Peter Kay comes from a strong northern comic tradition and is considered one of our finest comic actors and stand-up comedians today. In my book club recently we decided we needed something light and funny, and perhaps also it was time for a memoir or autobiography, so Peter Kay fitted the bill. The first volume of his autobiography became the highest and fastest-selling autobiography of all-time. I think it has only just been knocked off that top spot by Prince Harry’s Spare. Which is disappointing.
Peter Kay’s success is entirely deserved. Hailing from a modest background in Bolton, he was brought up a Catholic (his mother was from Northern Ireland) and attended a primary school where he was taught mainly by nuns. Apparently, Peter Kay still lives in the area and even after many years at the very top of his game and with phenomenal successes to his name he comes across as grounded, modest and without affectation.
The Sound of Laughter recounts Peter’s childhood, teenage years and early life working in various low-wage jobs before finally finding success when he wins a northern comedy competition (beating the favourite and fellow comic Johnny Vegas, whom he clearly admires). Peter’s early life was ‘ordinary’ in every sense of the word, and yet it is a sign of his genius in a way, that he has mined this seemingly inauspicious material and dug up comedy gold which still serves him well today. Whether Kay is talking about the nuns at his school (whom he gives such names as ‘Sister Sledge’, ‘Sister Act’ and ‘Sister Matic’), his driving lessons and various driving instructors, his many jobs, (which included working in a petrol station, a branch of Netto, a cash and carry and a bingo hall), or his beloved family, his eye for every minute comic detail is laugh-out loud funny. I listened to this on audio, narrated by Kay, himself (who else could have done it!) and there is a wealth of ‘bonus material’ – he simply cannot help himself going off at tangents, throwing in an anecdote. I got through much of it in a couple of long car journeys and goodness knows what fellow motorists must have thought if they spotted me crying with laughter!
What is striking about Kay is that he in no way conforms to the ‘tortured comic genius’ trope that we recognise in the likes of Robin Williams or Tony Hancock, nor complex or controversial like Billy Connolly, Peter Sellers or Eddie Izzard. He just seems like a straight-up regular guy who you can imagine living next door to. And this is his USP.
At a time when young people are under so much pressure to achieve and when momentous decisions come thick and fast, Kay is also a shining example of how you do not need to go to the best school, the best university, or have outstanding qualifications to succeed. In his case, being true to oneself is a far more valuable commodity, as are hard graft, humility and self-respect.
Kay published a second volume of his autobiography in 2010, called Saturday Night Peter, which I will be downloading on audio. I hope it will be just as funny as the first volume – I’ll report back. He also said in an interview in 2021 that he was working on a third volume. As he is currently working on a months-long sell-out tour of the UK we wait with bated breath.