Thursday, 21 June 2012

Radio Reviews: 22 June

Nothing was merely a joke for funny man Ken Dodd, as this captivating show revealed

Written by Louis Barfe
Louis-Barfe-newBWBeing a night owl and living a 10-minute walk from my local theatre means that Ken Dodd's shows hold no fear for me. I can sit for four or five hours and enjoy one of the last surviving variety greats without worrying about missing my last train or bus home.

Last week, when Night Waves gave over a whole edition to Dodd in conversation with Matthew Sweet, the length of Dodd's performances was addressed. Were the audiences submitting to Dodd? Was there even an element of Stockholm syndrome, where hostages come to like their captors? Dodd was dismissive, suggesting that Sweet was over-thinking it and that his constant references to locking the theatre doors and bringing flasks were merely jokes.

The trouble with this is that, off-stage, Dodd takes comedy very seriously, with many wellthumbed books on the theory, philosophy and psychology of humour. Once, while performing in Oxford, Dodd spent two days in the Bodleian Library, an experience he described in awed, but gleeful, tones. Nothing is merely a joke. When Sweet asked a question requiring a thoughtful response from Dodd, he seemed to demur, almost as if he were a magician being asked to explain an illusion.

Night Waves is consistently excellent and Sweet is always good: intelligent without being pretentious, rigorous without being dry and possessing an obvious sense of fun (not the same thing as a sense of humour, though he has that, too). I found this interview enjoyable, but problematic. Having read and heard interviews with Dodd, I knew most of the stories. Sweet tried to get Dodd away from such familiar material, but the comedian stayed put. I suspect that Dodd was flattered by the approach from Radio 3, but not necessarily willing to give a Radio 3-type interview, which is a shame, because he deserves serious attention.

Nonetheless, it was a worthwhile exercise, just in terms of getting Dodd talking seriously at length. Asked about his obvious intention to keep performing until he drops, Dodd told Sweet that he didn't ever want to die. When that day comes, and please let it be a long, long way off, I suspect this programme will either be repeated in full or plundered mercilessly for clips.

Night Waves, BBC Radio 3, Monday to Thursday at 10pm.




Next Wednesday sees the conclusion of A Month Of June (BBC Radio 4, 11.30am), a sequence of four comedies featuring the endlessly versatile June Whitfield. The final part features her with Richard Briers in a tale of geriatric romance in a beach hut.

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