Ten seconds into the conversation with Ken Dodd and there’s a real sense of being diddied. You can’t get a word in. He’s the one throwing questions around faster than he tells gags. “That’s an unusual name, did you make it up? Are you Scottish? Are you married? How old are you?”

Now, entertainers ask questions of interviewers as often as they go on stage without a good base coat and eyeliner. And that’s fair enough; the journalist is there to ask about them. So either this lovable, wonky-toothed 88-year-old has suddenly developed a genuine interest in the personal life of the Scottish feature writer or he’s simply employing the old showbusiness tactic of running the clock down, denying time to get to the heart of the matter.

“Are you enjoying life? Do you live in Glasgow? Are you in need a libation?” Yes, yes, no, Ken. Apropos of nothing, he then talks about the misfortunes of the Scottish newspaper industry and segues into The Hotspur and The Wizard, the comic books which played a part in his education as a child. Great. Same here, Ken. Except I sometimes got The Eagle, I offer, reaching for empathy. “Only posh kids got The Eagle,” he claims. “Are you a posh boy?” No, Ken. “Did you have two nice parents?” No, Ken. One. But one was enough. “Well, if you’re mother’s great, look after her. She’s the only one who’ll forgive you murder.”

I tell him I’ll keep that in mind if I murder a comedian who tries to set his own agenda. But somehow he doesn’t hear the line. Instead he bellows; “You’re just like me, then!” Exactly like you Ken, I reflect, had I been born in Knotty Ash, Liverpool in 1927 so desperate for attention that I became the class clown, and by the age of 12 was sending off the coupon on the back of The Wizard for a how to be a ventriloquist kit. 

Yes, we both went to grammar school – Dodd on a scholarship – but it’s hard to think we could have been twins separated at birth even if he hadn’t given up a cub reporter’s job at The Daily Express and joined his father’s coal business before breaking into the vaudeville circuit as a comedian in his twenties.

And of course I never sold out the London Palladium for a 42-week run in 1965, or had a string of top 10 hits, including the million seller Tears. But this is mere detail, you try and fail to point out. You fail because he’s already moved on to to talking up his Scottish dates (the Pavilion in Glasgow and the Alhambra in Dunfermline).

“When I first played Glasgow, it was a place of fear. The pubs would close at 9.30pm,” he recalls, unprompted. “The drinkers would throw it back.” He pauses and his throaty voice takes on an edge. “You know, we have them here. They’re called Scousers and they’re bloody awful people, all tanked up on the booze or whatever.”

What about that first Glasgow appearance in 1954? Was he genuinely terrified, or does that story make better copy? Dodd doesn’t answer. What he does do is tell the old Mike and Bernie Winters story: Mike comes on to the Glasgow Empire stage playing the clarinet to an audience clearly suffering from terminal boredom. A few minutes later Bernie goofballs from the side of a curtain, causing a punter to scream out in anguish: “Christ, there’s two of them!” But Dodd tells the old tale well then continues, “Anyway, I went on and said to the audience, ‘I suppose you’re wondering why I’ve sent for you.’” That was bold, Ken. And funny. “Then one bloke shouted: ‘What a horrible sight!’ and collapsed drunk in a heap. From that point on the audience were with me.”

Dodd clearly had the daring to survive the horrible audiences. Where did it come from? “It’s always surprised me,” he says. “I’m not a pushy person or aggressive at all. But inside me there’s a steel rod that keeps me up there. It’s like a gift from the heavens. It’s magic.”

It’s a lightning rod. When he stands on stage the comedian is charged with enough electricity to run for four-hour stretches. Is it because he is where he needs to be? “Yes, the truth is I love it. I am completely stage struck.”

Bob Monkhouse once said that with Dodd, everything off stage was an interval. He wasn’t wrong. Dodd still can’t survive without the adulation. “When I played the Palladium in 1965 a huge wave of welcome hit me. I didn’t think London would welcome me. But the Palladium is actually a provincial theatre in London. It’s really working class.”

