PRO­FILE Bren­dan O’Car­roll

An old-school sit­com has hit a nerve with Aus­tralian au­di­ences and, writes An­drew Fen­ton, its star loves the freedom he gets from wear­ing a wig, dress and high heels.

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - TV Guide - - CELIBRITY -

MRS BROWN’S BOYS Thurs­day, 9.15pm, Seven

HAS there ever been a more un­likely tele­vi­sion smash hit than Mrs Brown’s Boys?

A broad, old-fash­ioned sit­com, it could have been dropped through a worm­hole in space from the 1970s, back when a 57-year-old man in drag, swear­ing at his fam­ily and wink­ing at the cam­era was con­sid­er­ably more fash­ion­able.

Au­di­ences clearly adore the show, with the first episode of the new sea­son draw­ing more than a mil­lion view­ers in Aus­tralia and al­most 12 mil­lion in Bri­tain.

Over there the BAFTA-win­ning pro­gram out-rates Down­ton Abbey and has just been voted best sit­com in their National Tele­vi­sion Awards.

But crit­ics from across the spec­trum are baf­fled by its suc­cess with the UK’s Daily Mail and The In­de­pen­dent call­ing it the ‘‘worst com­edy ever made’’.

Closer to home our own TV colum­nist Dianne But­ler uses the phrase ‘‘spec­tac­u­larly not funny’’.

The man at the cen­tre of it all, Bren­dan O’Car­roll, who dreamed up the char­ac­ter on the spot in a Dublin ra­dio stu­dio 20 years ago, ad­mits he’s as gobsmacked as the crit­ics by its suc­cess.

The only ex­pla­na­tion he can of­fer is that it fills a gap left by TV com­edy’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with be­ing too clever by half. ‘‘We’ve dis­cov­ered a lost au­di­ence,’’ he says in his broad Ir­ish ac­cent.

‘‘I think com­edy for­got the au­di­ence we have for a while.

‘‘It was left be­hind (af­ter) Dad’s Army and Fawlty Tow­ers.

‘‘It’s not new, it’s noth­ing spe­cial, it’s just funny – y’know?’’

Agnes Brown has al­ways been a pop­u­lar, rather than crit­i­cal, suc­cess.

That’s why O’Car­roll can­celled me­dia tick­ets and press nights a decade ago.

‘‘Ev­ery­one else paid for their ticket and didn’t get to ex­press an opin­ion,’’ chuck­les the man who had the last laugh on the crit­ics, re­cently sell­ing a quar­ter of a mil­lion theatre tick­ets in a sin­gle week.

‘‘At the end of the day I don’t write for TV crit­ics or theatre crit­ics or ra­dio crit­ics – I write for the au­di­ence.’’

When the BBC ap­proached O’Car­roll, seek­ing to cap­i­talise on the pop­u­lar­ity of his stage shows, he told the pro­duc­ers he wouldn’t up­date the char­ac­ter or stop break­ing the fourth wall (giv­ing a wink to the au­di­ence or leav­ing in the mis­takes). ‘‘It was one of the things that kept us off for the two-and-a-half years it took the BBC to

con­vince me to do the show,’’ he says. ‘‘I said this is the for­mat I’d like to do, this is the way I’d like the show to go, and if we break the fourth wall we leave it in and blah, blah, blah.

‘‘They kind of stood back and went, ‘Bren­dan . . . We’d sug­gest the sit­com for­mat was in­vented for a rea­son.’ I said: ‘I un­der­stand that but if we do it and it doesn’t work then tell us to f--- off’.’’

O’Car­roll has now guided the char­ac­ter through 400 ra­dio episodes, five nov­els, a movie star­ring An­jel­ica Huston in the role (an­other star­ring O’Car­roll be­gins pro­duc­tion this Septem­ber), three tele­vi­sion se­ries, an an­i­mated pilot and nu­mer­ous hit stage plays.

With so much orig­i­nal ma­te­rial to draw on, the man who con­tin­ues to write ev­ery sin­gle word Mrs Brown ut­ters, laughs there’s lit­tle chance of him run­ning out of sto­ry­lines.

‘‘It sounds like it’s a dif­fi­cult task, but if you take the his­tory of the show for tele­vi­sion there’s plenty there to play with so there’s no ques­tion of won­der­ing have I got a plot line,’’ he says. ‘‘As well as that she’s just that kind of char­ac­ter. ‘‘You put the most or­di­nary of sit­u­a­tions in the way and they’ll de­velop into some­thing comedic.’’

O’Car­roll rel­ishes the freedom to do and say as he pleases when he’s made up in the skirt and wig.

‘‘Agnes gets away with things I would never get away with,’’ he laughs.

‘‘I do stand-up (com­edy) as well, and there’s no way I’d get away (with what she does).’’ Aus­tralian au­di­ences will have the op­por­tu­nity to meet Mrs Brown in per­son on her March and April 2014 tour – along with O’Car­roll’s sis­ter, son and daugh­ter, son’s best friend, daugh­ter-in-law, and three of his best old mates, all of whom star along­side him in the stage and tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tions.

‘‘I can’t get over the suc­cess in Aus­tralia,’’ he says. ‘‘To see peo­ple on Face­book and Twit­ter talk­ing about this se­ries and how it’s af­fect­ing them and how they’re en­joy­ing it and to do that to peo­ple with­out be­ing able to touch them is in­cred­i­ble. I can’t wait to get over there.’’

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