Mrs Brown's Boys: I love the lines that are not in the script

Tuesday 22 February 2011, 14:05

Brendan OCarroll Brendan OCarroll Writer and Actor

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Welcome to the world of Agnes Brown. It's a world where family comes first, authority is to be challenged, and everything always works out in the end.

What began in 1999 as a five minute comedy series for RTÉ 2fm (Ireland's equivalent of Radio 2), and then became a five-part stage trilogy, has at last reached BBC TV screens all over the United Kingdom.

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Thanks to the team the producer Stephen McCrum has put around me, I am involved in every aspect of the TV show.

As well as being the writer, and playing the lead female role of Mrs Brown, Stephen allows me to have an opinion on the overall look and feel of the show.

The series, which is set in Dublin, features Agnes Brown, a widow since 1986, and her family.

The family is made up of Agnes' sons Mark, Rory, Dermot, Trevor and her only daughter, the ever-suffering Cathy.

All of Agnes' children are in their early 30s, but to Agnes they will always be five years old.

As the family live their day to day lives, we see how Agnes attempts to solve all of their problems - especially the ones she has created for them.

Agnes is a complete contradiction of herself, for instance chastising her children for the slightest use of strong language, but having a fishwife's tongue herself.

With Agnes it's very much a case of "don't do what I do, do what I say."

Do you know, when people asked if Agnes was influenced by my own mother, I used to answer "no" and let me explain why.

My mother was quite an extraordinary woman. She began as a nun with a Bachelor Of Arts degree from Galway University, left the Order, married my Dad and had 11 children.

She was also the first woman elected to the Irish parliament for the Labour party and, indeed in that year, the only woman in parliament.

However, as I have gone on with Agnes Brown's life, I am beginning to realise that the only difference between the two is that my mother had an education.

Mrs Brown, played by Brendan O'Carroll, sits on the sofa next to Dermot Brown, played by Paddy Houlihan, who is dressed as a penguin.

So I suppose Agnes is my mother - with all of her wisdom, but not her education. And, as my mother would say, don't confuse education with intelligence.

And she was so right. I am a member of Mensa but I left school at 12 years of age, and I am dyslexic.

If ever there was anyone that was not going to be a writer or performer it was me.

I didn't do my first stand-up gig until I was 35 years old. For the 22 years before that, I was a waiter (five times Waiter Of The Year, I might add).

I swear to you that I still wake up every morning thinking, "This is the day they will find out I am really a waiter and not a writer, and they'll want their money back."

But I think people confuse being a writer with things like using the correct tense or being able to spell properly, and it has nothing to do with that.

Those are all things you can learn. Being a writer is about being able to tell a story - that's it, nothing else - and you can't learn that.

I'm very lucky in that I have always had a wonderful memory, particularly for dialogue, but I have absolutely no idea how the jokes come to me.

I hear things, I see things and they make me laugh. Somehow my brain stores them away and just when I need them they pop out. Does that make any sense?

Filming in front of a live audience was a condition I insisted upon when Stephen and I began developing the series.

We both agreed that we wanted as close a representation of the stage show as possible, and obviously a live audience is one of the key ingredients of that.

Also I knew that myself and the actors who would be transferring their performances from the stage to the screen depended on the live audience for the rhythm of our performances, so it would keep that element for us.

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The upside for me as a comedy writer is that television allows me to include more slapstick stuff than the early radio series did.

I'm a sucker for good old-fashioned fall-about comedy, and I don't care if it's old fashioned, it makes me laugh.

I have convinced myself that I always write better when I am under pressure, which is just a cover-up for leaving everything to the last minute.

I have always written alone but I have no discipline whatsoever.

My wife Jenny (Agnes' daughter Cathy in the series) is the one that drives me, as well as being an exceptional muse. Without her I would sit and read all day.

Sometimes it comes really easy, just flows. But then there are those horrible, horrible times when it is just word by word and wonder why you ever told anybody you were a writer, because you just write shite.

