JULIAN Clary, over the years, has become famous (or infamous?) in part thanks to his collection of acid drops, his predilection for producing remarks so cutting they require surgical stitches.

Who can forget his 1993 British Comedy Awards joke when he suggested he had been performing a sex act on Norman Lamont? (The tag line, drowned out by laughter, was “talk about a red box”.)  And when once asked to focus on the void during meditation, he purred: “I find thinking about Sue Perkins’s career helps.”

But can Clary take a little teasing himself? His latest role certainly offers opportunity to find out. The comedian is currently touring with a new production of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic rock musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, playing Herod.  So, you suggest that having revealed hints of messianic behaviour over the years he must have expected to be offered the role of Jesus? “No, in fact I’d hoped I’d be offered Mary Magdalene,” he says, in perfect deadpan voice. “I really fancied singing Mary’s songs.”

His unmistakable dry voice becomes a little more serious. “No, what happened was I’d seen this production at the Barbican a year before and I thought it so amazing I really wanted to be a part of it. It’s just so special.”

But how do you play Herod, a role which has been performed in the past by the likes of Alice Cooper and Chris Moyles?  The King of Judea was considered to be the greatest builder of his era, but he was also a tyrant. “Well, it’s not really a challenging role for me,” Clary says, “even though he is sort of evil. You see you are allowed to bring yourself to the part so it’s me being Herod, if you see what I mean.”

He adds, grinning: “My Herod is glamorous. And sleazy. But he thinks he’s a great superstar. Then along comes Jesus Christ who eclipses him. Herod sings, ‘I can’t get any reaction out of Christ’ and he can’t bear it. He’s gone mad with the power and decadence. He’s gone off the rails.”

In his 40-year career, has Clary ever gone off the rails? “I think I did in the 1990s,” he says in soft voice. “I was overindulging in all sorts of recreational activities.  “What got me back on the straight and narrow was my second dog, Valerie [the subject of his book, The Lick of Love]. She was like a maiden aunt sitting in the corner of the room who would give me a disapproving look when I misbehaved.”  He reflects: “I think dogs are sent by a higher force to help you through phases in your life.”

We return to chatting about his Judas role. “I’m not on stage for a long time, but the talent of the rest of the cast just astonishes me every night. It’s very exciting seeing them as I sit in the wings. And they are all so young and frisky and full of vigour.”

Julian Clary, at 64, isn’t as young as he was when he first captured the attention of the comedy world, appearing in his act The Joan Collins Fan Club with his dog, Fanny. (Of course).  His full make-up shocked some at the time and delighted others; Clary wasn’t a man pretending to be a woman, a latter-day Danny La Rue.  Clary revealed himself to be a gay performer who was happy to splash smut around in the way a spotty teenager throws Clearasil at their chin. Innuendo is served up as fast as theatre ushers sell tiny tubs of half-time ice cream. (Previous Clary show titles, for example, included My Glittering Passage and Lord of the Mince.) These days, Julian Clary is not quite as provocative as he once was. But he doesn’t have to be.  “I think I’m happier as I’ve gotten older,” he offers. “I think it’s great, that at my time of life I can be on stage with this incredible musical. When asked to do it I didn’t hesitate for very long.”

Does that suggest he wouldn’t have taken on such a role 20 years ago? He laughs.  “No, what I meant to suggest is that I feel very lucky to be asked. I guess I sort of expected to be winding down at this time of life, but it doesn’t seem to be happening, what with the Palladium [panto] and touring with my own show in the New Year.”

Julian Clary has proved to be adept at reinvention. From operating on the margins of the showbiz world he became mainstream, fronting quiz shows such as Sticky Moments. In 1999, he even sold Daz to the world, following on from laundry powder luminaries such as Shane Richie and Michael Barrymore. Clary clearly loves variety.  “You have to keep yourself interested, and I’ve always enjoyed doing things I’m not sure I can do. It’s good to feel out of your depth.”

He reflects: “I was thinking about Barry Humphries recently. I saw one of his last performances and he died at the age of 89. I hope to keep going as long as he did. In terms of health of course it’s a lottery. Fortunately, everything is in working order at the moment.”

How healthy does he feel the gay rights movement is these days? Although there have been great strides, homophobia doesn’t seem to have abated, if you consider some of the speculation that surrounded recent scandals involving senior broadcasters.  “Yes, you always have to be on your guard because things can slide backwards. And when you look at LGBT rights in other countries it’s terribly grim.  “When I started out people were scared of homosexuality. The argument at the time was that it would destroy society and civilisation would crumble, but it hasn’t happened. And thankfully [in Britain] gay relationships are given the same respect as any other.”

Society has moved forward. (In the 1970s, Jesus Christ Superstar was considered by some religious groups to be blasphemous.) Yet, he doesn’t deny that the LGBTQ+ movement doesn’t always operate as one. “I really enjoyed the diversity of the gay community, and the idea that everyone is in solidarity.” He adds, smiling: “Or ought to be.”

Clary grew up a Catholic, which puts an added shine to the news the Pope has agreed that gay relationships can be blessed. “Yes, the papers graciously announced that would be the case,” he says with a tinge of sarcasm in his voice. “Well, chop-chop – and let’s have the rest of it please.”

What emerges from the entertainer is delightful honesty. But let’s test his ability to run with the teasing question one last time.  Julian, you have described your Jesus Christ Superstar role, playing the “crazed, queer imperious Herod” as “Putin meets Cleopatra, with a hint of Biggins”. Does that suggest you see Biggins as something of an evil dictator?  “Well, there is something wicked about Christopher Biggins, I’m sure he won’t mind me saying,” he says with a mischievous grin on his face.  Jesus Christ

Superstar, The King’s Theatre, Glasgow, October 16-21