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‘Believe Me’ worth believing in

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Izzard memoir packed with honesty, heartfelt humor

While one could argue that celebrity memoirs aren’t necessarily the most challenging reads, they do come with a unique set of pressures. Famous people thrive on perception, so if they’re going to tell their life story, it had better be good.

Comedians have a particularly heavy onus to bear; not only does their story need to be interesting, it has to be funny, but not too jokey. The reader wants to know who this person is, but the author can’t lose sight of why the reader is interested in the first place.

It’s a delicate balance, one that Eddie Izzard manages to strike more often than not in his new memoir “Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens” (Blue Rider Press, $28). The comedian walks us through his life with a blend of self-deprecation and self-awareness that make for an engaging read.

Izzard was born in Yemen, but spent his formative years growing up in the United Kingdom – Northern Ireland, Wales, England. The defining event of his childhood – and really, his entire life – was the death of his beloved mother when he was just six years old. That experience led to an assortment of biographical dominoes falling. His father, unable to properly care for his sons as a single father due to the nature of his job, sent Eddie and his brother to boarding school. It was a decidedly mixed bag as far as experiences go.

However, it was at boarding school where Eddie first caught the performing bug. Said bug would follow him to university, where he would find himself mounting his very own show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – an experience that would in turn lead to him leaving school altogether to pursue his dreams.

From there, he worked his way up. He hit the comedy circuit in the UK. He made his way from tiny clubs to massive stadium shows, crafting his own unique comedic voice.

But it isn’t just his professional story being told. Izzard is engagingly frank about his own “alternative sexuality” – namely, his adopted label as an “action transvestite” – and shares his journey toward not just societal acceptance, but self-acceptance as well. His sexuality is a vital part of his history – one that he never shies away from at any point in these pages.

There’s plenty of other stuff here – the marathon running business is particularly fascinating – and all of it is engaging and heartfelt and unwaveringly honest.

And oh yeah – it’s pretty freaking funny too.

This isn’t an earth-shattering tell-all. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking here – certainly not to the extent that Izzard’s comedy is – but that’s not really the point. What makes “Believe Me” such a compelling read is the fact that it is unabashedly … ordinary. It seems odd to say about a memoir written by someone who makes their living in the spotlight, but there’s very little “look at me” in this book.

That’s not to say that it wants for entertainment value, however. Izzard is as sharp and smart as you’d expect him to be here, relating the tales of his adolescence with a wry, dry wit. But there’s little room for spectacle or self-aggrandizement here; he just tells his tale. The reality is that with a storyteller as gifted as Izzard, there’s nothing else that you need.

Part of what makes Eddie Izzard such a successful entertainer is his uncanny knack for finding the ridiculous within the sublime – and vice versa. He pulls extraordinary observations from ordinary realms. And while “Believe Me” isn’t as willfully anarchic and absurd as his comedy, it still provides a fascinating peek into the journey that led him to grow into the man he has become.

Getting a peek behind the curtain with regards to a guy like this is a rare treat. “Believe Me” is that peek, a glimpse at the inner workings, the gears and cogs that make a unique personality such as Eddie Izzard tick. 

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