David O'Doherty

The Belfast Festival's new marquee plays host to the shaggy-haired comic who is unusually grouchy and all the better for it

It has been barely seven months since David O’Doherty’s previous Belfast gig, but tonight’s Belfast Festival at Queen’s show has drawn a near-capacity crowd.

It’s the first of two dates for the Dublin comic at the White Room – the festival’s fancy new venue, a spacious marquee specially erected in the grounds of Queen’s University – and fans have gathered for another helping of keyboard-based tomfoolery.

But before we can get to the whimsy or the wordplay, O’Doherty has a few bones to pick with the White Room. ‘This is a terrible venue for stand-up comedy,’ he rails. ‘It’s like a tent you grow vegetables in.’ Later, he likens the actually quite impressive performance space to ‘a CSI show when someone’s died and they put a tent over them’ and ‘a drug-growing tube’.

And it’s not just this evening’s location that has O’Doherty wound up. He blasts the lighting technician for the red, white and blue colour scheme on stage, and what he interprets as a giant penis projected on the ceiling. Even the audience seem to be getting on his nerves. ‘This venue’s sh*t enough without people getting up to go to the bar every time I pick up the keyboard,’ he fumes.

There are also rants about people leaving for a smoke (‘I thought I was more entertaining than a drug. If it was crystal meth, I could understand it’) and the fact that his new album has been illegally downloaded 9,000 times, costing him an estimated £90,000 in lost earnings.

If it were any other act, you might hope he would just shut up and get on with it. But O’Doherty is so witty, charming and otherwise self-deprecating that the affected grouchiness actually enhances the experience. The show itself, honed over the summer in Edinburgh, focuses mainly on the shaggy-haired funnyman’s ‘crippling depression’ following a recent break-up, as well as his lifelong fear of rodents.

The rambling stories are interspersed with typically quirky songs about mortality, procrastination and looking for love. Some of the material will be familiar to those who were at O’Doherty’s Ulster Hall gig in March 2012, but there’s plenty of new stuff, and it’s as cleverly crafted as ever.

Certainly, the 36-year-old has a brilliant mind. Often what appears to be whimsical, throwaway nonsense conceals nicely judged moments of satire. Whether talking about the recession, single-sex schools, Gerry Adams or Saint Patrick (‘the patron saint of strangers pissing in your front garden’), O’Doherty is as insightful as he is silly.

He’s original, too. No suit; no tie; no gags even. ‘I’ve only ever written three jokes,’ he claims. Nevertheless, he manages to sustain solid laughs for more than 90 minutes with no interval, and ultimately admits to having enjoyed himself – even if he does qualify it by grumbling, ‘I had lowered my expectations at the start.’

As with many comedians, appearances can be deceptive, and in O’Doherty’s case the shabby look, bumbling delivery and cheap kids’ Casio mask a razor-sharp wit and a deliciously dark outlook on life.

The Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's continues until November 4.