Comedian: David O’Doherty
Place: Hyena Lounge Comedy Club, City Screen Basement Bar
When you don’t live in London, it’s always exciting when a critically acclaimed comedian comes to your town. For those who’ve yet to encounter him, David O’Doherty has become a star at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe over the past few years, winning the If.Comedy award in 2008 and charming audiences who rarely fail to remember him fondly. As the audience settles and eagerly anticipates the entrance of this titan of the comedy circuit, he endearingly makes his own stage announcements. Rather than a cocky assurance that we are about to have the night of our lives, O’Doherty stands behind a sliding door making faux-grandiose claims about the limits of what he can offer us, essentially giggling into a microphone at the silliness of the situation. Before I go any further with this review, let’s get to the crux of the matter: it is practically impossible to dislike him. Once on-stage and balancing a tiny outdated keyboard on his lap, he asks the audience at the back if they can see him alright, as he wouldn’t want them to miss any of his much-coveted ‘knee work’. He gets a taller stool – which he spends a lot of time rocking back on forth on with infectious energy throughout the gig – and the show begins in earnest.
David O’Doherty is a 34 year old child, with braces on his upper row of teeth and a talent for getting the best out of a cruddy keyboard. A pre-dominant motif throughout his set is comic self-deprecation, which is constantly to his advantage: he is always at his best when he catches himself out and makes himself laugh. This conversational quality sums up why O’Doherty is so good: never over-rehearsed or over-scripted, he is simply a fun guy with a marvellous ability to turn a phrase or dream up a silly idea. What’s so endearing about him is that his is not an outlandish imagination, but an everyday one, making his observations and desires all the more recognisable and hilarious. One of the highlights of the gig for me was his discussion of the song ‘How Bizarre’ by one hit wonder OMC, and imagining a Mamma Mia-style musical where OMC is frequently put into situations where he could respond by singing his only hit. Other personal highlights were the extracts he read from a book of (untrue) panda facts he’d written (especially when he read out a particularly sad fact while playing the theme music from The Incredible Hulk on his keyboard).
His songs themselves are often lists, punctuated by ‘or’ as he inventively works through a series of imagined possibilities and observations. These lists are funny, but wouldn’t work in conventional stand up; but luckily for him, O’Doherty is sitting down. In fact, setting these ideas to music makes them work far better than they would otherwise: presenting them in song form takes the pressure off generating a huge laugh after every line while still allowing us to fully appreciate the insight. He has a subtle talent for making the right joke work in the right way.
If you’ve never seen O’Doherty before, you might do well to heed his own gig disclaimer before going: you’ll barely remember any of his jokes the next day. He’s not one of those joke-firing machine guns who advertisers describe as giving you ‘plenty of bang for your buck’. He’s actually done better than that by creating a style that relies on personality and wit rather than formula. You’ll find him hard to quote, in the same way that you’d never remember anything said after a tipsy evening down the pub but still know you had a brilliant time. This comedy amnesia might make his set a little harder to review, but it certainly doesn’t make it harder to recommend.
This is actually the third time I’ve seen O’Doherty perform (the first two times being his ’07 and ’08 Edinburgh shows) and this is definitely him at his best. Despite his self-deprecation he is actually very self-assured and confident in a shambolic sort of way, and for comedy connoisseurs across the country he is no longer just ‘the keyboard guy’. At one point in the evening he makes a few jibes at Michael McIntyre’s recent success, pointing out that if McIntyre’s DVD is entitled ‘Hello Wembley!’, his would be called ‘Hello Basement Bar!’ Yet despite this unfortunate discrepancy in their fame, O’Doherty is a comic at the peak of his game. His gigs might be aimless wanderings, but other comedians will struggle to keep up.