At its peak, COVID-19 brought the world to a screeching halt. Travel plans and vacationing were not only altered but completely canceled. For comedian Spike Davis, whose livelihood depends on tourism, it proved to be scary and uncertain times.
Without warning, his Carnival Cruise performances were halted while the world tried to figure out how to maneuver through the pandemic as safely as possible. Optimistic that vacationers would be allowed back on cruise ships, Davis put his pen to pad, created new material and is finally back doing what he loves, making people laugh while cruising around the world on Carnival Cruise Lines.
He recently embarked on a “Floating and Joking” tour for Carnival Mardi Gras, Carnival Conquest, and Carnival Sunshine.
Spike Davis tells Zenger why returning to the cruise ships has been bittersweet since the pandemic, opens up about his emotional return to the stage and much more.
Percy Crawford interviewed Spike Davis for Zenger.
Zenger: Aside from my wife thinking you have the greatest job on earth, how is everything going?
Davis: (Laughing). Everything is going good. Back to being super busy. Back out on the ships. Just been running from ship to ship, but it’s been great. Glad to be back.
Zenger: Due to COVID and the different strains that we are starting to see, are you constantly alert of potential cancellations, or do you feel Carnival has things under control?
Davis: They have been working on this since probably May of last year with the CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. Putting these protocols into place. It’s pretty much cookie-cutter across the board from ship to ship to ship. You know what you’re walking into when you get to that ship as far as testing is concerned, if you have to quarantine or whatever, it’s pretty good.
That helps calm us down because we’re going into these situations as private contractors or independent contractors not knowing what was really going on out there and how things were going to play out. It settled everybody’s nerves to know that these things are set in place, and this is how it’s going to go.
Zenger: From what I understand, it appears as if, if you’re on that ship, you are one of the healthiest people around. They really make sure everyone on that ship is virus-free.
Davis: I would say so. Especially, the crew — 100 percent vaccinated on every crew on every ship, every staff member on every ship. Every office on every ship. So, if they come from the office to visit the ship, everybody is up-to-date on their shot and their booster as well.
All of the ships that I have been on, all of them are 95 to 98 percent vaccinated. You will have some younger kids on there who can’t get the vaccine yet. But other than that, all of the adults are vaccinated and following the rules of wearing their mask to the shows and those kinds of things.
Zenger: As a comedian, has COVID produced a ton of material for you?
Davis: Oh, without a doubt. I couldn’t wait to get back out there. I’m rolling all of that material out now on my shows. The one that I finished a few weeks ago, I really went heavy with the COVID stuff.
Zenger: You do an adult and kid show on the cruise ship. With censorship prevalent, especially in comedy, do you have to be careful of what you say during your adult sets?
Davis: Carnival has been really good about allowing us to use our creative freedom. So, they don’t really hold us to the fire if we say something that somebody doesn’t agree with. Those announcements are made constantly throughout the day. “If you’re coming to the adult shows, don’t come if you are easily offended about any subject.” And then when they get to the venue, the comedy club announcer will announce it before the show starts, and then when he goes on stage to introduce us, he reminds people again, “If you’re super sensitive, these adult shows are not for you. Come back for the PG shows.”
That gives us a little peace of mind, knowing we can go up there and talk about anything. You get up there and do some stuff about [Donald] Trump, you’re probably going to get some pushback, depending on what ship and what port you’re coming out of, but you do what you do, and let the chips fall where they may.
Zenger: We spoke in the past about your diversity as a comedian to be able to entertain both adults and kids on these cruises. Was that natural for you or something you had to adjust your style to?
Davis: I had to get better at being a dirtier comic (laughing), which sounds weird because a lot of times people think comedy is just cussing, being buck wild and drinking on stage. It wasn’t that at all for me.
I started out in Louisville, Kentucky, at the comedy clubs there. And the comedy club owner made sure that everybody that did open mic night… you learned to be a comedian. So, you couldn’t do any cussing. No dirty jokes. You had to be really heavy on writing clean, smart comedy. I mean, you could always dirty it up later. And that’s what I’ve had to do. Just a little. I don’t get raunchy, but I do some adult stuff. If they come to the show, they know we are grown, so we’re going to talk about some grown things. That’s how it was easier for me because I started out clean, doing church shows and hosting shows for senior-citizen homes or wherever I had to go. So, it kind of grows on you.
