On the cu­ri­ous suc­cess of the Ir­ish com­edy in drag.

Herald on Sunday - - ENTERTAINMENT -

At the end of ev­ery episode of Mrs Brown’s Boys, Mrs Brown sits at the kitchen ta­ble and speaks di­rectly to the audience. At the end of Thurs­day night’s episode on TVNZ 1 — a New Year’s spe­cial in which Mrs Brown ac­ci­den­tally fed a lot of peo­ple medic­i­nal mar­i­juana — she spoke about bul­ly­ing. “Ev­ery day is a new day, and you’re en­ti­tled to face that day with a big smile,” she sum­marised. “Make your­self a prom­ise: from to­day, don’t let any­body take away your smile.”

In be­tween these two sen­tences, Bren­dan O’Car­roll, the man be­neath the wig, the brains be­hind the show, man­aged to slip in a quick joke about in­con­ti­nence. It was clas­sic Mrs Brown’s Boys. The bal­ance of heart-on-sleeve earnest­ness and re­lent­lessly crude hu­mour is key to the show’s en­dur­ing pop­u­lar­ity. It’s also why so many oth­ers can’t stand it.

To its many haters, Mrs Brown’s Boys is one of the worst tele­vi­sion shows ever made. The jokes are ob­vi­ous, it’s badly acted and woe­fully out­dated. It’s a com­edy based on a char­ac­ter played by a man wear­ing a dress and a wig — in 2017!

It is, some might say, low­est com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor crap.

Mrs Brown’s Boys is unashamedly de­signed to ap­peal to the broad­est pos­si­ble audience, but that doesn’t make it in­her­ently crap. Plenty of other shows do so cyn­i­cally, heart­lessly, lazily. Mrs Brown’s Boys isn't any of those things. Some­one has to ap­peal to the so-called "low­est com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor", and Bren­dan O’Car­roll does it bet­ter than most, with a kind heart and an un­wa­ver­ing de­ter­mi­na­tion to make peo­ple laugh.

To ap­pre­ci­ate the show it helps to know a lit­tle about its his­tory. Long be­fore it was the TV phe­nom­e­non we know to­day it was a se­ri­alised ra­dio play, writ­ten by O’Car­roll and voiced by him, so the story goes, only af­ter the ac­tress he had lined up got sick the day be­fore record­ing. Some time later it was turned into a stage show that toured Ire­land and north­ern Eng­land for years, with O’Car­roll rop­ing in friends and fam­ily to play Mrs Brown’s friends and fam­ily.

Pretty much ev­ery­one on the TV show is re­lated in some way; al­most none are trained ac­tors. One of the few pro­fes­sion­als, Jen­nifer Gib­ney, who plays Mrs Brown’s daugh­ter Cathy, ended up mar­ry­ing O’Car­roll. His man­ager Rory got roped into play one of Mrs Brown’s sons; "Gran­dad" used to be the roadie, and so on.

The lat­est mem­ber of the en­tourage to join the show is Aly Mah­moud, the chef who tours with the stage pro­duc­tion. He has a cook­ing seg­ment on the new va­ri­ety chat show, All Round to Mrs Brown’s, which ended its first se­ries on TVNZ 1 last week. In­ex­pli­ca­bly, he spends as much time on the show danc­ing to “reg­gae” with Mrs Brown as he does cook­ing.

All Round to Mrs Brown’s is like a mu­tated Mrs Brown’s Boys. crossed with Noel’s House Party. Celebrity guests ar­rive to be on "The Cathy Brown Show" in the fam­ily’s liv­ing room, but be­fore­hand they are sub­ject to a bar­rage of risque dou­ble en­ten­dres at the kitchen ta­ble from Mrs Brown.

Like the orig­i­nal se­ries, it is filmed live in front of a stu­dio audience, bloop­ers and all. In the fi­nal episode the the­atri­cal singer Michael Ball stum­bled over his first an­swer and couldn’t stop laugh­ing. “Can I give you a tip?” Mrs Brown of­fered kindly. “F***in' sing.” Later, the mum of the other guest, ac­tress Sune­tra Sarker, was wel­comed on to the set. “Look at the glam­our and grace of you,” Mrs Brown gushed. “You make your daugh­ter look like a tramp.”

Mrs Brown took Mrs Sarker through to see what Chef Aly was cook­ing (prawn curry). Be­fore long the In­dian clas­si­cal dance teacher was danc­ing around the kitchen with the chef and the man in a dress. For a sec­ond the ac­tion cut back to her daugh­ter — she was cry­ing with laugh­ter.

In mo­ments like these it’s easy to see why this show is so out­ra­geously pop­u­lar. It’s one of the most joy­ous, heart­felt and ir­rev­er­ent things on TV; with All Round to Mrs Brown’s it ac­tively cham­pi­ons moth­ers and cel­e­brates fam­ily. And yes, it makes a lot of peo­ple who watch it happy. What’s to hate about that?

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