Whatever happened to Peter Kay? What happened to the subtlety that made Phoenix Nights so great, or the warmth that infused his best stand-up with such irresistible likeabilty.
You won’t find the answers in the second volume of his memoirs, charting his years on the live comedy circuit. It’s a bland, smug catalogue of his progression through a series of increasingly large gigs, with any insight coming only accidentally.
Not that such concerns will stop this becoming a bestseller, following in the footsteps of last year’s record-breaking The Sound Of Laughter and swelling Kay’s sizeable fortune. For it seems the more irritatingly buffoonish he becomes, the more success seems to come his way, despite being all cheese and no wit and ripping off gullible fans with increasingly desperate DVD releases.
If this is your opinion of the man, Saturday Night Peter, which is so easy to read it could be set as a primary school text if it wasn’t for the occasional swearing, is not going to change your mind.
We start with his first professional engagement since winning the 1996 North West Comedian of the Year title, supporting John Thomson at the Manchester Dancehouse. He was petrified to be asked to pad out his material as the star turn was slightly delayed, but started chatting and the gig went well.
It’s a story that gets repeated, a bout of nerves followed by resounding success. At his first gig in Bolton ‘to my complete surprise I got my first standing ovation’; at his performance at the BBC New Comedy Awards ‘I was getting laughs, good ones, big ones, it was going well’; at the So You Think You’re Funny final ‘I was on fire that night’; an early corporate gig ‘went down a storm’; of his first performance at the London Comedy Store ‘the gig went well… they actually laughed more than they did at home’; his first charity gig ‘went down very well’; at his first gig abroad ‘the expats lapped it up’; his first time on a West End stage ‘seemed to go well, and the audience laughed loudly’, his appearance on the BBC Stand Up Show ‘went down well’; his Royal Variety Show ‘went like a dream’; recording his first DVD, ‘the audience were all that mattered that night and I gave them everything I got’; his first Hammersmith Apollo show ‘got a standing ovation’; his first Parkinson appearance ‘must have gone down well’. He even storms a karaoke night in Vegas, wouldn’t you know.
My Struggle, this isn’t. Kay never seems to have a bad gig – which may well be true, he was a very good stand-up – but it doesn’t make for gripping prose. Nor are there tales of wild excess, from this teetotaller in a stable relationship; and as he circumvented the open mic circuit, the worst horrors of stand-up eluded him.
Still, there were strange experiences en route to fame, and Kay’s best at describing the dreadful tribute bands and weird variety acts he encountered, and inspired him to write Phoenix Nights. Strange that for an autobiography (or ‘self-penned autobiography’ as the sleeve notes helpfully describe it for any readers challenged by the meaning of a 13-letter word), the best bits are not about the author at all.
Brief extracts from his own stand-up routines will evoke some fond memories, too, and there’s plenty of familiar references and brand names in the writing for an audience to identify with - although Kay’s compulsion to litter the writing with agonising, obvious jokes can irritate.
For all the jollity about his own rise, however, there’s a slight passive-aggressive tone that occasionally comes to the surface. It’s most visible whenever he refers to his old friend Dave Spikey – that adjective always italicised. You wish he’d either be gracious and let it lie. or just properly lay into his Phoenix Nights co-writer, rather than steer this niggly middle path.
He’s sneery about anything that doesn’t fit his view of comedy, including trotting outthe old line that ‘the only thing that’s ever been alternative about alternative comedy is that it’s an alternative to laughing’. He dismisses the Comedy Store as ‘McComedy’, snipes at panel shows (‘all that quick-witted stuff is a load of bollocks’) and revels in the failure of another act... though Duncan D’Sorderly did have the temerity to critique Kay’s performance, so deserved it.
On at least one occasion, Kay actively contributes to another comic’s downfall; deliberately giving Graham Norton duff information on the name of Manchester’s gay district, so his gag relying on that reference fell flat. It’s the same streak that led him to reveal the twists to current Hollywood movies on national radio, spoiling cinemagoers' enjoyment.
Another interesting insight is Kay’s attitude to the money he’s accumulated so much of. On the road, even playing massive gigs, he’d stay in budget chain hotels and refuse to have anything on his backstage riders, as it would all be taken off his pay packet at the end of the tour.
Other than this, Saturday Night Peter is an unrevelatory, undemanding read. Fans may well enjoy its brisk, light tone and accessible style, but those not predisposed to liking him will most likely find this volume as disposable a piece of reading as the morning Metro.
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
October 19, 2009
- Saturday Night Peter is published by Century at £20. Click here to buy from Amazon for £9.99.