Dave Spikey Prescribes The Best Medicine

Posted on: 29 March 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Dave Spikey speaks about his latest stand-up tour, writing and co-starring in Phoenix Nights, and how it feels to get your big break at the age of forty-nine.

Twenty-five years ago Dave Spikey was working in an NHS lab by day, and scripting and performing in a number of amateur pantomimes with some co-workers in a group called the Bolton Health Performers by night.  Today, with two British Comedy Awards and the phenomenal success of Phoenix Nights under his belt (or should that be white coat?), he is currently on a nationwide stand-up tour called The Best Medicine, which is receiving rave reviews. 

As the title of the tour implies, Dave tackles the old adage and apparently one of his dad’s favourite sayings, that laughter is the best medicine, and the show includes plenty of backstage stories from his time working at an NHS hospital.  

“I was biomedical scientist for 30 years in charge of the haematology unit at the Royal Bolton.  I had wanted to be a doctor but my Dad, a self-employed painter and decorator, had an accident when I was doing my A-levels, so I had to leave school to bring the money into the family.  I started to work in the hospital lab because I thought it would stand me in good stead for when I resumed my study, but for lots of reasons, I never got back to it, so I stayed on that career path.”

When he first started stand-up, Dave did not draw on his medical background because he thought people wouldn’t have an affinity with it or understand the humour. 

The Best Medicine, Dave Spikey on tour“There is an element of black humour in the hospital.  You have to see the funny side of stuff or else you’d go home depressed every night. I thought it was alien world, but it isn’t.  People go in and out of hospitals a lot, so the material has been going down really well.” 

Not only did his time at the NHS provide him with plenty of content for this tour, but his extensive knowledge of human blood enabled him to win Celebrity Mastermind in 2006 with the highest score ever.

“It’s a very complex organ, because it is an organ the blood.  I just wanted to do the red blood cells, but they said it was too narrow.  Narrow?  It’s microscopic,” he quips.  

Dave’s comedy and script-writing career started to take off in 1990, after he won the North West Comedian of the Year Award.  But it wasn’t until he met Peter Kaye in 1996 that the BAFTA-nominated British sitcom which the pair co-wrote about a Bolton-based club called The Phoenix, was born. 

“It’s tradition that one of the winners of the North West Comedy Award hosts the final one year, and I just happened to be hosting it the year Peter Kaye and Johnny Vegas were in it.  Everyone expected Johnny to walk away with it because he was really happening at that moment, but then Peter came along, who nobody really knew and who had only done a handful of gigs, and he just blew everyone away.” 

“He and I got talking and found out he lived around the corner from the hospital where I worked.  Being from Bolton, he’d been a bit of a fan of mine, so we just started meeting up, sharing ideas and found out we had a lot in common in what we wanted to do in comedy.”

“I knew straight away he was a massive talent.  I said to my agent that if he was looking for a new act, how about Peter Kaye, and of course it took him a very short time to get noticed, because he’s so special.”

Sadly, fans of the show should not hold out for another series.

“The window of opportunity has passed now and we are all doing new things.  We had our chance and we didn’t do it, and as disappointing as it is for some of us, we have to get on with it.”

“I would love to do a Christmas special though; the door would still be open as The Phoenix is made for it.  Brian Potter would be there as Father Christmas, there’d be a nativity show in the games room, Jerry getting ready for a Christmas variety show, and Den Perry from The Banana Grove would kidnap them all and put them in a disused airfield in the moors.  It would parallel the Great Escape which is always on at Christmas - as they try to get back to do the final show.  Den could be watching the film as Jerry is digging a tunnel and Potter is catapulted over the barbed wire!”

Fuelled by the success of Phoenix Nights, his hobby had become a viable option, so in 2000 Dave took the plunge and gave up his day job at the age of forty-nine. 

“Although I am very fortunate to have had a massive u-turn in career at the age of forty-nine, it wasn’t one of those things that I ever really planned or anticipated.  I wasn’t thinking to myself, when am I going to get my big break?  I had a really good job - by the time I finished I was chief biomedical scientist - but it is like anything, if you have any ambition about it, you keep pushing yourself onto the next level.”

“Although I had been doing stand up for ten years as a hobby, over that time I found myself almost imperceptibly, pushing myself into the première league of stand up, doing all the big shows with all the big names.  I was at the bottom of the bill but I was still doing them all.”

In the same week, Dave famously supported Jack Dee, Max Boyce, Cannon and Ball and Eddie Izzard.

“I do think age gives you a bit of maturity, even though I think I’m younger than I am.  I may be fifty-odd, but I feel about thirty, and I think comedy is a great leveller because we all see the same things.  I’ve never been able to do comedy on younger issues like drugs, because you can only do comedy if you know about it, and I’ve never even smoked a cigarette.  If you stay away from stuff that is obviously not you – or too young for you, you won’t have a problem really.”

“I think the most important thing is just be true to yourself, and don’t compromise.  I’ve seen a few comedians compromise in a way that’s really not for them, and audiences know it if you don’t believe what you are telling them.   When you are doing things, you will always get criticism from some quarters; always, so just don’t listen to it.  Sometimes it can be constructive and you’ll take it on board, but if it’s contrary to what you believe, then just ignore it.”

Besides having his very own star in Bolton’s ‘Walk of Fame,’ Dave tells me one of the highlights of his new-found fame was appearing on the Parkinson show with Sir Paul McCartney. 

“I am big Paul McCartney fan from the days of the Beatles, and also because of his animal rights and vegetarianism.  I am vegetarian too and actively involved in a lot of animal right issues.”

“It takes a long time to record a show like that so I was just sat on set for forty minutes chatting to Paul McCartney.  I had Paul McCartney on one side of the sofa and Keira Knightly on the other, thinking a few years ago I was looking down a microscope in hospital.”

There maybe bigger things to come for Dave.  He is already hosting the darts game show Bullseye, writing a comedy series called Sour Grapes, and a trying to get funding for a film script he has written called Footballers Lives

“Shane Meadows directed the trailer for it, and he is a big name to have associated with it after he won a BAFTA a couple of weeks ago for This Is England.  It’s impossible at the moment practically to get funding for a British film, but we’re trying.”

You can’t help wondering what Dave Spikey will be working on as he starts his sixth decade.

For a full list of The Best Medicine tour dates visit http://www.davespikey.com/the_best_medicine.shtml.

Interview by Rachael Hannan

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