I love a good laugh. You know the kind; full belly laugh, tears rolling down your face. It does wonders for one’s soul. More than anything any doctor can offer you.
We all found funny what we recognize. Situations and characters we identify with on some level. Comical take on peculiarities of our own world.
This is why newcomers to any culture are mostly sombre characters. They keep to themselves; sharing jokes and stories they know. The same applies to all cultural identifiers; music, movies, literature, and of course humour.
Have you ever sit around a dinner table where everyone is laughing at jokes you do not understand, or talks about shows, events, or concerts you never heard of? It makes for uncomfortable sitting. Especially when some well-intended character looks directly at you with eyes full of laughing tears and asks you in all innocence; ‘Don’t you find it funny?’
Over the years I learned that laughing along is the best policy! I call it; ‘laughing clueless’ -:)! It works. I am yet to work out the situations where one has been invited along as a ‘curiosity object’ or ‘unsuspected entertainment provider.’ What shall we do for entertainment this time? Oh I know; invite that exotic looking foreigner with a peculiar accent and stories that give you goose bumps. I just thought of something; charging a small fee. Extra for war stories!
And yes it has taken me some years to become familiar enough with English language to laugh, (not cluelessly) at English humour. After all I started learning it from one of the oldest British sitcoms! And the real reason for that was not so much the language itself (did not have any in those days), but the scenes I recognized. Working-class poor and back streets. Local pubs with local wheelers and dealers. So I kept on watching and learned enough English to laugh. Still do sometimes, although the sitcom has changed much since those days and not for the better.
More recently, another one of British/Irish comedies caught my eye. Only this time I could laugh straight away! Mrs Brown’s Boys have all the raw honesty of working-class family. Loud, foul-mouthed, and golden-hearted Irish matriarch; Agnes Brown is looking after, and looking out for her family of; ‘five boys and a child’ after the death of her husband Redser.
Agnes is nosy, always interested in other people’s lives and always there for her kids, especially if they have any kind of marital or relationship problems. She works at a fruit and veg stall at Dublin market and takes great pleasure in teasing mercilessly her best friend and neighbour Winnie, and her father-in-law who she looks after.
Agnes’ catch phrase is; ‘That’s nice.’ It is explained that she was taught to say this in place of ‘Fuck Off’ while taking elocution lessons. She took great pleasure explaining this to the posh mother of her daughter-in-law.
Agnes understands facts about modern world; ‘Fact – more money is spent on boob jobs and viagra, then on alzheimer research. So by 2040 the elderly will have perky boobs and stiff willy’s and no fecking idea why!’
She is also familiar with God’s sense of humour: ‘God must fecking love idiots; he made so many of them!’
The best part is that Agnes Brown is played by Brendan O’Carroll, the writer and performer who created her! What’s more, the most characters on the show are played by Brendan’s real life family members. His real-life wife plays his TV daughter, his TV son’s wife is acted by his daughter, and his big sister is his neighbour and best friend in his sitcom. There are more family connections in Mrs Brown’s Boys but it all gets rather complicated.
I recently watched the interview with Brendan on NZ TV. He explained how it took him 20 years to create the ‘overnight success’ – Mrs. Brown Boys.
And while I laughed at his Mrs Brown before, watching the interview made me realize what really attracted me to it. The sheer human warmth and sincerity that underpins it all … the never-ending story of under-dog’s struggle to see another day; to keep loved ones safe and close. The crude humour deployed to distract and lighten the load. I recognized all of it.
Down to the home-knitted cardigans worn over the apron, and the next door neighbour coming through the back door at any time. Most certainly when there are troubles. You can take a girl out of working-class neighbourhood, but you can never take the working-class neighbourhood out of the girl. We laugh at what we recognize. It comforts us.
Brendan himself grew up dirt poor, the youngest of 11 siblings raised by a single mother after the death of his father. He was dyslexic and left school at the age of 12. When his business-partner took off with some serious money, Brendan was left with huge debt. He (in his own words) wanted to ‘look for the bastard to kill him’, but though better of it. Either that or he could not find the bastard!
In any case, he created the Dublin widow; Mrs Agnes Brown. The show appeared for the first time on Irish radio station in 1992. When the actress due to play Mrs Brown did not turn up, Brendan O’Carroll, who was only 35 at the time, took on the role himself.
It became a huge success and opened doors for O’Carroll, including writing a 1999 film starring Anjelica Houston.
But he overstretched himself financing another film project and went bust.
Mrs Brown was brought back to life for the stage in order to pay his debts.
It was a phenomenal success in Dublin and just over a decade ago made its way to Glasgow, where a series of five plays have annually drawn huge and loyal audiences to the city’s Pavilion Theatre.
In 2010, BBC producer Stephen McCrum offered to make it into TV sitcom.
The first series was slated by the critics but the viewing figures were massive for a new comedy show.
The second series has so far picked up five major awards, including a Bafta.
Eight million people watched the last episode of the second series.
O’Carroll says: ‘You don’t really get a sense of what eight million people watching feels like. It is twice the population of Ireland, so I can’t even get a concept of that.’
At the end of the interview when asked whether he likes Mrs Brown, O’Carrol answered that she fed his kids, brought them homes, and makes him laugh … yes he does like her very much indeed!
I like that.