SUCCESS is not something Brendan O’Carroll takes for granted.
Nor did it come quickly for the delightfully down-to-earth Irish comedian with a razor-sharp wit.
It took him a long time to work up the courage to be himself and follow a dream. Then he put on a dress and a wig, became foul-mouthed matriarch Agnes Brown and went on to star in one of the most popular comedy series in the world, Mrs Brown’s Boys.
Don’t be fooled by the make-up, though. Mrs Brown is O’Carroll. And he is in great spirits when Weekender calls.
“If I was any better I’d be embarrassed,” he says with a laugh.
“God bless this widow, she’s been good to me.”
O’Carroll’s husky laugh is infectious and genuine. He speaks quickly and thinks on his feet. The man is a mile a minute.
An example. When asked if he shaves his legs for the role of Mrs Brown he replies in a heartbeat: “My answer to that would be no, never have, never will and the reason is that I’m following in the footsteps of my Mother.”
O’Carroll was born in Finglas, Dublin. His father Gerard was a carpenter who died when O’Carroll was seven. His mother Maureen was a school teacher and Labour Party politician who raised 11 children by herself.
Known for his generosity, O’Carroll isn’t paying lip service when he says he is grateful for his lot in life. He’s experienced life’s ups and downs – he has lost a child, had a failed marriage and been declared bankrupt – but unlike most “stars” has a genuine understanding and appreciation of people from all walks of life.
“Oh God no, it’s not lip service. Now listen. Unless you’re aware of your audience, I don’t think you can actually play properly to them,” he explains.
“I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve laid in bed hoping I’d be employed.”
“And I know who our audience is. Our audience are sometimes out of work and most times it’s not just their night out this week, it’s their night out this month, you know?
“He gets his shoes cleaned and she gets her hair done and they get a cab into the local restaurant before they go to the show. It’s a big night out for them and we need to make sure that we don’t let our end down. That we make sure we fulfill our promise to them.
“And our promise to them is really simple – if you come in and sit in the dark with us for two hours we’ll make you laugh.”
O’Carroll is well and truly grounded. There are no airs and graces here.
“The show has never been a chore to me, honest to good God,” he says.
“There’s two things I remember. First of all, I remember when I was performing and there was nobody there watching. I don’t forget those days.
“I also never forget about a friend of mine who delivered coal. He’d be there on a wet week, in the rain, delivering 50 bags of coal a day on his back and when he finished nobody would clap.
“So, no, I never get bored and my work is never a chore. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve laid in bed hoping I’d be employed.”
O’Carroll has worked many a job in his 62 years (he muses that it could be as many as 57). He left school at the age of 12 and it took him a long time to work up the courage to pursue his comedy dream.
“Let me explain it like this,” he says.
“I was 13 when I started working in the hotel business as a trainee waiter. There were about 30 of us waiters and porters and we were all about the same age.
“One of the kids would say ‘Did you see that big chunk of cheese that’s the moon last night?’ And I’d go ‘No, that’s just a myth, the moon is actually made of porous rock and space dust’.
“And I’d look around and I’d be f – – – ing sitting on my own. The next time I’d go along with the hunk of cheese theory. Believe it or not, you can get into a habit of dumbing yourself down. Of keeping your head down. You get by.”
These days, though, O’Carroll is not ashamed of his intelligence and it has earned him an exclusive Mensa membership (a high IQ society catering for the top two per cent of minds worldwide).
“So I was 13 and suddenly I was 35 years of age and I found myself with nothing to lose so I walked onto the stage and I was me, I was just me, and I broke free,” he continues.
“It had obviously been bursting to come out because I was 35 years of age when I did my first gig and by the time I was 40 I’d written three novels, two plays and done maybe 1000 stand-up gigs.
“I always tell my kids and my grandkids don’t be afraid to be yourself. I was really afraid to be myself. I was terrified. I thought if I was myself that no one would like me.
“But it’s OK to be yourself because the people that like you will find you.”
And found him they have. Mrs Brown’s Boys was voted the Best British Sitcom of the 21st century by the Radio Times in the UK. The show has won four National Television Awards, two TV Choice Awards, three Scottish BAFTAs, three IFTA Awards, three TV Times awards, a Royal Television Society award and a TV BAFTA for Best Situation Comedy.
Television chat show All Round to Mrs. Brown’s aired to a staggering 5 million viewers each Saturday night in the UK and Ireland.
The Agnes Brown character was inspired by a movie series O’Carroll enjoyed as a child, Old Mother Riley. Edgar Lucan played Mother Riley and his wife Kitty McShane, coincidentally, played Mother Riley’s daughter.
“It was real B-movie stuff but I thought it was fabulous,” O’Carroll says.
For O’Carroll, living, working and travelling with cast members who are also family (including his wife, daughter, sister and son) is not as awkward as it may sound.
“Believe it or not, Lisa, it works out remarkably well. Now don’t get me wrong, we’re not the Waltons, OK, and we do have our moments,” he says.
“But the fact is that when you come off stage after doing the show, and you’ve had words with somebody during the day, you look at each other and you go ‘What are we doing, this is stupid’. And you give each other a hug.
“I was brought up in a close-knit family of 11 and we hugged and I’ve passed that on to my kids. It works but remember this, we only work 26 weeks of the year and we take 26 weeks off. So for 26 weeks, if we can avoid it, we don’t see each other [laughs].”
They not only hug, they also laugh at themselves on stage. A lot of improvisation goes on and O’Carroll loves it.
“The thing is, I feel sorry for the cast. At least I know what I’m going to say. When I see them struggling to hold in their laughter, that’s what make me go, when I see their shoulders shaking but they’ve got a serious face on and you know they’re going to hold in a laugh or piss in their trousers, one or the other.
“I’ll be like Donald Trump, ‘I think we have a leak’. Actually no, I won’t do Donald Trump. I’m a comedian not a clown.”
In For The Love of Mrs Brown Agnes is looking for love on “D’Internet”. O’Carroll says it’s his favourite Mrs Brown show to date: “I can’t wait to bring it to Newcastle. People have always supported us there and you’ve got the most beautiful town and the most magnificent beach. It’s absolutely gorgeous.”