One of the biggest jaw-dropping reactions I ever get is when I tell people this dark secret about myself. For years I tried to hide it, but now I’m fully prepared to stand up proudly and say, ‘My name is Nathan Higham-Grady and I’m a fan of Mrs Brown’s Boys’.
I know what you’re thinking: ‘It’s just not funny’, ‘It’s for racists, old people and Brexiteers’, ‘It’s so basic and crass’. I’ve heard it all before. But I’m not going to lie; I find it bloody hilarious. Every joke you see coming, every fall and ‘feck’ and side-eye to the camera, I can’t get enough.
So much so, in fact, that I’ve even been to see Mrs Brown’s Boys Live on stage. Admittedly, I was the youngest by some 30 years (and this probably has something to do with why it’s so popular at the NTAs – how many millennials do you think are taking the time to fill out the voting form?) but I didn’t stop laughing the whole evening.
Sure, it’s not ground-breaking or cutting edge, but sometimes you don’t want social commentary or comedy dealing with death. Sometimes you just want a gag in its most basic form.
It does – as social media has memed over and over again – feel like Brexit again, half of us in disbelief (mostly in London, I’d venture) and half of us in disbelief about the other half’s disbelief. How have we got to a point where the fun-loving, mild-mannered National Television Awards has become a fighting ground of divisiveness?
What I think people are overlooking is that for three series now – and the specials – Mrs Brown’s Boys has made millions of people laugh. Let’s face it, we’re in a harsh, market-driven economy these days when it comes to the competitiveness of the TV world. While your favourite expensive US thoughtful drama might’ve just got axed by Netflix, the BBC keeps commissioning the show (to huge ratings), there are live shows, films – and all backed by millions of fans.
It’s also had international success and has toured as far as Australia and New Zealand. Yes, Fleabag is the darling of the US award season, but did you know that the creator of Mrs Brown's Boys, comedian Brendan O’Carroll, turned down a deal with US TV giants, HBO? ‘I've already been approached by HBO, initially a special with a commitment that if it pulls the numbers that we'll go ahead with a series,’ he said in 2012. Adding he turned it down because, ‘In the United States they're offering ridiculous money but they're looking for two years' work… I don't want to do that. I'm in a very privileged position. Those 26 weeks off [I currently have] I spend with the people I want to spend time with. There's no money you could pay me to give those up.’
What are you all missing then? Well I fully believe there’s a real talent in being able to do punchline comedy that aims for a ‘Whoop’ and a cheer every couple of minutes. And when it comes to that, the show definitely isn’t being given the critical plaudits that it deserves. Well, apart from at the National Television Awards - where before this year's win they had already bagged Best Comedy for three consecutive years in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
I also love that, as with all the best comedies throughout history, the show is about family. It has a good heart, and – if you’re all for The Office-style bitter-sweet comedy – it actually often has sad moments alongside the slapstick laughs. It tackles things we can all relate to, sensitively, such as accepting the gay son in the family. That’s often overlooked.
As a comedy fan in general, I’ve loved all types of sitcom since I was a kid: 2.4 Children, Ab Fab, Keeping Up Appearances – in the past, these by-numbers, family-friendly comedies were seen as classics, but in this Phoebe Waller-Bridge era, people are really sniffy about shows that don’t have a political message or smart subtext. Remember all the abuse Miranda got, yet 10 million loved seeing her mess up her complicated love life, far more than tune in to watch Fleabag do the same.
That’s not to say I don’t love Fleabag or Derry Girls – I do. And for what it’s worth, I think the brilliant and moving After Life should have won last night’s NTA. But this narrative that Mrs Brown is for the lowest common denominator is hugely snobby and offensive to all the people who find joy in it.
Time and time again, the people who I try and debate with say little more than, ‘Oh no, I just cannot watch that!’ Often, they’ve not even tried. I’ll never understand people who think it’s ok to cast opinions and aspersions when they’ve not even given it a chance. I think they’re missing out – so really, the joke is on them...