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The biography of one of Britain’s top comedians, Peter Kay.
Peter Kay was born and brought up in Bolton. A lot of his comic material comes from his early experiences and characters in Bolton.
Peter Kay was born and brought up in Bolton, Lancashire. He frequently makes reference to his town of birth in his stand up shows. It is clear that he has great fondness for his home town of Bolton. A lot of his material is based on his experiences growing up in Bolton, either events or characterisations of people from Lancashire.
From a young age Peter Kay recalls how he enjoyed making people laugh. In his autobiography The Sound of Laughter he relates his early memories of performing impersonations of people like Louis Armstrong and Frank Spencer. All through his life he has enjoyed entertaining others, although until he made his first breakthrough he doubted whether he would ever be able to make it into the world of show business.
Peter Kays own autobiography Sound of Laughter is a deliberately a play on The Sound of Music because his school (Mount St Joseph) was run by nuns. Although brought up a Catholic he was not inspired by the religious element of the school. He does recall many instances of giving the nuns a hard time through practical jokes. One of his earliest comic performances was actually during a school production of The Wizard of Oz. To the nuns displeasure he had missed several rehearsels so he was supposed to remain static, but the young Peter Kay couldnt resists the temptation to run down from the stage entertaining the audience with his comic acting. Peter Kay recalls the experience
With the laughter ringing in my ears. I jumped off the stage and danced out into the audience. I had no idea why, or where I was going, I just knew that I was on to something good. I headed towards my family. hello mum. I shouted and gave her a wave. By this time the place was rocking and the audience were in hysterics. They knew this wasn’t in the script. (p46 Sound of Laughter)
Yet despite Peter Kays natural comic talent, for several years after leaving school, he worked his way through several part time jobs. These included working in a factory, warehouse, a petrol station and a Bingo hall. All these early experiences gave him material for later tv performances. One of his early DVDs called the Peter Kay Thing featured several characters such as The Oldest Newspaper boy in Britain. This was based on a real life character called Leonard. Leonard was an eternally cheerful, evangelical Christian who enjoyed buying stuff from charity shops. Peter Kay befriended this unusual and slightly weird character and one was one of 4 people who attended his funeral.
The big break for Peter Kay came when he auditioned for the North West Comedian of the Year competition in 1996. Peter was relatively new to stand up comedy, but against tough competition was voted best act. Before the show Peter admitted he was very nervous and just before he was due to go on, he changed his pre rehearsed material and decided to talk about things spontaneously. He said in his autobiography about his performance.
Other comedians talked about sex, drugs and drink, but I didnt drink. Id never done drugs and if I talked about sex my Mum would have battered me senseless out of embarrassment. So I talked about what I knew best, myself, and it proved to be a breath of fresh air. (P. 267 autobiography Peter Kay).
This easy going, honest style explains much of Peter Kays enduring popularity as a comedian. He rarely swears on stage and most of his material could be classed as family material. Often when performing his mother and aunts are in the audience, so if he is tempted to swear he makes a joke about his mother being in audience so he has to be careful. Another appealing feature is that his performances are full of energy and enthusiasm; he seems to really enjoy what he is doing.
After winning the North West comedian of the year award in 1997 Peter Kays rise to the top of British comedy was meteoric. He soon branched into tv comedy with the Peter Kay thing. This led to his first comedy series Phoenix Nights. Peter Kay showed his comic versatility by playing both the disable nightclub owner Mr Potter and the doorman. These 2 series were awarded a BAFTA for best comedy. Other awards include the prestigious Rose d`Or award at the Montreux Television festival and three awards from the Royal Television Society.
He has also feature in programmes as diverse as Doctor Who (playing out of character an evil scientist), Coronation Street, Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. He also featured in the hugely successful John Smiths bitter campaign.
Despite his popularity Peter has attracted criticism. This has included allegations that he uses other people’s jokes. I think this rather misses the point. After all which comedian has never used jokes made up by other people? The nature of jokes is that it is hard if not impossible to ascertain the original source. To me comedy is about the way jokes are told. In some respects Peter Kay reminds me of Tommy Cooper. Tommy Cooper’s material was pretty ordinary when you read it on a piece of paper. However Tommy Coopers’ comic personae meant he could crack up an audience just by him walking on to stage. In some respects Peter Kay is like that, as the old saying goes.
“Its the way you tell them.”
Despite being one of the most popular comedians in the UK, Peter stills enjoys good music, hot baths and spending time with his family. He remains fond of his home town, Bolton. As Peter Kay once said:
“I might be collecting wheely bins in 12 months time but at least they’ll be wheely bins outside back gates that I know, in a part of the country that I love. There’s no place like home!” – Peter Kay