Unusual fact: Brendan O’Carroll's mother used to call him 157. Although an odd nickname, it represented the string of jobs he held before his entertainment career took off: cleaner, milkman, disco manager, pirate radio disc-jockey, painter-decorator, waiter and pub owner — just to name a few.
As many of us will relate to, it’s not unusual to experience career setbacks before finally finding the right fit — even if that involves popping on a wig, a frock, and some female knickers for the role.
“I didn’t step on the stage for the first time until I was 35 years of age,” says O’Carroll. “I didn’t step inside the BBC until I was 55 years of age. It’s never, and I mean never, too late.”
Best known for playing the audacious, foul-mouthed Irish matriarch Agnes Brown on the comedy hit Mrs. Brown’s Boys, Brendan O’Carroll is humbled and still astonished by the success of his character.
Mrs Brown’s Boys' live shows broke box office records across the UK and Ireland
“There are some things that a 65-70-year-old woman [would say] that I would never, ever get away with,” O’Carroll says. “She does not give a shite! So I enjoy that, I enjoy the freedom.”
What initially started out as a radio program that would run for three weeks, progressed into a New York bestseller book series. By 1999, O’Carroll took Agnes Brown’s antics onto the stage, and not long after the comic was produced into an award-winning TV sitcom success.
“I went to do a bit of TV, then out of the TV came the movie and before you knew it, we’d covered literally [every medium]. She’s had a hit single — a Christmas song — here in Ireland… and so far, she’s been successful.”
“It’s been a peculiar evolution; I’d love to pretend I’m really clever, and say I had a plan and this is how I planned it,” he says. “I didn’t — a lot of it just fell into place.”
However, O’Carroll’s success is far from a fairytale. Growing up in an impoverished family in Dublin as the youngest of 11 children, his driving ambition was no easy feat.
He lost a fortune after being swindled by a business partner who later killed himself, he declared bankruptcy, and had a failed million-dollar movie that ceased production. He also lost his first son to spina bifida when the child was only days old, and had an unfortunate falling out with his first wife. At 35 years of age, he owed more money than he could afford to repay.
“Honestly, I look back at some of the times and I wonder to myself, ‘How the hell did I keep going? What was it that kept me going?’ Because there were times when we were just so close to the edge and I thought, ‘How did you live to the next day?’” O’Carroll reflects.
Nonetheless, O’Carroll persisted. He decided to give standup comedy a crack and he finally found his calling.
“Mrs. Brown has a saying and I definitely adhere to it: ‘When it works out, it always works out the way it was supposed to — it always does. So just have faith, keep your head down, keep going, it’ll work out,’ and it did.”
It wasn’t long before the boisterous character of Mrs. Brown became a household name — not just in Ireland and the UK but around the world, including Australia, Canada, and South Africa.
Mrs Brown's family shenanigans have been a whopping success
But, with many of the cast members related to O’Carroll in real-life, wouldn’t working together cause a bit of family tension?
“I suppose if you look at it on paper, it shouldn’t work because a daughter, son, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, sister, grandchildren, a wife, and husband are all working on the same stage. So I suppose on paper it should be war — and don’t get me wrong, we’re not the Waltons, and no, we’re not the Sullivans. But when you do work together, particularly with something like comedy, it’s amazing the peculiar effect comedy has.”
“It doesn't matter what happened during the day, when we go on stage at night with 7000 people — you make them laugh,” he says. “You come off stage at the end of the show, and you look at each other and go, ‘What the hell are we fighting about? Look at the life we have, we are so lucky.’ And we just hug it out. It’s been really helpful and that — for the grandchildren especially, it’s been very educational.”
The bawdy comedy has attracted a large following and has seen the cast take their live stage show to audiences worldwide — an act O’Carroll says he won’t be slowing down for anytime soon.
“I will just say it now: I will drop dead in the middle of a show — on the stage — and I will probably be 110.”
The Brown family will bring their fun family affairs centre stage with a 2018 arena tour across Australia, titled For the Love of Mrs Brown.
The sitcom will also return to our TV screens with its Christmas special, which O’Carroll promises will be a festive hoot. “Cathy is determined to get a date, but the weirdest of dates… And, of course, the hilarity of results when it comes to Agnes.”
“It’s going to be fun. You can expect exactly what we promise every Christmas, that you have a half an hour where you can sit and laugh.”
Mrs. Brown’s Boys Christmas Box Set, Mrs. Brown’s Boys Specials, and Mrs. Brown’s Really Big Box Set are available on DVD from November 17.
Do you watch Mrs. Brown’s Boys?