Cultural humanist Eddie Izzard: "Do unto others"

by Simon de Carvalho '14

Albert Camus, in The Myth of Sisyphus, wrote: "The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth."

This was the inscription that was intended to have appeared on the Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism that was presented to British comedian and noted atheist Eddie Izzard by the Harvard Community of Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics Wednesday, Feb. 20 at Memorial Church .

The evening got off to an appropriately absurd start when Izzard, upon receiving his award, noted that the inscription was missing an ‘e’ and a ‘d’: "The absurd is the ssential concept an the first truth."

The rest of the evening was no less absurd.

Izzard, an out transvestite and atheist known for his irreverent religious and historical comedy often performed in drag, accepted the award with a 40-something minute acceptance speech that featured numerous hilarious diversions followed repeatedly by phrases like, "So… what was I saying about humanism?"

In the course of the speech, Izzard joked his way through the Bible, which he called "a bunch of stories written a few thousand years ago by … blokes. Because if God had written it, the first line would have been, ‘It’s round! That thing you’re standing on! It’s round!’"

Izzard also questioned "God’s" choice of a burning bush to mark the spot where Moses would be appointed leader of the Israelites: "Why not a bloke with wings and a trumpet? Or just a non-onfire bush. I would listen to a non-onfire bush … more."

But beyond the joking—beyond the mischievous excitement that comes from hearing jokes about God inside of a church—there was a message, and it was a message that, at least in this moment, felt like it was made all the more powerful by the comedy that framed it.

Sitting in an historic church -- with "the big windows and stuff" -- there is a sense of the seriousness with which people respectfully approach all things religious. But atheists and believers alike can get lost in that gravity. We’re just people, and sometimes we just need to laugh at ourselves. Stepping back, especially with Izzard as a guide, you find that there’s a lot to laugh at, as well as a lot to love.

"Let’s believe in us," Izzard said. "We’re here. There are seven billion of us, and most of us are trying to do good things. Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. That’s the only thing you need."

"Give a damn about other people," he added. It’s a simple lesson, but one we sometimes overlook.

Read more about Eddie Izzard's acceptance speech in The Boston Globe and Crimson.