Interview: Julian Clary, comedian

IT COULD be said that bringing mince to Scotland is like taking Cheryl Cole to Newcastle. However, Julian Clary is confident that in touring his stand-up show, Lord of the Mince, here he will - to steal his own double entendre - experience a warm hand on his entrance.

• Julian Clary's Lord of the Mince debuted at last year's Edinburgh Fringe and the show has been touring ever since

"The Scots have a well-developed appreciation of rough humour generally," he says. "In Glasgow as well as Edinburgh - I've always really loved performing there because Glaswegians are so extrovert; if they're enjoying themselves they don't hold back. The Scots tend to socialise in groups - groups of women in particular, out for a good time. I've done gigs there where the first half has been a bit quiet, and then in the interval they've all gone off to the car park to drink Bacardi, so the second half has been quite wild." He laughs. "I like that. Why should they pay bar prices?"

Lord of the Mince debuted at last year's Edinburgh Fringe and so pleased were his fans to see Clary back in stand-up mode after six years that it's been touring almost continually since, taking in Australia and New Zealand. It sounds gruelling, but softly spoken policeman's son Clary, as sparky as ever at 51, seems reinvigorated by the experience. "I love it, actually. I'd forgotten how satisfying touring is."

Between 2003 and 2009, Clary's career diversified and showed us more of what he was about: he was a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing and QI, hosted Have I Got News For You and This Morning, and explored his family's ancestry for Who Do You Think You Are? He also published a bestselling memoir and two novels - Clary has been a keen writer of prose and poetry since childhood and once thought it would be his career. From 2006 to 2008 he was the New Statesman's fortnightly diarist.

Going back on tour after six years was nerve-racking, he admits. "It hits you hard - we had to start from scratch with two hours of new material, and you have to perform it for the first time some way or other. On the comedy-club circuit you could try out five minutes of new stuff and then retreat.

"I don't want to leave it that long again," he adds seriously, "so we'll start writing the next stand-up show (for 2012] as soon as this one's finished."

What audiences can expect from the current show is Clary holding court in typical style, charming and supercilious, bantering with the audience, inciting whoops with his fast, filthy quips, deadpan innuendo and comic songs. His material has moved with the times, however, reflecting on a quarter-century of stardom, reaching his fifties - "a comedy age" - living in the countryside and, to his surprise, becoming something of an establishment figure.

Clary made his debut at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1979. "I was a drama student at Goldsmith's College; we did Twelfth Night and As You Like It.' Four years later he returned, this time in his stand-up persona, The Joan Collins Fan Club. A veteran of the early-1980s comedy scene that spawned The Young Ones, French & Saunders and Jo Brand, Clary caught the eye of TV producers - at that time trawling underground comedy clubs for "alternative" talent - with his no-holds-barred act.

"At that time, comedy was pretty left-wing, and you were among friends on the circuit, but then doing Friday Night Live on TV, suddenly you were exposed to other audiences, which brought out the worst in the Daily Mail. I enjoyed the outrage, being labelled perverted - that became a comedic device.

"I felt a need to be very graphic about gay sex, because to demystify it was part of my mission," he laughs. It worked, I say. "Yes, because in the current show I've got a whole routine about fisting" - an infamous reference to which caused outrage after he made a joke on live TV about then chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont at the 1993 British Comedy Awards - "and I think it's great that when I do it on stage now there are white-haired old ladies in the audience nodding sagely instead of screaming. I think it shows progress."

Ask Clary about his transition from reclusive teenager to deliberately camp, lip-glossed and leather-clad comedian and he says it was all down to being shy. "I was very quiet, my voice is quiet, so I would find myself being ignored. Part of my motivation was that I wanted to be the centre of attention, but on my own terms.

"The fact that people paid to see me standing there with a microphone satisfied something in me - as did the reward of getting a laugh every 20 seconds. It's like nothing else; it's very addictive and very reassuring."

His marathon tour ends this month, and then - after a whole week off - Clary goes into pantomime. His co-star in Dick Whittington at Birmingham Hippodrome is none other than the Hollywood legend after whom Clary named his breakthrough comedy act: Joan Collins.

They have briefly met before, he says, "but not every day for six weeks, putting our slap on together backstage. She'll be playing Queen Rat and I'm the Spirit of the Bells - so she's evil and I'm good!"

What next for this shy exhibitionist? His third novel will be published next summer, the first draft of which is almost complete, he says. "Once you've created these characters in your mind, you just want to sit down and get going with it."

The book is "a fictionalised account of Nol Coward's life" and he's awarded himself a role, as in his last novel, Devil in Disguise. Asked whether he appears as a saint or a sinner, Clary says smartly: "Well… let's just wait until it comes out and then you can interview me again." You're on, Julian.

•Lord of the Mince is at the Ironworks, Inverness, tonight; Falkirk Town Hall, tomorrow; Rothes Hall, Glenrothes, 12 November; the Maltings, Berwick Upon Tweed, 13 November; and the King's Theatre, Edinburgh, 14 November. www.julianclary.co.uk