BAFTA award winner, Perrier award nominee and the most successful stand-up comedian of all-time, Peter Kay is one of the UK’s favourite funny men.
How do we know this? Well just try and order garlic bread as a starter, or cheesecake for pudding, and you’ll find out pretty quickly how everyone knows Peter Kay.
In fact, I’d wager he’s the only comedian ever capable of reducing a room to tears of laughter just by repeating an Italian starter in a progressively louder voice.
But what is it about this cinema usher turned comedy megastar which makes him so incredibly popular?
Well, first of all, he’s undeniably a genius when it comes to gags and one-liners. You only have to watch his stand up or an episode of Car Share to know that, but don’t just take my word for it.
Take the word of Nica Burns OBE, a West End producer and the Edinburgh Comedy Awards Director who watched Peter’s first semi-professional gig back in 1998 and was blown away by his performance.
She told UNILAD:
In 1998 Peter Kay was just 25-years-old. He was completely unknown and came from nowhere and was a surprise, major discovery.
He’d been an usher at a Bolton cinema up until February of that year. It was a very strong year and he leap-frogged the Best Newcomer and was nominated for Best Comedy Show.
He was utterly natural, original, had a joyful connection with the audience and was physically hilarious. He was very funny and quite wonderful.
He became an instant hit. TV stardom came quickly and so that was the only time he performed at the Edinburgh Fringe. Genius.
However, some think there’s more to Kay’s popularity than him just being a ‘genius’. They believe Peter’s a traditional showman, filling a gaping void in the wastes of a post-modern comedy landscape.
Michael Hogan, a writer specialising in pop culture and TV, wrote in his Guardian profile of Peter, how a large part of his success comes from harking back to the comedians and entertainers of yesteryear.
As well as the fact, while modern comedians rely on irony and a twisted post-modern take on the world to make audiences laugh, Kay eschews all this in favour of a more traditional and populist style.
His jokes tend to be observational and sweet, in a style similar to Victoria Wood and Billy Connolly, his gags revolve around family, friends and the other odd things he spots in his beloved hometown of Bolton.
In addition to the reasons above, Peter rarely swears during his stand-up routines and he avoids controversial topics like sex and politics, instead, building a cosy idealised version of his beloved Bolton, full of funnily named biscuits, worried mums and kind-hearted eccentrics.
Kevin Lygo, the former director of television at Channel 4, said of Kay’s style:
He’s not in the tradition of the modern comedian at all and he doesn’t really tell jokes as such, though he gets more laughs per minute than most comedians.
His comedy is observational in the best sense, sweet and honest.
When we first saw him, I remember thinking he was a great talent who would be around for a long time. He’s blessed with funny bones.
All this, plus the fact he’s managed to avoid any major scandal despite being in the spotlight for nearly two decades, have helped Peter build up the reputation of a funny everyman who anyone and everyone can enjoy.
His cosy style also differentiates him from the crop of current comedians and while some have criticised him for it most notably Bob Mortimer and Vic Reeves, it’s undeniably incredibly popular.
His television shows have also been incredibly popular. Both Phoneix Nights and Car Share earned him massive critical acclaim for their earnest and hilarious depiction of life in the North of England.
A populist he may be but don’t go thinking that Peter plays to the lowest common denominator or is lazy in his comedy. Peter’s a driven guy who’s worked hard to make a name for himself in comedy from the start
Following a course at the University of Salford, where he was eventually awarded an honorary doctorate, Peter had his first gig at the North West Comedian of the Year competition hosted by Dave Spikey.
He won the event but was presented with a decision when the cinema he worked at as an usher closed, he could either pursue a career in stand-up or find another job.
Realising he didn’t want to work in a shop or any other normal job Peter decided that he’d pursue comedy because in his heart believed he was meant to have a career in comedy.
He admitted as much on the That Peter Kay Thing DVD commentary:
Being a comedian is the only job I’ve ever managed to keep for a long period of time. In all my other jobs after a while, it got to the point where it was like I wasn’t there.
Hey, I bet my former bosses are sat right now saying: “You’re damn right you wasn’t there, that’s why you’re not there now!” but I guess I never settled because I wasn’t meant to pack toilet rolls or stack shelves, I was destined to make people laugh.
Peter Kay’s not always had the best fortune though. Late last year he was forced to cancel his biggest tour yet following ‘unforeseen circumstances’ within his family.
In a statement Kay said:
Due to unforeseen family circumstances, I deeply regret I am having to cancel all of my upcoming work projects.
This unfortunately includes my upcoming stand-up tour, Dance For Life shows and any outstanding live work commitments.
My sincerest apologies. This decision has not been taken lightly and I’m sure you’ll understand my family must always come first.
I’ve always endeavoured to protect my family’s privacy from the media. I hope that the media and the public will continue to respect our privacy at this time.
Once again, I’m very sorry.
Thankfully it seems whatever misfortune befell Peter and his family they’re moving past it. So far this year he’s released not one but two Car Share specials and even made an appearance at a special fan screening.
So we’re wishing Peter Kay a great year and to more laughs in the future remember you were destined to do this!
More of a concept than a journalist, Tom Percival was forged in the bowels of Salford University from which he emerged grasping a Masters in journalism.
Since then his rise has been described by himself as ‘meteoric’ rising to the esteemed rank of Social Editor at UNILAD as well as working at the BBC, Manchester Evening News, and ITV.
He credits his success to three core techniques, name repetition, personality mirroring, and never breaking off a handshake.