QUEEN OF COMEDY
A FEW YEARS AGO, AUSTRALIAN STAND-UP COMIC CLAUDIA O’DOHERTY WAS POSTING HER VIDEOS ON YOUTUBE. THEN ALONG CAME AMY SCHUMER AND NOW SHE’S HOLLYWOOD’S FAVOURITE FUNNY GIRL
How Claudia O’doherty became the hottest new comic in Hollywood.
It’s the kind of career domino effect every Australian actor in Hollywood dreams of setting in motion. First, you land a tiny but memorable role in a blockbuster Hollywood movie starring Amy Schumer. This in turn leads to a high-powered director creating a character on his new TV series just for you. Then Schumer invites you on a beach holiday with her posse. After that? You join the writing team of her television show, and soon earn your first Emmy nomination.
Too good to be true? Not for Claudia O’doherty, the Sydney-born stand-up comedian whose rise (and rise and rise) is the end result of hard work, old-fashioned talent and simply being in the right place at the right time. A few years ago, the 33-year-old was posting her comedy videos to Youtube. Now Schumer’s Trainwreck is an entry on her IMDB page and she is the breakout scene-stealer on Netflix’s quirky dramedy Love.
O’doherty first landed on the right person’s radar during the casting of Trainwreck, when Schumer’s co-star Bill Hader showed her the online videos O’doherty – who lived in London for a spell – had made for Britain’s Channel 4. Schumer’s reaction: “I have to work with this girl. She’s so funny.”
As O’doherty tells Stellar, “Amy sent me a direct message. I was already a fan of hers, so it shocked me.” A mutual admiration society blossomed. “We said we loved each other, she tweeted my videos and the next day I got an email asking me to come to the table read for Trainwreck.”
Soon enough, she was sitting in a room with 300 other people, among them the film’s director Judd Apatow. O’doherty was so new to the process she thought she had been invited merely to listen and perhaps give an opinion of the script; she didn’t realise she was actually there to read for a role.
Once the confusion was sorted, O’doherty auditioned for the part of Dianna, an intimidating magazine editor. “I’m sure they never seriously considered giving me that part,” she says. “They were just kind of like, ‘We’ll put her in something, we’re not quite sure what yet, so just get her to read.’”
Tilda Swinton ultimately got the role, a decision O’doherty can look back upon and laugh now: “It’s natural that Tilda and I are being considered for the same roles. We have a very similar energy.”
O’doherty still left a lasting, Swintonstyle impression – both onscreen and on set. She nabbed a brief appearance as a baby shower guest who initiates an embarrassing parlour game, and when it came time to cast Love, Apatow put her near the top of his list.
“There aren’t many people who are that generous with their power where they’re, like, a career-maker,” O’doherty says, “but he is. He’s quite good at plucking people out of obscurity and saying, ‘I think people would enjoy you!’”
On Love, O’doherty plays Bertie, a fresh-off-the-boat Aussie who arrives in Los Angeles and moves in with Mickey, the troubled main character played by Gillian Jacobs. Apatow wrote the part just for her; as with Trainwreck, she was not forced to put on an American accent.
“I feel really lucky that Judd and Amy were repulsed by the idea,” she explains. “They were like, ‘Definitely, do your voice! We hate it when people do accents.’”
After filming wrapped on the first series of Love, O’doherty went on that beach holiday with Schumer. That’s when the star invited her to join the writing staff of her hit sketch comedy series Inside Amy Schumer. Recalls O’doherty, “She was like, ‘Do you want to write on my show? You have to be in New York in three weeks.’” Her response? Predictable. “I was like, ‘Yes, please!’”
WRITERS’ ROOMS ARE known to emit heavy stenches of testosterone, off-colour politics and greasy food. Yet growing up in the inner Sydney suburb of Glebe, they were the places O’doherty most wanted to be. Her mother’s cousin was a talent booker for Saturday Night Live in the ’80s, and she dreamed of writing jokes with its staff.
“A lot of people in my family are very creative,” O’doherty explains, “so it didn’t seem like a rebellious thing to want to be in comedy. I pretty much lucked out.”
Her father is Reg Mombassa, the founding member of Australian band Mental as Anything who later turned to artwork and designing for his surfwear company Mambo. It was normal for her to cross paths with the likes of Ewan Mcgregor or Johnny Rotten, who would drop in to purchase some of her dad’s artwork. “It was pretty cool having him as a dad,” she says. “He’s very sweet, supportive and kind.”
O’doherty launched her comedy career at the Sydney University Arts Revue, and won the Best Newcomer award at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2010. At the Arts Revue, she met Nick Coyle and Charlie Garber, and the trio began writing and performing under the name Pig Island.
Coyle explains O’doherty’s appeal: “Her comedy doesn’t rely on familiar tropes or clichés, but it’s so accessible, which is exciting to watch. You feel you’re seeing something new. She’s unapologetic. She’s not rude, but she won’t chat to you if she doesn’t want to chat to you. Which is why she has a very low Uber rating!”
It may also explain why the sharpest of sleuths would be hard-pressed to unearth much about O’doherty’s personal life, beyond her lineage. Asked why this is the case, O’doherty tells Stellar, “I don’t have one, that’s why.” Pushed to explain, she still deflects: “It’s all secret, scandalous stuff.” That’s it?
“I’ve learnt from people who are much more famous than me that it never does anything good to talk about who you are kissing or who you have kissed. So I’m not going to do it. I will just say I’m an incredible kisser.”
THE CAST OF Love was coming to the end of shooting for a third season when O’doherty spoke to Stellar. Despite Trainwreck’s success, she has not dabbled much further in film. Well, save for The Circle, a cyber-thriller headlined by Tom Hanks and Emma Watson that is set inside an ominous Facebook-like social media empire.
O’doherty has an uncredited role as “High Powered Circler” on the movie’s IMDB page, but she has yet to even see the film so as to establish whether or not she ended up on the cutting-room floor. She does say it was “a thrilling thing to be part of” and recalls shooting with Watson. “It was very bizarre – Hermione herself! She was… magical.”
Critical reception to the film, not so much. The Circle opened to bleak notices in the US, which ultimately scuttled its expected July 13 release here. Regardless, O’doherty seems eager to keep the blame for its failure off her more famous co-stars. “I’m very busy,” she quips, “but I take full responsibility for the bad reviews.”
And if she never gets around to seeing the film, she has a good excuse. “My sister [Lucy] won a Brett Whiteley scholarship, so she will be painting in Europe [this summer].” says O’doherty, who is on record about her obsession with pasta. “So I’m trying to get my whole family to Italy. Because I love spaghetti. I want us all to eat spaghetti together in Italy. That’s the dream.”
“AMY SCHUMER SAID, ‘ DO YOU WANT TO WRITE ON MY SHOW?’ I WAS LIKE, ‘ YES, PLEASE!’”
NO JOKE Claudia O’doherty counts Amy Schumer as a fan and a friend; (right) the comic (back left) as a teenager with her family, including her artist father Reg Mombassa of Mambo fame.