Sunday 17 December 2017

It's easy to sneer at Mrs Brown, but it's unpretentious and boy, it's funny

Brendan O'Carroll and his wife Jennifer Gibney attending the world premiere of 'Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie'
Brendan O'Carroll and his wife Jennifer Gibney attending the world premiere of 'Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie'
Brendan O'Carroll as Mrs Brown
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Do you like Mrs Brown's Boys? In all statistical probability, yes. You might deny it in a bid to appear cool or discerning, but the viewing figures don't lie. Brendan O'Carroll's mad Dubbalin mammy is a ratings monster here and in Britain – which means millions of people are watching, and liking, the show.

It's so successful that they've made 'Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie', which opened this week. Reviewers revile the whole thing, the public hails it; there hasn't been such a gigantic faultline between critical reception and mass popularity since Bon Jovi were in their pomp.

At the premiere, one of the stars, Rory Cowan, dismissed critics as "irrelevant", and he's probably right. People will flock to see Dis Movie in their droves, no matter how much it's derided by our cultural commentators.

But I also think that the critics are wrong. Mrs Brown's Boys is pretty funny.

I'm not saying it's the funniest thing ever (in terms of television, that would be 'The Simpsons', and outside of that field, Gerry Collins' tear-stained "don't bust up the party" cri-de-Coeur will never be beaten).

Indeed, in theory I shouldn't like 'Mrs Brown's Boys' at all. In theory, it comes across as obvious and laboured and clichéd. In theory, I am that pretentious media tosser you've heard about, who reads Proust, watches Fellini and makes smug, sarcastic comments about anything as gauche as a traditional sitcom.

But that's in theory. In practice, I have to say, I always laugh at Mrs Brown. Not as much as at – again – 'The Simpsons', or several others. But it's guaranteed to raise a fair few chuckles.

Sure, I know the jokes are as old as the Flood . . . doesn't matter. I still laugh at it. I might even fight the laughter, as it rises up from my belly – media tosser habits die hard – but eventually, I will yield. I'll give in to the show's stupidity, vulgarity and daftness, and laugh.

'Mrs Brown's Boys' is funny. Therefore, it works just fine as a sitcom. It's really as simple as that.

And for all the pompous, chin-stroking articles written about comedy, that's the whole point. Yes, it's good if a show is edgy or ground-breaking or provocative – but none of that matters a Continental damn if it's not making you laugh.

For instance, the Ricky Gervais show 'Extras' was very clever and well-made, and laden down with praise – yet I sat there, stony-faced, because it was never actually funny. To reverse my earlier point, in theory the programme was hilarious. In practice, it wasn't.

Same with (off the top of my head) the award-winning 'Gavin and Stacey'.

I got it, I got the humour, I could see why I was supposed to find it funny; but it simply wasn't. It was like reading a detached essay about the concept of "funny", whereas 'Mrs Brown's Boys' is more like watching the proverbial man getting kicked in the crotch: dumb, dumb, dumb . . . and a whole lot of fun.

Even if I didn't like it myself, I can easily see why others would. Straightforward, unpretentious, good-natured, warm-hearted (despite all the effing and blinding): it's almost comfortable, like a beaten-in old pair of slippers. Sometimes people don't want to be challenged or to have to work at something – they want half-an-hour of undemanding entertainment.

On a side point, I sometimes suspect that professing love for "clever" comedy is a fig-leaf for people who want to appear sophisticated but aren't prepared to put in the slog. It's easier to sneer at 'Mrs Brown's Boys' than dig into Baudelaire or attend that staging of 'Accidental Death of an Anarchist' (or, God forbid, actually create something yourself).

If you really want art, go read a book or visit a gallery. A telly sitcom is meant to be fun, something to distract or relax the audience. Brendan O'Carroll knows that.

And speaking of whom, only the most stony-hearted oik could begrudge the man his success, to any degree. He's had some well-publicised setbacks – disasters, really – and come back every time, through persistence, determination, self-belief and sheer strength of will. How's that for an inspirational metaphor for the Irish nation? He seems a good guy too, a sound man, who's unbelievably loyal to his employees.

Reviewers have the right to speak honestly, of course; it's also their job and their duty. Criticising the critics is a little petty, not to mind suggesting that Brendan, Rory and the gang pay a bit more heed to the press than they let on.

But the vitriol sprayed on 'Mrs Brown's Boys' is totally out of proportion.

It's not the greatest comedy in history, but it doesn't claim to be. It's just a TV show. Some people like it, not everyone.

Don't read too much into all this. Or as Agnes might have it: "Lighten up, for f**k's sake."

Irish Independent

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