MONTREAL -- Neil Patrick Harris has run off with the circus.

Or at least his "Circus Awesomeus." The ubiquitous awards show host and former "How I Met Your Mother" star is headlining Monday and Tuesday at Montreal's Place des Arts. Harris will be hosting four shows as closing galas to the 33rd annual Just For Laughs comedy festival.

These shows aren't all comedy, as Harris points out. He was invited to handpick the acts and booked sword-swallowers, magicians and puppets as well as comedians and musicians.

"I'm very pleased to be doing a show that is comedic, yes, but it's tangential to it, because I intentionally wanted to have something that was more variety based," he said.

"It's a physical palate cleanser to constant comedy."

Makes sense coming from Harris, a multi-faceted performer who can sing and dance on Broadway as well as perform magic tricks in clubs.

His comments come the morning after his first night at Just For Laughs. The festival packs dozens of shows at various venues throughout the city. Harris was "astonished that there were shows happening at 11:59."

He found out that the after parties -- where he ran into Howie Mandel, Norm Macdonald, Jeff Ross and James Corden's "Late, Late Show" bandleader Reggie Watts -- can go on until 4 a.m.

The 42-year-old marvels at how the stand-up comedians adapt to rooms little and big and crowds receptive and indifferent.

"I would be on tilt the whole time," he says, using a poker expression. "I'd be very insecure -- I travel with a Teleprompter."

He sees these Montreal shows as a something of a dry run for his upcoming NBC/CTV series, "Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris," premiering Sept. 15.

"I've never been more legitimately excited about any type of show before," he says.

To describe the series as a variety show does not convey the genre-busting newness of the concept. It's closely based on the popular U.K. series "Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway." Check out the original, Harris urges.

"It's very YouTube-able."

Like the British series, "Best Time Ever" will be live, a format the awards show host handles with ease. It will be shot in New York, where Harris lives with husband David Burtka and their four-year-old twins.

He describes it as "like seven or eight different types of shows all happening simultaneously." There's a special celebrity guest announcer each week. There are pre-taped segments with a cast of regulars. There are music segments. There are segments that are game-show based.

"It's a cavalcade of madness," says Harris.

People watching the show at home will be "Skype-d in" at random during the live broadcast. The game show element at the end will see one lucky audience member answering questions. That person could win everything seen on the commercials.

"Cars, boats, diapers," says Harris. "It's a massive windfall."

Harris has hosted the Tony Awards four times, the Emmys twice and the Oscars once. He has won Emmys for hosting Tonys.

So far, however, he's missed out on hosting the Big One: the Canadian Screen Awards.

"The what?" says Harris. He wonders what he'd do for that, and struggles to come up with a Mountie bit that would not seem sexual. He rules out poutine jokes.

Whenever Harris hosts an award show, he does rely on Toronto-born writer/comedian Paul Greenberg to craft his quips. The former "Vacant Lot" funnyman has worked every Harris-hosted award show so far.

Harris loves Montreal, saying, "it's easily my favourite city in Canada." He's shot two movies there: "Beastly," with Vanessa Hudgens, and "Smurfs 2."

He's well acquainted with the restaurants, especially Park, where Harris says they make "some of the best sushi I've ever had in the world. It is just magnificent."

He denies the rumour that he was offered the hosting job on CBS's "The Late Show" after David Letterman stepped down.

"There were discussions," he says, suggesting the end of "How I Met Your Mother" did provide the perfect opportunity to segue over to Letterman's chair, especially since "Late Show" shoots in New York.

He was never offered the show, however, and feels he'd get bored pretty quick of the format. He's a big fan of everybody on that scene right now, singling out CBS's "Late Late Show" host James Corden for special praise.