Comedian Tim McGarry asks – Is ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’ funny?

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Last Thursday I was at the superbly eclectic Out to Lunch festival at the Black Box.  The festival runs all month, boasts a wide selection of drama music and comedy and is perfect for cheapskates like me. Eight quid bought me lunch, four excellent musicians, original music and an Oscar nominated actor reading an enthralling version of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman.

Stephen Rea’s mellifluous tones, cellos, a violin and piano, and a surreal tale of murder, bad teeth and bicycles that listen in to your conversation…where else would you get it?

The Third Policeman show was clever, witty and thought provoking. And it only cost me eight quid.

Twenty two quid is the price of the cheapest ticket to see Mrs Brown’s Boys in the Odyssey Arena in December. £43-50 gets you “up close and personal”. The show which stars cross dressing Dublin comedian Brendan O’Carroll was the comedy phenomenon of 2011. He’s had the sort of success that makes other comedians invest in voodoo dolls.

Mrs Brown’s Boys has recorded its second BBC 1 network series and has been commissioned for a third. The DVDs are everywhere. The stage version is touring the UK. Recently O’Carroll completed a week of shows in Belfast’s biggest venue. He’s coming back in December, has already added extra shows and is selling tickets faster than Alastair McDonnell can lose voters. A BAFTA beckons.

The show appeared to come from nowhere and has effortlessly leapt in to the public psyche. In fact O’Carroll has been performing the character Mrs Brown for many years in Dublin theatres.

Now it is everywhere. People have been stopping me in the street to ask me what I think of Mrs Brown’s Boys. Usually they help me to temper my response by immediately adding their own opinion that “it’s fecking brilliant”…or, more rarely, that it is the most embarrassingly bad comedy ever to disgrace TV.

Mrs Browns Boys divides opinions the way Marmite, or the Orange Order do.

Most TV critics hate Mrs Brown’s Boys. They write about it in the same way tabloids write about paedophiles. They have deemed it crude and crass and witless; I suspect that part of their objection is that Dublin working class humour has been elevated from Irish theatres to sit merrily centre stage on the biggest platform the BBC has to offer and that’s just not…well…British.

I don’t like TV critics. Or rather they don’t like me. The sitcom I co-wrote and appeared in, Give My Head Peace, was hugely popular with the Northern Ireland public but generally lambasted and despised by the critics.

Give My Head Peace is similar to Mrs Brown’s Boys in that it was an unashamedly broad based studio sitcom.  It is dissimilar in that we never made the leap from local hit to national TV and thus to millionaire stardom.

So I’m torn.

I’m delighted to see critics ignored and defied by the public but which comedian wouldn’t cry himself to sleep with jealousy at O’Carroll’s incredible success?

Does he deserve it? Yes. There can be a certain snobbishness among comedy practitioners but I respect anyone who can make a roomful of strangers laugh and O’Carroll is making millions of people across the UK laugh.



Is Mrs Brown’s Boys any good?

Mrs Brown’s Boys makes Give My Head Peace look like Ibsen. The plots and jokes are ancient or if not ancient then certainly Joycean – if there was any copyright on them it has expired.

O’Carroll’s use of the f word is gratuitous and his characters struggle to make it to two dimensions. And yet the show has something of which most comedians can only dream. It has comedy X factor. It has warmth. It has a sense of pure unadulterated fun, a sense of fun that is missing from a lot of Gervais era comedy. It has connected with its audience in a way that is very rare.

The godfather of modern stand-up Lennie Bruce famously said the audience is a genius. The audience decides what’s funny. Not the critics, not the television executives, not even the performer. Well O’Carroll’s audience has decided.

Having struggled in the Kafkaesque world of BBC decision making, I found the decision by BBC network to pick up Mrs Browns Boys to be astonishing and brave and completely at odds with everything they have ever done previously.

And it’s paid off spectacularly for them and for Brendan.

There is no mistaking the genuine and enormous affection vast numbers of viewers have for the show. Why? I think it is because it is unpretentious. It is honest. It is not knowingly clever, ironic or cynical or patronizing; all it tries to do is make you laugh. If you don’t like it you can feck off and watch something else. If you do like it you tend to love it.

So is Mrs Brown’s Boys funny? Well its not clever or thought provoking but yes it can be laugh out loud funny. So I wish O’Carroll all the best…the jammy bastard.

