— 6th November 2003
On boxing day 2001 I taped Peter Kay’s Live at the Top of the Tower stand up show off Channel 5. They seemed to be doing a run of stand up comedy shows at the time, Kay’s came first and was followed the next night by Bill Bailey and then by Mark Lamarr. They weren’t just the usual TV fair which tends to consist of 5 or 6 three minute sets streched to fill a half hour programme. This was proper full length shows which had obviously been recorded for video and had been around long enough to be allowed onto TV (i.e. the video company had now decided that they’d made all the money they were going to make off them ... how wrong they were).
I didn’t really get round to watching it for a few days and to be honest I was far more interested in Bill Bailey and Mark Lamarr knowing both of these far better and thinking that they’d be much better shows. I’d actually seen Peter Kay live, playing to a tiny crowd in the Dry Dock (a pub opposite Leeds Met Uni) when I was a student. We’d not gone to watch him at all and were sat out of the way in a little corner when he came on. I remember him getting laughs and we’d stood up at the back for a while and watched him. I don’t really remember much else, but that’s kind of how I saw him, just a mildly famous, nothing-special comedian who I’d heard of but wasn’t really any more special than a number others buzzing around at the periphery of comedy which was pretty peripheral to me at the time anyway.
So I watched through the video and was quite impressed. Mark Lamarr was good, aggressive but not hardly as biting and cruel as I’d heard he was in Edinburgh, and Bill Bailey was great, funny, enormously talented and inventive musically which a lot of the comedy was based on. Peter Kay on the other had was fantastic. The whole thing had an air of effortlessness about it which just elevated it above. There’s something about the way the shows hangs together almost like he’s been doing it forever. It’s so honed, so smooth and above all so natural which is the absolute key to making it so funny. I think I’d watched it through once when Kirsty first watched it. I told her that I’d recorded it and asked if she wanted to watch it. It probably wasn’t a great recommendation considering the kind of things she was used to me videoing (scifi, obscure films, history of Britain, equinox! - most of which I never did and still never do get round to watching) but she sat and watched it once and she was hooked.
There’s not many video’s that both Kirsty and me can agree we both really enjoy. Mainly there’s things that one of us loves and the other can tolerate or there’s things that we just watch when the other person’s not around. Peter Kay is different. Got a bored hour? Just got back from the pub slightly pissed? Hung over the next morning and don’t want to get up from the couch for a while? Got some friends round in any of the above situations? Let’s put Peter Kay on!!!
So then what was funny was realising that this same thing seemed to be happening to other people across the country. Phoenix Nights was already on TV I think, but it hadn’t really had much of a profile. Peter Kay wasn’t really someone who was known that much, but word was spreading. We started to meet people who’d seen it, and loved it, and we’d tell other people around us how good it was. Repeating lines to each other and cracking up.
"That’s Michelle!" "It’s spitting!" "Come see yer Dad!" "Have a Solero and shut t’fuck up!"
We were at a barbecue at Kirsty’s Dad’s and just over heard the words “garlic bread” said in that particular way and that was enough to start us off again.
Then one day there was a DVD in HMV. I’d vaguely looked before but never found anything, but now there it was and not just there but soon it was at the top of the charts obviously selling enough that they thought it was worth pushing more. I never bought the DVD because we always had the video. It is the most watched video we own, by a long long way.
Phoenix Nights is really good but it’s not amazing, it’s not a patch on Top of the Tower in terms of making you laugh out loud. Top of the Tower hasn’t been on TV again since (I don’t think) but Phoenix Nights has and so when you hear about Peter Kay and his success you hear about Phoenix Nights. I don’t believe it’s really Phoenix Nights which has made Peter Kay what he is today. The main reason I like Phoenix Nights so much is because I got to like Peter Kay so much watching Top of the Tower and now when I see him in the sitcom it’s enough that’s it’s him. Enough that it’s that face, that voice, the odd catchphrase thrown in for fans of his stand-up.
At the end of the day a stand-up has to make us like him. If we like him we’ll laugh at him and the more he makes us laugh the more we’ll like him. If he really makes us laugh (like really makes us laugh) we’ll like him so much that his mere presence makes us laugh, without him even having to be funny. Witness Tommy Cooper or Frankie Howard doing almost nothing for ages and having an audience in stitches.
Anyway, this is all building up to the fact that there’s a new Peter Key stand-up DVD out on Monday, it’s a recording of his Mum Wants A Bungalow tour. We never managed to get tickets to see the tour itself (oh we tried) so as you can imagine we’re a bit excited.