John Leguizamo first exploded onto the stage in the '90s. The motormouth writer/performer became famous for his high-octane brand of autobiographical solo shows. Part stand-up, part confessional, his monologues were as memorable as they were raunchy.

After a string of hits including "Mambo Mouth," "Spic-O-Rama" and "Freak," Leguizamo became synonymous with a badass night at the theater. Imagine a Latino Spalding Gray on crack and you get close to Leguizamo's raucously uninhibited attitude towards the theat-uh. Then after "Sexaholix" closed on Broadway in 2002, he walked away from the stage and vowed never to return. Until now.

We recently chatted up the hyperactive actor about why he decided to make a comeback to the realm of solo performance with "Ghetto Klown" and what he enjoys about this cheeky expose of life in Hollywood ("Ice Age," "ER"). The Tony nominee, who workshopped this solo at Berkeley Rep before taking it to Broadway, holds court at San Francisco's Orpheum Theatre April 26-27.

Q: "Sexaholix" was supposed to be your swan song to the solo genre. What happened?

A: I guess you could say I was disillusioned. I had a panic attack and I didn't want to do it anymore. I got more into movies and TV and it took me 10 years to get over that.

Q: It's hard to believe you have anxiety about performing, you seem so confident, even cocky, on stage.


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A: It actually happens to a lot of comedians. You start to feel like you can't live up to expectations, like you've always got to top yourself. That can freak you out, man. It took me this long to find the peace and joy of it again.

Q: Is it harder to create dramatic tension telling your life story when you are no longer an outsider? Now you're more of a Hollywood staple.

A: No. I hear what you're saying but the thing about life is that is doesn't care who you are. Life brings tragedy to everybody, it doesn't matter how famous you are. We all have our issues. That's life. I just thank God for my art. That's what saves me.

Q: Do you feel more pressure when you're working in the theater than in other mediums?

A: On stage you have got to really bring it. You can't fake it or the audience can tell. You've got to cough it up.

Q: What's been your favorite part of this journey so far?

A: It was amazing doing the show in London. I never thought that they would get me because they don't usually approve of people being too personal and I am always honest and raw. I don't leave anything out. No holding back. But they gave me a standing ovation, a begrudging one, but it was there.

Q: You take on a lot of celebrities in this piece. Has anyone been really offended?

A: Well, Steven Seagal said he wanted to punch me out, and Pacino's people came to the show and told him not to see it but Baz Luhrman said he only wished there was more of him in there.

Q: Where do you go from here? I know you've got a TV pilot cooking for ABC.

A: Yeah, I also want to do another show but one that's not about me. I want to touch on politics and social issues and all sorts of crazy stuff.

Q: Have you run out of stores to tell about yourself?

A: No, but I think this is my last personal show. I went really raw and deep this time. Usually I go after a lot of other people in my shows but this time I went after myself. That's for sure.

Contact Karen D'Souza at 408-271-3772. Read her at www.mercurynews.com/karen-dsouza, follow her at Twitter.com/KarenDSouza4 and like her at Facebook.com/Dsouzatheaterpage

'GHETTO KLOWN'
written and performed by John Leguizamo
Through: April 26-27
Where: Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market, San Francisco
Tickets: $40-$95 (subject to change), 888-746-1799, www.shnsf.com