Main content

Exercise Your 'Chuckle Muscle' and Other Life Lessons from Ken Dodd

If you need a personal life-coach for the New Year, you could do worse than consider Ken Dodd.

He might not be your classic inspirational thought-leader, but this is a man who made his debut in his chosen profession in 1954 and has worked non-stop ever since. He still performs national tours at the age of 88, has hosted a residency at the London Palladium lasting an astonishing 42 weeks, and got into the Guinness Book of Records for telling 1,500 jokes in three and a half hours.

When he appeared on The Museum of Curiosity with John Lloyd and Sarah Millican, his chosen donation was 'Shakespeare's Chuckle Muscle', which he describes as the idea of 'playing and juggling with things' that inspires jokes, inventions and fun. "If you don’t use it," he warns, "it dries up and drops off".

So what can we all learn from Ken Dodd, and - perhaps most importantly - how can we all stretch our Chuckle Muscles?

Be scholarly

What is a Joke?

Ken Dodd digs into the psychology of laughter

Ken is an auto-didact. When he was touring as a young comedian he visited a library in every town he played in and looked up 'laughter', as the concept fascinates him. "It’s a chancy business, telling jokes, and that's part of the attraction," he says, but points out that trying to analyse why a joke works is like "pulling the wings off a butterfly". He also keeps records of which jokes work where; why one particular gag will provoke a roar in Rotherham, but a smile in Suffolk. "It’s all part of the mystery," he says.

...you can tell a joke in Liverpool and they won't laugh in London... they can't hear it.
Ken Dodd on differences in regional senses of humour

Be sober

Ken's a huge fan of tea, particularly for his audience. "A drunken audience is awful," he says. "I like the audience to know what they’re thinking."

Be persistent

He has no intention of retiring and still regularly performs gigs that go on until the early hours, joking with his audience that the theatre does a lovely breakfast. His record was a 2.30am finish.

Be inspiring

Apparently, musician Damon Albarn went to see Ken Dodd perform a five-hour show in July 2015 which convinced him he could also do a five hour set at the Roskilde festival in Denmark. He promptly did so, before being physically removed from the stage by security.

Build bridges

Or make friends. Quickly. Gracie Fields described her rapport with her public as 'a silver thread between me and the audience' and Ken agrees. "I call it building a bridge, and you have about 30 seconds to do it," he says.

Start young

Ken has worked since he was 14, having left grammar school and turning down a job as a cub reporter on a local paper to help his coal merchant father. "The art of trying to sell something to someone by standing on their doorstep and meeting them eye-to-eye is a very, very wonderful apprenticeship for going into show business," he says.

Stay young

The 'Chuckle Muscle'... use it or lose it

Ken Dodd explains what exactly a Chuckle Muscle is

So what is Ken's secret to keeping fresh, innovative, inventive and young? It's Shakespeare's 'Chuckle Muscle', of course. Listen to the clip above to hear the man himself tell Sarah Millican and John Lloyd all about it - in short exercise your Chuckle Muscle by loving what you do, not taking yourself too seriously and looking after your inner child.

And don’t forget to stretch afterwards. Obviously.

More comedy features from Funny in Four