Zenger: The country was shut down when we last spoke and there was a lot of uncertainty in terms of people being able to vacation on cruise ships again. I’m sure when you got the call that things were cranking back up, you were ready to go.
Davis: I was ready to rock and roll and get back out there. But it was bittersweet. I enjoy the family time being home with my wife and my son. But they understand. They know this is what I do for a living. They were able to go before COVID, they could bounce from ship to ship if they wanted to. After COVID, things kind of changed under the restrictions. They understand what it is.
I have to be gone longer now because of COVID. Before we would bounce from ship to ship, and I was able to come home in between. Now, when I go out, I’m gone for two, three and sometimes four weeks. That’s something that’s out of the norm for me and other comedians that are on the ships.
Zenger: You work on big, beautiful ships, you are always in beautiful places. What’s the balance between working in paradise and being a father and husband?
Davis: Yeah, you come home, and you live a normal life like everybody else. I just got finished cooking as a matter of fact. When you’re on the ship, everybody is cooking for you. Somebody is cleaning up your room. You get home and you become that person again. Which, I enjoy it. I love cooking. That’s my thing. I don’t mind it at all.
But it is different when you come home, everything is on you to be a normal person again. To put that dad hat back on and that husband hat back on. On the ship, you’re solo. You go to bed when you want. Whatever you want to do, it’s on you, just as long as you make it to your show on time, it don’t matter what you do.
Zenger: Do they give you quarterly rollouts, monthly, or yearly?
Davis: They have been doing 3 to 4 months as far as booking us out. I guess with COVID, they didn’t want to book too many comics and have somebody have to pull out, and they have to rebook it. As you move up through the ranks, they kind of know your act and what you bring, so you become one of the priorities that they book first, then go down the line to some of the newer guys on the back end of it. They fill all those slots as much as they can.
Zenger: What has it been like to make people laugh again?
Davis: Ah man, I tell you… it was very for real. During the pandemic, 18 months of being at home and sitting and waiting. You watch the news but try not to overload with the news but wanting to know what’s going on and how things are trending. Just to get back on that stage for the first time after 18 months, I got a little choked up halfway through my set. The crowd didn’t know it, but it was like, “Wow, this is beautiful!” It’s a blessing. I thank God that I’m back out here.
Performing at comedy clubs are always cool and fun, but it’s just something special about that whole cruise life. I tell people, if you’ve never been, don’t cancel it out. Come and try it, and nine times out of 10, you’re going to get hooked on it. Going to all these beautiful places and meeting all these beautiful people who are from these beautiful places… I have made friends from the cornfields of Iowa. I have met couples from Ohio. These are people that you normally wouldn’t come in contact with. You had no way of contacting them or them contacting you. You meet each other and talk on the ships, and you stay in touch, then you find out years later that you’re probably going to be on the same ship, or they will book a ship knowing that you’re going to be on it. I love it.
I just met one of my buddies, he’s a singer. I had no idea that he was going to be on that same ship. Actually, I found out before I was going to be there that his band was going to be there. He didn’t know I was coming. I just showed up because I was off that night. I showed up at his show. I just stood there in the doorway. He looked up and seen me, he kind of lost track of what he was doing. He is all the way from Jamaica. We finally got to link up and just talk.
Zenger: You just mentioned your nights off, what do you typically do when you have a night off?
Davis: I’ll bounce around and see some of the other performers. I love music, so I’ll go see some of the musicians. I normally don’t go to other comics’ shows. I try to stay in my lane as far my brand is concerned. I don’t want to see what they’re doing and start reformulating what I think I need to do based on what I just saw them do with the crowd. So, I stay away from the other guys’ performances. I tell the other comedians when we first get on the ship together, it’s not personal, but I’m probably not coming to your show. You won’t see me at your show. Not because I don’t wanna see the show, but I have to stay in my own zone.
Other than that, I’m in my room. I’m a sports nut, so I watch a lot of sports. I had a lady give me a book the other day, so I started on that. Trevor Noah, a very funny, talented comic, I’ve been reading his book. It’s very interesting how he grew up in Soweto. It’s unreal. I do a lot of praying and meditating. I have to stay connected to the creator. You gotta do that in order to stay levelheaded. I keep everything in perspective. I start the day out with him, and I close the day out with him.
Edited by Kristen Butler and Richard Pretorius
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