dodd do right
Ken Dodd is a legend of comedy and variety performance – from his own TV shows to live performances that have been known to keep the laughter going for five hours! Victoria Nangle talks to the man
How’s your day been?
“Well, just like myself, wet and windy. Dry and uneventful would be more like it.”
Have you been out in the garden?
“Who me? Goodness gracious, the fresh air would make me dizzy. I should have square eyeballs because I watch television a lot. Documentaries about how the cavemen lived in Knotty Ash. It’s where it all started. He was the very first comedian, a man called Stone Age Stanley; he told the first joke in history. What do you call a short-sighted dinosaur? Do-you-think-he-saw-us. And he had a short-sighted dog, Do-you-think-he-saw-us Rex. How long have you been a journalist, all day?”
All day and a bit of yesterday as well.How do you remember it all, because you do have legendary long routines?
“People ask me that and I gave a smart alec answer a few months ago. Someone said ‘how do you remember all those jokes?’ and I said ‘you see madam, a joke is like an old friend. It’s been very good to me over the years and you never forget old friends’. I’m going to put that on a calendar. Knotty Ash philosophy. If things look black, put them in the laundry. Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today, because if you do it today and you like it, you can do it again tomorrow.”
I take it you still enjoy performing as much as you ever did…
“A lot of people say you walk on stage and rattle off a load of jokes, and it’s not like that at all. There’s two ways of doing a show, you either do it at the audience or with the audience. You see a lot of entertainers, they go on, mostly singers who don’t really establish any contact with the audience, they just do it. When you actually talk to the audience, communicate with them, you do it with the audience. It’s a bit like building a house, you start by putting the foundations in where you say, ‘By jove! What a beautiful day. What a beautiful day to ram a cucumber through the neighbour’s letterbox and shout, “Watch out, the Martians are coming!”’ It’s like building a place, you take it bit by bit. You coax them and you play an audience like you play a violin, you know the cold spots, the hot spots and the warm people and the cold people and you just have to coax them.”
“Anybody can do shock comedy, shock comedy is easy”
What was the happiest thing that happened to you this weekend?
“Getting up this morning probably. All sorts of things, if I have a Sunday off I do all sorts of strange, different things. We always go down to Liverpool Cathedral and they have an afternoon, well they call it Evensong, and it’s a full choir and a mighty organ. I go for the entertainment really but I do try to get a message to head office between the singing and the organ playing, I do decide to have a word with the boss.”
Since you seem to celebrate happiness so well, what do you think of contemporary comedians who come at it from a grumpy angle?
“People often ask me what I think of contemporary comedians, other journalists have said ‘Ken, you’ve been going for over 50 years, you’ve travelled the length and breadth of the UK, how has humour changed over the last 50 years?’ Humour hasn’t changed. People still laugh today at the same things. The battle between men and women, finding out who’s boss. Money, riches and power, the same thing. There’s transport, food, drink. Exactly the same things. No, humour hasn’t changed; audiences have changed. Audiences’ expectations and what they want has changed. No entertainer or comedian goes on stage with the intention of dying, they go on with the intention of success and to do well. Over the last 50 years, we enjoy being able to say whatever we like but with that comes a responsibility. If you want to entertain people, you don’t want to go and shout and swear at them, do you?”
Some performers these days are saying they miss restrictions because it was more fun to play around with words when they had restrictions…
“Anybody can do shock comedy, shock comedy is easy. I could do that and you wouldn’t need a perm for three years. There are wonderful dirty jokes but I won’t do it. I want to follow in the footsteps of Arthur Askey, Ted Ray and people like that. They’re my heroes, they’re my family.”
Would you write for other people?
“No I’m not clever enough, I’m a performer. I’m just a live performer, I work with a live audience and I love working with them, teasing them and flirting with them. When you go on stage, you have 30 seconds to ingratiate yourself, to get yourself across. Posh actors call it ‘establishing a rapport’, ‘that’s what you do, dear boy’. I call it ‘building a bridge’. You’ve got 30 seconds to build a bridge and make them safe.”
I’m sure they appreciate it…
“Yes, well, I don’t know. The main reason then is ‘Mr Dodd, are you looking forward to coming to Worthing?’ Yes, I’m definitely looking forward to coming to Worthing. Could you arrange that the seaweed won’t be anywhere.
It lies on the shore and it stinks to high heaven. You have never experienced such a pong in your life. So if you can go to Worthing and make sure the seaweed isn’t in. And am I looking forward to Eastbourne? Yes, of course I’m looking forward to Eastbourne, great audiences. Over the years, I have like a window cleaning round.
I go back once a year or so to the places where everyone enjoys and they come along, the people who like my kind of show, The Ken Dodd Happiness Show and they love to laugh. That’s the main thing, they have got to like to laugh. They come along to me to have their chuckle muscles tickled. And it’s not just a one-man show, I don’t just come on to say hello and goodbye. It’s like a proper variety show.”
What’s your plan for the rest of the day?
“I plan to get dry. I put my socks on this morning and notice I’m getting webbed feet. It’s all the rain, we’ve had quite a lot of it here. There’s a Liverpool man who goes round all the pubs, his name is Noah and he’s going round asking people, ‘Is anyone looking for an ark?’”
The Ken Dodd Happiness Show, Pavilion Theatre, Worthing, Saturday 4 August, 7pm, £20/19 & Congress Theatre, Eastbourne, Sunday 5 August, 7.30pm, £19.50/17.50