William Shakespeare's comedies were given a once over with a tickling stick yesterday when the "master of the chuckle muscle" gave a theatre audience his thoughts on the Bard's comic credentials.

Ken Dodd introduced himself to Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, where he was giving a talk as part of a Royal Shakespeare Company festival of comedy, as the Bard of Knotty Ash.

And the comic legend, who has been in the business for more than 50 years, maintains that we laugh today about the same things that tickled our ancestors' funny bones four centuries ago.

Speaking before a lecture at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, he said: "It's all about standing up there and exercising your chuckle muscle.

"The age-old topics that William joked about are still the subject of humour today. It's about men and women and thingy [sex], you know, and kings and queens and politicians and bishops. It's all the same.

"Mind you, he wasn't a gag man, William. Me, I'm an eyes and teeth man. But he had wonderful characters. He was absolutely amazing, supernatural."

"Doddy" made his Shakespearian stage debut as Malvolio in a performance of Twelfth Night in Liverpool in 1971 and starred as Yorick in Kenneth Branagh's big screen version of Hamlet in 1997.

"It was a small part," he said, "but enough to get a forsooth or two in."

The self- styled tickle inspector also revealed he borrowed the idea for his famous stick from jesters of old who carried a pig's bladder on a stick.

And he highlighted similarities between his Diddy Men and Shakespeare's clowns.

"People like me, we didn't even get the title of clowns," he mused, "we were called rude mechanicals."

The entertainer was giving a talk, entitled A Fellow of Infinite Jest, as part of the four-day RSC Laugh In to celebrate a season of Shakespeare Comedies running at the theatre.

Comedians, academics, comic book writers, "lads' mags", charities and hip-hop artists are all taking part in the festival, which explores the Bard's approach to comedy.

Organiser Fiona Lindsay said: "The aim of these events is to find resonances of Shakespeare's own approach to the business of being funny in contemporary works and unexpected places."

As for Doddy, who thinks there is a role for would-be Tory leader Kenneth Clarke as Falstaff and John Prescott as Malvolio, he signed off: "Tatty bye forsooth."