Peter Kay's is 'one of the greatest comebacks ever'

One of the greatest comebacks ever… the wokerati will be sobbing into their Che Guevara T-shirts

Did Peter Kay not get the memo? As of this weekend, the Bolton-born comic genius is back in business, selling out huge arenas across a nation gripped by price hikes, rampant wokery and a culture war. And yet where are the anti-Tory gags?

I failed to hear a single rant about Truss or Sunak. There was no mention of food banks, nothing on immigration policy.

Brexit? Climate change? Race? Nowt. Transphobia? The only references to private parts are to Kay’s own and he is merciless on himself – not least his hilarious account of the hospital consultant who wanted a Peter Kay selfie for his daughter, just as the operating team were inserting a camera up ‘my Aretha Franklin’.

For, shocking as it may be, a large chunk of the British public would rather hear jokes on trusty old themes like baked beans and befuddled Nans from the man who, despite an 11-year absence from the touring circuit, has retained his rightful place in the top tier of our great entertainers.

Yet what will surely incur the wrath of the comedy establishment most of all is that Peter Kay is on track to smash his own record for the most successful comedy tour of all time, certified by Guinness World Records at the end of his 2010-2011 tour.

‘The boyishness of old has mellowed, but Kay still radiates mischief’

Barring any ‘unforeseen family circumstances’ like those which scuppered his attempted 2017 tour, this magnificent show is due to be enjoyed by millions. Prices are pegged to the last tour (starting at £35, Kay is considerably cheaper than many a panto) and he’s already selling tickets for 2025.

Such is the nation’s love affair with Kay that he has secured the first-ever residency at London’s O2 Arena. It’s enough to leave the Frankie Boyle cutting-edge merchants sobbing into their Che Guevara T-shirts.

Peter Kay went on an 11-year hiatus before kicking off his new tour at Manchester’s AO arena

Kay made a sensational return to stand-up, bursting into tears on stage and admitting: ‘I’ve been looking forward to this for quite a while now.’

And where else could the greatest showbiz comeback of modern times begin, than in Kay’s native North West? I was at Manchester’s AO Arena among 20,000 of the faithful, all welcoming him back with two unspoken questions: is he still funny and why did he disappear for five years? Two and a half hours later, we had the answers: definitely – and he’s not saying.

There was tease-upon-tease at the start of this monster gig, including an animated sequence projected on to a giant curtain – a homage to the ‘Bond is Back’ prelude to each 007 movie. The messaging was clear: Peter Kay is back, too.

The curtain opened to reveal a trimmer figure, though a chip-fuelled paunch still lurks beneath the trademark pastel blue shirt. He looks like a darts champion at the tail-end of a fortnight’s boot camp.

That the boyishness of the old Kay had mellowed was inevitable. He turns 50 next year, for Heaven’s sake, but he still radiates mischief.

A prolonged standing ovation left him momentarily overcome.

‘Thank you and goodnight!’ he yelled. ‘How am I supposed to do comedy now!?’ He did his best to pull himself together. 

‘You had me in f****** bits!’ Whereupon he half-apologised for his language: ‘I’m sure this is rated 15.’

And then it was straight in to a few boom-boom one-liners and canny improvisation. Jimmy Savile and Saddam Hussein gags might suggest a repertoire a couple of decades behind the curve, but that is not just Kay’s comfort zone, it is that of an audience which bridges the generations.

The opening night of Kay’s mammoth 110-date tour played to a sell out crowd in Manchester

Peter arrived in a spotlight ‘James Bond’ silhouette, before the curtain fell to huge cheers

On the way in I met the Andersons from Kay’s native Bolton (they’d once bumped into Kay, they told me, at B&Q). His most ardent fans in this family were Scott, 16, and his grandmother, Doreen, 91. Such is the breadth of the appeal.

Not that Kay sidesteps the present day. He just treats it as the same faintly bewildering and exasperating place as so many of us regard it, too. He might lament the endless Amazon deliveries of ‘s***’ – ‘What did we do before Amazon? Catalogues!’ – but admits he can’t be parted from his mobile phone, even when on the loo: ‘The days of reading shampoo bottles are over!’

He is acutely aware of the hair-trigger sensitivities of Twitter and the battalions of the perpetually offended.

Always good with hecklers, Kay wearily called up a well-refreshed woman yelling: ‘I’ve got a joke!’

‘Come on, love, let’s hear it,’ he said, and picked up the garbled gist, something to do with gay dinosaurs. ‘F*** me, I can’t tell that! I’ll get cancelled. I’m not Bernard Manning!’

By the interval, it felt as if Kay had simply unpressed the pause button from 2011, comfortably reminiscing about TV adverts and taking Nan on her first foreign holiday. Rest assured, the man who turned ‘garlic bread’ into a catchphrase still has plenty to say on the subject.

Bolton comedian Peter Kay in tears as crowds roar his Manchester Arena entrance

The comedian and actor won a standing ovation at the start of his first performance in 11 years

Come part two, Kay moved up a gear, as did the laughs.

There was some gentle ribbing of the Royal Family, not least the choice of footwear at a Royal Variety performance.

‘I swear that Charles was wearing slippers! And he wasn’t nipping out for a pint of semi-skimmed milk and 20 B&H.’

And we heard a howlingly funny account of his recent travails with kidney stones and urologists. This was the closest we got, however, to any explanation of Kay’s long self-imposed exile from the limelight.

Though happy discussing his genitals with 20,000 people (there is even a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it glimpse we could probably have done without), he remains intensely private about some things.

Yet there was a deeply touching eulogy to his Nan, the source of so much material and who died at the same age as the Queen.

‘Now they’re both gone,’ he said wistfully, before playing snatches of some of their last chats. This was high-risk material, as precarious as any gag about race or gender. People see comedy expecting tears of laughter. Yet Kay’s unerring sense of tone and pitch were spot on.

‘A shameless nostalgia runs through the show from start to finish’

I won’t spoil the fun but the encores do not disappoint – a spectacular fusion of old favourites with the latest rock ‘n’ roll special effects. Having opened to a lengthy ovation, he left to one as well.

A shameless nostalgia runs through this show from start to finish – even in the interval, the theme tunes to Minder, Grandstand and Blockbusters played.

Yet isn’t this the sort of reassuring, escapist warm bath we would all quite like right now?

Before this tour began, Kay remarked it ought to be called the ‘Peter Who?’ tour, given that it’s been so long since his last.

But since ticket websites crashed as hundreds of thousands of people fought to be part of the 110-gig itinerary (and counting), I’d be more inclined to call it the ‘Peter Why?’ Tour.

Having amassed a rock star fortune, he has no need to subject himself to the stress of these vast arenas. With no discernible millionaire habits or wish to leave his native North West, he has shown that family comes first. Yet here he is, setting off around some of the UK’s biggest stages, giving the likes of U2 and the Rolling Stones a run for their money.

We must presume that Peter Kay enjoys all this. What is beyond doubt is that his legion of fans still adore him. And they’ll certainly love this show.

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