Babies on spikes
Here is a transcript of that interview, reprinted with permission
"Eddie Izzard, welcome to Fresh Air. In 1987, you invented the Babies on Spikes joke. This joke went on to become a classic, and was used on Friends to describe Rachel's affair with Chandler. It was also used in the 1999 comedy 'Air France', which starred Julie Delpie as an airline stewardess who can't stop putting passengers babies on spikes. Im wondering, how did you come up with this joke? What was the inspiration?"
"Teri, when I was young, I took a trip to Afghanistan. We were going to India, just backpacking you know, and as we passed through the Kyhber Pass, I noticed all these things in the distance, that looked like big lollipops. And I said to my friend Steve, "
Teri - "I should tell our listeners, this is Steve Moreni, who later went on to write episodes of Maclolm in the Middle,"
Eddie- "yes, yes,, exactly, , , wow, you really have done your homework. .."
Teri - (says nothing, pausing for a split second to soak up the compliment, and then getting on with the interview)
Eddie- "So anyways I said, 'Steve... Steve... what are those lollipop things? ' "
"That's when Steve said, Eddie. Eddie, those are babies on spikes man."
"And I went, what? No. You're joking!"
"And he said no, I'm not joking."
"That's when I told the guide, Ahmer, to take us up close. And sure enough, that's what they were. Babies. Babies on spikes"
Teri - "I can imagine that must have been a horrifying experience. "
Eddie - "It was, it w.."
Teri (interrupting) - "And I .. but how did you turn that into one of the funniest TV jokes of the late 90s? And a joke that is still used today, by people like Jay Leno and David Letterman, but also by various underground comedians such as Rich Voss and Jim Norton?"
Eddie - (not annoyed by the interruption at all) "Well, Terri, it just .. you're right. It was apalling, and horrifying, and terrible. But I realized, then, that the guide was laughing. And he told me a sort of off hand joke about birds on spikes. Clearly I thought the guy was nuts. Absolutely nuts."
Terri - "Uh huh"
Eddie - "But then when I got back to my hotel in Kabul, I started thinking. I had thrown up all over the bathroom, and was just sitting there, lying in a pool of my own vomit, smelling faintly of Afghani spices... thinking to myself 'wow, this is horrible. this is really, really horrible. how do people live like this?"
Eddie - "And I realized something Terri. I realized, I realized that, you know, in life, we have to laugh to keep from crying. And that's when the joke came to me"
Terri - "So the joke just came to you... have other jokes or routines or anything just come to you like that?"
Eddie - "No, no, I think that was the only time it's ever happened to me. I usually have to try very hard to have a joke come through, or a bit, or a script or routine or whatever or trick. I have to practice it, refine it, work on it, and dig around for inspiration. But this one just kind of was floating in the air there, in the air I suppose. And I dont know where it came from or how it happened or if it will happen again. I mean yeah, I had to work on it. I thought about maybe, you know, babies on thorns, or puppies on spikes, or something. But you know, it didn't take a whole lot of work to get it into it's final form. "
Terri - "so.. th.."
Eddie - "Except for one time. The bit about rabbits. That one, that one just came to me too. But no, it doesn't happen very often, if ever"
Terri - "Ok. So now I'd like to ask you about your time writing for COPS. What was that like?"
I'm David Bianculi. Stay tuned for my interview with George W Bush, and how he turned from politician, to playwrite.