I, Claudia

3 April 2012 | 9:36 pm | Dave Drayton

Claudia O’Doherty tells Dave Drayton why she’s returning to MICF for her third consecutive year in order to quit comedy.

The first time I saw Claudia O'Doherty she was performing her show What Is Soil Erosion? as part of the Imperial Panda festival in Sydney. In the unflattering light of the charmingly dingy Goodgod Small Club she stood on a knee-high stage, dressed head to toe in beige corduroy, and began her presentation. I had no idea what to expect, I was there on word of mouth, her reputation for comedy preceding her. There was a very, very sore-looking cold sore above her lip that was hard to miss. Like, really hard to miss. And so it was with relief that I heard her acknowledge its presence – and with disbelief that I saw her pluck it off and eat it. The gist of the performance was a failed television pitch for a show of the same name and while it was 'Claudia O'Doherty' on stage, there was doubt that the real Claudia would have thought this a realistic pitch for television. That's the fun of O'Doherty's comedy – she casts herself in the worst (and most hilarious) light possible. She doesn't take herself seriously at all, and has a disarming ramshackle cuteness in conversation that belies her intelligence and carefully-crafted comedy, or idiocy, as it were.

“I think what I do is 'high concept idiocy',” O'Doherty explains. “Which pretty much involves me trying to be as stupid as possible. I don't know where it really fits in, because some people say it's character comedy, some people say it's got bits of stand-up in it and some people say, 'She's just crazy…' I'm just trying to be funny. I don't know, who knows? Who knows?!”

The reason all this needs to be said is because at times it's hard to know how much Claudia one is getting, and how much 'Claudia' one is getting – Claudia the failed millennial illusionist, Claudia the sole survivor of the destroyed Aquaplex – it's never too distressing, however, as whatever the balance is, the results are hilarious.

Today's Claudia is a little on edge, in the midst of preparation for The Telescope, her new show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

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“I am currently quite stressed out because I don't know how to use a Microsoft Dell and my entire show runs off a Mac and it's broken and I'm trying to put it on a Dell and I do not know how to use a Dell,” she says at breakneck speed. “Nobody in the entire world knows how to answer these questions I have! It's making me feel very sad and angry. I've got a Keynote presentation which is my entire show, and I've transferred it into PowerPoint because that's what works on Microsoft and I've opened it in Microsoft and it says file cannot be found!”

Courting disaster she may be, but as O'Doherty explains, there's really no one to blame except herself. Her technically addled routine is part of an ongoing attempt to work weird and wonderful props into her shows that has so far seen the

inclusion of hand-crafted deep sea dioramas – a charming addition to her break-out solo production Monsters Of The Deep 3D – and lasers, kind of, in What Is Soil Erosion?.

“Every year you just try to make a better show than you've ever made before and one that you find funny,” she says. “And of course you put pressure on yourself to make it good. When I'm just writing a show I'm thinking about what kinds of 'funny' I'm capable of and how I can be funny and what I find amusing. And I also try do something that I haven't done before and see if I can do specific things. I've been incorporating a lot more video stuff into what I do – I'm trying to think of exciting ways to have video in shows that's not just someone playing a video and standing there while people watch it – just figuring out if there are ways to interact with the video that make it heighten the comedy rather than just be a reason for you to not have to do something for a while, you know?

“Sometimes when you see videos in shows it just seems like an opportunity for a break for the person doing the show. And I think videos are often really good but in this show I'm trying to put videos in but not make it an excuse for me to stop 'doing' the show – pretty much making it as difficult as possible,” she concludes, with another comically defeatist reference to her current computer struggles.

Difficult as it seems, the results speak for themselves; Monsters Of The Deep 3D earned O'Doherty the Best Comedy and Brisbane Comedy Festival awards at the 2009 Melbourne Fringe Festival (the latter is awarded by the BCF, with the prize being a spot on their 2010 programme) and the Best Newcomer gong at the 2010 MICF, and the overwhelming response to What Is Soil Erosion? saw O'Doherty take the show on the road, playing at Edinburgh Festival Fringe and select London shows as well as a week-long run at Sydney's Belvoir St Theatre.

With The Telescope now ready to hit stages– bar a few a technical set backs – O'Doherty already has plans to take it to Edinburgh Fringe and some London venues later this year with the assistance of UK-based production company The Invisible Dot, who have worked with the likes of Tim Key, Ben Target, Daniel Kitson, and David O'Doherty (no relation). So with everything coming up trumps for the comedian, it seems odd that The Telescope, apparently, marks her leave of comedy.

