Why you just don’t get Mrs Brown’s Boys

Can't fathom how Brendan O'Carroll's comedy became such a big hit at Christmas (and the rest of the year)? Sarah Doran investigates...

Mrs Brown's Boys

It took several years, numerous Twitter outbursts and more “why on earth does anyone watch Mrs Brown’s Boys?” rants than I can possibly remember, but it finally happened.

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I was sitting watching a Christmas episode of Brendan O’Carroll’s BBC comedy with my mother when a sly grin crept on to my face, an odd sensation rippled through my body, and a strange sound emerged from my mouth.

Was that a laugh? While watching Mrs Brown’s Boys? It couldn’t be, surely?

But it was. Because in that moment – watching O’Carroll force his co-stars to corpse for the umpteenth time – something clicked and I finally got it. I finally got what makes Mrs Brown’s Boy’s a success. In the words of my little Irish mammy, “it’s so far beyond ridiculous it’s good.”

For years now Mrs Brown has entertained the masses, in bingo halls and convention centres, on both the big screen and the small. She and I go way back, actually, to the days of the more serious movie adaptation Agnes Browne, which brought Angelia Huston and the film’s funeral cortege to my front door in Dublin. I spent years telling the girls in school that those were MY railings in the shot.

When Mrs Brown’s Boys came to television without Huston, Ray Winstone or special guest Tom Jones, I was infuriated. And when the Baftas began rolling the show’s way I was incensed: “How on earth can this be our most successful export?” I roared during my days as a TV writer in Dublin, “Irish comedy is much cleverer than that muck!”

So determined was I to extoll the virtues of comedies that were fast-talking and “far more intellectual” among my Twitter pals and fellow TV lovers, that I missed out on something crucial.

Some people just want to laugh. They just want to sit down in front of their television screens and enjoy a silly story about an old Dublin woman who can’t keep her mouth shut and tends to put her foot in it more often than not.

Mrs Brown provides uncomplicated, relatable chuckles for its target audience by the bucketload – and most of them aren’t even in the script. You don’t have to love it to realise that its success lies in unashamedly doing exactly what its audience asks of it.

While other comedies rely on being perfectly polished, Mrs Brown’s Boys takes delight in its own disarray. Its charm lies in the missed line that nobody would have noticed until O’Carroll’s mammy points out her co-star’s mistake, the prop that ends up in the wrong place, or the hilariously bad joke that’s so terrible even the writer himself can’t help but watch for the cast’s reactions as it’s delivered.

Think of it as a slapstick Irish Royle Family of sorts, with Denise and Dave’s deadpan delivery replaced by an over the top pantomime style: Mammy is the fairy godmother, Rory and Deano are your dames, and Kathy is Cinderella, the little lost soul struggling through the mayhem to find her happily ever after.

While the acting might vary from dull to decent or disgracefully over the top, the show delivers on an all important showbiz promise. “Make ’em laugh”, sang Donald O’Connor in Singin’ In The Rain.

And whether it’s with them, or at them, Mrs Brown’s Boys certainly know how to make the masses do just that.

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Mrs Brown’s Boys was voted Radio Times’s best British sitcom of the 21st century in a 2016 poll