Do you remember growing up with comedy classics like It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, Are You Being Served? and John Cleese in Fawlty Towers?
That’s what Brendan O’Carroll grew up with too, which might explain a lot about hit show Mrs Brown’s Boys.
Talking to Starts at 60, O’Carroll shared how those TV shows, and his family, inspired his comedy, and in particular the role he’s best known as, Irish matriarch Agnes Brown .
“The thing they all had in common was they didn’t try to influence you in any way, they just wanted to make you laugh,” O’Carroll says of those popular ’70s television hits that were free of subliminal messages or political point-scoring. “It was just comedy.”
He creates his Mrs Brown’s characters in much the same way, and says it’s about the details, such as mannerisms he gives to Agnes, which come from his mother.
“I love that she walks like she’s ready for a hip operation any day now. Like my mother, she always has a hanky in her pocket and always has a tea towel in her hand,” he remembers.
“A tea towel is like a tool box. My mother’s tea towel – she would open bottles with it, she would flick you across the ear with it, she’s do the dishes with it, she’d feed the dog with it. It was her multi-tool.”
It wasn’t just his mother that provided inspiration, either. O’Carroll says that as the youngest of 11 children, the family always had plenty going on.
“There was always stories at home, there was always something happening,” he recalls. “Not a day would go by without a mini drama in the house.”
Fans of the show have given him wonderful ideas too. O’Carroll said he’s often stopped in the streets by people keen to tell a story or two about their own mothers, or their lives.
“A lot of the stories, you couldn’t make that s**t up,” he reckons.
He says he’s grateful that fans approach him as if he was a member of the family, so he does the same in return.
“When you meet people in the street, they don’t treat you as a stranger. They ask about the family. I just chat to them as if they were long lost cousins. They go away happy and I go away happy.”
Mrs Browns Boys has been a huge success for O’Carroll. It started as a radio series in 1992, then the television series debuted in 2011. It’s gone on to win numerous awards, not to mention being voted Best British Sitcom of the 21st century by the UK’s Radio Times.
It was also his early life that gave O’Carroll the desire to perform.
“Being the youngest of 11, by the time I was born my eldest siblings were in their 20s,” he says. “All I had to do as a baby was walk across the floor and I got a round of applause. I grew up with the feeing of loving an audience.”
The love of family has continued through to the show, which is a real family effort.
O’Carroll admits it wasn’t a plan – it just happened that way. It started with O’Carroll and his wife Jennifer playing the parts of Agnes and Cathy in the show, then he got his sister in to play Winnie, and when his daughter Fiona took a break from college she joined in too, to play Maria. Fiona fell for Martin Delaney, who plays the character Trevor, and they married in real life. O’Carroll’s son Danny joined the show too, first as a stage hand, then playing the role of Buster.
“It just grew, bit by bit. Before I knew it the family were working on the road. We just absolutely love it,” he says.
No matter what, O’Carroll says family comes first, which is why he’s turned down a US version of the show.
“We work to live, not live to work,” he explains. “Work is not as important as family.”
The live stage show of Mrs Brown’s Boys is headed to Australia and New Zealand in 2018, before then touring Canada.