An Interview with Dave Spikey
Posted by Rhien on Thu, 05 Jan 2012.
An actor, writer and stand up comedian from Lancashire; best known as a house panellist on 8 out of 10 cats and as being part of the trio of writers that brought us phenomenon that is Phoenix Nights. Dave takes time out of his tour to talk to us about his passion for stand up, his debut as a director and Phoenix Nights. You can catch Dave Spikey at De Monfort Hall on the 16th February.
You're kicking off the final leg of your Words Don't Come Easy Tour at the De Montfort Hall as part of the Comedy Festival. What can we expect when you come to Leicester?
It's sort of evolved a little bit like these things do from my last tour. When I'm writing a tour I just need something to hang it on a theme you know. On my last tour I did a couple of little segments where I just deconstructed song lyrics, I have a problem; lazy use of language and lazy rhymes. It started with that Vanessa Williams song Save the Best till last, which is a reasonable ballad about unrequited love how she loves this lad. Right in the middle of it she sings this line I'm sure we are all familiar with 'Sometimes the snow comes down in June, Sometimes the sun goes round the moon'. Hang on a minute Vanessa! No it doesn't. What law of astrophysics is it that now and again occasionally randomly now and again the sun goes round the moon? I started listening obsessively to song lyrics and that was a brilliant part of the tour playing little clips of songs we all know and deconstructing the lyrics.
What's the best part of performing stand up and going around the country?
Well just performing really is what I think I'm best at. There's nothing like being in front of a live audience. I hate the travelling - on this tour it particular it's been a nightmare. The roads in this country are on their arse. I love a live audience and I'm in a great privileged position where I mean I've worked for years on the circuit where they were just going to see a show but now they are going to see me. I can think of something on the way to a show and do it two hours later and it's getting laughs later. On TV it's different - you write it and12 months later someone laughs at it when it appears on television.
It must be very different working on a TV a show like 8 out of 10 cats where I can imagine a lot of material is cut?
Oh yes; It's a 30 minute show and we record it for 2 and a half hours or 3 hours if Johnny Vegas is there. That was the thing about 8 out of 10 cats and that in the end was why I left as it takes over your life and I can't multi task like that.. Sean Lock is brilliant I think he just turns up and does it - he's that brilliant - that spontaneous. I'm buying papers I don't normally buy and thinking about it all week seeing what's happening and trying to find comedy in these weird and wonderful events in the world. It's a lot of pressure for me. I mean in the pub I'm the quickest there but when there's 6 comedians and you're in competition with not just the opposition but your own team, it's a lot of pressure so being on my own on stage is paradise.
Do you look at a headline and instantly see the funny part of that story?
Yes, I'm always looking to find gems. Every time I go to a gig, even on this tour I'm always accumulating newspaper stories. They don't have to be hilarious they just have to be amusing for the local audience. It's that part of making contact with the audience and making an effort. I like to do comedy about local events and landmarks. You know if someone has cocked up and they are all up in arms about it in the town. The best one on this tour was in Cheltenham, in a story about Cheltenham Ladies College. The headline was:
'Girl's School Still Offer Something Special' - Head.
How did they not notice that going in! It's ridiculous, the gems like that are few and far between.
I see you've directed a short film called Buzz Dish by John Lebbon a rugby player, how did this all come about?
I get sent a lot of scripts and I try to read them al. Most of them are OK and I always try to write notes and point them in the right direction. People seem to think I have this way in with TV execs but I struggle to get my own on the right desk. I got this one from John, who as you say is a young rugby player up in Cumbria, and it had a real spark to it. I really bought into it and liked the characters. We had a meeting and we decided to write it and we've actually written a series of half hour episodes about these lads in Cumbria and the struggle these disaffected youth seem to have. It's basically lads trying to make a living up there with some hair brained scheme,making 'You've Been Framed' videos. The BBC knocked it back saying it was a bit bleak but it's not bleak it's funny. So we decided to make a film out of it and lift the comedy off the page. This film competition came up and that was the impetus to make it and it turned out alright and won the audience vote at Cofilmic
How would you describe yourself as a director - what's your particular style?
Well it was my first go at directing and it was much harder than I thought it would be. I'd done that much this side of the camera, you really don't give it much thought. I did quite a lot of studying and brought Directing for Dummies. I love directing the actors because if you've written something it's always been an ambition to be on set 'I want you to do it like this', setting up the scene and the shots. It's all the stuff - where are we going after this; are we moving to the next location; can you tell the dinner ladies we're going to be there at this time - it's all that administration stuff I found difficult. One of the comments I made quite a lot was "can you just stop acting". You can tell when people are properly acting when you get to those emotional scenes or angry scenes in particular and just take it down a step and be yourself. I really enjoyed it I hope I get to do it again.
Having played a key role as a lead writer on Phoenix Nights what was it like seeing the success of the series?
It was amazing really - we sort of didn't know but we worked so hard - me, Peter and Neil to make sure we rung every last ounce of comedy out of everything. You don't leave any scene until all of you are happy with it, even if it's just putting another audio gag in the background. We knew we'd done well but you can never tell, you can never predict. Channel 4 hid it away at 11 o'clock on a Friday night and people sort of discovered it and people loved that and passed it on to each other. By the time the second series was due out there was a lot of anticipation about it, so it was brilliant. I was very very pleased with the performances. None of us were actors - we were all stand up mates off the northern circuit and that kept it real as well.
Where did the inspiration come from for your character Jerry St Clair?
Just going around and looking at other comperes and comedians and clubs. Some people have that misinterpretation that that's the circuit I came from but I didn't I'm not that sort of comedian. I tried the working men's clubs but I died
'I've not got a mother in law - what you on about?'
I was brought up in the culture - me dad took me in those sort of clubs and before we started we went around so many of them in the North West and observed. We went to committee meetings, regional committee meetings, club nights, free and easy nights - we did a lot of research for it. So Jerry really came out of people we had seen or met or knew. The thing about Jerry is that no matter where you go people say you based him on our compere at the British Legion or at the Labour Club and he is, he is that classic compere and it's really rewarding that we got all our research right and people feel that way.
Is there a scene that sticks out in your mind - something you think was the most enjoyable scene to work on in Phoenix Nights?
There's two scenes that were very hard to work on. I'm not an actor - I've never professed to be. There are two scenes that involved a lot of hard work and improvisation and one was a series of scenes where Jerry loses it when he's taking Co-codamol because he's burnt his hand on something Bryan has given him while he's selling fake damaged goods from the fire. He starts taking all this herbal medicine because he's a hypochondriac and he takes this Sake from the Chinese lads in the kitchen thinking its water. He completely loses his mind dancing around, catching the moon, calling the bingo and throwing the whole barrel in the audience and singing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. You have to keep your energy up for the filming and keep it fresh; we filmed the whole sequence over a day. It was really hard but seeing the end product is really rewarding. The student heckler scene where Jerry loses it he reaches that breaking point - it's sink or swim and he decides he's going to swim; And fights back against them. Those two scenes stand out for me and I'm really pleased with them.
If you could have a pint with any celebrity, global superstar or world leader who would it be?
That's a really good question; I think it would have to be Woody Allen. I'm a massive fan of his early comedy and his films. Just have a pint and a chat and pick his brain.
I thank Dave for his time and for a great interview. A fantastic comedian who has me laughing throughout. He's performing February 16th at De Montfort Hall as part of his 'Words Don't Come Easy' tour certainly one not to miss!