Interview: Dave Spikey
Dave Spikey is perhaps best known for his work on Phoenix Nights alongside the likes of Peter Kay, Neil Fitzmaurice and Justin Moorhouse, but he’s revisiting straight up stand-up with his latest tour, Words Don’t Come Easy. Radio Teesdale’s Peter Dixon caught up with Spikey to talk about his comedy philosophy – and whether the success of Phoenix Nights weighs him down a little…
PD: Dave you’re doing a tour at the moment with Words Don’t Come Easy – how’s that going?
DS: This is my fifth tour now, and on all the previous tours, like an idiot, I’ve grouped them all together and ended up doing one-hundred and ten days within a year, and it just ruins you. I’m of a certain age now! But also I think it’s important that you keep your show fresh, so I’ve decided to split it into three sections this year.
So I’ve done twenty-five in Spring, I’m doing another twenty-five now, and then the same again in Spring next year – because I do like to keep updating it. I know that a lot of comedians are writing the next tour while they’re doing this tour, but if I think of something funny I just want to put it in straight away.
I’m like a kid! I can’t just save it, I’ve got to do it now if it fits in the tour. I’m constantly rewriting it. So I’ll do the show, and the next morning I’ll go through my notes, and what worked, what didn’t work, what can be improved, and just keep it fresh.
PD: Good stuff. Of course, it means when you come to places like the North-East, where you’re doing two or three dates, people who go to see more than one show see bits of different things.
DS: They’ll get a variety, yeah. I do two hours on stage, which really flies past for me – I don’t know about for the audience…you’d better ask them! But I come off and I think, “I didn’t do that and I didn’t do that” and “I must put that in”. I’m forever testing things on my mates and on my wife and things like that, and you forget about whole routines. I’ll just chuck them into conversations and get big laughs and think, “Why am I not using that?” It’s a case of structure, it’s a case of not crowbarring it in where it won’t unnaturally fit. I change whole topics, really.
I do a bit on hospital-speak, and the strange way we speak in a hospital and what the staff do, and they way that policemen speak to you. I’m a big fan of the police, but what is it with the scripted conversation you have with a policeman? I got stopped in my car not long ago, and they always say the same thing, like, “Is this your car, sir?” And I just feel like saying what, this one? Oh no, we came out of Asda and it was pouring down, and mine was right the other side of the car park, so I couldn’t be bothered and jumped in this. It’s Korean, but it’s alright. You get little situations where they’re going, “You were going at a fair rate of knots.” Knots? I’ve got in a boat by mistake. Are you an admiral?
But some nights I might think I won’t do the police thing tonight. I’ll do a thing on menus, and pretentious menus, and the words they use on menus. So, as I say, it won’t be the same show from one night to the next.
PD: The whole idea of the theme for this show came out of your last tour as well, didn’t it, when you were messing around with wordplay?
DS: That’s my thing. I’m a bit obsessed with language, and the use and misuse of it, and the abuse of the English language. I love the language and it seems to be deteriorating day on day. It’s a broad canvas; it’s the way we speak. Whether it’s something as simple, like, for example, I came out of the travel agents the other day, and my mate asked me if I’d booked my holidays, and asked am I going anywhere nice? Well, yeah!
And we’ve all said that. Going anywhere nice? No, I’m off in a camper-van at Sourfield.
PD: You had a decent stint on TV, especially with the likes of Phoenix Nights, but do you think people surprised by how much you write?
DS: I think so, but that’s a general thing. I watch a lot of comedy on television and I’m a big fan of American comedy because I like the teams of writers they use, but if you ask me who wrote them I wouldn’t know. People don’t know.
The credits come on at the end – as long as you’ve enjoyed it you never really know, unless the people who wrote it are actually in it, and it says written by and starring such-a-body. I think normally if you’re just a writer you don’t get any sort of credit, but it’s still the same satisfaction you get, and gratification of having people laugh at your stuff.
But it’s not the same instant hit as stand-up, where I can think of a line on the way to a gig and be doing it hours later and getting a laugh – hopefully – and writing a line for television that comes on in twelve months and someone in Whitley Bay goes, “Heh, funny”.
PD: Hearing you talk about writing you seem to get as much pleasure from it as much as performing – do you?
DS: I do, it’s the whole creative process. I can have an inspired day and write five, six, seven or eight pages of a script, sometimes more. You think it was a great day, and then you revisit it the day after and read through it and think, “What was I thinking?” because it’s just rubbish. On other days you can really struggle but then just hit a vein of comedy gold, and all it is is a couple of little speeches for a show, or in an essay you’re writing, or an article for a newspaper, and your job is done. I find it very satisfying.
I’ve written a film with a friend of mine and we’ve just filmed that, and that was my first taste of direction. I’ve always wanted to do that. I think it’s a natural step if you’re a writer, you want to direct your own work. So we’ve done that, and I’m also writing a sitcom with Neil Fitzmaurice again, and he’s brilliant. I’ve not worked with Neil since Phoenix Nights.
PD: Just to ask you a little bit about Phoenix Nights. It was a bit like Fawlty Towers in the way that there’s only twelve episodes of it but it’s grown so big that people probably think there was about thirty or forty of them. I wondered, since you’ve done so much other stuff, whether it sometimes feels like a bit of an iceberg?
DS: I just love it anyway. It was a massive turning point in my life and I love my character. I love Jerry, to bits and I really enjoyed it. It was a big breakthrough as well – I’d never acted, it was all stand-up before and in hospital obviously, and it was a massive challenge. I was really daunted by it at first, but I’m really proud of how it came out. And we worked really hard on it, me and Neil and Peter; we did craft it so that every scene could be watched over and over and you’d still find something new in it. We’d never leave a scene unless all three of us were satisfied. All it took was one person to say we’re missing a trick, and I think that’s why it has endured so much because people can still watch it and still find it fresh, in a way.
PD: You’ve mentioned that you’re working with Neil again, but do you see much of Peter Kay?
DS: I’ve not seen Peter for about two years. There’s no way we’d bump into each other, really – he’s got his own production company, and although he still lives in the north his work is very southern based, where I’m still very much up here. I’m working with Neil and as I say, I’m doing the film up here. I bumped into Peter at Granada maybe two years ago, but no, I’ve not seen him for ages…
PD: Do you prefer stand-up to TV work then?
DS: I do love stand-up. I think it’s what I’m best at – people might disagree! But I do love it so much and I think that affection comes across, and I’m very fortunate and I’m getting my own audience no matter where I go. A question I get asked a lot is about the difference between northern and southern audiences for my type of humour, and there aren’t really, because you attract the people who want to see you, so they’re buying in to your comedy anyway. It’s nothing too deep, it’s not edgy, it’s not political, it’s not satire; it’s just me looking at life in my weird, skewed way.
Dave Spikey is in Consett on Thursday 10th November. Full details can be found on his website here.
Also, an audio file of Peter Dixon’s interview with Dave can be listened to here via Radio Teesdale’s Listen Again feature.