THE extraordinary career leap of 23-year-old Glasgow comedian Kevin Bridges was the "story of the festival", according to Edinburgh Comedy Awards boss Nica Burns.
Ms Burns said she had never seen a comedian go in one year from his first solo show in a 50-seat venue to selling out his run in a 700-seat theatre at the Assembly Rooms in advance this summer.
"Nobody has ever gone from so small to so big. Even Jimmy Carr did two festivals," she said yesterday, calling it a "historic" achievement that was the talk of the industry and which she had not seen in 30 years of running what are now the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Awards.
Answering questions via e-mail, Bridges - who, in one sign of his new status, has retreated from media interviews until the launch of his debut DVD later this year - said he didn't enjoy his early encounters with the Fringe, but was humbled by the audience turn-out.
"I was in the Edinburgh University janitor's office last year, or the Pleasance Joker Dome, as they call it in August," he said, talking about one of the university spaces that become Fringe stages. "The Edinburgh Festival was pretty full-on for me last year, I think about 15 extra shows were added, it was quite humbling that so many people came out to see me."
The Stand comedy boss, Tommy Sheppard, who fostered Bridges' early career, said it was television - and not the festival or its awards - that drove his extraordinary rise. He said the meteoric turn in Bridges' fortune in less than 18 months had been exceptional.
"He started with us, and we could see when he was 17 he had something," he said. "Kevin is now probably the third-biggest Scottish comedian in terms of box office and recognition, after Frankie Boyle and Billy Connolly, with Fred MacAulay a close fourth."
In June 2009, Bridges got his first mainstream television break on the BBC in Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow. In Edinburgh in August he earned a newcomer's nomination in the comedy awards. Now he is playing venues too big to be eligible for its main award. Extra shows added last week had sold out, with two more appearances added at the Pleasance Grand.
Ms Burns said Bridges, with his brand of gritty Glasgow humour, "works very hard". "He is definitely on the way to being the next major Scottish star."
Bridges said he "never enjoyed" the Festival in 2008. "I was only doing a package show with other comics, but I just found the whole thing to be self-important, and not what I got into comedy for. Doing my own show in 2009 changed that."
His show is all new this year, but remains rooted in his Glasgow upbringing.
"I'm playing to over ten times the crowd this year, so I'll stick in some of my favourite routines if the mood takes us."
KEVIN Bridges was born and bred in Clydebank. He studied social sciences and Glasgow Caledonian University and started performing shortly after his 17th birthday, doing gigs at The Stand Comedy Club in Glasgow.
At 18, he reached the final of the So You Think You're Funny competition at the Edinburgh Fringe, but his first solo show did not come until 2009. In June, Bridges appeared on Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow on the BBC, watched by an estimated five million. A string of TV appearances followed, including Stand Up For The Week on Channel 4, and Friday Night with Jonathan Ross and Have I Got News For You on the BBC.
He is playing the Assembly Music Hall, with extra dates added, including the Pleasance Grand.
COMEDY ROOTED IN GLASGOW
KEVIN Bridges' comedy is observation and anecdotal, rooted in living at home in Glasgow. Will that change this year as his fame grows? "Well, I grew up and still live in Glasgow, so that will always be rooted in me, but this year I'm talking about moving out and my life experiences so far," he said.
Bridges was the first Scot listed for the Edinburgh Comedy Awards since 2001 when he was nominated in 2009. This year, one reviewer said a joke about the prime ministerial debates was 'so good you can still enjoy it three months past its sell-by date".
His signature jokes have been about his home city of Glasgow, and its mix of violence and welcoming warmth, where "you might get the sh*** kicked out of you, but you will get directions to the hospital".
"I saw a sign that said 'Have you seen this man?', so I phoned up and said, "No".
His act includes rants such as "Primark selling Che Guevara T shirts … What a fitting tribute to the man's legacy. He fought for the poor and oppressed in South America, but did not win. His face is being stitched on to T-shirts by the poor and oppressed in South Asia - to be worn by the poor and oppressed in South London."
• Source: The Scotsman archives, Kevin Bridges' appearance on the Michael McIntyre Road Show, June 2009.