Reviewer: Mark Clegg
At 87 years old and with a career spanning six decades, Ken Dodd can truly be called a living legend. His tour schedule rivals acts a third of his age and his large, appreciative audiences attest to his longevity and continued popularity. With most of his contemporaries either no longer with us or retired, he really is the last of his kind. A true original.
Doddy has unpacked his tickling sticks in Darlington this week for a two-night run of his Happiness Tour which has delighted fans the length and breadth of the country.
With his trademark toothy grin and wild hair still very much in place, Dodd makes his appearance on stage immediately and throws himself straight into the gags. These cover a myriad of subjects with emphasis on the taxman (he was charged with tax evasion in 1989), the average age of his audiences (“There are a lot of old people’s homes in Darlington. And they must all be empty tonight”), and the legendary long running times of his shows (“Don’t look at your watch – when you’re in one of my shows you need a calendar”). All three of these subjects are rich veins of truth that Dodd liberally mines along with references to his own advancing years. His audience is indeed mainly made up of people in their golden years, and clocking in at around five hours, he certainly delivers on his promise of a late night for those who manage to make it to the end.
Dodd’s act is unashamedly old-fashioned. It is a time capsule of comedy that harkens back to 1970s Saturday night TV. This is perfect for his target demographic, but to more modern ears some of his jokes could be construed as misogynistic or vaguely racist. There is definitely no malice meant and nothing said is overtly offensive, but gags about nagging wives and how the Japanese pronounce words are hardly cutting edge. Dodd, of course, was also a successful recording artist and he intersperses music among the comedy. His voice remains pleasantly melodic and the vintage feel of the act remains apparent in his choice of songs, most of which are rooted in the 1950s.
The show is broken up with a couple of support acts (a magician and a musician), both of whom continue in the tradition of good old-fashioned (and rather dated) fun. Neither would have looked out of place on Saturday night telly in 1978 or at the end of any seaside pier. They offer mild diversions to the audience and probably much-deserved rest for the star.
Dodd’s continued busy schedule and large fan-base is incredibly impressive, but with a meandering pace and with many jokes falling rather flat, a tighter (and much shorter) act would be preferable. When he is funny, he is hilarious, but too often he loses his way in a gag or becomes a little unclear in his speech. At 87 years old, both of these things are forgivable and the supportive audience is completely behind him, but at times one can’t help thinking of the old adage involving quantity and quality. However Dodd’s charm and skill with a crowd, still shine brightly and, instead of teaching an old dog new tricks, we should really just celebrate a truly iconic English eccentric.
Touring nationwide | Image: Contributed