Behind the cheeky smile of the mammoth mummy’s boy, there’s a man who’ll steal your jokes and have escorted from your seat.
There is a show which seems to play endlessly on the more obscure Sky channels. Like painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge, as soon as it finishes, it starts up somewhere else. You will have all seen it. Peter Kay Live at the Comedy Store. Fans of the chubby funster hold it up as some sort of seminal moment in recent comedy history, the moment when Kay metamorphosed from Northern comedy caterpillar into national treasure. The night when the people of That There London fell in love with Bolton’s favourite son. The comic next door.
Only they didn’t. They were laughing at him, not with him. At least, some of them were. A study into regional comedy tastes highlighted that Northerners enjoy laughing at themselves, mainly for being poor, salt of the earth and all working class-ruddy-Thatchery. Southerners, on the other hand, gather their giggles from the misfortune of others, including those who are poor, salt of the earth and all working class-ruddy-Thatchery.
That is where Kay comes in. He manages to appeal to both demographics with the same, fairly limited material. The Lancashire lad-done-good pokes fun at the very people who so readily champion his talent. “Ooh, we were poor and my Nan was silly,” he might as well say.
According to The Guardian, one of his best jokes is: “There used to be an old woman who lived next door to us. There was a power cut one night, so my Mum went round to see if she was all right. She said, ‘I thought there’d been a power cut – then a bus went past with its lights on.” It ticks all the boxes. A) It plays into the whole, aren’t we Northerners community minded, knowing our next door neighbours and all. B) It takes the piss out of one of his own, but in a light hearted ‘it’s OK because he is from Bolton and not London so he is allowed to’ way. And C) It’s not actually that funny.
He is the comic equivalent of a shop which sells Bagpuss teddy bears and toy Clangers to people who are too young to remember the shows but still think it is quite kitsch to own the merchandise.
Kay represents a jovial link to a bygone era, with tape recording grandparents who stay quiet so their voices are not picked up by the video player, where innocent pastimes like dunking biscuits were all someone needed to enjoy an afternoon and when new fangled food like strawberry cheesecake causes gasps of disbelief. He is the comic equivalent of a shop which sells Bagpuss teddy bears and toy Clangers to people who are too young to remember the shows but still think it is quite kitsch to own the merchandise. “Garlic bread?” he ponders to a room full of people who have all grown up with it but giggle along anyway.
Those same people no doubt also grew up with the 1,001 Jokes for Kids of All Ages book. I know I certainly did. It was a mammoth tome I picked my way through by torchlight throughout my formative years. Huddled under my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles duvet I learnt an array of one liners (1,001 to be exact) which would make Tim Vine seem lazy.
It seems Kay did similar because stacks of his jokes seem to have been ‘borrowed’ from it. “How does Bob Marley like his doughnuts?,” Kay regularly asks his audiences, “Wi’ jam in!” A joke which was funny the first 100 times I read it. Twenty years ago. In comedy circles, stealing jokes is a cardinal sin. Up there with pissing on a granny. Shouting “that’s a joke,” after every pilfered punch line does not, a joke theft, OK make.
And woe betide anyone who points that out. The mammoth mummy’s boy who loves his Nan has a dark side. Rather than deal with hecklers with a quick-fire put-down, Kay has been known to have them forcibly ejected - reputedly refusing to carry on until offending audience members have left the building. Perhaps taking his Paddy and Max persona a bit too far.
“How does Bob Marley like his doughnuts?,” Kay regularly asks his audiences, “Wi’ jam in!” A joke which was funny the first 100 times I read it. Twenty years ago.
And therein lies another reason to hate Kay. While his main contemporary Ricky Gervais, gave the world Karl Pilkington, Kay gave us Patrick ‘Paddy’ McGuinness. Both Pilkington and McGuiness are essentially Gervais and Kay’s friends playing little more than themselves. One has gone on to achieve world fame, an army of fans and a comedic legacy of his own. The other has hosted a shit televised meat market with a gaggle of desperate harlots pouring scorn on hapless single men who believe they are God’s gift to the opposite sex because they are either buff, cute, smooth, wacky or simply not as likely to beat them when drunk or shag their better looking mate as their ex (*delete as appropriate).
And, while Gervais followed up the fantastic Office with Extras, Kay recycled the same, tired material from the shitter bits of Phoenix Nights in Max and Paddy. Kay’s subsequent stand-up has been much of the same standards as before, with jokes about Northern life peddled out on tours billed under the ‘isn’t he just a cuddly family man and not at all a fat, obnoxious prick’ title of Mum Wants A Bungalow. Does she? Or does Peter want another mass delivery of imitation Fray Bentos pies from Heron Foods to feed a stomach which struggles to grow as quickly as his ego?
A quick Google search of Peter Kay’s supposed best one liners reveals little more than a list of jokes fresh from the endlessly forwarded emails which were not funny the first time your dad sent them to you from his work account with the catch line: ‘Get ready to spit tea our of your nose when you read these’, and his routines have never reached either the gag-a-minute heights of Vine or Jimmy Carr, or the insightful, intelligence of acts like Richard Herring, or Gervais at his best.
No, Peter Kay is just a rotund little boy from Bolton who remembers his joke books, refuses to acknowledge the lines he has so brazenly stolen and won’t stop until he has eaten away at the very fabric of British comedy heritage.
He is to comedy what Nickleback are to rock music. Someone who people that work in insurance can watch and enjoy and then excitedly report back to the office that they went to see comedy the night before. It isn’t comedy. It is a tribute act to a thousands comedians who went before and simultaneously an insult to the people who first told the gags that have made Kay a fortune.
In the words of Liam Gallagher (incidentally, a proper, hard as nails Northerner): “Listen up fat fuck.” You might be big, but you certainly are not clever. Or funny. Or the least bit original.
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