Dicky, titters and keeping it clean: Ken Dodd on a life of laughter

Ken receives the Aardman Animation Slapstick Award in January 2016. Photograph: Paul Lippiatt

At the age of 88, Dodd is back on stage still full of beans. The self-proclaimed ‘human yo-yo’ is still swinging up and down the country on his latest Happiness tour.

Famous for his unruly hair, tickling stick, mile a minute one liners and the world of the Diddy Men, Dodd is as quick as ever after 62 years on stage.

Ken Dodd Happiness Show

Grand Opera House

Sun Jul 10 @ 7pm


More details and book

Coming to his favourite venue this Sunday, the Grand Opera House in York, Dodd is ecstatic to get on stage and finds “Yorkshire audiences absolutely wonderful”.

He loves the Opera House: “I am what they call in showbusiness ‘stage struck’ by the theatre. ‘It’s just the right size for a great show I love it, and I love the people who go to it.”

This Sunday he will be joined by a range of guests ready to “exercise the people’s chuckle muscles and give them a really good laugh, no obscenities, just an evening of happiness”.

Dodd is committed to keeping a filth-free family friendly show, deeply against the “mucky people” in comedy today, relying on crude or embarrassing humour. He guarantees several hundred laughs throughout the evening.

Read our Q&A to discover the ‘correct’ way to do comedy according to Dodd. He talks keeping it clean, being struck by inspiration and his range of comedy heroes.

‘It sounds crazy but it’s true’

A portrait of the legendary comic backstage by David Cobley
A portrait of the legendary comic backstage by David Cobley

You’re famous for your lengthy shows, how do you keep the spirits high all evening?

Well it’s a variety show, we call it the Ken Dodd Happiness Show but it isn’t really just me, there are lots of supporting acts as well and we organise the whole show like a happiness party. You don’t want to leave a party when everything’s swinging and everything’s going great! The doors aren’t locked, so if anybody wants to leave at any time they can, but they never do.

So are there any special names on the supporting line up this Sunday?

Oh yes, we have our international superstar booked especially for York, I’m speaking of course of the one and only – Dicky Mint. He’s coming to entertain everybody along with musicians Andy Eastwood and Sibby Jones so it’s a big mixture of live music and comedy. We only have the very best live performances, no miming to records.

In your years on the comedy scene, have you noticed comedy change?

No, we still laugh at the same things we always have. A thousand years ago, there were two brilliant comedians, Aristotle and Aristophanes, who wrote some wonderful scripts. They had a lot of laughs about men and women, people falling in and out of love, farming, money and married life, subjects we still enjoy today.

Do you notice a difference in your audiences?

Yes, audiences have definitely changed, they are very selective. When you book a ticket to see a show you know exactly what you want now. Everyone knows what sort of a show you’re going to get with me because I keep my shows absolutely clean. I don’t like playing to an audience of people squirming with embarrassment and I don’t like doing shows where ladies are going to have to explain the jokes to men.

How have you stayed so ‘clean’ and family friendly over the years? Do you still pull in the younger audiences?

Oh yes, our audiences are nothing to do with age, we get a lot of young people and I portray to them the great comedians of the past. When I was a boy, my hero was Arthur Askey, a wonderful little man, like a firework display going off. He had so much energy and so much vitality, then I admired the very eccentric man Frankie Howard and later, when I was an adult, the fierce skill of Victor Borge.

Any new comics that take your interest?

There’s some great comics today, young comics like Joe Pasquale and Ross Noble. There are still some great comedians coming up, they’re not all mucky people.

How do you prepare your routines?

I work on a ratio called six or seven TPM, that’s six or seven titters per minute, and I have a pattern. You don’t have a hard and fast rule or script because you’ve got to leave room for ad lib. Sometimes the happy thought or joke comes into your mind as you’re playing to the audience.

So you’re struck with inspiration on the spot?

Oh yes, I know it sounds crazy but it’s absolutely true. I’ve stood on stage, and I’ve actually heard myself tell a joke (course you do that a lot when you’re a comedian) but I mean I actually heard myself telling a joke I have never heard before.

Receiving his award from  Armando Iannucci
Receiving his award from Armando Iannucci

Do you always know how a joke will land?

The first minute on stage is where you get to feel the audience out, and you learn to very quickly assess where the hotspots are. Where the good laughers are and where they need coaxing because they’re a bit colder, and where are the ones that will answer back.

You play an audience like you play an instrument, you have to warm them up. There’s two ways to do a show. One is doing a show at the audience, the other is to do the show with the audience. Doing a show with the audience is the correct way.

Will you always keep coming back to the stage?

Well I love it. While I can do, while God gives me enough vitality to do it, I will do it. Slaving over a hot audience is my idea of enjoying life. I can’t think of a happier way to spend my life.