On the series, Stephen, realising my inexperience in writing for television, brought in a script editor to work alongside me - Paul Mayhew-Archer.

I was nervous at first of having someone kind of looking over my shoulder, so to speak. I need not have been. The man is genius.

Ever so gently, and with great encouragement, Paul eased me over the line, making a writer out of me in the process.

If this series is a success, I'm sure I will get great recognition, but truthfully, without Stephen and Paul there would be no series.

I love the lines that come to me when we are filming, that are not in the script - and, thanks to the director Ben Kellett letting me have the room to do this, there are lots and lots of them.

See if you can spot them. Hint: Watch the face of the cast when they happen - it's either a look of terror or restrained laughter.

Brendan O'Carroll is the writer of Mrs Brown's Boys and plays Agnes Brown in the show.

Mrs Brown's Boys continues on BBC One and BBC One HD on Mondays. For national variations on times, please see the upcoming episodes page.

Episode One is now available in iPlayer until Tuesday, 5 April.

You can ask Mrs Brown to solve your problems - find out how at the BBC Comedy blog.

Also producer Stephen McCrum tells the story of how he first discovered Mrs Brown on the BBC Comedy blog.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    There was a time when a comedy featuring a man in a wig and frock with a strong accent would be very funny. This is not it.

    I can't get past the Little Britain-style image to appreciate the writing, I'm afraid. Maybe casting a woman would have worked, but then it wouldn't have been Brendan's Mrs Brown.

    It just doesn't work for me at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I stumbled across this last night by accident. Actually, I'd seen the trailers and thought "I really don't fancy that". How wrong I was! And how lucky that I was able to rewind and watch the whole thing...

    It was quite simply hilarious. It looks like a typical sitcom, it travels the same path as a typical sitcom, but along the way it totally subverts the genre. Foul mouthed, inventive and just bloody funny... for me it had it all.

    Brendan, you're a great great talent, and I am glad I've found you.

    Just watch it and decide for yourself. And if you're drinking tea during "Doctor scene" put a towel over your lap...

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    Comment number 3.

    Given everything that is happening in my life at the moment I needed a laugh and this was it. This is good belly laugh humour at its best and Brendan, the cast and the crew are to be congratulated. Full marks to the BBC for bringing back true comedy.

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    Comment number 4.

    The funniest programme I have seen in a very long time, a much needed source of laughter in these times.

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    Comment number 5.

    Well, it was different.

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    Comment number 6.

    the funniest thing Iv'e seen since "Noises Off"
    looking forward to the next five shows.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    This is the funniest thing I have seen in a long time. Live comedy sometimes brings tears to the eyes, this did the same. In fact my wife and I watched it twice in the same evening (on catchup), and it was just as funny the second time!

    Thank you BBC, Monday nights are now something to look forward to!

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Watched this by accident. Laughed till I cried, watched again later, and reacted the same! I recomended it to friends and family,to watch on iplayer and they all found it as funny as me! Absolutely laugh out loud, comedy at its best. A total winner!! Already got it on series repeat, incase I forget its on. Going on some comments, it might be an accquired taste, in comedy, but glad its mine!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Saw the trailer, and thought not for me, but ended watching, thought it was very funny, good old fashioned one liners, and slapstick, my partner who is not British, understood it and laughed as much as me, and was very funny watching the other actors trying not to laugh, that is the sign of a great comedy for me, like not going out and the stuff the 2 Ronnies did, black adder and Monty python

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    Comment number 10.

    A good laugh, I can see much of my family reflected in Mrs Brown and her crew. Give us more, just what we need in these austere times.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    mrs browns boys is just simply fanbloodytastick 10 out 10 side splitting is an under statement is far more than that i was bent over dubble in fits , more please

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Hardylane people like you make me sick! ONLY KIDDING!!! Seriously, I appreciate your comments, and that you went to the trouble of taking the time to post them shows that they are genuine, and I believe you. Listen, It's impossible to be all kinds of comic to all people, and it would be foolhardy to try. I can only write and perform what reflects my sense of humour and hope that I hit the target with like minded people. I hope you will have a peek in again at a later show, and maybe give us another chance to impress you or at least get a giggle from you, in the mean time, thanks again for taking the time. Brendan

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    Comment number 13.

