HIS path to the top was no laughing matter – beset by financial ruin, depression, divorce and family fall-outs.
And the 67-year-old comedian says it’s been a “helter skelter journey” where at his worst he was deep in debt and did not eat, sleep or switch on his lights for days.
He was saved from his breakdown by a dream of his late mother, who inspired the indomitable character Agnes Brown, telling him to get back to work.
Speaking exclusively to The Sun ahead of the release of his autobiography Call Me Mrs Brown, he says: “My mother said to me in a dream, ‘Get up off your knees and do something’.
“I cannot explain why but I awoke after 12 hours of sleep and I felt great.”
READ MORE ON BRENDAN O’CARROLL
The meddling Irish matriarch Mrs Brown — who started life in a comedy Brendan wrote for Irish radio, before graduating to a theatre play then the hit BBC One show — has been making audiences howl with laughter for three decades.
But more recently, critics have accused the comedy of being “transphobic” or “cultural appropriation.”
Brendan has no time for such woke opinions and isn’t about to hang up his padded bra to appease them.
Hitting back at politically correct keyboard warriors, he says: “I don’t think about them, I write the show I write. I don’t ever think of myself as being a man playing a woman, when Mrs Brown goes out on that stage she is a woman.”
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Draw the line
As for cultural appropriation — the notion that people shouldn’t wear clothes associated with another culture, sex or background — the straight-talking actor blasts: “Where do you draw the line? Is it okay for Leonardo DiCaprio to play a carpenter or do we get a carpenter?
“Shouldn’t we get the best person for the job?”
In his memoirs, which are published next week, Brendan looks back at how he became the loud-mouthed mother Agnes Brown in the sitcom.
No one could accuse him of being an overnight success because his many jobs included waiter, window cleaner, decorator and chef before he found fame.
Born the youngest of eleven children in Dublin his mum Maureen had to bring up the huge brood alone after Brendan’s dad Gerard died when the future star was just nine.
Maureen, who was a member of Ireland’s parliament, was so busy working that when Brendan was caught shoplifting a court ordered him to spend three weeks in a boys detention centre because there was no one to look after him during the summer school break.
Brendan’s first shot at success — his decision to buy a pub — went belly-up to the tune of £95,000 when his co-owner ran off with all their funds.
In order to pay off the debts he tried his hand at stand-up comedy. But, speaking from his Florida home which lost power for 24 hours during deadly Hurricane Ian last week, he admits: “I wonder how I ever kept going, playing to just 20 people there, dying on stage and then being asked to go back. I had no other option.”
Writing Mrs Brown’s Boys for radio in 1992 and a sell-out theatre play called The Course transformed him into a celebrity in Ireland.
That put a strain on his marriage to his first wife and mother of his three children Doreen, who didn’t enjoy the limelight.
When they divorced in 1999 his daughter Fiona refused to speak to her dad, thinking that Brendan’s relationship with his co-star from The Course, Jenny Gibney, was behind the split. He insists he only became romantically involved with Jenny, 58, who he married in 2005 and plays Agnes’ daughter Cathy in Mrs Brown’s Boys, after the divorce.
Brendan reveals: “I think Fiona was hurt not because she thought I loved Jenny more than I loved her mother, but that I might love Jenny more than I loved her.”
He has since reconciled with Fiona, 42, who has plays Agnes’s daughter-in-law Maria in the sitcom.
Mrs Brown’s Boys took the step up from radio to the stage thanks to a hugely expensive showbusiness flop and near breakdown.
Brendan thought he had financial backing for a film he wrote and directed called Sparrows Trap, but when the money didn’t come through he found himself almost a million pounds in debt in the same year as the end of his marriage.
Weighed down by these devastating losses he says: “I was on the edge of a breakdown, a clinician would have said I was depressed, definitely.
“I have never been as low before or since. I was numb, it was like I walked down a dark alley and I couldn’t remember the way out.
“I didn’t turn on the lights, I didn’t open the curtains for three days, just picked at food, didn’t eat.”
After that dream of his mum, Brendan got a surprise suggestion from Irish business man and billionaire Dermot Desmond — who offered Brendan a three week slot at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre, despite his friend insisting he had no script ideas.
Dermot said, “Why don’t you write a stage play based on that radio thing you used to do?” and Mrs Brown’s Boys was reborn.
As the stage show went from strength to strength various production companies offered to put it on the telly.
