Still Game star Ford Kiernan says he owes his career to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe as he prepares for his first return to the event in 17 years.
The last time he appeared there he was trying out two new characters, “Jack” and “Victor”, with fellow comic Greg Hemphill.
Their 1997 stage show Still Game became a Fringe hit and went on to tour the UK, Ireland and Canada before the comedy duo were snapped up by the BBC and went on to make the Chewin’ The Fat sketch show.
Now Kiernan has revealed he will be breaking off from preparations for the Still Game reunion in Glasgow for a one-off appearance in the capital.
The 52-year-old will perform solo in a play set in Iran, which has a different star each night and will be staged as part of the Assembly Festival programme. Actors who take on the role – written by Iranian Nassim Soleimanpour – are not allowed to rehearse or perform it again. They just walk on stage and perform from the script left in a sealed envelope.
Kiernan said the Fringe had been “utterly pivotal” to his career, after he made a breakthrough there in 1994 and went on to win a coveted Fringe First award the following year with a play. He described the Fringe as a “university for comedians”.
He said he was unable to resist the challenge of the Fringe play White Rabbit Red Rabbit, which has already been performed around the world over the past three years with stars including Juliet Stevenson, Sarah Millican and Ken Loach.
Kiernan said: “Comedian Gavin Mitchell, who is in Still Game, put my name forward to the producers and they asked if I was interested.
“I was always the wee boy who would put his hand up at school when the teacher was looking for a volunteer to read something. I’m really looking forward to the challenge.”
Kiernan found success in his first year at the Fringe, with John Paul Leach in the show Best of Scottish Comedy, at the Gilded Balloon in 1994.
The pair returned in After Eight Mince and The Full Bhoona, also at the Gilded Balloon, and performed at the Late & Live cabaret nights. They then wrote the play Don’t Start Me.
Kiernan added: “The Fringe was utterly pivotal to my career. You are at the coal face, you learn to work on your feet and deal with hecklers, and how to ruthlessly cut out material that isn’t working. It is like a university for comedy.”
He launched Still Game at the Fringe in 1997 with comedy circuit friend Hemphill. “The characters of Jack and Victor were based on my uncle Barney and Greg’s grandfather Sammy. We took the idea to Karen Koren at the Gilded Balloon, and she very kindly put us on there. We ended up doing 88 live shows. We recorded a live version and the characters became part of Chewin’ The Fat.”
He said more than 200,000 tickets had been sold for the 21-night Still Game reunion at the Hydro from 19 September.