    Dear Robcon, I'm glad that we have brought a smile to your face - that's the whole point of the exercise! And listen, whatever is going on right now, just hang in there... everything works out the way it's supposed to, it always does. Thank you in the mean time for taking the time to give MY spirits a lift.
    Now for the rest of you who posted comments... I'm just getting used to this blog thing, so bear with me if I am a bit slow getting back to you. Also I am on the road right now, but I promise I do read EVERY one and good or bad, I love getting them. Appreciate it xx Brendan

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Brilliant! Just the tonic I needed for mid-February blues. I saw the trailer but missed the programme so have caught up with this gem on iPlayer tonight in my study and have laughed so much that my husband heard me above the sound of Man. United's live match on the TV in the sitting room. The F word is so common place today that it is a pity that this programme has to be shown after the 'watershed'. Great script, great acting, great reactions to the extemporising. Roll on the next episode! Is a second series planned? I do hope so. Emandee xx

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I discovered this programme completely by accident on iplayer last night.
    Not being able to do much after a knee operation I needed cheering up and this prog was the one to do it ! Absolutely marvelous. It was quite clear from the expressions of the cast that some of Mrs Brown's antics were unexpected and ad libbed - I haven't laughed out loud like this for a while. MORE PLEASE !!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    WOW what a great programme - the best laugh in ages - so good I watched it a second time on iPlayer and it was even better as I spent most of my first time rolling on the floor laughing. What do you recomend for an aching belly?

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    I really wasn't in the mood to laugh,but this just snuck up on me.I tried I really did,but I ended up having a good giggle.It brightened my evening.I have set my recorder for next week.Well done to all involved,there's something quite refreshing about such obvious in your face humour.

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    Comment number 18.

    Well, episode number 2 this Monday. I wish I could say that I am less anxious now because it's up and running, but I'm not. I have three children (2 of which, Fiona and Danny are in the show) and this feeling is worse than the feeling I had the night each of them were born - does it get any easier??? God I hope so. Brendan O'Carroll xx

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    My Husband is suffering with depression since Christmas and I've had a tough and miserable time I can tell you. So on Monday night whilst I was cooking dinner... the TV was on when all of a sudden I heard my Husband laughing. Then he laughed again... then a few more times, so went in to see why and there you were... Mrs Brown. I had been glimpsing the programme whilst cooking dinner and didn't think much as I really wasn't concentrating on it. I thought it was just another rubbishy sit-com. But for it to make my Husband laugh was a miracle. He said to me "you must watch this, it's so funny"... so I did, and it really is the funniest thing I have watched since, I don't know when! Brendan, you are a genius, not only because you made my very depressed Husband laugh but the comedy itself is sheer genius and it takes a lot to make me laugh too! I normally don't like the 'f' word in comedy, but with the Irish accent and the way you actually say the 'f' word is absolutely hilarious. I can't wait till Monday night for the next episode. I am just about to recommend it to my friends on facebook. So Brendan, thank you for bringing us an excellent new comedy programme. I think you could be winning a few comedy awards in the future. Monica.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Dearest Monica,
    Over the last week I have read various reviews of the show in the newspapers and magazines. Most were very positive and those that were not, were scathing! I don't care. I don't care about the good ones, I don't care about the bad ones. The review I will cherish most is your comment above. I sit writing this, alone and usually in the early hours, with my cup of tea and me fag, always in the hope that what I am writing will be funny and even important to someone. Your blog above, has made the entire making of this series worth while for me. I thank you, I thank your husband and I wish him well. It takes tremendous courage to live with and battle each day this debilitating scourge of depression. I am very lucky that I have never suffered with it, but I have many, too many, friends that do. So Monica, sit yourselves down in front of the telly next Monday and laugh, and remember this.... I wrote this FOR YOU xxxxx


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