Dave Spikey's first professional outing in Birmingham was a complete disaster but this time around the Phoenix Nights funnyman is a finely-tuned comedy turn, as Roz Laws found out.
Fortunately for audiences, comedian Dave Spikey has come a long way from his first Birmingham gig.
That was memorable for all the wrong reasons. While most comics get to hone their craft in front of a handful of people in a room over a pub, Dave’s early effort was broadcast to millions of viewers.
In 1988 he appeared on an episode of New Faces, filmed at the Birmingham Hippodrome. He was part of a double act with Rick Sykes, called Spikey and Sykey.
He doesn’t bring it up when I ask him about his Midland gigs. It’s clearly an embarrassing incident that he has tried to wipe from his mind.
When prompted, he grimaces: “That’s not such a happy memory.
“We’d only ever done three shows and never even had a paid gig. New Faces came to see someone else on the bill and offered us a place on the show.
“We jumped at it but we were very naive and took bad advice. We were persuaded to do some material we hadn’t performed before.
“We pretended we were a double act from Vladivostok on an exchange scheme with Little and Large. We did the whole thing in Russian accents and did a cossack dance after every punchline.
“My mate was going to come on with a kettle on his head, saying ‘You told me to put the kettle on’. But then we thought it would be funnier if we said it like ‘Put the cattle on’, so he came on with a massive pantomime cow round his shoulders.
“I cringe now when I think about it.”
But almost a quarter of a century has gone by and Dave is now in the middle of his Words Don’t Come Easy tour, which plays Birmingham’s Glee Club on February 29, as well as dates in Stafford and Leamington.
“I talk about everything from newspaper stories to weird hospital speak and de-constructing song lyrics to show how ridiculous they are.
“For example, Thin Lizzy singing ‘Tonight there’s going to be jailbreak, somewhere in this town’. Ooh, I wonder where?
“Or Save The Best For Last, with ‘Sometimes the snow comes down in June, sometimes the sun goes round the moon’. Under what law of astrophysics does that happen?
“I’ve always liked analysing words. I remember my gran telling me ‘I’ve got a big day tomorrow, I’m having two teeth taken out and a gas fire put in’.”
Dave is former captain on the hit panel show 8 Out Of 10 Cats and is currently one of the regular hosts of the TV Book Club on Channel 4, but he first found TV fame with Phoenix Nights, which he created and wrote with Peter Kay and Neil Fitzmaurice.
He reveals he has not spoken to Kay for two years and is baffled by reports that they are making a Phoenix Nights film.
“I don’t know what Peter’s talking about,” said Dave, who co-starred in the Channel 4 sitcom as club compere Jerry St Clair.
“He apparently said a film script is all written and ready to go, but none of us have heard anything from him.
“It’s blowing it up a bit to call it a feud between me and Peter, though you do have fall-outs in the creative arena.
“We had a rule that there were three writers on Phoenix Nights and we all had to be happy with every scene. We used to get into arguments about everything, like what’s the funniest pie – that’s chicken and mushroom, obviously. We could argue for an hour over that.
“We were always work colleagues and never big mates. Afterwards we went in separate directions and lost touch, though we have spoken since.
“The last time was when I bumped into him at a TV studio and we had a chat. That was a couple of years ago.”
Now Dave is more interested in new projects, including a BBC series he has written with Neil Fitzmaurice called Glitterball, about ballroom dancing, which is due to start production in March.
“It’s set in a Blackpool hotel and is all about the rivalry and bitchiness in ballroom.
“Neil and I are fighting over who will play the main character of the hotel manager, as he’s the only one who doesn’t dance.
“Though I’m also drawn to a one-eyed ex-crime scene photographer, who’s a rubbish dancer. I’m hoping a lot of it will be filmed from the waist up.”
He might not be a great mover on the dance floor, but Dave is still in good shape for someone who turned 60 in October.
“I still feel about 30,” he says. “I’ve been vegetarian for 30 years and I exercise a lot, like cycling. I am in the pub every night, though. I got my senior citizens’ railcard and a bowel cancer screening kit in the same week. Welcome to your sixties!
“I celebrated by taking all the family on a sailing holiday in Greece. I learned to sail a couple of years ago on holiday, then I took a Royal Yachting Association skippers’ course in Bolton, of all places, and now I have my certificate.”
Looks like his sixties might be smooth sailing after all.
* Dave Spikey’s Words Don’t Come Easy tour comes to Stafford Gatehouse on February 25, Birmingham Glee Club on February 29 and Royal Spa Centre Leamington on March 22. For tickets ring 0871 472 0400 or go to www.davespikey.co.uk