For a transvestite, Eddie Izzard looks pretty much like an ordinary bloke.

Sporting a small goatee beard, a black T-shirt with a silver picture of a woman on the front, women's trousers and a face bare of make-up, he could pass for anyone. Well, almost anyone.

But this is the Eddie Izzard who describes himself as a male tomboy and who is one of the funniest and most innovative comedians performing today.

At 36 years old, he has been 'out' as a transvestite for a number of years. And although everyone thinks it, he is not gay and has had several relationships with women, although he knew he was a transvestite when he was four.

But did people see the transvestite thing as a gimmick?

"Are you serious? I could have spiked my career. I'd already started talking about it so I thought I'd better be open about it and everyone said, 'Oh, what a great gimmick'. I had to take the full heat of that."

Izzard hasn't seen much of his offices in Soho and his home in west London recently. His new book, video and CD, Dress to Kill, covering his tour of the US are just out and are a suitably eclectic trawl through his mind - part-autobiographical, part-philosophical, part-rambling.

His conversation follows the same ingenious route as his routines. He disappears down one avenue, brakes sharply, jumps a red light, only to re-emerge from a side street when you're least expecting it.

The same metaphor serves him well when he describes his act.

"It's a bit like driving a new route in the car, you know, get a map, drive along, map on the steering wheel, you're driving along. You trust your instincts and the general direction you're going in," he says.

A surreal performer, his conversational routines can include the full range of topics: toasters, James Mason, Noah (as played by Sean Connery), murderers standing in a queue, jam and earwigs.

His act is never written down and parts of it are improvised on stage.

Izzard's determination to become a comedian meant that he learnt his trade on the streets of London's Covent Garden, performing to crowds of tourists and boy scouts.

"I made it deliberately hard," he says. "If you make things artificially hard for yourself you actually get better than the normal."

So he left a potential career in accountancy and started in the precarious world of stand-up comedy. And while he claims to be basically lazy, he has an enormous amount of energy.

"I'd rather do nothing and in my head, I'm working so that I'd rather do nothing but if I do nothing I'd go mad. So I push and push and once I get things going, there's a point where I'm going out of my mind."

His comedy latches onto the everyday and the bizarre and combines them in a fantasy world, seasoned by his extraordinary imagination.

His dyslexia, no doubt, has something to do with this ability to circle issues.

Izzard also has a fascination for politics. "I'm a radical liberal and I can see both sides of the question," he says. "You must be balanced but you must also be pro-active and ambitious and that's why I'm radical. You look at both sides and make a choice and go and put that choice into action."

And off he goes. We cover the Clinton sex scandal, President Roosevelt's reforms in 1932, Mandela's changes to South Africa, the French minister of justice, Tony Blair's response to the threat from Saddam Hussein, the Millennium Dome (which he is very positive about), major world religions and the single currency.

And that is just our conversation. Dress to Kill includes his views on his favourite movies, fame, sexuality, genes, football and more politics.

Eddie Izzard "If you let it all drift about it's definitely not going to work."

That interest in issues led him to appear on television on Question Time, Have I Got News for You and inspired him to talk about his pro-European views.

"I'm not cynical. You don't know it's going to work but if you let it all drift about it's definitely not going to work. You actually have to have some feeling and effort," he says about Europe.

He may be full of energy and enthusiasm but is there not something more there?

"Angry? I try not to get hugely pissed off about too much," he says. But he did get angry after being verbally abused and then assaulted in Cambridge after a gig last year.

"I was furious immediately afterwards. I went in and dragged him out of the pub and I took him to court. I was scared about doing that. I thought, I've got to do this and see if the justice system works."

Otherwise, he gets angry about intolerance and genocide - and if Jim could fix it, he'd ask him to fix the United Nations so they did a better job.

Eddie Izzard's career has spanned films, most recently a role in Velvet Goldmine, ("That was my best part so far"), stage and stand-up. He talks about wanting more straight stage roles in future, something he has aimed for by refusing a TV series or, as he puts it, "getting locked into the comedy thing".

And there is a new tour planned at the end of next year, possibly taking in the States, Australia and Paris. The last time he was in France he performed the show almost completely in French. Certainly, he slips into French with alacrity, proudly announcing: "I was getting heckled in English and replying in French."

"I was getting heckled in English and replying in French."

What is there left to do? There are ideas for more TV series after the failure of Cows and more films to do, languages to learn.

Are there any major ambitions he wants to fulfil before he turns 40? "No." Do you want to have kids? "At some point. It's not a huge driving ambition, but at some point, yes."

So, is he happy? After thinking a little, he says: "I've been content since 1987. I went solo then. I could work as hard as I wanted or not work. I had total control over where the show was going to go. It was empowering.

"I shot off in many different directions. It was the beginning - I was driving, I had the steering wheel..."

You get the feeling that Eddie Izzard will be at the steering wheel of British comedy for quite some time to come.