Eddie Izzard: Even 'The Simpsons' relied on Spike's invention of strange comedy

28 February 2002 | Independent

"My first experience of Spike Milligan was suitably surreal - it was on Radio Dubai. I heard a live recording of a Goon Show as a young boy while my father was working in the Gulf.

Even though it was something that must have been recorded some years before, the effect was instant – I was immediately hooked on the brand of comedy that Spike invented.

He was the godfather of alternative comedy and had a mighty influence as a result – from Monty Python to a whole generation of comedians which followed, myself included.

You can see elements of Spike Milligan's comedy across the world – I don't think The Simpsons would exist without his invention of strange and abstract humour.

His talent was to take a surreal idea and just keep it going.

Here is the man who would take a sound-effect, like someone clomping down a corridor and just carry it on with other effects like jail doors closing or creaking hinges. And that would be it – just a montage of sounds that went on for 45 seconds or a minute, which is a lot of air time. But most of all, it was funny.

One of the main things that brought me and Spike together is our shared residency in Bexhill on Sea. He lived on top of a hill in the town while I lived at the bottom of that hill.

I remember spending the summer of 1976 selling ice creams at the bottom of that hill and being very conscious of just who was at the top of it. For me, he suddenly became the hippest reason to be in Bexhill on Sea, and there weren't many.

He was a total influence on my comedy – I see myself as following very much in his tradition. I remember years ago pushing a tape of my stuff into his hands, nervously saying: "Would you watch this please?"

I didn't expect him to say anything but he did watch it and he said he liked it.

I knew he could be irascible and I didn't agree with everything he said but he was one of life's great iconoclasts, nothing much was sacred.

There is a lot of talk about his manic depression and his comedy. I don't think the two were particularly linked – depression is a human thing, I don't think it makes a comedian.

What made Spike was his energy. I remembering watching him during his 80th birthday tribute on television. At first he looked an old man but he quickly got that look in his eye, that search for something comic.

I know that look – he was a hunter/seeker for what was funny in life.

Perhaps the greatest tribute we can pay to Spike Milligan is the fact that in this country we now rarely refer to "alternative comedy". What Spike started is now in so many ways the mainstream."