Interview: David O'Doherty

Comedian David O’Doherty talks to Conor O'Nolan about the evolution of the Irish comedy scene and being a terrible jazz musicianDavid O’Doherty has been performing his own brand of somewhat quirky, occasionally musical stand-up since he left college in 1998 and despite his increasing levels of success he’s still, to use his own description of his life, modest.O’Doherty first got into comedy about 20 years ago, as he explains: “My brother was doing stand up in the mid ‘90s, so I started going to gigs, partly because I really liked it and they never asked you for ID”.While his plan was never to become a stand up comedian, the unlikelihood of other career plans led him to perform himself: “I wanted to be a piano player when I was in college, my dad’s a jazz musician and I wanted to do that... Now, I was a terrible jazz musician, but I was just about good enough to play really basic comedy songs.”The use of his signature Casio keyboards was explained simply by saying: “I like the little keyboard partly because you can cycle into town with it, and it’ll fit in a sports bag and Ryanair won’t charge you extra for it, but also it reduces the song back to it’s most basic elements. Whether [the song] is funny or whether you’re entertained isn’t about you playing arpeggios or doing amazing stride tricks, it’s more to do with whether the idea’s funny in itself.”The comedy scene in Dublin and beyond was noticeably different when he first started comedy, he feels, explaining: “Comedy has changed a lot. When I started, the ultimate dream if you like, the biggest thing you could aspire to was maybe to go to London and close the Comedy Store on a Friday or Saturday night. That’s what the best comedians did, and there were only a couple of comedians who could really do that and take that gig home. Somehow, in the intervening 13 or 14 years, people are now playing arenas, the game has utterly changed.”He continues: “Comedy hadn’t really established itself as much as it has today, as like 30-something year old men wearing orange shirts, talking about how long it takes ladies to get ready, it was anything. There has been something of a return to that in recent years, you could do a sketch thing and then somebody could be doing slides afterwards and then someone might come and do a completely sincere song. I love the line Dylan [Moran] once said about the first time he went to the International Bar, he was expecting it to be shit, he was expecting it to be sub-python university humour, and he said ‘It was like a Berlin cabaret from the 1930s, someone would go up and sing a song and kill a swan, someone would go up and play a chocolate piano’ and that was kind of the gigs that I was going to and that inspired me to go in a certain direction.”Some of O’Doherty’s fame can be attributed to fans quietly filming him at gigs and sticking the footage on YouTube, and it’s probably because of this that he has become known as a musical comedian, a title he does not encourage. He’s not worried about getting bored of his own material because he has a fairly prolific output, however: “There’s always a fear of a sort of ‘Jumbo Breakfast Roll’ thing that people shout at you. I’ve written a new hour every year for the last 9 or 10 years and, an interesting process happens in your mind where your mind actually forgets the stuff it’s sick of, you just can’t remember it, and that might be certain song you’ve played too many times.”He points to the example of his Top 40 charting song ‘Orange’ in particular: “A few years ago I had a song about ladies wearing too much tan, called ‘Orange’ and I haven’t played that in about five years... Orange’s music video was directed by John Carny, that’s John Carny, the guy who shot Once and on some IMDB databases, ‘Falling Slowly’, the Oscar winning song and ‘Orange’ got mixed up because they both have the same director and I really like that idea that that song somehow won an award... To be honest, I quite like the song but it’s just time to move on, give people different stuff... I have a song ‘My Beefs’ that I’ve done three or four versions of now and this is definitely the last one now, and I’ve got a new show opening in Melbourne in four weeks and it won’t be in that, so it’s kinda getting it’s final… because there’s enough of it really”.O’Doherty had a 6-part series on RTÉ 2 entitled The Modest Adventures of David O’Doherty, and when asked if there was any chance would there be another Irish television series in the works he replied “No! Absolutely not! ... We did not know what we were doing when we made that show, we just stumbled into it and then sat in a room editing it for about four months... We didn’t even have anyone holding our hand going ‘Yeah, you’re doing good’, it was a load of people going ‘Oh, this is weird.’”RTÉ’s reactions was less than enthusiastic: “I remember RTÉ came to see the first two episodes we had edited and it was just complete silence for the whole thing, and a man with his arms folded and a stop-watch going ‘Yep, that’s long enough’. That’s the reality of making odd television in this country.” However discouraging this might have been initially, he’s working on other potential projects: “Because the UK’s a bigger audience, I’m working on two things at the moment and one of them isn’t a million miles off a sort of ‘Son of Modest Adventures’ idea”.O’Doherty seems comfortable with his level of fame and recognition, and despite the number of TV appearances he’s done over the years, he still prefers doing relatively small gigs: “It’s not any more satisfying doing a TV gig that goes well, to me its much more satisfying writing new things and the excitement of trying new stuff, and when it goes alright, that’s great.”