Book review: The Sound Of Laugher

by Peter Kay

Kay’s already made his name – and considerable fortune – from the very ordinariness of his life, so it comes as no surprise that his autobiography offers more of the same.

No drinks, no drugs (he partakes of neither), no travel further than Bolton and no women other than his wife, this is a life defined by the mundane. These memoirs end when that life started to change, with his triumph at the North West Comedian Of The Year contest in 1996, just a few short gigs into his stand-up career and with the sort of homely material about Rola Cola and kids at weddings that has served him well for a decade. (If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as he admis is his motto)

But his audience doesn’t want to hear of his new life. They want tales they can relate to: of him working in a cash and carry, of the oddballs who used to come into his garage (whose ramblings he would covertly tape and later turn into routines), about tearing tickets at the local cinema and about crushing cardboard at Netto supermarket.

It’s the cosy familiarity that breeds contentment, with unwavering focus on the precise details that resonate with anyone who grew up in the Seventies: his PE kit hidden under an A-Team lunchbox, riding his Grifter, mint Yo-Yos in his school lunchbox…

The pop references are packed in. On just one page taken at random he manages to namecheck Dettol, the Right Said Fred song Deeply Dippy, Masterchef, Walkers’ Crisps and the Blair Witch Project – all while telling us about the death of his dog.

Like his stand-up, it works through recognition. There’s no great thoughts on life or revelations about his past, just a load of things that happened to him that will be similar to our own experiences. He is keen to make the impression one of us, who just got lucky, rather like a reality TV star – albeit one with a lot more nous and cheeky talent.

But insight has never been his strong point, and when he does try to offer some opinion, it’s obvious, bland and naïve. After a childhood being educated by nuns, he comes to the earth-shattering conclusion: ‘Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that Catholicisim is rife with hypocrisy and confusion.’ Geddaway. But it’s an idea he expounds for several pages: ‘I do believe that a man called Jesus did walk the earth at one time, but I don’t think he was the superhero the Bible makes him out to be.’

Some of his bugbears are bizarre. He talks for a while about how he gets uncomfortable at encountering both children and naked men in changing rooms (‘it’s bang out of order’), but he’s keen to point out: ’I’m not homophobic – I’m not scared of my house.’

His critical facilities are as simplistic as his religious views. Of The Producers, which he is blatantly angling for a role in, he writes like a teenager: ‘It is very, very funny. If you haven’t seen it I recommend you go because it’s a great night out.’

Kay, though, probably wouldn’t see this analysis as unsophisticated, but rather ‘unpretentious’ – a word you mightn’t expect to be necessary on the sleeve of the memoirs of a mainstream entertainer known for miming along to that Amarillo song, but it’s there. But then he doesn’t want to put off any fans who might feel intimidated by a 300-page hardback.

No chance of that, as Kay always keeps things simple, explaining things that don’t really need explaining. ‘Nuns are to swimming what pensioners are to powerlifting,’ he says, adding, for the avoidance of doubt, ‘in other words - useless’. He also has the habit of endlessly saying ‘only joking’ after anything obviously added for comic effect.

The text is liberally peppered with such jokes, and frequently not very good ones. He has made ‘dad gags’ – those obvious, kneejerk lines that your father couldn’t help but reel off – into a career. ‘I was happy as Larry (who’s Larry?)’, ‘You can never have too much Manchester tart – Paddy McGuinness will back me up on that one’… you get the picture.

But for all its flaws, The Sound Of Laughter is a light-heartedly entertaining, if inconsequential and unrevealing read. The most you’ll hear about Kay’s life is how he nicked stuff from work, how he accidentally dumped a two-tonne steel bin on his foot with a fork-lift or how he’s not very good at driving. Though in these sensitive times he might have been best advised to leave out his tale mocking the accent of an Asian shopkeeper asking for thick-sliced bread when he worked in the cash-and carry. As Kay tells it, the man irritatedly stuttered: ‘I vanted tick, tick, tick, tick’ ‘Everybody take cover,’ Kay shouted back, ‘He’s going to explode.’

But everything is a joke to Kay, no matter what anyone else might think. In a paragraph that’s accidentally revealing the comedian’s arrogance (or single-minded determination), he recalls his school report from 1978, saying: ‘Peter seems unable to resist trying to amuse the children around him.’

‘Even then,’ Kay writes of his five-year-old self, ‘I knew my talent for comedy was more of a vocation, a calling…’

Peter Kay, The Sound Of Laughter is published by Century.Click hereto order from Amazon.

Review: Steve Bennett, October 2006

Published: 13 Oct 2006

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