So it seems very strange indeed that Ken Dodd, veteran entertainer celebrating 50 years in The Business this year, seems not to know this cardinal rule. The evening began at 7.30pm, and the final curtain came down at 1.00am, by which time my ears were bleeding and my bladder had been beaten into complete submission. Had the performance been trimmed by a couple of hours, then I would be writing that this was a pleasant enough evening out watching classic British Seaside Entertainment of a type very rarely seen these days, but instead it was a gruelling slog – which is really not what you want after a full day of wandering round the shops looking at seaside tat and cute rough boys. Apparently Mr. Dodd is (in)famous for the length of his performances, but really, was it necessary?
OK, its not many entertainers who can stretch their material to nearly six hours, but that’s probably because, with comedy, Less is More. Three hours of the likes of the great modern comedians such Victoria Wood, Ricky Gervais or Eddie Izzard is as much as most people want, desire or actually need. If they carried on for double that period, not only would they use up a huge percentage of their material, but they would also lose a huge percentage of their audience. Most people are not capable of being entertained for that long, particularly when the material is SO OLD! Many of Dodd’s “jokes” had probably already been repeated to death when Noah told them during the long winter nights on the Ark. This didn’t seem to spoil the enjoyment of many of the audience, most of who were already quite old when God was a boy. Ironically, when Dodd is being up to date, he is actually very funny – some of his jokes about mobile phones and other aspects of modern life were spot on and wouldn’t have been out of place as part of an Eddie Izzard routine. And his self-deprecating routines about his well-documented tussles with the taxman were very funny as well. But they were lost in a welter of old and tired material – a lot of which was inaudible due to poor diction - including a couple of homophobic jokes about Dale Winton and Elton John of the old “backs to the wall, lads” type. On this basis, I suppose we were lucky to have been spared any “nigger” jokes because, of course, pensioners find these SO funny.
The evening was not best served by its “variety” format. What was already shaping up to be a very long evening was interminably lengthened by three appearances of a small gaggle of simpering children from the local stage school doing “cute” routines dressed as the Diddy Men, service personnel from WW2 and ancient, long dead “comedians” like Tommy Trinder and Arthur Askey. Apparently, Doddy’s core audience find such performances endearing. I just find them nauseating. Dodd was further “supported” by a run of the mill singer/pianist dressed in a spangly frock and pink Stetson (“Hmmmmm, what can I wear on stage to give my act that Country and Western feel? I know – a pink Stetson from one of the novelty shops on the pier! The very thing!”) whose routine consisted of such ‘classics’ as “Yesterday Once More” (i.e. the kind of song that your mother likes to have on the radio while doing the washing up) and the world’s most disorganised magician – a chap who was not untalented but whose stagecraft could do with a good tightening up - or at the very least a “glamorous assistant” to move his equipment around, make sure that the chickens don’t get over-excited and wander off into the wings (“Doves? Nah, everyone does doves. I’m gonna do chickens! And ducks! And maybe a goose or two!”), and take the hems of his trouser legs up by about 9 inches. I’m sure that he could have found some more exciting music for his act than the theme to Hawaii Five-O – music like that turns even the best magic act into cliché.
Anyway, back to the plot. What was profoundly irritating about Ken Dodd is the way in which he seemed to be constantly taunting his audience with the length of his act. Time and time again we heard comments of the “You’ve been a wonderful audience” type, at which people’s ears tend to prick up and think “Aha, its nearly over” but then on plunged Doddy into yet another “set”. I could almost hear many of the audience quietly losing the will to live at these points, and indeed many people decided that enough was enough and quietly crept out at various points. The four people sitting in front of me actually left at the interval – obviously feeling that four hours of Ken Dodd was quite enough for one evening. Goodness knows how those staying in hotels that didn’t provide late keys, those who had to work the next day, or anyone reliant on public transport or with a weak bladder must have felt. It’s a mark of great inconsideration to one’s audience to take your ego on a trip down memory lane for quite so long – a fact which Ken Dodd would be well advised to remember.