Peter Kay’s meteoric rise to stardom seemed unstoppable. From winning the North West Comedian of the Year title in 1996 to his iconic roles in ‘Phoenix Nights’ and ‘Max and Paddy’s Road to Nowhere,’ Kay was on the fast track to becoming a national treasure. However, in 2004, a shadow was cast over his growing career, thanks to a controversial joke he made in 1999.
It all unfolded at a BBC party in Manchester’s ‘The Frog and Bucket’ where Kay, then a 24-year-old rising star, decided to veer away from his usual family-friendly material. In a bold move, he unleashed a joke that would haunt him for years: “What’s black and white and wants feeding? A: Jill Dando’s cat.” Little did he know that this poorly timed jest would threaten to derail his promising career.
The timing of Kay’s joke was undeniably unfortunate, coming just months after the tragic murder of Jill Dando. The beloved TV presenter, known for hosting ‘Crimewatch,’ was shot dead outside her Fulham apartment on July 31, 1999. The nation was still grappling with the shock of her untimely death when Kay dropped his ill-fated joke.
Peter Kay’s Career Left Hanging In The Balance
Unsurprisingly, The Sun seized the opportunity to brand Kay a “sick comic” in bold headlines. Not content with the jab at his humour, they went for a personal blow, dubbing him ‘podgy Pete,’. The nation, still mourning Dando’s loss, found Kay’s joke in bad taste, and the backlash was immediate.
Fast forward to 2004, when The Sun decided to resurrect this controversial incident, attempting to cancel Peter Kay at the height of his fame. The tabloid reminded the nation of the comedian’s dark jest from five years prior, igniting a firestorm of criticism. The timing was calculated, aiming to tarnish Kay’s reputation and perhaps even prompt the BBC to sever ties with the once-rising star.
The Jill Dando murder, a case that had gripped the nation’s attention, was thrust back into the spotlight. The article reminded readers of the Metropolitan Police’s extensive investigation and the subsequent conviction and later acquittal of Barry George.
In the face of The Sun’s renewed onslaught, Peter Kay found himself at the centre of a media storm. The BBC, under pressure from public opinion, had to carefully navigate the controversy. The near-cancellation loomed, threatening to erase all the laughter Kay had brought to millions.
Ultimately, Peter Kay weathered the storm, emerging from the controversy with his career intact. The public’s memory is often fickle, and Kay’s subsequent success ensured that his ill-judged joke didn’t define him. In the volatile comedy world, timing is everything, and a poorly timed joke can cast a long and dark shadow.