Comedian David O’Doherty talks about angry mathematicians, the perils of badgers, wisdom and why his short legs hampered his athletic career with JOANNE SAVAGE ahead of his Londonderry show
David O’Doherty has what you would call a lugubrious, hangdog ‘resting face’. Which is to say he looks terribly depressed but is actually a children’s author, a prolific writer of funny lyrics he sets to music played on a tiny keyboard, and a genius of a stand-up comedian who has also appeared on all the best panel shows, including prime time’s Would I Lie to You? alongside David Mitchell, Rob Brydon and Lee Mack.
He is a strange sort, is Dublin-born O’Doherty. Aged eight, with two of his friends, he helped form a private detective/investigators company; the friends called the Gardai to ask if they needed any help in solving cases, only to be met with laughter and some police stickers as they were sent home.
He has made several funny programmes for RTE including one where he was asked to cycle from his home in Dublin to a gig in Galway but gave up 100km from his destination because his legs were sore, it was lashing and he honestly felt like he might pass out, not being accustomed to cycling such long distances.
O’Doherty has a knack for off-beat topics, having written funny songs about the randomest things, like angry mathematicians (someone who discovered the highest prime number ever is also called David O’Doherty, apparently, and this got him on the theme), advice on how to find love and – wait for it – how best to dislodge a badger from your leg if you should come upon one in the wilderness.
“I’ve just sent off a draft of a children’s book,” is the first thing he divulges to the News Letter. “It’s a book for children by a paranoid visionist like me who can see that danger is everywhere in the world. It’s called Danger is Everywhere.” Well, I suppose it is, but for children? I’m laughing already, warming to O’Doherty’s seriously delivered off-piste hilarity and Alice-in-Wonderland trippy logic.
“I’ve never been good at the showbiz pleasant smiles that the entertainment industry loves so much,” he responds when I ask if he is really as depressed as he often appears on TV. “But I don’t like to hide my true self or my true feelings. So if I had just experienced some terrible tragedy, I would just tell you that away that I was sad.”
He enjoys impenetrable references and baffling his audience into laughter. Which is why he describes himself as the “Kevin McCloud of the tiny keyboard” (having gone through a serious phase of love for the Grand Designs presenter).“Maybe I should have gone for the ‘Andre Rieu of the tiny keyboard’,” he laughs. “Rieu’s special was on over Christmas about 38 times and the man is intensely popular. He describes himself as the ‘Mel Gibson of the violin’ or something’, so he inspired me.”
The comedian randomly confides that he still receives emails from people who have mistaken him for the genius mathematician David O’Doherty who discovered the highest prime number. He finds this very funny and is battling with his namesake to become the most famous David O’Doherty on Google, but is still only about the third most famous bearer of the name.
I ask him why on earth he has written a funny song about how to dislodge a badger from one’s leg?
“Well, in the course of my writing I once had to research some facts about the dangers of Irish wildlife,” he explains. “And in Ireland the most dangerous creature in our wildlife that you might encounter is actually the badger.
“I mean if you were walking through a forest very late at night one of them could grab your leg and they can be terribly vicious.”
Couldn’t I just shake or beat it off my leg? Wouldn’t that be within my rights, I argue, if the badger was attacking my leg?
“Firstly, beating a badger off would be very inappropriate,” he instructs me. “What would happen is that it would grip your leg and then it would refuse to release until it heard the crack of bone, so you would need a better strategy than that. What you are supposed to do is to carry a stick with you when you go walking through forests and then you break the stick in two and when the badger hears this it assumes it is your leg breaking and then it runs back off into the wild.”
Whether this is true or not, I am laughing helplessly.
What can the audience expect during his forthcoming show at the Millennium Forum in Londonderry on Saturday, January 18?
“Well they can expect me, a 38-year-old man named David O’Doherty, saying some things they might find funny and playing a tiny plastic keyboard I got when he was about 11 or 12. One reason why I love my tiny keyboard so much is that Ryanair will allow be to carry it onboard as hand luggage, whereas if I upgrade to a fancier, bigger keyboard then I would be in trouble.
“Plus my keyboard has a little button that you press and it plays a Mozart tune as its demo and then it also has drums.”
Surely O’Doherty is playing this silly little keyboard in a cool post-ironic way because in itself the tiny keyboard is something that sounds so bleak and awful, the kind of instrument that might lead someone to a breakdown or an existential epiphany rather than a moment of rock-out melodic ecstasy?
“The thing is,” he leaps to the instrument’s defence, suppressing a laugh, “it’s a great way to strip your ideas and lyrics back, just to accompany this tiny keyboard. It’s a minimalist thing.”
Before he goes I have to ask him about that programme he made where he was supposed to cycle to Galway from Dublin for a gig, but gave up 100km from his destination. “Look, I cycled 140km, it was torrential rain, there was almost a storm starting up and my legs shook.”
His current show mournfully ponders how he could have been a great athlete if his legs were not so short.“I love the idea of complaining that I didn’t become an Olympic athlete because of my legs. And I have a song I am writing about what I have learned in the past year, like you should lock your bicycle at the front and on the frame at the back low down.” O’Doherty’s mind clearly moves in ways inexplicable to the rest of us, but that’s what makes him so endlessly funny - the weirdness and the tiny keyboard and the sad resting face.