When a circus performer, and self-confessed ''party animal'' lists his three major influences as Punk, The Elephant Man, and Lenny Bruce, you can forget custard pies and red noses.

Edinburgh's John Kamikaze started performing from an early age with the celebrated Pilton Children's Circus, and by 16 was regularly swallowing swords; now he's graduated to more exotic dangers.

In his current stage repertoire, you can see John force a kebab skewer through his face, plunge a meat hook into his back, stuff fireworks into his mouth and arse, perforate his body with countless needles and pins, and have a huge nail driven through his tongue.I guess it puts a new slant on suffering for your art.

Dedicated to his craft, and constantly striving for new innovations, John is always pushing the boundaries of his endurance, and meeting with like-minded souls across the globe like the legendary Pierrot Bidon, the man behind the revolutionary Archaos.

'' It's not so much a career as a way of life,'' explains John. Along with his cohorts, who include, among others, Trash the sword swallower, Danny the porno dwarf, and Darwin Pinhead, John insists: ''We don't go out to shock. We leave that to big mouthed Americans. [Mr Jim Rose perhaps?] We try to layer our shows on different levels, we play rock n' roll venues, we play theatres, there are old world circus aspects to our shows, there are cabaret aspects.

''We touch on people's fears, their raw nerves. The shows become an almost Freudian experience. People who have a fear of needles will watch despite their anxieties and enjoy the show.

''We only go out to entertain. We never have any preconceived ideas about what people find shocking.''

John, who can hammer eight three inch nails up one nostril, talks almost blissfully of the wonderful highs reached when his endorphins - the body's natural pain-killers - are released: they combine with an incredible adrenaline rush.

There are, of course, what John refers to as '' occupational hazards '', like the time he found himself hospitalised after the 1996 Edinburgh Festival with heart problems. But John's enthusiasm for his art has never waned. Indeed, he even oversaw an audition for his freak show from his hospital bed. Along with microscopic attention to detail on stage, John has an expert knowledge of anatomy and physiology, as well as ''an understanding doctor''.

''I know myself inside out. We can do up to 40 shows in 2 months. My body can cope. I'm a quick healer, '' he explains. A disciplined performer, John tells how he is on a very strict diet at the moment, for a new regurgitation act, which he describes as ''very tasteful''.

The most dangerous of his acts involves the swallowing of an ''unprotected'' neon light - which illuminates his body from within quite spectacularly. '' If something was to go wrong - due to the mercury compound - it's game, set, and match", he chirps blithely. --- CM