Peter Kay ads leave a bitter taste

James W Smith on his 'callous' new commercial

Peter Kay has returned to the role that, arguably, made him famous. The John Smiths adverts.

The early commercials were refreshingly funny. Peter Kay was not 'Peter Kay,' he was 'John Smith,' an everyman selling booze by bombing into a swimming pool during a diving competition - something we've all thought of doing - rather than prowling around a bar pretending that alcohol can make everything wonderful and sexy even if you look like a bit of a dick.

The new John Smiths advert has Peter Kay in it, but he isn't the everyman any more. The stand-up on his current tour may continue to revolve around nostalgic observations, but only the biggest idiot under the biggest rock wouldn't know that Kay is a multi-millionaire after selling DVD after DVD and tour after tour of the same material, over and over. That 'no nonsense' tag isn't the same any more, because he isn't the same any more. It doesn't work.

In this new advert, Kay and his lady friend are on a double date. His gal asks who he would go out with if they had the choice - anyone in the world is up for grabs. The girls reel off some appealing names but, nope, Tess Daly and Kelly Brook aren't for him. He finally responds: Claire from work.

The humour is meant to lie in the audacity of the statement. It's 'no nonsense,' right? Why, in the context of an honest discussion about who you'd most like to sleep with in the world, would you choose someone you have no chance with rather than someone you can pork over the photocopier? The reason is tact, you dingus.

Kay is now going to be forever associated with this joke, as its screened time and again, every day, for the duration of the campaign. Except it isn't his joke. It came from an advertising agency… and even then it appears they weren’t the first to think of it.

A joke is difficult to copyright so it is no surprise that a universal idea like this has, on the Chortle forums, been attributed to Michael McIntyre, Friends, Jason Manford and Pete Jonas. So if anything, it's become something of a hack subject.

But just because a joke can feel like it is in the public domain, someone somewhere first wrote it. Could it be possible that the advertising men took a joke a lot of people know (even if they aren't sure where it originated) in order to make up for the gulf that now exists between Kay and his target audience who keep him in hot dinners but can barely afford one for themselves after shelling out on a ticket to his overpriced, underwritten shows.

Kay's character doesn't come across as bumbling and 'no nonsense’, he comes across as cruel, calculated, and lascivious. The final shot of the ad - watching the back of this mysterious Claire as she hovers over the copier - is accompanied by an eager growl by Kay. This isn't ‘no nonsense’. That final shot turns it into pointless objectification no longer disguised as an 'honest mistake, love’.

I posted a joke on Twitter the other morning. It was a joke about the weather, but also about the menopause. I had to consider whether I wanted to put it out there because I didn't want to make women going through the menopause the butt of the joke. It was: ‘Mother Nature looks to be going through her menopause, and isn't quite sure what to do with herself.’

Again, you might think I'm taking things too seriously, but this stuff is important. Women of a certain age shouldn't be used as a punchline because they don't deserve it. This logic extends to gender, race, disability, sexuality, and further still. This is what responsible comedians do. I don't always count myself among their number and have certainly made mistakes in my early days but I never want to launch into a joke without knowing my targets are the right ones.

In this case, I came to the conclusion that the joke I wanted to make lies in the exaggerated anthropomorphism of a term we all use but never take to indicate an actual person in control of the weather. Again, too serious? Perhaps.

The idea for the joke came on the bus. Two minutes later it was on Twitter. It was a quick process but one I felt the need to go through, even though I stand to get nothing out of it.

My joke may not have been an original one. Enough people have had enough thoughts over enough time that something similar has probably cropped up before but I came to it independently - the most any of us can do - and gave consideration to the targets. But I was just a beardy dude on a bus of a morning, not an ad agency with a large staff and a team of researchers who have turned their 'everyman' central character into a drooling pervert beyond the point of sympathy.

I'm not saying I'm better than Peter Kay or the agency behind John Smiths adverts, of course. That's for you to decide. (© Richard Herring – or something similar, anyway.)

The 'top bombing' ad:

And here's the new one:

  • James W Smith will be performing in Smith & Smith: A Matter of Life, Death and Middle-Distance Running at The GRV at the Edinburgh Fringe

Published: 20 May 2010

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.