Not like the comedian himself, not his politics anyway, considering he was a one-time Thatcher devotee. But he won’t be drawn on this paradox. OK, so what was it about Dodd’s act that won over the legions? The gag rate is of course tremendous – seven TPM (titters per minute) – but unlike Britain’s other joke machine, the late Monkhouse, Dodd has funny bones, not just funny material. “The trick is to polish the act like a jewel,” he says, “and you get to know what works for an audience.”

Dodd may try to look like he did in the 1970s – the finger-in-socket hairstyle, the dodgy denticles – but the act has moved on. A little. The last time the comedian played the Pavilion, he told a wife joke that didn’t sit well with the punters at all, despite the audience not being known for their political correctness. However, Dodd sensed the mood, said sorry and moved on to safer ground. He may be an old man, but he’s not trapped in the old ways. “I still try six new gags a night,” he says, loosely on the subject yet avoiding a discussion about PC material. “But sometimes lines hit the deck. Sometimes it’s you, or the timing, or whether you touch a nerve. Some love husbands and wives jokes, some love jokes about journalists who aren’t married.” Ouch. “Sometimes it’s the throwaway line that gets the big laughs. I tried one the other night, ‘Time is a great healer, but a terrible beautician.’”

He slides off subject again. “I’m lucky in that I’ve got great songs to sing. I was able to choose the songs I wanted to record,” he says of the likes of Happiness, Tears and Promises, three of the 14 Top 40 hits he had in the 1960s. Great. But back to comedy, Ken. Are you a crusader in search of the secret of the gag? “Yes, yes, young man. When touring I’d go to the local libraries and look up laughter, humour and jokes. I’ve now got about 10,000 books on the subject.” He’s studied the comedy and psychology of humour and has looked for answers in the writings of Sigmund Freud and the philosophers Bergson and Schopenhauer.

“I think I’ve found the answer,” he says. “I can tell you how to create a laugh.” He digresses, slightly: “Did you know humans are the only creatures that laugh?” No, I didn’t. But what’s the secret of comedy, Ken? “I won’t go into too much detail for you but it’s about seeing things from a different point of view. It is the perception of the incongruity.”

He says the words “perception” and “incongruity” as though he were Stephen Hawking delivering a lecture on non-orthogonal boundaries in black holes. It’s as annoying to me as his Diddymen once were to adults. And he continues the conversation on a level he is sure I can process, talking of how a comic has around 30 seconds to build an audience rapport. “You talk about them. Then you do the topical jokes, such as the referendum. Then you get into the meat of the account.”

Does that include once keeping your cash in suitcases rather than a safety deposit box in Panama, like the prime minister’s father? “That’s an old story,” he chides of the 1989 court case in which he was acquitted of tax evasion after three weeks, and during which it was revealed Dodd had precious little in his bank account but more than £300,000 in his attic. It’s fairly topical, I say. But the question you really want to ask him is if his hoarding of cash had much to do with his father gambling so much of the family income away and his mother battling to make ends meet.

However, he’s off again, this time talking about favourite comedians. So let’s go with it. In an unguarded moment, Dodd once maintained that John Bishop wasn’t even the funniest comedian in Liverpool. Who does he rate now? “I thought Arthur Askey was the boss when I was a kid,” he replies, throwing a rusty bucket down the well of memories. “In my teens, I was a big fan of Frankie Howerd, then I loved Tommy Cooper and Les Dawson. I’ve worked with them all.”

He adds, now clearly bored with the subject (which is rich given he brought the subject up): “Journalists always give you three questions. When are you going to retire? The answer is never. The tickling stick won’t be hung up. Then: what’s your favourite theatre?” I’m guessing it’s the last one you played in, Ken. “Who told you my answer?” I guessed. And he seems pleased to learn I’m not as daft as he figured. We don’t get to the third question however because he’s telling me he doesn’t know who Kevin Bridges is and enthusing about the likes of Ross Noble and Joe Pasquale. And you could have knocked me down with a tickling stick when he announced this one: “That Scottish comic is terrific. What’s his name? Dean something.” Park? “That’s it.”

