This is the first part of the write up of the podcast episode I did about Mrs Browns Boys and class. Listen to it here. I’ll be releasing each section as more easily digestible written breakdowns so its not just nearly an hour of listening.
So what is Mrs Browns Boys? - Mrs Browns Boys is a sitcom starring Brendan O’Carroll as an Irish matriarch with 6 kids. Words commonly used to describe it are: rude, crass distasteful
Taste and all of this is dictated by class and what class is dominant. like why are knob jokes funny in Miranda but not in Mrs Browns Boys? i come from the kind of working class background where Mrs Browns Boys was the funniest thing. when it came out i loved it (Mrs Brown looked exactly like my nan and that only made it funnier for me)
The reason its considered Good Funny in Miranda is cuz of codified ways of communicating. The Art Of Innuendo is a very middle class way of making a joke about the penis cuz its unbecoming of a lady to talk of such things in such a way one must be creative with language cuz everyone wants to be posh basically. Whereas just saying things directly is seen as rude and aggressive and crass. communicating in a working class way (as i learned to do growing up working class) is seen as undesirable and gross cuz it doesn't signal virtue and desire for upward mobility
so the way we tell dick jokes is overall codified and influenced by class politics!
Its also worth throwing in there that cuz The Art Of Innuendo is designed around what ur not saying then it can avoid ~offending~ anyone with pesky cumbersome things like thoughts and opinions and ideas of ur own. It can then position itself not as Good Comedy but as Neutral Comedy its the neutral middle ground that we should all be aiming for in a sense of humour by not basing itself in an experience or an opinion, but often an Observation
in sitcoms about being working class often the writers themselves come from working class backgrounds and are writing from their own life and experiences - Shameless for example - whereas something like My Family which fits in the same pigeonhole as Mrs Browns Boys - a sitcom based around a family unit - was based much more off just whatever the writers room cobbled together and showed a generic middle class family and house and experience
Both of those sitcoms mentioned were wildly popular but for different reasons:
My Family was popular cuz it was so generic and could be read onto especially having a specific middle class positioning it didn’t have to really deal with struggle as part of it and it also did largely avoid pesky things like opinions or having a moral of the story type thing. also it appealed to a very BBC audience of that time, which lets face it is a very middle class leaning kinda programming they go for
Shameless was so popular cuz it meant working class ppl could see ourselves and our experiences on tv, hell we got to see characters on tv that we could point to in our own communities. episodes dealt with opinions, right or wrong, and morals and dealt with a lot of class politics and mental health issues, which to this day is still a better class dissection than most leftist meetings i’ve been to. also channel 4 loves a good poverty porn story but thats a whole other discussion right there
In 2003/2004 BBC did a poll and tv series to find out what Britain's best sitcom was and nothing from ITV or Channel 4 got into that with the nearest thing to a non-BBC sitcom was Father Ted
The top sitcom was Only Fools And Horses, which feels like i should mention it here if we’re talking about class, with Blackadder and The Vicar of Dibley coming in 2nd and 3rd respectively which i feel is also interesting to note
Only Fools is an 80s sitcom that focuses on a working class family living in Peckham in London with plenty of get rich quick schemes and a rags to riches and back again story, which for this analysis is the main thing. It appeals to that sense of aspiration and to the potential of social mobility. I feel like this is one of the big reasons its so universally loved. That and that scene of del boy falling thru the bar is just funny physical situational comedy at its best.
The Vicar of Dibley we’ll come back to later, so hold on to that cuz i do wanna mention that a little more.
When it comes to awards Mrs browns boys won nothing at the British Comedy Awards when that was a thing altho i wonder is this cuz its Irish comedy not British tho? Miranda Hart won awards as herself and her show Miranda also won awards. Both nominated for BAFTAs but only Mrs Browns Boys has won
Now, Mrs Browns Boys hasn’t received anywhere near the reviews that Miranda received from critics. i bring Miranda up again cuz i feel like it is the perfect example here to show how class influences taste if we’re looking at sitcoms. both were around on the BBC at roughly the same time (both even started life earlier than their airings on BBC tv as radio comedy and other projects) and i think Miranda was shown on an evening just after Mrs Browns Boys or smth to that effect, my memory isn’t that great of the timings but i do remember watching them. Miranda is very much a middle class sitcom while Mrs Browns Boys very much speaks to a working class comedy
I also want to bring up the way media is viewed by critics as we can link this to Lindsey Ellis’ video on why Titanic is a good movie
she suggests that Titanic didn’t get the love it deserves cuz it was a popular movie and critics and awards hate whats popular (and they act like hating smth thats popular is a personality). it wasn’t artsy it was just seen as a chick flick romantic movie and that was it and i feel like that is kinda how Mrs Browns Boys is seen - Miranda makes an Artform out of a dick joke cuz of the ways in which its coded in class therefore it can be seen as artistic and worthy, whereas Mrs Browns Boys calls a spade a spade and calls a dick a dick and The Ppl like that and when The Ppl like smth the middle classes and the critics hate it.
At several points the show takes the piss out of these middle class ppl that would look down on it and at one point the character says smth to the effect of ‘well we have a series on the BBC what does she have’ when Mrs Brown is told that Maria’s mother is posh
Mrs Browns Boys doesn’t aspire to middle class comedy or any sort of social mobility like we’re constantly told we should and i think this is smth that scares ppl especially middle class ppl
like when i was younger we liked shit like Shameless and working class programmes but we had to show to other ppl - unless they were in the know - that we liked shit like My Family more cuz then ppl wouldn’t think we were working class. after a while that along with all the other crap gets internalised and it all defines what u should and shouldn’t find tasteful. We shouldn’t find Shameless tasteful we should find My Family tasteful, which leads to that we shouldn’t find Mrs Browns Boys tasteful but we should find smth like Miranda tasteful
So lets face it Taste isn't as subjective as we’re lead to believe and we're told what we should find tasteful and what we should like by an overarching class politic
I know everyone hates her but Contrapoints video on Opulence is still the best breakdown of class & taste i've seen so if u really want to get into it i’d suggest u go watch that below
its cuz class ultimately defines and influences taste. ofc #NotAllWorkingClassPeople or underclass ppl love Mrs Browns Boys like yes ppl can not find it funny and thats ok and i’m not going to judge other working class ppl if its not for them, there are other factors there than just class that can help dictate taste - my taste has definitely changed since coming out as trans and thats a thing i’ve been re-assessing - but i’ve also been assessing how that has impacted my taste based on class as well cuz the queer and trans communities especially in UK have a lot of classism.
So join me on the next instalment where we’ll begin to re-assess...