The Irishman who saved comedy and returned home the all-conquering hero

LONG BEFORE David O’Doherty ever took to the stage he was a devoted student of comedy arts. He would regularly go to see his brother Mark perform at The Comedy Cellar in Dublin and watched the international explosion of Irish comedy in the late 1990s.

“We’re lucky in Ireland to have so many good people doing stand-up comedy,” David tells me. “When I started going to gigs in 1995 you had people like Dylan Moran and Ardal O’Hanlon and Barry Murphy there. Dara O’Briain was also just starting off around that time and to be able to watch him get so good so quickly was really inspiring to me.”

At the time David was working a variety of different soul-destroying day jobs including a bicycle repair man, temporary office worker, and telemarketer, but he eventually decided it was comedy that really interested him.

He made his first stage appearance at the now defunct Norseman Comedy Club in Temple Bar in 1998 and slowly but surely built up a devoted following for his unique musical comedy stylings.

Word began to spread about this innovative new comedian and by the end of the year he made his first appearance on a Galway stage.

“Gerry Mallon gave me my first ever gig outside of Dublin in late 1998, supporting Tommy Tiernan,” he says. “Unfortunately though, I died so spectacularly on that stage that night that I almost burst into flames. I thought I’d never get another gig after that but Gerry kept faith with me.”

That faith in those abilities will be repaid when David O’Doherty returns to Galway to play Cuba*, Eyre Square, on Sunday February 28 at 8.30pm. His brand of low energy musical whimsey combined with acute observation and startling invention have seen him perform at all the world’s major comedy festivals, and earned him the 2008 if.Comedy award.

Modest adventures

In August 1999 David travelled to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the first time to compete in Channel 4’s So You Think You’re Funny competition and ended up winning the top prize and a cheque for £1,500.

This experience convinced him he was on the right track, so he set about writing a full show he could bring back to Edinburgh the following year. The show The Story Of The Boy Who Saved Comedy - about a boy searching to find jokes to put his father’s Christmas crackers - earned O’Doherty a Perrier Best Newcomer nomination in Edinburgh in 2000 and significantly raised his profile.

Throughout David’s progress as a comedy performer he has continued to be innovative and interesting. When he debuted his show Saddled at the Project Arts Centre in Dublin in 2002 it was the first theatrical event to feature a live repair of audience members’ bicycles.

Four years later he drew together all his interests and activities including bicycles, music, golf, computer games, and short film to create the RTÉ series The Modest Adventures of David O’Doherty. The six-part adventure was directed by John Carney (writer and director of Once ) and culminated in David recording a live CD in his one-room Dublin apartment. It gave him his first taste of work in television and brought his musical whimsy to a wider audience.

“I’ve been involved in several projects since then but it’s been pretty intense with touring,” he says. “I have been trying to develop some new TV ideas but they’re all quite odd. The one thing that Modest Adventures taught me was the importance of development of ideas. It’s important to work with people who understand the medium of television. There’s only about five or six people who I really trust and they’re all working in the UK now.”

Let’s comedy

After his brief, relatively successful, foray into the world of television David decided to concentrate on his live stand-up. He performed at comedy festivals in Melbourne, Montreal, and New York and toured the USA with Perrier Award winner Demetri Martin. He also began to be talked up by established names such as Rich Hall, Russell Brand, and Flight of the Conchords.

In August 2008 David won the prestigious Intelligent Finance Comedy Award (formerly the Perrier Award ) at the Edinburgh Fringe for his show Let’s Comedy.

“I’ve always been pretty cynical about big award shows in the arts,” David says “So I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention during the lead up to it and just got on with my shows. Then when I won the award and the photographer was taking the portrait of me it sorted of dawned on me the significance of it.

“He’s the guy who has photographed all the previous winners and so to be alongside people like Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Dylan Moran, and Demetri Martin and all these people who I consider to be my heroes was very special. It was a great privilege to be included on that list but then the stress kicks in because you don’t want to be the guy who lets down that great comedy legacy.”

Since winning the award David has appeared on comedy panel shows such as 8 out of 10 Cats and Never Mind The Buzzcocks and has become a rising figure on the British live comedy scene.

“You suddenly get people in your audience who would’ve never gone to your shows before,” he says. “Whereas before I would’ve toured the UK and played to around 30 or 40 people a night but now I can go to a place like Harrogate in Yorkshire and play in front of 300 people. Everyone is coming to your show because you’re the champion comedian. I suppose that does come with a little bit of pressure.”

Floating

O’Doherty is a major music fan and is a regular face at venues such as Whelan’s and the Róisín Dubh. He is friends with David Kitt and Richie Egan (aka Jape ) and even interviewed Egan for a Hotpress feature.

“Richie probably works harder at his stuff than anyone else I know,” David says. “I remember going to see him play in 2006 and the energy level was just phenomenal and I just thought ‘This is what I want to be doing’, albeit in a comedy way. He has just been a huge influence on me.

“Lisa Hannigan is another person who has changed and developed over the years and is amazing to watch. There’s also a guy called Paul Murray who is a writer and he writes like 10 hours straight a day. His second book Skippy Dies has just been published and it is really amazing.

“Being around people like that is a hugely encouraging and inspiring and it’s why I continue to live and work in Ireland. I like to be around that creativity as much as I can,” David says. “It’s such a fun life on the road. It’s way better than working in a bike shop or telemarketing or temping any day.”

The MC will be Gerry Mallon. There will be a special guest on the night. Tickets are €15 from Bar 903, www.cuba.ie, and on the door.

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