MENTION Kirkintilloch and the rest of the world laughs. Calling it Kirkie causes more hooting. Why mirth should be so unconfined about the old place is a teaser. Usually, there are two shots at an explanation.

Funniness is said to reside in the ancient burgh's name. Even Alloa people find Kirkintilloch a joke handle. For a second go at what makes Kirkie so tickly is the weird way it used to have with strong drink.

A rare third guess takes the angular, risible form of a favourite son who is back in residence for this month. He was Hugh Gallagher Corcoran. In his day he was rated the funniest stage Scotchman of all time. Even now the claim goes unchallenged.

Folk legend enshrines some of Hugh Corcoran's specialities in shows at the old Princess's Theatre, Glasgow.

He did a dance with bandages big as a mummy's on his feet. He was the woman who kept a wee pie shop in Lumphinans. He did a tram conductor on an all-night tram.

With admiring frequency, the word applied to Corcoran was genius.

His speech was spluttery. It emerged from a long white face in a voice described as strangled. He used catchphrases. History insists that the laughter they raised cracked ceilings. In print, however, they fall to the floor and die there.

In the name! was one of his surefire cries. Another was Here, the coos'll get ye.

On such frail testimony rests the reputation of Tommy Lorne, for Hugh Corcoran was he.

Lorne is a central comic giant at a show of old music hall at the Auld Kirk Museum, Kirkintilloch.

Those Variety Days is an evocative vaudeville of historic playbills, old photies, and stray souvenirs of the stars. It is an exhibition alive with names which glittered twice nightly with an elusive mixture of stardust and sawdust - Doris Droy, Lex McLean, Tommy Morgan, Sam Murray, George West, Davie Willis.

Strangely in such company, the best wheeze in the house is left to theatrical landladies. Those Variety Days lists some of the house rules they kept in their digs. They were especially hot on bathroom behaviour:

``1 bath per week each, no more than five inches of water.

``Do not use the bath before permission has been obtained. Vim is provided at no extra charge.''

To which were sometimes added conditions about fresh-air conduct:

``As there is no light in the lavatory at the bottom of the garden, a torch has been provided, be sure it's the one door on the right, the other belongs to next door and we're not speaking.''

After such restricted stays, itinerant jesters had the chance to show they had a quip for every occasion. ``Please leave your comments in the Visitors' Book,'' they were invited.

Such seedy living is made up for by on-stage glamour. High kicking through the Auld Kirk building are memories of the St Dennis Sisters, the Hamish Turner Dancers, and the May Moxon Young Ladies. A postcard photo from Saltcoats of Kemp's Regal Revels (l932) is adorned by l2 sumptuously unclad hoofers.

Impresarios of the exhibition are the Scottish Music Hall Society led by their secretary Bob Bain. Many of the treasures on show are his.

Aged 58, a former roofing glazier, he confessed his life had not been the same since he was taken, when six, to the Metropole, Glasgow, home from home of the Logan family.

He became obsessed about a place of public entertainment that kept a cheery coal fire burning in its lobby surrounded by easy chairs.

Centre-stage of the exhibition is a bust of Tommy Lorne. For long enough it lay in a cupboard at the Citizens' Theatre, Glasgow (which was the old Princess's where Lorne was king). Even in his favourite pavilion, it seems, nobody knew who he was. His laughter had faded.

Those Variety Days does not try to recapture it. The exhibition is content to list how he looked and not attempt to describe how he worked.

Lorne was an eccentric clown in a short kilt and big boots. He wore a high collar with a string tie. He favoured long white gloves.

It was the mitts which stayed in the mind of Colm Brogan, a Fleet Street thunderer, in his The Glasgow Story book (l952).

He wrote: ``Tommy's hands were wonderful. In moments of conscious innocence and triumph, they were folded on his stomach, where they lay like doves asleep. When suspicion of some indignity entered his mind they stirred, and when shocks of excitement went through his body, every finger had a separate and hysterical life.''

On the nation's tablets hardly any other scratch of a pen survives about Tommy Lorne. He escaped theatre history. Why he wasn't written about was that he couldn't be. He was too much. His genius not only raised the roof, it shattered the rafters of the brain. He was away beyond more words.

Hard, though, not to add a paragraph about how cruelly Kirkintilloch and he parted ways. For half a century (until l968) Kirkie was a dry area. There was not a pub pint or even a carry-out to be had in the place. But it was the drink that carried off its Hugh Corcoran in l935.

Those Variety Days is until June 29.