Kay has written, produced, and acted in several award-winning television and film projects. In addition, he has authored three books. In 2015, he starred in BBC sitcoms Peter Kay's Car Share and Cradle to Grave. In 2016, Kay won the BAFTA TV Award for Best Male Comedy Performance, the BAFTA TV Award for Best Scripted Comedy and the National Television Award for Best Comedy for Car Share. He also received an honorary doctorate from the University of Salford.
Peter John Kay was born and brought up in Farnworth, Lancashire, where he attended Mount Saint Joseph RC School, leaving with one GCSE in art. His mother is a Roman Catholic of Irish descent, and Peter was raised in her faith. He took several minor jobs, including working in a toilet roll factory, a Netto supermarket, a cash and carry, a cinema and a bingo hall, which later inspired episodes for That Peter Kay Thing.
He began a degree course at the University of Liverpool but dropped out because he was given an unconditional offer to attend a Higher National Diploma (HND) in media performance at the University of Salford. He then attended the University of Salford's school of media, music and performance, where he studied for an HND in Media Performance, which he completed; this involved a stand-up course.
His first stand-up was the competition the North West Comedian of the Year, which was held in Manchester and hosted by Dave Spikey, who would later be the co-star and co-writer of Phoenix Nights. Kay was last on the bill and won the competition, beating Johnny Vegas. Kay has said that he sought a career in comedy. However, Kay continued to work part-time as an usher at his local cinema in Bolton whilst performing stand-up locally. When the cinema closed, Kay was presented with the choice between finding another job or moving into comedy full-time.
After he entered and won Channel 4's So You Think You're Funny? contest in 1997, his first semi-professional stand-up appearances were at the 1998 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where he received a prestigious Perrier Award nomination. During this time, he also appeared at various other clubs, such as London's influential Comedy Store.
Although this led to a certain level of public recognition, it was only after his first live video show Live at the Top of the Tower in 2000 that Kay attained mainstream recognition. During this period, he appeared on several chat shows, such as Friday Night with Jonathan Ross and Parkinson, on the latter of which he had previously served as warm up. It was at this time that production also began on Phoenix Nights, which was to see him achieve critical acclaim as well as mainstream success. Subsequent advertisements for John Smith's bitter which imitate the realistic style of Phoenix Nights saw Kay develop his catchphrases "'ave it!" and "two lamb bhunas".
Kay's first TV project was in a 1997 episode of New Voices, a comedy series which showcased rising talent. His episode, "Two Minutes", written by Johanne McAndrew, saw him play a getaway driver as two of his mates attempted to rob a pub of its takings. After presenting a slot titled "Peter Kay's World of Entertainment" on BBC2's The Sunday Show, Kay made an episode of Channel 4's Comedy Lab, "The Services", in 1998, which won a Royal Television Society award for best newcomer. This served as a pilot for That Peter Kay Thing. Following the series' success, Kay and his co-writers – Neil Fitzmaurice and Dave Spikey – used the episode "In the Club" as the basis for Phoenix Nights, which was an immediate hit. Set in a newly refurbished social club run by wheelchair-bound Brian Potter, the first series was filmed in part at St Gregory's Social Club in Farnworth, Greater Manchester, where the exterior, hallways and function suite were used.
In 2004, Kay followed the success with Max and Paddy's Road to Nowhere, a spin-off of Phoenix Nights. The show featured the bouncer characters from the show – played by Kay and Paddy McGuinness – and at times also featured other characters from Phoenix Nights. Six episodes were made and broadcast from November to December 2004 by Channel 4. The DVD of the series was released in October 2005. In 2005, Kay was awarded a Rose d'Or at the international television festival in Montreux for Best Performance by an Actor.
On 17 April 2006, Channel 4 broadcast a "Peter Kay Night", showing out-takes from Phoenix Nights (previously featured on DVD), a behind-the-scenes documentary "180 – A Tour Documentary" which followed Kay behind the scenes of his Mum Wants a Bungalow tour and screened the whole Peter Kay Live in Manchester Arena show. In 2008, he returned to television after an absence of four years with the BAFTA-winning satire of reality talent shows, Peter Kay's Britain's Got the Pop Factor... and Possibly a New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly on Ice, which he co-wrote with Paul Coleman. The two-hour special was screened on Channel 4 on 17 October 2008. Kay won his second Royal Television Society award for best actor for playing Geraldine McQueen, a transsexual dinner lady from Ireland.
Kay has released several DVDs of live performances, including Live at the Top of the Tower, Live at the Bolton Albert Halls (which holds the record as biggest selling British stand-up DVD), Peter Kay: The Live Collections (the previous two combined), Peter Kay: Live at Manchester Arena, and Peter Kay Live – The Tour That Didn't Tour Tour (which was recorded during his fifteen-night sold-out run at The O2 in London).
