[ 20 February 2012 | Josh Roberts ]
Its about four o’clock in the afternoon when, half-cut after a pub trip with a visiting Uncle, I arrive at the home of David O’Doherty. The interview had been scheduled for earlier on in the day but my lunch and his trip to Ikea had delayed us.
Normally people off of the telly get angry when you ask to move things around but for O’Doherty (or The DO’D as fans know him) this isn’t the case. “It worked out quite well actually”, he tells me as we walk into the kitchen of his Portobello crib, “I’m really into playing squash at the moment so this was the perfect excuse for a game”.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a man who describes his comedy as “very low energy musical whimsy”, the house is messy, its strewn with ink scribbles on bits of paper and every available surface plays host to old-looking, sleeveless vinyl records. He makes us two cups of (excellent) tea and we begin.
Doherty’s stand-up career officially began in 1998, but he had caught the comedy bug much earlier. During his much fabled year at Trinity, for example, he was the go to man for funny.
“I spent a lot of my time introducing things”, he says, “concerts and bands, that sort of thing”. “I remember once my brother once bet me I couldn’t get the word ‘spaghetti’ into an introduction for a piano recital in the Edmund Burke so I stood-up and said ‘my brother has bet me I can’t say the word spaghetti and I got a laugh’.
Did he enjoy college? “I never did much work in college”, he responds, “but just to be around people who were gifted and interested was cool”.
Leaving Trinity behind O’Doherty embarked on a series of comparatively tedious jobs. There was the stint as a telemarketer, there was the admin work as a temp, there was even the job picking-up sausages from the floor in a German meat factory.
As well as the mundane, however, he was also writing a children’s book and it was through this that he found ‘comedy proper’ – of the transition he says “there’s very little difference between the two: it wasn’t a huge step”.
He began gigging around Dublin and in 2000 made his first trip to the Edinburgh Fringe with a show entitled ‘The Boy Who Saved Comedy’ which received a nomination for the Perrier Best Newcomer Award. Edinburgh did two things for O’Doherty.
Firstly it cemented for him the viability of a career in comedy but perhaps more importantly it also allowed him to find his really quite unique ‘style’. “At Edinburgh you’ve got a whole evening”, he ponders, “so you can really dictate things”.
For those who haven’t seen or heard any of his material, O’Doherty’s routine entails toy-keyboard backed songs which are punctuated with fairly fantastical outbursts of stand-up.
Imagine if you will the musicality of Tim Minchin or Flight of The Concords with the alternative stand-up of say Noel Fielding. In one song, a duet (although “Shakira couldn’t make it so I’ll be singing both of our parts”), O’Doherty recalls the night that the Colombian star arrived at his door begging “David, David, King of Everything / let me feel your sexy body let me feel your skin”. “Shakira”, he responds, “get a hold of your sexy South American horn for just a minute” before ordering her a taxi to the airport.
As you might have guessed his comedy is a pretty odd, very relaxed and extremely funny; even if most of the time you don’t know why you’re laughing.
If Edinburgh allowed O’Doherty to find and get confident in his comedy, it was the people that he met there which boosted his career prospects.
As well as befriending Flight of The Concords duo Brett McKenzie and Jermaine Clement (who he would later support during their sell-out dates in Dublin) he also met Tommy Tiernan (with whom he toured Ireland), Rich Hall (who he accompanied on a UK tour) and Demetri Martin (on his tour of the US).
And since then there has been no looking back – he’s won an if.com Award, starred alongside Dylan Moran in “A Film With Me In It”, published a book entitled “100 Facts About Pandas”, written a series of ‘bad pun-based’ crosswords for the Irish Times, made countless TV appearances (including his hosting of BBC 2’s Never Mind The Buzzcocks) and performed to audiences in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and America.
Despite all this O’Doherty has yet to garner the level of fame we might expect. “If I walk through Trinity or UCD people might recognise me”, he reflects, “but everywhere else it doesn’t really happen”.
Why is this the case? Well, perhaps most obviously O’Doherty maintains a ‘cult’ following because his comedy is, well, a bit ‘cultic’. In his stand-up, for example, we find none of the usual observational fodder trotted out by Messrs Macintyre and Evans (to name only two) and we certainly don’t have to endure jokes made on the back of being Irish.
“Look I’m inescapably Irish”, he says on the subject, “but playing-up to all that would make me a terrible stand-up comedian and the material about how long it takes a lady to get ready has just isn’t funny anymore”.
What then makes for a good comedian? “The only thing that I’ve learnt from ten years in stand-up is that you have to talk about things that you find funny”, he responds adding, “for me this means searching for big ideas and then finding the interesting minute details about them. There’s an old Jerry Seinfeld quote which goes: if you talk about your town on stage people think ‘why is he talking about his town’, but if you talk about your road people go ‘oh ok’, and I really agree with that”.
Its’ no great shock then that his own tastes in comedy are skewed towards the alternative. “Most stand-up I don’t really care about,” he submits, “but stuff from people like Noel Fielding and Daniel Kitson is what gets me really fired-up”.
Throughout our meeting it’s abundantly clear that O’Doherty is, despite what his onstage persona might suggest, very serious about comedy. He takes reviews “ridiculously personally” and the near absurdity of his writing process hints at a man obsessed with precision.
“I am constantly saying things into my phone, writing on my hands, writing on my laptop”, he says of his method, “once I’ve got about six hours of material I’ll do ten gigs to try it out and put the best stuff into the show”.
Given the arduous nature of creating comedy, I’m keen to know, once it’s written, which performance medium he prefers. The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, is stand-up. “With TV you’ve got producers and directors telling you what to do or when you write a book there’s editors who have a say in it”, he explains, “but with stand-up it’s just you”.
It may be the most direct form of comedy; but there can be no doubt that stand-up is also the most trying. There are the long hours alone trying to be funny, the crashing defeat when a gag doesn’t land, not to mention the endless hours spent on trains and motorways.
With this in mind, I ask, does he actually enjoy it?
“I know I’m very luck to do this job”, he responds emphatically, “but I’m also aware of how fucking hard I have to work to make a living out of it” and by the time I leave I certainly don’t doubt that he does.