It seemed an easy question for the BBC‘s director of comedy: Does he find one of the sitcoms he oversees funny?

But Jon Petrie’s silence when quizzed about BBC staple Mrs Brown’s Boys at a Q&A session earlier this week throws light on a bigger question: Who does actually like the show, and why does it divide TV audiences like nothing else? 

The slapstick comedy, which has been on air since 2011, is regularly panned as ‘unfunny’, ‘predictable’ and ‘vulgar’, yet it still pulls in millions of viewers and has been a BBC mainstay for more than a decade, with two festive specials coming up this year. 

A cheeky audience member prodded at the controversy at a Q&A for the BBC Comedy Showcase at Soho House on Tuesday, telling Petrie: ‘Can I ask as comedy chief, do you actually find Mrs Brown’s Boys funny? And would you watch it if you didn’t have to?’

Mrs Brown's Boys is regularly panned as 'unfunny', 'predictable' and 'vulgar' - yet it remains a long-running hit

Mrs Brown's Boys is regularly panned as 'unfunny', 'predictable' and 'vulgar' - yet it remains a long-running hit

Mrs Brown’s Boys is regularly panned as ‘unfunny’, ‘predictable’ and ‘vulgar’ – yet it remains a long-running hit 

Characters Cathy Brown (Jennifer Gibney), Mrs Brown (Brendan O'Carroll) and Father Damien (Conor Moloney) in the 2020 Christmas Special

Characters Cathy Brown (Jennifer Gibney), Mrs Brown (Brendan O'Carroll) and Father Damien (Conor Moloney) in the 2020 Christmas Special

Characters Cathy Brown (Jennifer Gibney), Mrs Brown (Brendan O’Carroll) and Father Damien (Conor Moloney) in the 2020 Christmas Special 

The TV executive awkwardly giggled before the host, comedy writer Michelle de Swarte, waded in to rescue him by saying: ‘It’s a trap. It’s a trap. Look at me. That’s a trap. Next question.’

It certainly isn’t hard to find people who loathe Mrs Brown’s Boys, with its return to our screens last year met by scathing comments on X.

‘It’s a sad day for the human race today, a new season of Mrs Brown’s Boys starts tonight,’ one user wrote. 

A second added: ‘The whole nation absolutely does NOT adore Mrs Brown’s Boys. I consider it drivel and totally unfunny.’

Professional critics have been even more scathing, lambasting the show for its ‘hackneyed sitcom tropes’ and ‘weak jokes’. 

Following his awkward Q&A appearance on Tuesday, Petrie released a statement the next day praising Brendan O’Carroll, the show’s writer and star, for ‘creating the iconic comedy character’ that had ‘made me laugh many times’. 

He added: ‘Seeing Mrs Brown’s Boys live is an unforgettable experience. I feel very lucky that I’ve had the chance to witness it and I’m proud to have it in the BBC Comedy stable.’ 

He also said earlier at the Q&A: “People want jokes, they want shows that make them laugh and the ones that they are re-watching again and again are Ghosts, Motherland, Not Going Out and Mrs Brown’s Boys. They still get huge numbers for us.” 

But the damage was done, prompting suspicions that even the man in charge of the BBC’s comedy output doesn’t like the show – although an onlooker claimed he simply hadn’t had enough time to answer. 

Jon Petrie, the BBC's director of comedy

Jon Petrie, the BBC's director of comedy

O'Carroll

O'Carroll

Jon Petrie, the BBC’s director of comedy, was unable to reply when asked whether he thought the show was funny. Pictured right is O’Carroll on a chat show 

This wouldn’t be any surprise to its many critics, one of whom once took to social media to declare: ‘I have not come across a single person who does not think Mrs Brown’s Boys is the biggest load of rubbish ever.’ 

Yet, in truth, many do. 

Mrs Brown’s Boys: The ingredients of an unlikely comedy hit 

Mrs Brown’s Boys tells the story of loud-mouthed, bawdy Irish matriarch Agnes Brown – played by Brendan O’Carroll – who is seen meddling in the lives of her six children. 

Described by the BBC as featuring ‘sauciness and slapstick’, the show has an informal production style, with characters regularly breaking the fourth wall. 

O’Carroll’s unlikely inspiration for the character of Mrs Brown was his mother, Maureen, who raised 11 children and embarked on a trailblazing political career that saw her rise to become the Chief Whip of the Irish Labour Party. 

Other characters include Harold Brown, better known as Grandad, who has a deep rivalry with Agnes, long-suffering eldest child Mark Brown, and Rory Brown, the third son and the only homosexual in the family – a fact unacknowledged by everyone except Agnes. 

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The show reached its peak audience of 11million in 2012 and 2013, then in 2017 was the most-watched show on TV on Christmas Day with 6.8m viewers.

It may have slumped to 4million viewers last Christmas, but it remains unquestionably one of the BBC’s biggest comedy hits that has now graced (or haunted) or screens for well over a decade. 

O’Carroll has vowed to keep on making more Christmas Specials, telling the Daily Star: ‘As long as the BBC keep asking, we’ll keep making episodes.’ 

And he hit back at his critics of the last festive offering by pointing out that the show still has millions of loyal fans – and has been praised by the parents of children with autism. 

He told BBC Sounds: ‘First of all, I’m well aware that comedy is very subjective. What some people like, other people just detest. So I don’t take it too serious.

‘When we started… by about the fourth or fifth episode, we got a couple of letters from people who had autistic children.

‘It started as a couple of letters and it’s now been over 3,000. And they said that their kids watched Mrs Brown and they heard them laugh in context for the very first time.

‘One woman said she was in the ­kitchen and heard her son laughing for the very first time. So when you get a ­letter like that I don’t care what the critics say. That’ll do me.’

Fans of Mrs Brown and her chaotic household would agree, with comments online suggesting it is seen as a bit of lighthearted fun in serious times. 

‘Say what you like about Mrs Brown’s Boys but we all need a bit of light hearted, sometimes silly, comedy. It brought a smile to our faces tonight!’ one X user wrote. 

Others called it ‘hysterical’ and accused critics of being ‘snobs’.

So it’s clear that despite its growing legions of haters, Mrs Brown’s Boys seems set to soldier on for a little while yet. 

But what do YOU think of the show? Share your thoughts in the comments below…   

A controversial moment in the 2023 Christmas Special which saw actor Danny O'Carroll (playing Buster Brady) kissing O'Carroll - his real life father

A controversial moment in the 2023 Christmas Special which saw actor Danny O'Carroll (playing Buster Brady) kissing O'Carroll - his real life father

A controversial moment in the 2023 Christmas Special which saw actor Danny O’Carroll (playing Buster Brady) kissing O’Carroll – his real life father

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