We Chatted To Claudia O’Doherty About ‘Sarah’s Channel’, YouTube, And The End Of The World
"There is this huge culture of beauty bloggers and influencers on YouTube, that's huge, and millions and millions of people are very embedded in that world and watching it. But then also climate change and climate catastrophe is looming at every moment.”
Sarah’s Channel is a deeply weird webseries on ABC Comedy, which sees comedian and actor Claudia O’Doherty take on the role of a beauty blogger who persists with her vocation in a post-apocalyptic wasteland without internet.
It’s very funny.
The show is written and directed by Nick Coyle, a Sydney playwright and O’Doherty’s friend — the pair made up two-thirds of alt-comedy outfit Pig Island, with actor and writer Charlie Garber.
She is upfront about being drawn to the role not just because the show’s “good and funny”, but “because Nick is my friend”.
Starring as Sarah, an influencer reanimated in the future by ‘mole people’ — humans evolved after a catastrophe hundreds of years ago, now living underground in fear of a monster named Quahmork — O’Doherty couldn’t ignore the parallels between her character’s situation and the world that we too are hurtling towards.
“There’s this sort of amplified consumption that comes with all these easily watchable social media things.”
“I think that’s the funny thing about Sarah’s Channel,” O’Doherty muses. “It reflects two really true things about what’s going on right now. There is this huge culture of beauty bloggers and influencers on YouTube, that’s huge, and millions and millions of people are very embedded in that world and watching it. But then also climate change and climate catastrophe is looming at every moment.”
There’s also the question of what beauty blogging says about our culture’s fixation with consumption.
O’Doherty brings up the ‘haul’ videos vloggers produce, where they are either gifted with or buy stacks and stacks of cheap stuff at places like Kmart or Primark in the UK. In Sarah’s Channel, Sarah makes her own ‘haul’ video, of remnants of human civilisation she scavenged from the surface.
“There’s this sort of amplified consumption that comes with all these easily watchable social media things,” O’Doherty explains. “They do tend to ignore the climate emergency that we live in right now.
“Lots of [beauty vloggers] are really likeable young women who seem to be fairly nice, ethical, sweet women, but they’re also consuming at such a crazy rate. Like when they do these ‘haul’ videos and they come back from Primark and they have like 50 items of clothing and you’re like, these are definitely all bought in a sweatshop, these are made under horrible conditions, you’ll never wear this stuff again.”
O’Doherty says she watched tons of YouTube videos, including beauty vloggers and YouTube personalities more generally — like zero waste influencers or foodie websites like Bon Appétit — before she took on the role, but that wasn’t necessarily as preparation for the part.
“I’d watched quite a few in my life already just through procrastination,” O’Doherty admits. “Any time I wanted to buy something I would check YouTube to see what people say and then you’re like suddenly watching 50 videos that people have made.”
Finding Comfort In Daily Routines
How authentic is it really that Sarah, in the face of an entirely unfamiliar world, would seek solace in her old passion project? O’Doherty stresses there is something “quite comforting” for her character about the act of vlogging.
“The thing about creating those videos is I think it probably is a fairly solitary activity, where you’re communicating so much with people online that you don’t need to communicate in real life with people. If this were real, and she could do it, she probably would do that — it probably would be quite comforting for her to do that.”
O’Doherty acknowledges that she “probably would really benefit” from the kind of comforting daily routine that Sarah spells out in one of her vlogs, where she takes the time to journal and exercise and meditate.
“I don’t really have one,” O’Doherty begins. “I do half an hour of YouTube pilates every day but that’s only for the last 22 days, so it’s not that long. So if I do that I feel better than if I don’t do that, so that’s my routine. And I wash my face for a long time. I do have a specific skincare routine.”
What is it about beauty bloggers that so appeals to people? Why are we so obsessed with the lives of people like English vlogger Zoe Sugg aka Zoella?
Take a YouTube influencer (@ClaudiaODoherty) annnnd put her in a post-apocalyptic hellscape. And you've got Sarah's Channel.@nickcoyles is a genius and this is scream-inducingly funny. Cannot recommend it enough.
