Profile: Kevin Bridges, comedian

WERE it not for Kevin Bridges' curious nocturnal habits, this year's Edinburgh Festival might be quite a different place. Six years ago, the 17-year-old found himself up late one night, surfing the internet. Bored of his PlayStation, he did what any teenage boy would do in the circumstances: he applied to perform at a comedy club.

Now, at the age of 23, Bridges has become a one-man phenomenon, selling out stadiums most comedians can only dream of. Tickets for his SECC show back in May were being offered on eBay for 150 each, and in June he became the first comedian to play dance festival Rockness. He never seems to be off the telly either, with appearances on both Have I Got News For You and Jonathan Ross's chat show under his belt, all within a year of being nominated for a newcomer award at last year's Edinburgh Comedy Awards for his clever, distinctively Glaswegian patter.

Just last week, Tommy Shepherd, who runs Edinburgh comedy club The Stand, described him as "the third biggest Scottish comedian in terms of box office and recognition" - behind only Billy Connolly and Frankie Boyle.

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And Shepherd's not the only one to have sung Bridges' praises. Nica Burns, who runs the Edinburgh Comedy Awards, said she'd never seen anything like Bridges' meteoric rise to stardom. "Nobody has ever gone from so small to so big. Even Jimmy Carr did two Festivals," she remarked.

So where did it all go right for the 23-year-old from Clydebank?

Born in 1987 into a solid working class family in the old shipbuilding town of Clydebank on the outskirts of Glasgow, Bridges was a surprisingly shy child.

"At primary school I cried every day," he said once. "I hated the whole idea of it. I was a home boy and very shy and nervous."

His mother was a home help and his father a social worker forced to retire on health grounds. Although he grew up watching Billy Connolly and the American comedian Chris Rock, it was BBC Scotland comedy show Chewin' The Fat that was, he says, his "bible".

"Me and my mates would come into school on a Wednesday and have a carry-on, shouting Jack and Victor's phrases across the class," he said.

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He left school at 17 and went to Glasgow Caledonian University, which he promptly denounced as "rubbish". Hence being up late surfing the internet one night.

"I sent an e-mail to a comedy club and didn't think any more about it. About a month later I got a call from them offering me a spot and I thought: 'Oh no, they took me seriously'."

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Bridges panicked, spending hours staring at a piece of paper with nothing but the word "hello" on it, but felt that he couldn't turn the offer down.His dad drove him to his first gig, at Glasgow's The Stand, and despite his nerves, and much to his surprise, people laughed.

He started playing regular comedy gigs, appearing at tiny dives across Scotland's central belt and tuning up his very Glaswegian style of humour in front of appreciative audiences. Wide-eyed, innocent and underage, when he first started on the circuit fellow comedians would smuggle him into pubs for a sneaky pint, and he had some influential mentors who spotted an early spark of brilliance, including Shepherd at The Stand, and Ford Kiernan, Bridges' idol from Chewin' The Fat.

Not everyone was a fan, however. He attributes not winning the So You Think You're Funny? competition when he was 17 because Julian Clary was on the judging panel and "I don't think I'm his cup of tea", and an early show at Shotts Prison taught him a lot about the boundaries of what comedians can and can't get away with.

Although Bridges clearly had talent, he did not always believe in himself, perhaps scared that if he did, the magic might suddenly evaporate. Even at the age of 20, having received a fair bit of exposure, he was still coy about describing himself as a comedian. If he bumped into someone he hadn't seen for a while he'd simply tell them he wasn't working rather than face the embarrassment of trying to describe what he did every night.

Then he started popping up on television, most notably on Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow, and then came last year's Festival Comedy Awards newcomer nomination.

But although success has come quick, he is clearly a grafter. He has toured some odd places, such as Saudi Arabia, where he opened the show with a gag asking if the crowd was getting sober tonight, and the Far East.

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"Performing in the Philippines was something else," he said at the time. "We drove through miles of deprived areas and then at the gigs there would be middle-aged millionaires with young Filipino girls. They found my jokes about that a little close to the bone." One can imagine.

Reviewers often remark on his nerves of steel and incredible confidence on stage, yet he has confessed to bouts of the shakes, particularly if he feels the audience aren't enjoying themselves. Once he performed at a gig attended by the entire Hearts team, and was entirely unnerved when he spotted one of the players texting during his routine.

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"The confidence goes up and down," he said once. "One minute you think you're brilliant, then you think you're incapable of ever doing it again. Comedy is like a game of Jenga. You keep adding new bricks but then the whole thing collapses and you have to start again. You're always thinking to the next gag."

He says he'd rather go home to Glasgow and his girlfriend after a gig than hang out in swanky bars with celebrities, and seems to find the whole celebrity comedy world rather distasteful.

"I hate the whole scene.It's all very industry and Americanised and everyone's got business cards; and there's all that worry about getting three stars or four stars like it's an exam," he said once.

He still seems amazed at his own good fortune, citing the moment when he got his tax return and saw that under "Profession" the word "Comedian" had been entered as one of his proudest. And his comedy of course, while it is perhaps more polished than those early days, is so down to earth it's kicking up dust.

With such success behind him at just 23, one can't help but wonder just where he plans to conquer next.