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Ken Dodd vs Madge – it’s a close call nowadays

Ken Dodd at Blackpool's Grand Theatre
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As I mentioned in a previous column, I’m sucker for nostalgia and, as it turns out, comedy fares as well as music when we delve back into the past.

I can’t remember at what point it was that music pages of magazines became overrun with ads for gigs from dinosaurs, though I recall that the 1990s was a kind of (deep) purple patch for this, and retro rhythm landmarks included the Sex Pistols’ comeback in 1996.

Meanwhile, among the opportunities for unashamed nostalgia that I have taken up include periodic check-ins with The Jesus and Mary Chain, the Blow Monkeys, Primal Scream and an outing to see Lloyd Cole reunited with his Commotions at Hammersmith Apollo, where I discovered what various middle-aged versions of me would look like.

I’m struck by how well comedy comebacks compare. Lately with Alan Davies and Alexei Sayle, we have had a few of these, and not so long ago Frank Skinner was on the live comeback trail too.

Alan and Alexei had to shake off 11 and 17 years of time off, respectively, to come back with a couple of decent live shows. With each you could almost hear the sounds of lurching as their shtick shunted forward to catch up on some comedy staples, such as social media and the ubiquity of comedy panel shows.

[pullquote]It is rare that one gets the chance to revisit old material live, so a direct comparison between a popular routine or gag and a hit song is not that easy to make.[/pullquote]

In their efforts to do so they found at least some comedy reward, without their insights being the freshest. In comparison to listening to some bands play their hits of the Eighties, this is a small discomfort. I’ve found that hearing an anthem from said era as ciphered through the aged incarnation of the original band can be disconcerting. Meanwhile, that aforementioned lurching sound is more pronounced with bands than comics, as it is often characterised by the thumping of a domineering drum sound and the grasping of vocal chords to reach the same range as yesteryear.

In truth it is rare that one gets the chance to revisit old material live, so a direct comparison between a popular routine or gag and a hit song is not that easy to make. There are exceptions, more so perhaps with old school club comics than touring comics for whom demand for a fresh hour is. When a good routine is replayed live, however, the effect can be timeless.

Like for like is tricky to calibrate in terms of persona too. Can you imagine Alexei Sayle trying to recapture his mad Marxist ranting of the Eighties now? Conversely, Jerry Sadowitz has delivered variants on similar rants for years now and that has proved very effective for him.

Perhaps the litmus test is this: a choice between a Ken Dodd show and Madonna concert. I think that’s now a closer call than I ever would have thought.

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