ENIGMATIC is not a word readily associated with Jerry Sadowitz. Acerbic, foul-mouthed, and offensive are labels more commonly ascribed to the comic, magician, and talk-show host whose four-letter expletives recently provoked a Broadcasting Standards Commission rebuke, and who's been likened to Bernard Manning for his disregard for political correctness.

Disregard? He positively spits on the sacred cows of the more PC ''alternative'' comedians. ''Comedy should be open to everything, as long as it's funny,'' said the man who jokes readily about Aids, race, religion, and the death of Princess Diana.

Yet the expert card magician is a master of deception, and off-stage he's said to be shy, likable, and a little reclusive. American-born with Jewish roots, the three-year-old Sadowitz came to Glasgow when his parents divorced and lived with his mother in the city's south side (though not, he once said, ''so far south as Newton Mearns or Giffnock where the rich Jewish people live'').

At 11, displaying an early interest in magic, he acquired books from Tam Shepherd's celebrated Trick & Magic Shop - a popular haunt of the aspiring magician, who later found an audience as a street performer.

Cracking jokes to attract passers-by, the busking card-sharp developed a talent for stand-up. ''I wanted to see if I could entertain without props,'' he said, and in 1985, the 22-year-old made his comedy debut in a Glasgow club and secured a regular stand-up slot in a London Road pub.

A two-year stint headlining at the London Comedy Store followed (he made the fortnightly trip by bus), then a national tour and regular Edinburgh Fringe smash hits; Melody Maker dubbed him ''the funniest man in Britain''. He won a Polygram Comedy Award, and plenty of notoriety for his no-holds-barred, taboo- flouting routines.

But in 1991, his uncompromising style of humour landed him in hot water . . . on stage in Montreal. ''Dreadful place,'' he said of his host city, ''half of you speak French, the other half let you.'' Indian would be a better language ''in memory of the people you stole the country from''. Up jumped a raging Francophone and belted him in the face.

The following year, BBC2 gave him his first TV magic show - the short-lived Pallbearers' Review. Following a bout of depression, Sadowitz vanished from the comedy circuit for five years, taking a job in a magic shop and concentrating on his card skills. Then last year, he returned to the stage with a magic show and an anarchic sketch routine with Logan Murray. His chat-show debut earlier this year - on C5's The People v Jerry Sadowitz - clinched his success.

Now living in London, Sadowitz is said to have been hurt by the lack of recognition he received in Glasgow. Despite his high profile, he calls himself a ''born loser'' and retains an element of the mystery that is the magician's stock in trade. His self-styled production company biog fills a scant few lines, listing little more than his professional achievements, and the fact that he ''despises magicians as much as he loves magic''.

But then, we could hardly expect him to lay all his cards on the table.

See The Beast of Jerry Sadowitz (C5, 11.55pm). A new series of The People v Jerry Sadowitz starts on November 13.