'It’s a comedy colonic!' - David O’Doherty

This article is from 2008

David O’Doherty

'I play a three-foot plastic piano because it fits in a sports bag'

Jay Richardson meets David O’Doherty, the mild-mannered comic whose musical musings and offbeat observations have won him a legion of indie followers. This year he’ll be feeding his insomnia by entertaining kids and adults alike

As an award-winning stand-up, published author and East Leinster’s 1990 under 14 triple jump bronze medalist, it’s somewhat surprising to hear music-fixated David O’Doherty suggest that his career ‘is one of abject failure’. Ask the 32-year-old Dubliner about anything and he’s as likely to make a musical reference as a comedic one, channelling Tom Waits and Bob Dylan when he asserts that ‘every year I get closer to the stand-up I want to be doing. I’m not sure I’ll ever get there but I believe the journey is your career.’

Sporting a Flight of the Conchords t-shirt, the former So You Think You’re Funny? winner and if.comeddie nominee acknowledges American anti-folk artists like Jeffrey Lewis and The Moldy Peaches’ influence on ‘lo-fi comics’ like himself, Josie Long and Russell Howard, contrasting ‘the previous generation of comedians who had tight, bullet-proof 20 minute sets you could do at The Comedy Store late show’, with their approach: ‘a much dribblier thing’.
Tellingly, O’Doherty also enjoys artists who combine the ridiculous with the profound, allying comedians like Mitch Hedberg, Zach Galifianakis and Milton Jones ‘who occasionally throw out a real gem of wisdom in a joke, only a silly thing, but it turns your mind’ with the greatest showtune composers like Cole Porter and Rodgers & Hammerstein.

His new song ‘The Finest Minds in History’, dazzles with Porter-like wit and mischief as it speculates on the romantic failures of Einstein, Plato and Marie Curie, culminating in the rudest ménage à mathematical equation conceivable. When he quotes the Lorenz Hart lyric ‘when love congeals, it soon reveals the faint aroma of performing seals’, the allusion to heartbreak recalls O’Doherty’s jazz pianist father gently explaining to the 23-year-old that he could never follow in his performing fingertips and tenderly delivering the ‘you can’t polish a turd’ speech, as well as another marine-related anecdote that demonstrates why O’Doherty is especially loveable in failure, and why his MySpace page depicts him as a dolphin.

‘I’ve a tendency to perform too long,’ he explains, ‘so when I played Dublin recently, I had my friends appear in animal costumes every 10 minutes, with a 20-minute pixie and the 30-minute mark shark. Except I couldn’t find a shark costume, so I hired a dolphin. I find animal costumes fundamentally hilarious and called on a friend of mine wearing it, not knowing that she’d just had a horrific break-up with her boyfriend. She opened the door sobbing, I instinctively went to hug her, forgetting the costume only had small eyeholes. All she saw was a dolphin lunging for her.’

His latest Fringe show is titled Let’s Comedy, the first he’s written while touring. ‘If it’s about anything, it’s about hype,’ says the comic who last year reached number 30 in the Irish pop charts with ‘Orange’, the ‘terrible, worst song ever’, by purchasing his own records and other manipulations of the chart tracking system. ‘Thirty is good because people don’t remember it. I didn’t want an “Agadoo” on my hands,’ he grins.

In a slightly vague way then, he’ll be discussing the gap between reality and expectation of contemporary life. ‘It’s something that’s always interested me. I like to talk about my own life in great detail and it’s strange that so many people seem unhappy. I think it’s something to do with the expectation in our lives that if only you were like the people in Sex and the City then everything would be fine.’

While the thought of DO’D and SJP comparing men and martinis in Manhattan is too unsettling, he’s certainly considered walking away from stand-up and his portable child’s keyboard. ‘I wanted to be a piano player like my dad and that hasn’t worked out, so comedy is an attempt to live with the compromise. After two months on the road in Australia and New Zealand, the show was humming along, then I played Wellington, where the audience didn’t go for me at all. I was so depressed. I thought “you know what David, you’ve always wanted to be an archaeologist” and leapt on the internet to find out how.’

O’Doherty states that he contemplates such a career change every couple of months. ‘But some nights of stand-up, something happens and - I don’t want this to sound too wanky - you feel a sympathy with others. Many of these thoughts come from a dark place because I write on my own and very slowly, so I often sit there until three or four in the morning. Then, when people say, “yeah I’ve thought about that too”, it’s a connection and a small victory really.”

Long, dark nights also inspired I Can’t Sleep, the children’s show he’s performing with his friend and fellow stand-up Maeve Higgins, in which he ruminates endlessly upon sausage rolls, sharks, ice cream, sausage rolls, dinosaurs, pirates, sausage rolls and sausage rolls. ‘It’s not so much insomnia as . . . ‘ he trails off. ‘I guess it is insomnia; I’ve never been able to sleep. When you’re a kid and someone says it’s half nine and you have to go to bed, the fundamental question is how do you stop your brain working?

With two beds on stage, Higgins and O’Doherty are trying to get to sleep but the audience is keeping them awake. ‘What we’ve learned from previews is that the standard of heckling is extremely high. I told one audience that I needed to count an animal to doze off and this precocious five-year-old shouted out “elephants!”, then added “yeah, I know you wanted me to say sheep but I prefer elephants!” I reckon grown-ups will get a kick out of watching two experienced comedians struggling to perform in front of six-year-olds. I suspect there will be plenty of stand-ups coming with no kids whatsoever, just to laugh at the uncomfortable situation we’ve put ourselves in.’