No really. I hope the show continues to outrage po-faced critics as much as it delights its fans. But I won’t be paying £43- 50 to get up close and personal this December. There’s lots and lots of better stuff out there. Look at the Out to Lunch programme, go and see Stewart Lee in March and if you want a local cheaper version of Mrs Brown why not come to the Give My Head Peace live tour in April and May?


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About Author

Tim McGarry is a former lawyer, (but please don’t hold that against him) an experienced actor, writer, stand-up comedian and broadcaster who has worked extensively on television, radio and stage. He is probably most renowned for playing the part of Sinn Fein stalwart Da in 73 episodes of the hugely popular sitcom Give My Head Peace which ran for ten years and was Northern Ireland’s most popular TV show. Tim has also performed a huge number of different roles (both male and female!) in the BBC NI television sketch show Dry Your Eyes. He was the host on the Radio Ulster and BBC1 NI television comedy panel show, The Blame Game. Tim writes and performs the weekly topical “taxi-driver” piece for BBCNI’s popular current affairs TV show Hearts and Minds. Tim has wide experience as a stand up, solo performer, presenter and after dinner speaker. His one man stand- up show “Tim McGarry’s Irish History Lesson” got a 5 star review in the Belfast Telegraph and toured the entire province to standing ovations.


  1. After a slow start I was warming to your critique, but then comes the last paragraph when your sour grapes just seem to poison your mind. Comedy should not be analysed in such detail – if you have to explain it you don’t understand it.

  2. Mrs Brown’s Boys is without doubt the worst, most unfunny sh*te I have ever witnessed and I have been unfortunate enough to see low tide marks like My Family. I despair over the popularity of this tripe. It is the TV equivalent of Dominic Kirwan, not just toe curlingly awful but the lowest common denominator of it’s genre.

    Still why should O’Carroll care? He’s raking it in. As someone famous and eminent once said, no-one ever went broke by underestimating the taste of the public.

  3. It’s true that Mrs Brown’s Boys is dire, but then so was “My Hero”. The difference being that “My Hero” was inoffensively dire…you barely noticed it. Mrs Brown’s Boys is in yer face dire, like a bombastic drunk. It can get 30 million viewers, sell out every theatre in Canada, sell a billion dvds…but it will always be a cynical, poorly written, offensively amateurish, dishonest ( does any “eejit” believe the “mistakes” are not scripted? ) version of Carla Lane’s “Bread” with swearing, toilet humour & sentiment. Not quite as appalling as the harshest critics have suggested, but thoroughly crap all the same.

  4. Im no fan of RTE, but this show is a winner.  Even my Russian wife giggles all the way through it!  It will have a loyal and culturally informed audience like GMHP, Father Ted and Julian Simmons! 😉

  5. live in holland so only seen little bit,s of,s so funny like they say would,nt life be very boring if we were all the same.after reading this thank god we ain,t..can,t to wait to get home to buy the full dvd set.

  6. I am actually ashamed to call myself English if this is what the general public deem as funny. It’s the most witless, cheesy, and overrated comedy I have ever seen. Its the niki Minaj of comedy. Art used to mean someonthing wether it was music, films, tv etc. we live in an age where the general public doesn’t want too think. We are in a dumbed down society that lacks intellect. People are sheep that just want to follow popular culture regardless of how shit it is. My friends 4 year old little boy could right a better comedy.

  7. Its a pile o’shite. How anyone with a brain can find this crap funny is beyond me. Although I suspect those without a brain will laugh at anything, which may explain it. Chav central.

  8. Andre the Giant on

    Mrs Browns Boys…. where to start? It is without a doubt the most toe curlingly, unfunny, puerile piece of kack ive ever had the misfortune to witness.
    Its so bad that the first time I saw it, I actually thought that was the joke, that it was intentionally crap.
    Shame on the BBC for broadcasting this shite. Shame on the people who defend it and laugh themselves silly at its witless carry on type humour. This from a broadcaster who cancelled IDEAL for being to niche, and for relegating The Mighty Boosh to BBC3.
    People have a right to laugh at whatever they want, but we shouldn’t have to pay our license fees to a bunch of twots who wouldn’t know quality comedy if it slapped them in the face with a wet fish.
    To finish up, Brendan Ocarroll should be strung up from the highest yard arm for this abomination, and the BBC should be next in line. If he/they win a BAFTA with this shit I will quite literally vomit myself sick.