He turned them down because they always wanted to ditch the f-word or change the cast.
Brendan explains: “I would suggest using feck instead of f***. They’d say ‘No, no, no’.”
The BBC, though, accepted both the grown-up language and the cast when they started broadcasting the show in 2011.
Mrs Brown’s Boys has won the comedy award at the National Television Awards five times, was voted the Best British Sitcom of the 21st century by the Radio Times and was turned into a movie in 2014.
Having also written several best-selling books, Brendan is now a multi-millionaire.
For the past 22 years his main home has been in Florida but in 2017 the BBC’s Panorama programme accused some of the O’Carroll family of using “off-shore” schemes to avoid paying tax.
It’s a claim that has not been forgotten by the public.
Brendan reveals: “We still get ‘pay your taxes’ shouted at us.”
As the son of a former Irish Labour Party politician he is clearly riled by the perception that his daughter Fiona and her ex-husband Martin Delany were tax dodgers.
He says: “The Panorama thing really bugged me because we always paid our taxes on time because we didn’t want to look over our shoulder, God knows we make enough.”
The other main line of attack against Mrs Brown’s Boys, which seems to have as many detractors as devoted fans, is that Brendan hires too many of his relatives.
As well as his wife Jenny and daughter Fiona, Mrs Brown’s Boys cast includes his sister Eilish O’Carroll, son Danny O’Carroll, daughter-in-law Amanda Woods, grandson Jamie O’Carroll, his former son–in-law Martin and Jenny’s sister Fiona Gibney.
This bewildering family set up operates well, Brendan says, “because we’re so close even when there’s fights we resolve it quickly because we have to get on and work.”
Those fights include Martin and Fiona, who have four children together, splitting up last December after 15 years of marriage.
Brendan claims this rift “didn’t cause any problems” and that the divorcees “probably get on better now than when they were married”.
There is no sign of Brendan slowing down, with a comic drama called The Lebanese Outpost and a Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas special on the way.
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Any woke warriors thinking he’s going to hang up those fake breasts any time soon will be disappointed.
Although, he concludes, joking: “I find as I get older the less padding I need.”
- Call Me Mrs Brown by Brendan O’Carroll, published by Michael Joseph, is out on October 13, £20.
THE BIRTH OF MRS BROWN
IN an exclusive extract from his book, Brendan reveals how he became Mrs Brown – completely by accident.
I never wanted to play Mrs Brown. When I first wrote Mrs Brown’s Boys as a radio play for RTÉ 2FM in 1990, I had an actress in mind to voice Mrs Brown. But on the day of the first recording, I got word that she had a kidney infection so I decided that, as the studio was booked, I would read her lines and when she was well I would dub her voice in.
To give it a bit of a lift I did a voice I often used in stand-up if I was imitating an older Dublin woman.
The next morning, I was back at the studio to meet Jonathan McEvoy, the edit engineer. He asked a question that made me smile.
“Who’s the actress playing Mrs. Brown?” I realised he was serious, and I laughed. “Jonathan, that’s me.”
He was aghast. “You are kidding me?”
I explained that I would be overdubbing the lines with an actress. “No way, Brendan, you have to keep that voice. It’s – it’s Mrs Brown. That’s the widow who I really believe is head of that family.”
So the voice stayed. But when we came to make Mrs Brown into a play ten years later, I was adamant that this time I would not play Mrs Brown. Everyone tried to convince me that I should. So here’s what I decided to do.
I arranged for a make-up artist, Tom McInerney, to meet me with all his kit. I asked him if he knew the radio version of Mrs Brown’s Boys. It turned out that he did and had been a fan.
“Great, then I want you to make me up to what you picture in your mind Mrs Brown looks like.”
I wanted no mirror. I did not want to see anything until the work was complete. I had told my wife Jenny that if, when I turned round to look in the mirror, I did not see Mrs Brown I would not play the part. Tom spent a good hour on the make-up, putting it on, then taking it off and starting again. Finally he said, “Done”.
I made to turn the chair to the mirror, but then he stopped me. “No, wait!” He looked me over again. “There’s just one more thing.” Tom reached into his bag and took out a tube, squeezing a small blob on to some card and as it was setting he painted it brown.
He then carefully lifted it and for the first time placed Mrs Brown’s mole on to my chin. “Now I’m done,” he announced. I turned the chair to the mirror. There I saw, looking right at me, exactly what I had pictured in my head. Mrs Agnes Brown had been born.