As if his Fringe wasn’t arduous enough, O’Doherty is also one of The Honourable Men of Art, performing in Daniel Kitson’s late night court at The Stand alongside Alun Cochrane, Andy Zaltzman and, through a transatlantic digital link-up, John Oliver. ‘Daniel doesn’t want drunken audiences who want to be slammed, so we’ve brought in the reverse slam, asking people what they do for a living, then saying nice things about them. It’s a comedy colonic.’

If you’re reading this and believing O’Doherty might just be too endearing for his own good, you can also catch him alongside Dylan Moran in his brother Mark’s A Film with Me in It, on general release from September. ‘It’s a really dark comedy where three people die by accident in my brother’s apartment and Dylan is his best friend,’ he explains. ‘Dylan is so funny but I’m not sure about my role, a quadriplegic with a brain injury that involved me getting a phenomenal haircut.’

In the meantime, he’s penning a book of panda facts pandering to his fondness for questionable statements of fact, lies essentially, with impressive graphs and manipulated photographs. ‘All you need is a bit of detail and you can convince people that shaving a panda and weaving the fabric turns it bullet-proof and that Shanghai police have been wearing these fur jackets for 20 years.’

After some mild provocation, he almost bridles that, ‘I really don’t like being perceived as a childman doing wuss comedy. I know I play a three-foot plastic piano, but that’s because it fits in a sports bag, as opposed to Tim Minchin carting his Steinway around in a truck.’

Hopefully, reproducing the above sentence in print won’t enrage this slow-to-temper comic, as he’s closing Let’s Comedy with the furious, keyboard hammering ‘My Beefs 2008’. ‘That song could change on a daily basis,’ he warns. ‘If I feel particularly fucked over because I’ve spent four quid on a juice for something clearly poured out of two cartons and blended for 15 seconds, then it’s going straight in, my friend. And look out, because this publication will get slammed if the interview doesn’t turn out well.’

David O’Doherty, The Stand III & IV, York Place, 0131 558 7272, 1-24 Aug (not 11), 9pm, £9.50 (£8.50). Previews 30 & 31 Jul, £8.50 (£7.50); I Can’t Sleep, Assembly Rooms, George Street, 0131 623 3030, 3-25 Aug (not 11), 2.20pm, £8-£9 (£7-£8). Previews 31 Jul-2 Aug, £5; The Honourable Men of Art, The Stand, York Place, 0131 558 7272, 3-24 Aug (not 8 & 9, 15 & 16, 22 & 23), midnight, £8.

Looney tunes

It may be one of the more risky comedy tricks to pull off, but music can be made mirthful in the right hands. Brian Donaldson takes note as a number of Fringe acts try to string us along


Toni & The Guys give us a hair-raising spectacle in this peachy playlet about the imminent Eurovision Barbershop Contest where a macho quartet have lost one of their number and are forced to employ a female singer in his stead. You, the audience, are promised ‘laughs, tears and enormous vibratos’.
Pleasance Courtyard, the Pleasance, 0131 556 6550, 3-25 Aug (not 12, 20), 9.50pm, £8.50-£9.50 (£7-£8). Previews 31 Jul-2 Aug, £5.

Wilson Dixon

As one third of the Four Noels (confused already?), Jesse Griffin has gone it all alone as Cripple Creek’s C&W icon Wilson F Dixon. With a sister Darlene, an uncle Cleetus and a brother Denis who became a Shi’ite Muslim for two days, he sure got plenty of material to keep the songs a-flowin’. And he’ll sing about animals and holidays too, if you ask nice.
The Stand III & IV, York Place, 0131 558 7272, 1-24 Aug (not 11), 6pm, £8.50 (£7.50). Preview 31 Jul, £7.50 (£6.50).

Learn to Play the Ukulele in Under an Hour (How George Formby Saved My Life)

With the likes of Eilidh McAskill (and her daily ukulele ceilidh) and the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, this tiny Hawaiian cordophone has somehow become fashionable once more. Proving that things can turn out nice again, Sam Brown and Donal Coonan will be revealing how the little instrument helped pull them out of an apocalyptic despair. With jokes.
Gilded Balloon Teviot, Bristo Square, 0131 668 1633, 3-25 Aug (not 13), 5.45pm, £9-£10 (£8-£9). Previews 30 Jul-2 Aug, £5.


This classical string trio (Adrian, Siân and Jon) love showing off their less than serious side (I mean, check out the collective facial fuzz if you’re in any doubt) make their fifth Fringe appearance, this time teaming up with renowned comedy director Cal McCrystal. The Titanic Show is the result, with the threesome fiddling while the big boat sinks.
Pleasance Courtyard, the Pleasance, 0131 556 6550, 3-25 Aug (not 12, 19), 4.40pm, £10-£11 (£8.50-£9.50). Previews 31 Jul-2 Aug, £5.

Bill Bailey

The eternally hairy man who gave musical comedy a good name in the late 90s is showing up for just the one night this year as his Tinselworm show squelches its way back north. Cosmic blokeishness and hippy materialism shall abound.
Edinburgh Playhouse, Greenside Place, 0131 668 1633, 14 Aug, 8pm, £25.


For the best part of two decades, this troupe of physical comics and awesome slapstick merchants have bamboozled us with the likes of 666 and Star Trip. This year, they’re inserting the ‘gag’ into Paganini. So it now reads, ‘Pagagnini’. Clear?
Universal Arts Theatre, George Street, 0131 220 0143, 13-25 Aug (not 18), 7.05pm, £12-£14 (£8-£10).

David O'Doherty

  • 4 stars

The lo-fi musi-comical icon does more dabbling up on his keyboard with tunes of highly amusing glory. 'Part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe'.