Venue: York Opera House
Production: Ken Dodd
There was once a time when comedian Ken Dodd was considered hilarious, however his stand-up routine is now as tired and incoherent as the eighty-one year old man himself. To his credit, Dodd succeeded in filling the auditorium at the Grand York Opera House for his one night performance of The Happiness Show. However, the seats didn’t stay filled for long. It is fair to say that many audience members failed to return after the interval – which was three, painfully long, hours into the show. And those which remained seemed to shuffle in their seats and make frequent trips to the bar.
It was immediately apparent that this geriatric’s routine hadn’t progressed since the 80s – Dodd took to the stage in a white suit blazer, bow tie, ridiculous (trademark) hair, and was accompanied by a poor two-piece cabaret band. Dodd is described as one of the last ‘Musical Hall Variety’ comedians; his style of humour has now long passed its sell by date. His act comprised predominantly of quick fire quips, rambling stories and regaling the audience with slapstick songs. Whilst the blue rinse brigade laughed heartily at some of Dodd’s funnier one-liners and sang along with his cringe-worthy songs, the lack of general audience response made the pantomimic experience even more uncomfortable.
Blunt innuendos, homophobic jokes and unoriginal misogynist puns were scattered throughout his set. Whilst these are usual tropes for contemporary comedians, Dodd’s usage was uninspired, relying on the archaically stereotypical for a lazy laugh. And irritatingly he continually asked the audience for money – perhaps he his feeling the pinch after his court case for tax evasion!
Occasionally Dodd displayed true quick wittedness: “What do you do sir?” he asked a man in the front the row. “I’m a consultant in steel and iron” he replied, to which Dodd retorted “ah so you steal and your wife irons!” Such jibes were evidence of Dodd’s renowned ability to tailor his show to his specific audience. However, other attempts were less impressive and far from subtle, throwing in ‘Northerner’, ‘Yorkshire’ and ‘Thirsk’ every five minutes. Needless to say, far from ingratiating the audience it simply became annoying.
What’s more, Dodd’s stand-up repertoire was evidently from an age gone by with very scarce reference to the modern day – aside from Pop Idol (which aired eight years ago) and recurring feeble jokes concerning MPs’ expenses. His general patter was fairly impressive – if not for quality but quantity. Yet, the rapid-fire jokes often dissolved into muffled mutterings and the longer narratives often became muddled and lost halfway through. And several jokes simply didn’t make sense on a basic level. Perhaps Dodd’s age is telling, for his performances didn’t suffer from these shortcomings twenty years ago. Unfortunately, the only respites from Dodd’s incredibly long performance were two special guests, which were distinctly unimpressive and unmemorable.
Those who were old enough to remember Dodd from his heyday chuckled and sang along, despite his mildly age-addled presentation. And Dodd, a veteran of British comedy, deserves respect for the exuberant manner with which he still throws himself around the stage after a long career. However his act is now irrelevant and unsuited to a modern student audience. Perhaps Dodd should stick to playing Blackpool.