fri 12/07/2024

Peter Kay, O2 | reviews, news & interviews

Peter Kay, O2

Peter Kay, O2

Thoroughly welcome return to stand-up by the genial Bolton comic

Peter Kay: The Bolton native is exuberantly, life-affirmingly funny

Only part-way through a mammoth stadium tour that began last April and continues until next autumn (and which he insists will end on 15 October at the MEN Arena in Manchester, where he once worked as an usher), Peter Kay is still having to add dates as they sell out almost the instant they're announced. He’s a phenomenon that even Michael McIntyre and Jimmy Carr - no slouches in stadium-show sales themselves - must be envious of.

I must confess myself a huge fan, and last night it was a real pleasure to see Kay live for the first time in several years at the O2 (formerly the Millennium Dome). I first saw the Bolton comic when he made his Edinburgh Fringe debut in 1998 and I, as a member of the Perrier Comedy Award panel, thought he was so accomplished that he should go straight on to the main award list, which he did, losing only to the superlative Tommy Tiernan. He then went on to make a one-off spoof reality doc called The Services (on Channel 4), which was set in a motorway services station and in which he played five characters - including to my mind the one that remains his best creation, manageress Pearl Hardman - although he is perhaps best known for another spoof comedy, Phoenix Nights (2001-2002), which was set in a Bolton working-men’s club, and for his more recent Comic Relief singles.

Kay’s stand-up show back in 1998 wasn’t innovative, cutting-edge or remotely hard-hitting, but it was exuberantly, life-affirmingly funny, full of affectionate reminiscences of his Bolton childhood, largely peopled by women - his mother, sister, aunts and nan featured heavily in his act. That sentence could be written about last night, which had, I’m delighted to report, even more silliness thrown in for good measure. And even if Kay is a better entertainer than he is comic - The Tour That Doesn’t Tour - Tour. Touring Now! with its large musical element and lots of whizz-bang stage effects, at times feels more like a rock‘n’roll gig than a comedy one - that's no matter when everybody is having a great time.

Kay, after making a mock-portentous entrance down a backlit staircase, starts riffing about his childhood. It helps if you, like him, grew up in a working-class household, so would understand just how posh things such as Imperial Leather soap were, but then current popular-culture references come thick and fast, and one realises that much of Kay’s appeal is shared experience; we, too, think Come Dine with Me is a snooper’s paradise and that Embarrassing Bodies could be subtitled “Go on TV and get your jugs out”. He’s particularly strong on how modern technology helps to make lazy sofa surfers of us all and his shtick is genial observational comedy - his nan thinks there’s something called FaceTube on the t’internet - with the occasional waspish moment to stop it being too fluffy.

He’s a very physical performer, and an accomplished actor, frequently lapsing into accents or acting out gags and, he tells us, he does his own choreography - Kay is certainly a nifty mover for a big lad. He does a section on misheard song lyrics - again, it’s not original, but by golly he makes it funny - and weaves surreal fantasies into them, in which, among others, Michael Jackson and Celine Dion become purveyors of fast-food treats and Take That need to take a bath.

The evening, which lasts nearly three hours, contains only about 80 minutes of actual comedy (Eighties crooner Rick Astley is the support act) and there are two merchandise and beer-selling opportunities cleverly disguised as intervals, but these are mere cavils when one realises that it’s gone in a flash and for pretty much most of the time you have been laughing like a loon, and the musical finale - bombastic and self-referentially piss-taking - is done with such child-like enjoyment that you would have to be an emotionless churl not to go out into the night with a broad smile on your face.

Watch Peter Kay live

‘He does a section on misheard song lyrics - again, it’s not original, but by golly he makes it funny.’

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