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Phoenix Nights star Dave Spikey coming to Halifax

Dave Spikey one of the country's smartest comedians?

The many facets of Dave Spikey, comedian

Comedians come from all walks of life, but not many can lay claim to having been a Chief

Biomedical Scientist in haematology.

However, Dave Spikey - he of Phoenix Nights renown, writer of television series Magnolia and Dead Man Weds, and presenter of Bullseye - spent a quarter of a century at the Royal Bolton Hospital doing just that.

It was a role that he enjoyed immensely, and one that enabled him to mine the NHS for comedy material that still stands him in good stead today.

“The hospital was a wonderful place to work,” he says. “I loved being part of a team and the analytical side of it. At the time I started, haematology was exploding with new findings and knowledge.”

It was also a place where a sense of humour came in handy: “When you are working in a hospital it helps if you’ve got a quick wit. There’s the tension that has to be eased, bubbles that have to be pricked. Sometimes you have to laugh, or cry. I was able to do that.” And it was the place where he first began writing – producing pantos and revues for the hospital am’ dram’ society.

Dave, who is based in Chorley, Lancashire, worked the comedy circuit in his free time, supporting big names such as Jack Dee, Max Boyce, Cannon & Ball and Eddie Izzard.

And then in 1996 he met fellow Boltonian Peter Kay. Their writing and acting partnership included the Channel 4 series That Peter Kay Thing and then the hugely popular Phoenix Nights. Both series won British Comedy Awards and launched Dave on a new professional career.

In 2003, he embarked on his first solo tour, and a year later appeared at The Royal Variety Performance. These days he’s still writing – and touring.

On Thursday, March 24, he’ll be at the Victoria Theatre in Halifax, and on Thursday, April 21, he’ll be at The Civic in Barnsley.

Dave believes his showbusiness roots were planted in childhood by a working class father who believed in education.

He explains: “My dad was a painter and decorator and left school with no qualifications. He was very bright and decided to self educate himself.

“I was the oldest and went along for the ride. When my friends were out playing I was in art galleries and at classical music concerts – although I did play out as well.

“He loved radio comedy and we’d listen to a lot of Round The Horn and the Clitheroe Kid. He wrote short stories and poetry.”

Dave got a place at grammar school and had ambitions to study medicine. But when his father became ill and unable to work, Dave needed to start earning money and at 16 took a job as a laboratory technician. While it was hoped he would return to education and a medical career, Dave discovered he enjoyed laboratory work and decided not to apply to university after all. He met his wife at the hospital where he worked and settled down to a solid career. Today, as he points out, no-one without a degree would be able to rise to the position of Chief Biomedical Scientist, but his innate intelligence and work ethic got him to the top.

Dave Spikey, Punchlines tour

Dave is one of what seem to be a growing pool of comedians that come from an educated or scientific background (Dara O Briain studied theoretical physics at university; Bob Mortimer was a solicitor; John Cleese graduated in law from Cambridge; Harry Hill was a doctor, and Rowan Atkinson has an MSc in Engineering from Oxford).

When I suggest that smart people make good comedians Dave, who was the highest scoring competitor ever on Celebrity Mastermind, says he’s never really thought about it before.

But he adds: “I suppose that’s the case. A lot of teachers go into comedy. And there’s a history of medical-based people, such as Jo Brand, who was a psychiatric nurse. You need a creative and analytical brain that lends itself to comedy; someone who looks at situations in a skewed way. But not everyone is educated. I’m working with a young comedian who didn’t go to university although he’s very smart.”

Dave has written three books, including his autobiography, My Life - Under the Microscope, and is currently working on a script commission from the BBC for a comedy drama, La Vida Loca. It is a collaboration with dramatist Jim Cartwright (writer for the acclaimed Little Voice).

His previous collaborations with Peter Kay were life changers. Now he’s enjoying the fruits of an established reputation in comedy.

In his personal life, Dave is an animal lover and vegetarian. He and his wife once ran an animal refuge.

He explains how caring for the animals led to them giving up meat: “We had to move house to get a bigger garden, we had so many animals – goats, sheep, nine dogs and all sorts. But we were still eating meat. The turning point came when we were driving to the hospital and got stuck on the motorway next to a lorry taking battery hens on their last journey.

“They were in such a sorry state that we decided not to eat chicken any more. We gradually became vegetarian. That was 25 years ago or more and it’s a lot easier to be vegetarian now than it was then.”

The many facets of Dave’s life come together in his stage shows and the work he chooses.

He has been a guest presenter, for example, on the Channel Five Cats/Dogs/Pets make you laugh series and a previous successful stand-up show was entitled The Best Medicine.

Now, with his new show, he’s using his hospital-trained analytical brain to look at how punchlines work, and asks the question: ‘Can a joke or funny story still make you laugh when you’ve already been given the punchline?’

Ticket details from www.victoriatheatre.co.uk , 01422 351158, or www.barnsleycivic.co.uk , 01226 327000.

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