— Benjamin Law (@mrbenjaminlaw) June 30, 2019
O’Doherty notes that they’re “informative, comforting to watch and soothing” because they’re at that weird nexus of information and entertainment — and you don’t have to pay them your full attention. “You can look at your phone while you’re watching them and you can consume them endlessly.
“I think it feels very accessible because they’re not celebrities yet, like you’re meeting them before they become famous. Also I think they demand so little of you as an audience member — you can half-watch them, [it] doesn’t matter if you tune out for ten minutes, you won’t miss anything.”
To play Sarah, O’Doherty had to strike a balance between positivity and delusion, her character’s latent despair sometimes bubbling up and spilling over as the viewer catches glimpses of her suicidal ideation, or her snapping at the mole people who look to her as a kind of saviour.
O’Doherty laughs that she’s “not a very good actor”, saying that it’s easy for her to play Sarah as she pretends to be okay despite her increasingly frightening situation.
“I think it’s easier for me to be someone pretending that they’re alright even though you know that they mustn’t be alright, than someone who’s just not alright. If I actually had to cry and be very emotional it would be really hard.”
“If It’s Just Pure Drama, I Can’t Do It”
You recognise O’Doherty — she scored her American break with a small part in Trainwreck, after Bill Hader came across her UK Channel 4 webseries and sent it to Amy Schumer.
Schumer then DMed O’Doherty, inviting her to a table read for Trainwreck and then bringing her on as a staff writer for Inside Amy Schumer. Her breakout major role as Bertie in Love on Netflix followed, with Judd Apatow basically crafting the role just for her.
To work with some of the finest comedians in the world — whether Schumer or Apatow, or Lesley Arfin or Paul Rust — is “exciting” and “surreal” for O’Doherty.
“I still can’t even really believe that I got to do it. I feel so lucky that I get to and I got to and I hope I keep doing it, because it’s so fun.”
As Bertie in Love, O’Doherty appeared at first as excessively cheerful and optimistic, driven to an emotional outburst at the start of season three due to the selfishness of both her flatmate Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) and her slovenly boyfriend, Randy (Mike Mitchell).
“There is this huge culture of beauty bloggers and influencers on YouTube, that’s huge, and millions and millions of people are very embedded in that world and watching it.”
That scene was “easy and fun to do” too. “To me [Bertie’s outburst] was sort of funny. As long as something’s funny I think I can figure out how to perform it. But if it’s just pure drama, I can’t do it.
“I love to watch a dramatic film but I never watch a very intense drama and think I wish that was me doing that.”
Moving first to London, then to New York and LA, it makes sense for O’Doherty to have suffered some of the very same homesickness her character endures in Love — Bertie has an initially depressing first birthday after moving to the US when both Mickey and Randy bail on her.
“I miss my family and there’s also nice food here — but there’s nice food everywhere. But that’s the thing I miss, and swimming in the sea.”
A Comedy Talented Mr Ripley
Live comedy earned O’Doherty the Best Newcomer nod at Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2010, and a nomination for Best Comedy Show at Edinburgh Fringe in 2012. Still, she has no “firm plans” to return to stand-up.
“I only ever really did live comedy in the hope that I would some day get to do filmed comedy, film and TV,” O’Doherty shrugs. “[Stand-up] is fun though it can be stressful. I’m sure I will do it again.”
That doesn’t mean she doesn’t aspire to work in Australia should the opportunity arise.
“I’d love to work here as much as possible,” O’Doherty enthuses. “I think the reason I moved to America was because I got a job there and there just are more jobs there. If there was a thriving industry here that I could work in consistently I would probably live here. There just isn’t.”
O’Doherty says she chooses her roles based entirely on whether they’re funny.
“If I think it’s funny slash I know I can do it,” she clarifies. “Also it’s really cool if I get to go somewhere I wanna go as part of the job. So I could probably say yes to a mediocre job if it was somewhere good, if anyone wants me to do that.”
So what’s the bucket list location for O’Doherty? “I’d like to go to the south of Italy, so if anyone wants to do a comedy Talented Mr. Ripley, I’ll do that for sure.”
Sarah’s Channel is on ABC Comedy and YouTube.
Hannah Story is an arts and culture writer and editor from Sydney. Her current shtick is asking everyone she meets about the embarrassing things that make them laugh. She tweets @hannahmstory.