In 2007, Kay followed this success with a re-release of "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)", originally by the Proclaimers, for Comic Relief. The video featured a celebration of British talent. In 2009, Kay switched his musical fund-raising to Children in Need with the release of Peter Kay's All Star Animated Band, which had taken two years to complete. He brought together over 100 animated children's characters in a six-minute animated medley. These characters included Thomas the Tank Engine, Bob the Builder, SpongeBob SquarePants, Paddington Bear, the Wombles, Fireman Sam, Peppa Pig, Postman Pat and the cast of Thunderbirds. It also featured some the characters' original voice artists including Bernard Cribbins, Neil Morrissey and Ringo Starr. The video was premiered on BBC1 on Friday 20 November 2009.
Kay returned his support to Comic Relief in 2011 with a cover version of "I Know Him So Well". The song was re-recorded by multi-platinum selling singer Susan Boyle and Kay in the guise of Geraldine McQueen from Britain's Got the Pop Factor. The video which accompanied the single was also directed by Kay and identically parodied the original video shot for shot. It premiered on Comic Relief on Friday, 18 March 2011.
In May 2015 his own sitcom Peter Kay's Car Share began to air. The series was a success and a second series was commissioned to start in April 2017. In October 2015, he starred in Cradle to Grave another BBC sitcom based on Danny Baker's life as a teenager.
On 19 July 2016, Kay was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Arts degree from the University of Salford at Salford’s Lowry Theatre.
In November 2009, after an absence of seven years, Kay announced a return to stand-up with four (later extended to 20) dates at the Manchester Arena the following April with a show entitled "The Tour that Didn't Tour Tour". Demand for tickets caused him to announce soon after that the show would be toured. In January 2012, the tour entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the most successful stand-up comedy tour of all time, playing to a total of 1.2 million people.
In February 2007, Kay played flamboyant gay director Roger DeBris in the Mel Brooks musical The Producers at Manchester's Palace Theatre for 120 shows. He returned to the role for the last week of the UK tour of the production at Cardiff's Millennium Theatre in December 2007.
He appeared in the first episode of the 2002 series of Linda Green, playing a pizza delivery man who ended up being something of a soulmate to the eponymous heroine. He has had two roles in Coronation Street. The first, in the late 1990s, was a brief appearance as a shopfitter, but in January 2004 he co-wrote his own scenes, appearing alongside Sally Lindsay, who played Shelley Unwin.
On 17 June 2006, Kay appeared in the Doctor Who episode "Love & Monsters". His character, the sinister Victor Kennedy, proved to be an alien called the Abzorbaloff in disguise. Kay was included in the Independent on Sunday's "Happy List" in 2009 as "simply Britain's best comedian", and – as an exception to their general rule – was included again in 2010 for also raising funds for Children in Need.
On 9th September 2017, Kay took part in the "We Are Manchester" benefit concert to mark the reopening of Manchester Arena (following terrorist attack there in May). He gave a speech to the crowd before introducing the concert's headline act Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds.2005: The Best of Peter Kay – So Far
^1 As Geraldine McQueen.New Voices [episode "Two Minutes"] (1996)
Coronation Street (Shopfitter) (1997)
Comedy Lab episode "The Services" (1998)
Let's Get Quizzical (1998)
That Peter Kay Thing (1999)
Butterfly Collectors – (1999)
Phoenix Nights (Brian Potter / Max) (2001–02)
Linda Green – as Eddie (2002)
Comic Relief 2003: The Big Hair Do (Brian Potter) (2003)
Max and Paddy's Road to Nowhere (2004)
Coronation Street (Eric Gartside) (2004)
The Catherine Tate Show – as Tommy (2005)
Doctor Who – Love & Monsters (2006) As Victor Kennedy/Abzorbaloff
Little Britain Abroad (2006)
Roary the Racing Car (Voice Over (Big Chris)) (2007–10)
Britain's Got the Pop Factor... and Possibly a New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly on Ice (2008)
Take That Come to Town as Geraldine McQueen (2008)
Brit Awards 2010 (himself, 2010)
Comic Relief 2013 (himself, 2013)
Peter Kay's Car Share – as John Redmond (2015–17)
Cradle to Grave – as Fred Baker (2015)
Peter Kay's Comedy Shuffle (himself, 2016-17)
Let It Shine (Guest Judge, 2017)
Inside No. 9 - as Neil (2017)
Going Off Big Time (Flipper) (2000)
Blow Dry (Cyril the Barman) (2001)
Roddy Smythe Investigates... (Tommy Doyle) (2002)
24 Hour Party People (Don Tonay) (2002)
Last Rumba in Rochdale (Dad: Voice) (2002)
The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse (Simon Pig) (2005)
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (PC Mackintosh) (2005)
Max and Paddy's Power of Two (Max) (2005)
In December 2011, it was reported that Kay had sold over 10 million DVDs, a UK record for a comedian and more than the combined sales of best selling films Avatar and Mamma Mia!Live At The Top Of The Tower (22 November 2000)
Live At The Bolton Albert Halls (10 November 2003)
Live At The Manchester Arena (2005)
Peter Kay's Special Kay (17 November 2008)
Live – The Tour That Didn't Tour – Tour (7 November 2011)
Live & Back on Nights (19 November 2012)