Why Kay is the Best of British Comedy
I worship at the altar of British comedy and, for me, an ideal Saturday night is spent in front of Live at the Apollo. Peter Kay is a particular favourite of mine, with the “Is This Is The Way to Amarillo” music video for Comic Relief a definitive pillar of my childhood, many an afternoon spent watching the DVD on repeat in the living room. An obsession; however, that did lead to my younger self’s misconception that Peter Kay was a singer.
Following an 11-year hiatus, Kay is finally returning to the spotlight. He withdrew from all planned stand-up and television projects in 2017 for, “unforeseen family reasons”. His last stand-up tour is still ranked by the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest selling of all time and his upcoming tour is set to reach similar heights. This year, he will become the first entertainer to hold a residency at London's O2 arena, performing there once a month between December 2022 and February 2025. When tickets went on sale on Saturday 12 November up to two million people joined the queue for tickets in Manchester alone, the O2 Priority app crashed, and the scheduled end date of August 2023 has now been provisionally extended to at least July 2025.
Kay joked he should call the tour, “Peter Who?” because he expected people to have forgotten him. However, it speaks volumes that, after more than a decade, the demand to see him is greater than ever. His routines of relatable observations on northern working-class life have endured in public memory and his jokes are still regularly referenced, with Kay mentioning that people still shout “garlic bread” at him from across the street. But what is it about Peter Kay’s comedy that has secured him the position of Britain’s best-loved comic (as yet uncontested), despite his lengthy break from performing?
Reminiscent of Ronnie Barker and Victoria Wood, Kay doesn’t feel the need to make shocking or offensive gags to get laughs. He finds hilarity in the mundane: The “t’internet”, the “big shop” with your mum, and which activities warrant putting “the big light” on. In recent years, the prevailing complaint of older generations is that, “you can’t joke about anything these days”. In the face of increasingly subversive comedy, Kay’s traditional and homely style is a welcome refreshment. Through swerving politics as a subject matter, Kay also avoids cutting out any of his demographic. While some criticise Kay for not really telling jokes and merely being “good at remembering”, he achieves the true goal of comedy. Rather than aiming to shock or challenge, Kay shows the power of bringing people together in the nostalgic recollection of shared experience. There is no distance between Kay and his audience. Through relaying the hilarious minutiae of childhood, family life and the everyday, he makes people feel seen and creates community in a Britain that is becoming increasingly more divided. Most importantly; however, the man made Jeremy Paxman laugh so he should surely be considered nothing short of a genius.
Kay’s unceasing success is also likely due to his man-of-the-people image. Despite his mammoth fan base, Peter Kay consciously keeps himself at considerable distance from the spheres of showbiz and celebrity, rarely granting interviews and remaining completely unaffected by his fame, his Bolton roots as strong as ever. Whilst I recognise as a 20-year-old student I’m probably not the key demographic of his nostalgic material on growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, I was shocked to discover that so many of my friends at St Andrews have never watched him before. Although, admittedly, he’s unlikely to strike a chord with most of the Americans of St Andrews, in light of his long-awaited return I would nevertheless urge all readers who have not yet been privy to the genius of the nation’s favourite comedian, to brighten up a dreich St Andrews evening with the religious experience of “Peter Kay’s Best Moments”.
Illustration: Calum Mayor