David O’Doherty: ‘Achill is my favourite place on earth... a weird place in an apocalypse’

Isolation Diaries: Comedian has brought his parents to their family cottage on Achill

The comedian David O'Doherty took the suggestion to self-isolate very seriously indeed. He brought his parents to their family cottage on Achill, from where O'Doherty has been recording the daily podcast, Isolating with David O'Doherty.

“It’s something of a climbdown, because I said I’d never do a podcast,” he says. It’s also a bit of a technical challenge as they have no wifi, and the 3G signal he does have regularly disappears with no warning.

“My parents are flying, but they’re both in their 80s with various things that you have when you’re in your 80s,” he says. “The rest of my family all have kids, so I thought I’d come down here with them. It’s isolation but isolation with a lot more space than you would get in the city. Every piece of work I have for the next six months has been cancelled. So I had no reason to be in town… I have a book... hilariously about children robbing a bank on this island. So karma has got to me before the book comes out because I’m marooned.

“It’s my favourite place on earth, it really is, which is why it’s a weird place to be stuck in an apocalypse. Yesterday I went down to the beach and there’s always loads of driftwood washed up… but now it looks post-apocalyptic, as though society had collapsed and at any moment we were going to come across the Statue of Liberty sticking up out of the sand.”


He’s doing a lot of physical activity, he says. “I’ve learned exertion is a good thing to do [when you’re anxious]. So, we’re digging beds. We’re going to plant vegetables. Or I’m cycling. Just breaking into a sweat really…. What’s interesting is that you’re coming into the spring and [you see] lamb beings born and daffodils coming out and all the birdies are starting to come. We set up a bird table yesterday. So there is this feeling of re-growth, but the background to it is this frightening dystopian spring break that we’re on.”

He gets on very well with his parents, he says. “My mum isn’t as mobile as my dad, she got a new shoulder a couple of weeks ago, so we go out for drives. Even out here you do have to keep people away from Mum and Dad. You have to stop people hugging them. Shopping is a much more tactile thing here where you hang out and chat with the person at the checkout for 15 minutes and then touch everything in the shop.”

What are they doing with their time? “My conspiracy theory is that the jigsaw industry set all this up as a hoax. We’re doing a 1,000 piece one at the moment… And I’ve got a stack of books. For the first time in probably 15 years I have time to do nothing.”

They also have a Trivial Pursuit set from 2009. "There are questions about Kanye jumping on stage with Taylor Swift. And Avatar was the big movie at that time. And there's one really ominous question. 'The H1N1 virus is also known by what name?'" He laughs "It's Swine Flu."

He’s also trying to find ways to be creative, hence the podcast. “Once a day I’ll go out to the car and record a 10-minute chat. Someone said, ‘It’s like listening to a rambling WhatsApp message from you.’”

Why did he decide to do the podcast? “I was feeling a lot of anxiety and I know other people are feeling anxiety too, and I thought it would be nice just to reach out and talk,” he says. “For the last two months I’ve been working on a new show that [now] doesn’t open in Melbourne on the 26th of March, and my method for preparing that was going to the tiny upstairs room in the pub Anseo and talking off the top of my head... I’m just continuing that process with no audience and a killer virus.”

Many of the over 500 messages he got after the first podcast were in response to his revelation that he’d “gone for a poop on some rocks”. It felt like a metaphor for a collapsing civilisation, he says. “There’s no way I’d have done that if there wasn’t a global pandemic.”