Celebrity Interview - Ken Dodd - I'm a bit of a control freak

PUBLISHED: 17:46 04 February 2013 | UPDATED: 09:38 18 April 2013

Ken Dodd, with characteristic comic facial expression

Ken Dodd, with characteristic comic facial expression

Ken Dodd is, by his own admission, a chatterbox and a control freak. Paul Mackenzie tries to get a word in edgeways

Were halfway through our interview when Ken Dodd interrupts himself to ask if I am a proper journalist. I assure him I am. But youve not asked me a question yet. Ive not needed to.

From the moment he started talking at his Knotty Ash home he has not stopped talking. He began by telling me the questions reporters have asked him most often, and then he set about answering them, deaf to my protestations that I knew all that already because (like any proper journalist) Id done my homework.

He then went on, much in the style hes been bombarding audiences with for nigh on 60 years, for over an hour with barely a pause for breath. Now 85, he has lost little of the energy and stamina which helped him put on record-breaking long stage shows, and has certainly lost none of his enthusiasm for performing.

He reminisces fondly about Lancashire theatres hes played, recalling the bars, backstage areas, impresarios and audiences he encountered. If pressed, I suspect hed be able to recall the jokes he told, the reactions they received and the suit he wore, but he is conducting the interview at this point, and he doesnt press himself too hard.

And those questions hes been asked most often? Has comedy changed since he started and is he going to retire? The short answer to both is no, but Ken doesnt do short answers. We still laugh at the same things the Greeks and Romans laughed at, the subject matter is the same, its the audience that has changed, he said.

Their expectations have changed, there are no taboos any more. Years ago comedians scripts had to be vetted and approved and if there was anything in there they didnt like it would be removed from your act. Now theres much more freedom which is wonderful but with freedom comes responsibility.

I see it as the greatest compliment in the world that someone has paid to see me, so Im not going to shout or swear at them. The comedians I loved didnt need to do that. And to answer the other question you didnt ask, I have absolutely no plans to retire. People keep asking me, I think theyre dropping a hint, but I dont want to stop. A man retires when he stops doing what he doesnt want to do and starts doing what he does want to do and Im doing what I want to do, so I dont want to stop. I love it. I still cant wait to get out there and perform.

He is constantly touring, clocking up more than 100,000 miles a year and performing an average of more than a show a week, with dates in Bolton this month, Blackpool in April and Southport in May.

When I was a salesman I kept a notebook of how each day had gone and what Id sold and when I started doing this it made sense to me to do the same, so I have a giggle map of how jokes have been received in different parts of the country.

It allows him to target his jokes at the audiences who will appreciate them most and hes also constantly trying out new material. Every show is different and Ill do up to a dozen new jokes each time, its my little bit of excitement. Comedy is like driving, passing your test doesnt make you a good driver, you need experience.

Thats one thing Ken is not short of. He has been a popular entertainer ever since he first performed his stand-up show at the Nottingham Empire Theatre in 1954.

Hes not afraid to laugh at himself either at one point he breaks in to his monologue to note: I am a little chatterbox, arent I? And his 1989 court appearance on charges of tax evasion, where the prosecution case was led by Brian Leveson QC, he of the report into the behaviour of the press, inspired a tranche of new material.

As young boy Ken put on shows for his family in the garden of the Georgian farmhouse where he still lives and he also performed at local shows and fetes. He graduated from there to gigs in Liverpool clubs alongside his day job selling household goods door-to-door.

By the time he stepped nervously on to the stage in Nottingham for his first professional show hed been turned down by the Carroll Levis Discovery Show where, unlike the contestants on modern talent shows, he was given helpful constructive criticism. They gave the artists every bit of help they could, Ken said. Advice on delivery and material and how to work the stage.

These new talent shows are so primitive, they just try to humiliate people. They should be there to help emerging talent, but you only have to look at the people judging the talent and ask how many of them have ever performed on a stage? Until you have, you cant judge others. Ken of course has done it and not just comedy, hes acted and had scores of songs in the charts and in a rare pause, I suggest a stint as a talent show judge could re-ignite his TV career.

I dont know if youve noticed but Im a bit of a control freak and I dont like being told where to stand, which way to look and what to say. And anyway Im happiest on stage, doing what I love to do. I just love live performing.

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