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His work includes That Peter Kay Thing (2000), Phoenix Nights (2001 - 2002), Max and Paddy's Road to Nowhere (2004), as well as other independent productions. His act is notable for being alternative comedy that still manages to appeal to a working class audience.
After leaving Mount St. Joseph High School, Kay took several jobs, many of which inspired episodes or sequences in That Peter Kay Thing. His earliest was an interview with Granada Television in which he listed the contents of his room, as well as detailing his experience meeting Jimmy Savile. This would later be used in That Peter Kay thing, in the role of Leonard De-Thompkinson.
After he entered and subsequently 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 was nominated for the Perrier Award. During this time, he also appeared at various other clubs, such as The Comedy Store, and the Barracuda Club in Lincoln. Although this led to a certain level of public recognition, it was only after his heavily promoted show, Live at the Top of the Tower, in 2000 that Kay attained widespread fame.
In 2003, he was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 Funniest British Comedians. In addition, he made an appearance in a 2005 poll of comedians and critics to find The Comedian's Comedian, a search for the 50 greatest funnymen of all time. In March 2005 he also came top in a survey sponsored by the Jongleurs comedy club to find Britain's favourite comedian.
In 2006, a Channel 4 television show voted him as number one in 100 Funniest Moments, most notably for his stand up act, and in particular for his description of a family wedding.
On 18 April 2006, Channel 4 broadcast a "Peter Kay Night", showing out-takes from Phoenix Nights (previously featured on DVD), a behind the scenes documentary of the Mum Wants a Bungalow tour and also the whole Peter Kay Live in Manchester show. During this evening, Kay was seen in character as Max (from Max and Paddy's Road to Nowhere & Phoenix Nights) discussing the tribute with Paddy (Patrick McGuinness). Max stated that he did not like Peter Kay, and thought that Channel 4 was going downhill for dedicating a whole night to him. Paddy commented that he wondered why ITV have not snapped up Kay. Max is also seen to be ignorant of current events, from not realising that civil partnerships are now legal and that Elton John has made use of it, to more controversial news stories involving Michael Barrymore, Gary Glitter, Diana, Princess of Wales and Michael Jackson.