That Peter Kay Thing

Wednesday, January 12, 2000 by

The big concern with Peter Kay is whether or not he is just the male equivalent of Victoria Wood.

The essential ordinariness of people was the source of most of the humour in tonight’s first episode of the latest spoof documentary series: That Peter Kay Thing, a comedy series imbued with a kind of naturalism much discussed elsewhere on OTT.

Kay’s rise to the status of C4 comedy series has been rapid, yet he has managed it with deftness, ensuring that he has a maintained a sort of “authentic charm”. He has been able to limit the hype surrounding his comic abilities and has admirably retained his distance from obvious bedfellows such as Caroline Aherne and Simon Pegg. From a stand up act of “fizzy pop” through a celebration of Public Information Films on C4′s 100 Greatest TV Moments, Kay has maintained his focus on his beloved Bolton, and Bolton-type concerns. The following exchange is typical of Kay’s humour: “How’s your mum?”/”She’s alright. Her radiators need bleeding.”

There is the requisite mix of pathos of course. Hints of characters with tragic pasts abound, coupled with the self-important philosophising that is so often fodder for this type of comedy. And then of course there are the tantalising mentions of minor celebrities (“Bob Carolgees, The Krankies, T’Pau”) pitched just so the names are not too obscure as to over do the joke. The comedic highpoint of the episode was of course Park Avenue’s melody of inappropriate hit songs delivered in that familiarly cheesy club style that has proved to be such a successful source of comedy. Yet the episode abounded with characters unseeing of their own inadequacies, desperately trying to project favourable images of themselves. In short, Kay was tapping those elements that make real documentaries such cringing fun.

So, Peter wants you to laugh at the cheery authenticity and familiarity of it all, yet it is the familiarity of the subject matter and treatment that is most striking. Kay’s seam appears to be that which Steve Coogan has mined with mixed results (Mike Crystal in Coogan’s Run). The pathos and sense of failed celebrity provokes comparisons with The League of Gentlemen‘s Crème Brulee.

To compete in this sort of comedic territory, your material and performers need to be intensely sharp. For the most part, Kay is up to the challenge (happily just avoiding the current obsession with total realism at the expense of the jokes – see The Royle Family,People Like Us). Yet surely, we must be growing tired of this brand of comedy. The Day Today was some years ago now, and their Leisure Centre spoof explored pretty much most of the potential territory anyway. Thus, Kay succeeds really through a combination of natural wit and personal charm. His pleasing rotundity and cheekiness ensure that That Peter Kay Thing is familiar in a nice way (like a favoured pair of socks) as opposed to a crap pop way (like Panda cola).


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