The show description reads: “No more jokes. No more

laughter. Please join Claudia O'Doherty for her first foray into confronting, upsetting theatre. Everyone is changed once they look into The Telescope. This show will not be funny.”

The Telescope is going to really shake you up, it's a very intense show,” confirms O'Doherty, doing her best to appear serious.

“I just thought it would be a funny blurb, my mum was very confused by it, she was like, 'It says no jokes!'” comes the incredulous impersonation. “'Why would it say that?' What?!' But I guess I find that kind of thing amusing. But, I mean, then the quotes that come after it all say that it will be funny. So, hopefully, if you can get past that brain teaser of a blurb, it's pretty much an indication that I will say things that aren't true and hopefully they'll be funny things,” offers O'Doherty.

If the aforementioned awards and accolades weren't enough to convince you of her left-of-centre talent, the quotes O'Doherty mentions – the Guardian proclaiming her to be “Wickedly funny… stunning and bizarre”, the Sydney Morning Herald describing her work as “Intricately devised hilarity” – should be. But it does add further confusion to the driving force behind The Telescope O'Doherty's supposed retirement from the laughter game.

“Pretty much I've just decided that I want to quit comedy so I will be doing a very confronting, upsetting show in the Comedy Festival. The idea is a very serious show – if I tried to do one, which I'm not really capable of, so it's just a very ridiculous show with a ridiculous amount of technical stuff happening and mechanical things in the set and a lot of video and all of that sort of stuff,” O'Doherty explains.

And just like that we're back to computers. Her laptop was working fine during the limited run of previews she did for The Telescope in Sydney recently, and by all accounts, they were a success, but there's just no telling where her self-inflicted technological troubles will take her next. Perhaps, she reasons, at the absolute worst, it will result in her not being held responsible for false advertising.

“The Sydney shows were good, it was fun! It's always terrifying doing your first previews because you're like, 'This might be a disaster, this might not be a comedy at all and I could have made a terrible mistake here!' But it was very nice to do it in front of people and have people laugh and realise what you want to do to make it super excellent. So that's what I'm trying to do now – make it 'super excellent' – as well as trying to understand Microsoft, which is horrible. If this PowerPoint doesn't work I will not have any video in the show and it will be a lot shorter than it was in Sydney!

“And at least if that's what happens, and it is a disaster, at least I didn't do any false advertising, so that's fine.”

Not content to give up just yet, and revelling in the knowledge that her wonderfully awkward photograph will be gracing the cover of this magazine, O'Doherty has a few final requests and suggestions that just may save The Telescope from being as horribly unfunny as she has promised.

“Why don't you just write 'Claudia O'Doherty needs some help, um, with some Apple versus Microsoft, err, stuff…' And I need you to print the story today. Right now.”


A Jill Of All Trades

By now you're well aware that Claudia O'Doherty is uniquely strange and hilarious breed of comedian. But did you know her talents extend beyond that? A quick glance at the resume reveals stints on radio – co-hosting the graveyard shift at Triple R and providing the laughs with sketch group Pig Island (an ensemble that includes fellow comedians/actors Nick Coyle and Charlie Garber) at Sydney's FBi Radio – and some impressive scribing. O'Doherty has penned two books alongside David O'Doherty and Mike Ahern, 100 Facts About Pandas and 100 Facts About Sharks, and has also teamed up with Arena Theatre Company as part of Arts Centre Melbourne's New Music Theatre Series, otherwise known as Carnegie 18, to write stage adaptations of Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales For Children, a gig that will see her travelling to Washington, USA, for further development on the production next month.

Oh, she can also fit her entire fist in her mouth. It's not on the resume per se, but, you know, it's still an achievement worthy of mention. “I can fit my whole fist in my mouth, I can't remember how I discovered it… I think I just saw someone doing it on television or in a movie and I thought I'd give that a whack, 'cause I'm a go-getter,” O'Doherty explains. “And turns out I can totally do it. It is just a party trick, but luckily I'm also capable of taking my fist out of my mouth, because a friend of mine once stuck her fist in her mouth when she was quite drunk and it got stuck in there and then she started vomiting while her first was jammed in her mouth and it was not pretty! It was just coming out the sides.”