Michael Doherty: Making People Laugh
By Liz Armstrong
Actor Michael Doherty has been making audience members fall off their seats with laughter even before he began acting professionally in 2008. In third grade, Doherty acted in Pinocchio at his school; calling it his “actor origin story,” it was at this young age that Doherty discovered he could use acting to bring humor to those around him.
“I was an odd little boy and when I did my callback in front of my peers it was the first time I heard people laughing at me in a way that I was in control of,” Doherty said. “It felt like everything that made me weird and different was utilized as a kind of superhero—I could make people feel things.”
Although Doherty participated in community theatre in middle and high school, it wasn’t until several intensive summer programs that he discovered that acting was something he could take incredibly seriously.
“I applied to be a musical theatre major at a few colleges, got into almost none of them and was going to pivot again when I got into the University of Arts in Philadelphia and learned about regional theatre,” Doherty recalled.
In his junior year of college, Doherty began working at Philadelphia theatres, living there for fifteen years while also traveling all over the country to act. “I was able to learn on the job and hone my skills by people taking a chance on me in a smaller community,” Doherty said.
Returning for his fifth season this year, Doherty first came to the Utah Shakespeare Festival in 2015, playing three comedic roles: Lord Fancourt Babberley in Charley’s Aunt, Tranio in The Taming of the Shrew, and Speed in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Since then he has played such roles as Charlie Baker in The Foreigner, the Narrator in Every Brilliant Thing, The Joneses in The Comedy of Terrors, and Dromio of Syracuse in The Comedy of Terrors.
This season he is delighting Festival patrons as Mr. Green in Clue, Lavatch in All’s Well That Ends Well, and Jonas Fogg in Sweeney Todd.
“Mr. Green is giving me the most exploration in the realm of [physical comedy],” Doherty said. “I feel like it is such an amazing form of expression that doesn’t require me to be a technically proficient dancer but will still let me totally explore my fullest range of motion in order to tell the story.”
Doherty noted that this role in Clue is some of the most fun he’s ever had onstage. “It’s going to go down as one of my favorite shows I’ve ever done for sure,” Doherty said.
His role as Lavatch in All’s Well That Ends Well is fun, but a challenge. Lavatch has been known as Shakespeare’s most “expendable and lascivious” clown. “I love a Shakespearean clown—I love the marriage of physical comedy and language,” Doherty said.
In regards to Sweeney Todd, Doherty said that it may contain his most favorite musical score ever written, so “it’s been exciting to experience and listen and sing through each night.”
A heartwarming and talented actor, Doherty is perhaps most known for bringing physical comedy to the stage. A patron of the Festival laughingly recalled Doherty in The Foreigner, when he “melted off a chair.” This season, one of his most comedic feats is dodging, in slow motion, the falling chandelier in Clue.
“When I come to the Festival, there is always some physical bit I end up doing in the shows that I’ve never attempted before,” Doherty said. “Last season I had to do a suitcase trick where I did half a split while grabbing the suitcase with my teeth.”
The trick to successfully executing physical comedy for Doherty is remembering to be safe and build those physical moments in a way that is repeatable. “Like so much of acting, it is an imperfectible exercise,” Doherty said. “It’ll never be right every time, but you try and get as close as you can which taps you into that in-the-moment kind of theatre.”
Perhaps most important, though, is being honest with audience members. Doherty explained that there is a huge difference in trying to be funny and authentically executing that humor by continually raising the stakes. “That line is interesting to ride. [I was told once] to stack the deck for yourself.” Doherty said. “That’s stuck with me the most . . . just knowing those marks you have to hit . . . but then letting all of that go and executing that in a way that feels very grounded and authentic and true to your natural emotion.”
Doherty explained that as an actor, if he can raise the stakes high enough, if the emotions and the fear and the sweat becomes real enough, “it becomes funny, regardless of the circumstances—like if people are dying all around you in Clue.”
Comedy has always been important to Doherty because of what it brings to the stage. “As soon as you start to add that sense of play and mischief into the equation, that’s what makes theatre magical and brings it to the next level,” Doherty said.
To see Doherty’s talent onstage and to enjoy his humor, purchase tickets at bard.org/plays or call 800-PLAYTIX.