DAVE SPIKEY INTERVIEW
A regular face on TV, Dave Spikey came to Entertainment late, having “enjoyed” a career as a Biomedical Scientist before trying his tongue at Comedy. Here, in an exclusive interview with “Pulse” author Steve Rudd, Dave talks about working with Peter Kay, along with his love of touring…
Hi Dave, how are things?
Good, thanks for asking. The tour has been incredibly well received; the “Punchlines” concept is a theme that audiences have really bought into. Also, I’ve been writing a lot this year and have four scripts “in” with TV companies, all of which I’ve collaborated on with other writers, some of them new, up-and-coming writers, and others who are more established, most notably the great Jim Cartwright. Fingers crossed that one or more will get commissioned, but it’s bit of a lottery.
So you’re back on tour…
Yes, and I think my “Punchlines” tour is my best so far, though I would say that, wouldn’t I? Take a simple premise: that the brain is a pattern-making machine, and once a story has been told and a conclusion arrived at, the pattern is made, stored away and “known.” Should the story be repeated, then the brain forms the pattern quickly, and you acknowledge that you know the outcome; you’ve heard it before. I once read that in a “Readers Digest” when I was in A&E with my Grandma (it’s a long story; someone phoned her up while she was ironing!), and the article went on to say that that’s why we never laugh at jokes the second time around, because we know the punchline. The pattern has been made, and as soon as somebody starts telling the joke, our brain jumps ahead to the stored punchline, with the “punch” of the line diluted to such an extent that we don’t laugh. Learning as much got me wondering if I could challenge such a concept by providing punchlines at the start of a show as the audience comes in, and then again in the interval. I bombard them with punchlines on a big screen, and then I come on and tell the jokes, along with the stories accompanying the punchlines, and I still get big laughs! The rest of the show is spent examining what exactly constitutes a punchline, as I crowbar loads of tenuous examples into proceedings, including naturally-occurring punchlines, jokes that need no punchline, newspaper headlines, song lyrics, regional-specific stories, and jokes that transcend generational boundaries. It sounds very technical and analytical, but it totally isn’t! It’s basically a device for cramming loads and loads of funny stories and observations into a two-hour show!
How long does it take you to come up with material for a new tour? Do you put all your jokes down “in writing” and memorise the entire show, or is it a case of nightly improvisation?
It takes about a year, but one tour tends to evolve into the next, with material I add to the end of one tour becoming the foundation for the next. My last tour was “Words Don’t Come Easy,” which celebrated our wonderful language and its use, misuse and ambiguity, all of which made it a perfect vehicle for comedy. Towards the end of that tour, I started introducing the concept of punchlines, and that evolved into this show as I discovered more and more examples of the use of punchlines in the media, in everyday life, in shop signs, in our dealings on holiday when trying to communicate, and the hilarious problems resulting from misunderstanding and mistranslation. On stage, I have a cue-sheet of topics that I jump around instinctively, depending on the audience reaction. When it’s going well, I can relax enough to improvise and extemporise around the subject. The problem is remembering those “in between” bits when I come off-stage so I can expand them and absorb them into future shows. That’s how my shows constantly grow and change. I’d hate to be performing the same two-hour show every single night. I have to keep it fresh both for myself and the audience. I’ve got to enjoy it. I think if I didn’t, the audience would find me out. I laugh at my own jokes, which can’t be right, can it?
What do you enjoy most about being on stage?
It’s not only making people laugh, but also seeing them laugh; seeing them nudge each other in stories when I hit a nerve with my observations. I love the immediacy of it all. I love being able to think of something to add while I’m en-route to the show, or in the dressing room, and then, within an hour or two, getting laughs (hopefully) from a brand new line or idea. I also love the intimacy of it all. Being a conversational type of comedian, I try very hard to draw the audience into my stories, to make them relax, so they think they’re listening to a mate chatting to them in a pub.
How do you cope with the long hours “on the road” between different venues whilst on tour?
I hate it. The roads are too busy. If I’m heading south on a Friday, I have to add an hour and half on to journey times. There are simply too many cars and HGVs on our roads. I don’t listen to the radio, because it fills my head with the presenters’ inane chatter or self-indulgent “banter.” I just try to concentrate on driving, and run the show through my head over and over.
Which venues do you most enjoy performing at?
I’m in a very privileged position, because I attract a similar audience no matter where I go. I get young people and middle-aged people who may know me from “8 out of 10 Cats” and “Phoenix Nights,” and older people who may have seen me present “Bullseye” or the “TV Book Club,” or who may have seen me “guest” on “Loose Women,” “Titchmarsh” or “Countdown.” No matter where I am in the country, the demographic is more or less the same. Add into the equation the fact that my lovely audiences are warm and welcoming, knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and it makes every show a “home game.”
Have you ever considered writing anything with Peter Kay again, or has that boat well and truly sailed?
No, the boat has sailed… maybe even sunk! I’ve written something with Neil Fitzmaurice (the other co-writer on “Phoenix Nights” and “That Peter Kay Thing”), but Peter seems to concentrate totally on his own projects these days.
Do you ever regret not pursuing your career as a Biomedical Scientist any further?
No… and I occasionally feel guilty about that. I was a Chief Biomedical Scientist in Haematology and had special expertise in certain areas of the science, so when I left, I wondered what would happen to that particular section. But hey, no one’s indispensable! Having worked my way to the top so-to-speak, I was spending less time in the laboratory, and more and more time in management meetings, sorting out sub-committees. I had become very disillusioned, frustrated and dispirited. I left work on Friday 13th in October 2000. The following Monday, I was sitting in a local car park, dressed as a giant berry, thinking, “Was this a wise move?” And you know what? It totally was.
What have been the overall highlights of your comedy career to date?
Writing and co-starring in “That Peter Kay Thing” and “Phoenix Nights,” winning “The Overall Best Show in Town” award (from the readers of the Manchester Evening News) for my first ever stand-up tour show after ten years of plugging away on the circuit, and then receiving a Gold Disc for DVD sales of the same tour. Then there was appearing on The Royal Variety Show in front of Her Majesty The Queen, and “guesting” on “Parkinson” in the same week with one of my greatest heroes, Paul McCartney. I’ve been so lucky, with 32 years working in the NHS, and then this amazing second career!
Visit www.davespikey.co.uk/live for more information
Dave Spikey will be performing at Bridlington Spa on 21 October