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Snap decision was Brendan’s big break

HIS story is one of rags to riches (and has more ups and downs than most Hollywood movies).

HIS story is one of rags to riches (and has more ups and downs than most Hollywood movies).

The youngest of 11 children, Brendan O’Carroll [correct] left school at the age of 12 and worked as a waiter, milkman, disco manager, and painter and decorator, before he finally got his big break.

Today, he is one of Ireland’s most successful stand-up comedians and playwrights, and is bringing his greatest creation, dysfunctional Dublin “mammy”, Mrs Brown, to the Sunderland Empire, for the first time.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Brendan says. “Sunderland is a place we’ve wanted to break into for a very long time, so I’m very excited and I might even get a chance to catch up with my good friend Niall Quinn.

“When Niall took over the football club I thought it might be time to bring the show to Sunderland and I’m glad it’s finally happening. The Sunderland Empire is, without doubt, one of the best theatres in Britain.

“I think the humour in the North-East and the Dublin wit are very similar, so I hope the audience will like Mrs Brown and her family.”

Brendan met Sunderland AFC chairman Niall Quinn when they were paired up in front of the cameras during World Cup 1994 and they have been friends ever since.

The comedian became a household name in Ireland after his appearance on The Late Late Show with Gay Byrne in 1993, but his greatest success came when he created the character of Agnes Brown.

“The character of Mrs Brown actually came about after radio interview I did with a DJ who is basically the Irish version of Steve Wright. He was crying with laughter by the end of the show and he told me he was looking for something quirky for the afternoon slot and – completely off the top of my head – I said I was writing a five minute comedy soap opera.

“When he asked what it was about, my agent, who knew I hadn’t written anything, got a very worried look on his face.

“But I just started making it up as I went along and said it was about a Dublin housewife with six grown-up children that she still treats like young kids. He looked and me and said ‘I’d love to see the first three episodes’ and my agent said ‘so would I’.

“It was completely made up on the spot. I wrote the shows and a few weeks later they used them. I’d actually hired an actress for the voice of Mrs Brown, but she dropped out the day we were due to record, so I had to step in myself. We started with three episodes and it ended up running for two and a half years.

“That was 16 years ago. Since then I’ve written four novels about Mrs Brown, that have been translated into 17 different languages, we’ve done four stage plays, a Hollywood movie with Angelica Huston, and even had a hit record.

“I’d love to say I knew it was going to be massive, but I hadn’t a clue. No-one was more surprised by the success than me.”

When the time came to take Mrs Brown from being a radio play to the stage there was only one choice to play the woman herself – Brendan.

“It was a big leap. I knew I could get away with the voice, but I thought it might ruin it if people saw it was me.

“I decided to give it a go and got the make-up guy to make me look like Mrs Brown, but I didn’t want any mirrors while he was working. I just wanted to see it when it was finished and when I did I thought I was looking at my mother. It took a bit of getting used to, but the audiences seemed to love it and I’ve been playing her ever since.

“Most of my family actually star in the stage show in one way or another including my wife, son and daughter. We’re like a travelling family. It’s absolutely brilliant. I’ve got the life I would have loved, but never dreamed I’d have.”

Brendan will also be bringing his play The Course to The Journal Tyne Theatre on November 5 and says he loves playing in the North-East.

“It’s very much like Dublin in terms of the humour,” he says. “And the audiences are always great.”

Mrs Brown’s Last Wedding opens at the Sunderland Empire tonight at 7.30pm. Tel: 0870 602-1130.

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