STAND-up comedians often stand or fall depending on their ability to mine every seam of personal experience.

Thankfully, Stephen Carlin's life in his run-up to becoming a performer and a comedy writer has provided him with a doozy.

The Airdrie-born performer, rated by Stewart Lee in his all-time Top Ten stand-up list, reveals he was once a semi-professional gambler. In fact, he became so hooked on betting he was just one bounced cheque away from becoming homeless.

Now Carlin, who appears on TV in the likes of the Alternative Comedy Experience on Comedy Central, is using his gambling addiction as a theme for his new show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

"I guess I've gambled away tens of thousands of pounds," he says, his voice shuddering in recall. "I don't really want to count up the actual amount I've blown. I think I'd find it too scary. I've got a friend who had a cocaine addiction, who worked out that what he'd spent on drugs would pay for two Aston Martins. I'm scared to think what sort of incredible cars I could have had."

Carlin, now 37, first became hooked on gambling as a teenager. "I found betting shops alluring. It was the frosted-glass windows, the slightly forbidden feel they had. My parents would only ever gamble on the Grand National and I suppose it was a rites-of-passage rebellion thing for me.

"But I was always very good at maths at school, good with numbers and stats. And being cleverer than everybody else I really believed I could beat the system."

The serious efforts would come later. Carlin took off to Aberdeen University to study civil engineering, yet he admits the opposing sides of his brain battled for control. He'd always fancied himself as a writer, having written a novel when he was 16, and was seduced by comedy.

"But I didn't know many degenerate, waster artists," he says, grinning. "I didn't know that I could become one. So I opted for engineering."

His epiphany came during a job interview. "I felt the job was there for the taking, but the interviewer then began to talk about working 12-hour days and a half day on a Saturday, and having to get to whichever building site in the west of Scotland. And I remember thinking; 'Not only do I not want this job, I don't want any job in engineering.'"

Carlin took off to London, with the loose idea of becoming a performer. When drama colleges turned him down he temped in offices to pay the rent. But while all this was going on, his betting increased.

"I figured I could become a part-time professional gambler. I remember betting on the World Cup in 2002 and walking into the office in London where I was working and showing my colleagues the £1000 I had just won.

"There were times I won a lot, then lost a lot. But I was in denial. When I'd go 10 grand in debt I saw it as a temporary situation. The reason why gambling is so hard to stop is because when you make the decision to finally stop betting you have to admit to yourself that the money is gone for ever."

He admits his gambling addiction proved difficult for his then-partner. "It got the point I'd ban her from the room if I were going online to bet. I didn't want her to see what was going on."

He adds, with a wry smile: "Then I blamed her for not stopping me."

Meanwhile he watched a lot of stand-up. "I dared myself to have a go, not believing it would develop into a career. And I fluked it." He breaks into a laugh. "I remember doing a very obscure impression of Alec Guinness, and the audience not getting it, and me berating them for that. But it worked. This early success was like a first hit of drugs. You want that initial high again. Then you appreciate you need to get good at your craft."

He worked hard at writing comedy routines, but was still in "near obscurity" when Stewart Lee offered a supporting gig. It all worked out. "That was the start of my comedy career."

And the end of his gambling?

"The stress had been chipping away at me but reality dawned when I couldn't pay the rent. I realised I was facing life on the street. Now, I don't gamble. I buy a Lottery ticket occasionally, but I don't expect to win. And I did play a scratch card on an easyJet recently."

Any adrenaline rushes he needs come from stand-up.

"It's great to be able to get up there on stage and speak to complete strangers about anything that takes your mind," he says, grinning. "Yet, at times I think this is complete madness and wonder what the hell I'm doing."

He's got a new stage show out of his addiction, but he still regrets the losses. "To quote Mark Twain: 'There are only two times in life when a man shouldn't gamble; when he has money and when he hasn't'."

Stephen Carlin plays The Pleasance Courtyard, July 31- August 26.