I have been a tremendous snob about the Irish comedy programme shown on BBC television, Mrs Brown’s Boys, which has been voted the best British sitcom of the 21st century. Ghastly! So coarse and corny! My sense of comedy, I like to emphasise, is directed towards the more sophisticated end of the spectrum – give me Woody Allen, with his quips which draw on Dostoyevsky and the Old Testament (“The lion may lie down with the lamb, but that doesn’t mean the lamb will have a good night’s sleep!”).
But I happened upon the new series of Mrs Brown last Saturday night, and after a tense and anxious week, I confess that it made me laugh. Yes, it’s vulgar and the jokes are as old as the hills and as simple as pie, but there is such a patina of cordial good humour, the audience is so hugely cheerful and involved, and Brendan O’Carroll, the eponymous Mrs Brown, has that genius element of comic performance: timing and the deadpan reaction.
There’s an element of what our mothers would have called “bad language”, but even that is carried off with a lightness of touch, so that you hardly catch the word before it is gone. And sometimes the swearword can have a droll effect. Mrs Brown lives in a Dublin suburb called Finglas, and the local newspaper announces that Finglas would now like to leave the EU, leading us to – “Fecksit”!
Mrs Brown’s hairdresser son is gay, and just about the campest gay person on television since John Inman in Are You Being Served?, but again, it’s all done with high good humour.
The Catholic Church, and the local parish priest, are depicted as a natural part of the community, and the family are portrayed as Mass-goers (and in particular, funeral-goers, which is authentically Irish).
The holy pictures around the house – large and perhaps somewhat lurid Sacred Heart images – are somewhat old-fashioned, perhaps in keeping with the humour. But it’s all blended into a stream of everyday life, comical, broad, confident and energetic. I may even watch it again.