posted on June 03, 2007 03:00
Last night I switched on to RTE and caught the first episode of a documentary series entitled, "The Modest Adventures of David O'Doherty", in which our titular hero attempted to cycle from Dublin to Galway in one day so that he could perform a comedy gig at the Kings Head Pub to a small audience of NUIG students.
There are a number of things to be said about this programme set up. O'Doherty is unique among Irish comedians in that he makes himself the butt of the audience's laughter with a somewhat Beckettian, idiot savant stage personality and a line in quirky, one chord songs that he bashes out on a small, Casio keyboard. Whereas comics like Tommy Tiernan, Dara O'Briain and Des Bishop have made a name for themselves with their smug, desperately unfunny, too clever by half harrangues, inviting the audience to laugh at some dumb target or other outside of themselves, O'Doherty makes himself the target in much the same way that the American comedian Emo Philips had done previously. O'Doherty was true to form in this programme in that his chosen attire was a set of ladies' gym attire, old sneakers and a cycling helmet that was far too small for his noggin. Not only that but his chosen steed was not a full carbon road bike with cleat pedals but a battered old commuter bike with dodgy wheels and a back carrier onto which he lashed his keyboard, wrapped in a white, plastic, shopping bag. No one in their right mind would have confused this hapless loser with Sean Kelly.
The reason he chose to cycle the route in the first place was to emulate his hero, Tour de France winner, Stephen Roche and he figured that with enough drive and desire he could cover the 219 kilometres within one day. The average distance of a stage of the Tour De France, using the 2006 route as a guide, is 172km and I know amateur cycle enthusiasts who train relentlessly all year so that they can travel over to France to complete just one stage of the Tour, so O'Doherty certainly didn't set his sights low regarding the challenge he set himself, and that is not even factoring in Ireland's notoriously windy, rainy weather which decided to make an appearance in the show with a day long storm that provided unrelenting wind and rain coming from the Atlantic to challenge him even more.
O'Doherty had no team back up for his cycle, unthinkable for anyone attempting such a long route, he forbade the film crew to help him and his only food intake for the day consisted of some soggy sandwiches and a banana. After nine hours on the road and 100km from his goal, O'Doherty's legs gave way; what cyclists call 'the knock' or 'the bonk' and stopped working, requiring him to be transported by his sympathetic crew to the gig in Galway where he appeared far from happy on stage and performed a song detailing what he called his, "mild super powers". The programme narration duly put his failure to complete the route as being down to him being unprepared for the challenge, declared that it was the end of his dreams of getting fit and pointed out that he had wasted two hours on the side of the road attempting to fix a puncture; so I am unsure exactly how long he was cycling for but I put his average speed at somewhere between 13km and 17km an hour.
I am a life long leisure cyclist and I can assure you that doing 119km in one day on a bike is, far from being a failure, a bona fide athletic achievement. Most one day charity cycles in Ireland, include the Peter McVerry challenge, average around 100 - 130km and staged cycles average 100km per day with rest days built in. The people who participate in them usually have to undergo extensive training to ensure that they are fit enough to both take part and complete the route in a certain time and, when they do, they are fully backed up with medics, special sports diets and mechanics.
I watched O'Doherty on his trek with both admiration and, it must be said, much mirth. His deadpan expression as each indignity of the road was meted out was priceless but I was surprised that he chose, unlike his frequently self satisfied comedic peers, to portray his achievement as an umitigated failure. Subsequently, it occured to me that his position was artistic. Here is a guy choosing to show triumph as failure, to go against the grain of the 'what a great little nation we are' and instead to suggest that the Irish can fail and fail big. Furthermore, his choice of cycling is interesting in that it harks back to an Ireland mired in poverty and failure. Tim Hilton, in his book on cycling entitled "One More Kilometre and We're in the Showers" opined that one of the reasons why Ireland produced such great cyclists as Roche and Kelly was precisely because of the country's reduced circumstances at the time of their development as athletes. O'Doherty's comedy is in answer to the back slapping of the Riverdance generation and it may well be an augur of things to come, given the OECD's stark warnings for our economy and their view that there is no such thing as a 'soft landing'.
One more thing, if O'Doherty wants to show that he has mild super powers then I would encourage him to get back on his bike and sign up for one of the many worthy charity cycles that are held in Ireland such as the Joe Loughman Randonnée, the Tony Griffin Foundation Cycle or the Welcome Home Wexford Cycle. He could certainly complete the course on his present form and with his media profile he could easily raise the much needed funds required by so many charitable organisations in this country. Now, thats the work of a real superhero, however mild.