What this comedy legend does acknowledge, for the first time, is the influence of Scots comedy. “My dad used to take me and my sister to a 1,000 seater, the Shakespeare Theatre of Varieties, in Liverpool. It was run by a booking agent who looked after lots of Scots acts and so the Scots comics were always there. I saw lots of them, such as Dave Willis and Jack Radcliffe, and I had a great education in humour. I loved the magic of it all. Then when I was 12 I read an ad in The Wizard for a ventriloquist act.”

Yes, and we have already touched on The Wizard moment, you say gently, though you can’t criticise a man of Dodd’s age for a couple of memory moments. Indeed, onstage he now uses a script. So let’s try to go a little deeper – is it true that John Osborne’s 1957 play The Entertainer, the story of a fading Northern comic, was partially derived from his own music hall experiences?

“Well, John Osborne brought the entire cast of Meals on Wheels [the Royal Court production] with him to see me in London, the ‘legitimate’ actors, as they were called.” He sees the gag in sight and goes for it: “I don’t know what that makes the rest of us.”

With barely a pause the comedian then describes all the other colours in the performance spectrum. “There were the spesh acts, the musicians ...” It’s clearly filling time. Doddy’s too bright, too good with words not to know this isn’t just killing time. Come on, Ken, I say. Back to Osborne. “Oh yes,” he titters. “And later, I had tea with him at his place. He explained he wanted to show the actors what a comic does to get laughs.” Did he see Laurence Olivier as The Entertainer? (The subtext being Olivier couldn’t have told a joke to save his life.) “I had a great respect for him as an actor but I didn’t think he was great in The Entertainer. For me the best performer in that role was Max Miller.”

You try to ask if Dodd’s own life in comedy was anything like that of Osborne’s character Archie Rice, an angry, middle-aged man with a need to relieve Blackpool beauties of their summer frocks. But if he hears the question he’s not hanging around at this chapter in the biography. Actual confusion – or selective memory? It’s hard to tell. But in the space between question and answer he throws in his own questions: “Are you very wealthy? Can I get you a wife?”

On the subject of wives, I want to ask about his relationship with Ann Jones, who appears on stage with him as Miss Sybie Jones, to whom he’s been engaged almost before he had buck teeth, the consequence of a childhood cycling accident. But he doesn’t bite. Easier subject matter: would he like to become Sir Doddy of Knotty Ash? 

“I would like a knighthood,” he says, grinning. “It would keep my ears warm at night.” But then he adds, seriously, “It’s not up to me, young man. That’s up to someone else.”

You would hope that Kenneth Arthur Dodd is granted a knighthood because the man who sings Happiness has brought more of that feeling to more people over 70 years than anyone who ever took to the stage. Yes, he’s not the best interviewee but he is hilarious at times. And he probably reckons talking to journalists is part of the performance, so why not keep it light? And if his life is about selling laughs for love, why stop when talking to a newspaper?

It’s not surprising Dodd didn’t act much in theatre (he played a couple of Shakespearean roles) because he didn’t have to. He creates his own tattyfilarious, self-penned character every night he steps on stage. And waits until the following night until he can become him again.

Yet, not all of the questions the comedian throws out to me are about displacement. In the last few moments of our chat, he asks with sincerity about my mother. “Do you speak to her every day? Why not? You really should, you know.” Is it because he misses his own mum? “Oh, yes,” he says, softly. 
What’s undeniable is Ken Dodd is a nice man, with a heart the size of Strawberry Fields, who lives to be laughed at. “The shows aren’t so long these days,” he says. “And you have to remember, there aren’t any locks on the doors. They can get up and leave any time they like.”

The Ken Dodd Happiness Show is at Glasgow Pavilion on June 25 and the Alhambra, Dunfermline, on June 26. Visit officialkendodd.co.uk