Thomas Hartigan, 24, is from Lucan in Dublin and he previously got his thesis signed by Brendan O’Carroll
Thomas Hartigan’s new documentary is called Agnes, Barney and Me and explores how those with autism look relate to comedy shows (Image: Thomas Hartigan)
A Dublin man has created a brilliant new short documentary examining how autistic people are affected by Mrs Brown’s Boys and Barney and Friends.
Thomas Hartigan, 24, is from Lucan in Dublin, and he recently completed a degree in media production management at Ballyfermot College of Further Education (BCFE.) As part of his degree Thomas decided to do his thesis and a short documentary on how autistic people are affected by the show as well as children’s show Barney and Friends.
Thomas has autism himself, and he was very interested in raising awareness about autism and studying how certain shows like Mrs Brown’s Boys and Barney and Friends helps people with autism understand the world. In October, Thomas was also delighted to meet his hero Brendan O’Carroll in Easons who signed his thesis.
peaking to Dublin Live this week about his latest work, Thomas explained that for his short 20 minute long documentary he spoke to founder of As I Am, Adam Harris, Eilish O’Carroll from Mrs Brown’s Boys and actor Bob West the voice of Barney the dinosaur.
Thomas said that he tried to get an interview with Brendan O’Carroll, but it didn’t work out unfortunately as he was busy promoting A Madea Homecoming with Tyler Perry for Netflix at the time. He said: “Obviously having Brendan would have been a great addition, but in the end I felt that I was happy enough with all of the interviews that I did. Brendan probably would have said pretty much the same thing as Eilish had told me.”
Thomas with his hero Brendan O’Carroll as he signed his thesis in Easons (Image: Thomas Hartigan)
Thomas said: “The people I talked to in the documentary are Adam Harris who is the founder of Ireland’s main autism charity, As I Am; Eilish O’Carroll, who plays Winnie McGoogan from Mrs Brown’s Boys and she’s Brendan O’Carroll’s sister; and I also interviewed Bob West who was the voice of Barney the dinosaur from 1988 to 2000/2001.”
Thomas described talking to his three interviewees as a “fantastic experience” and that he learned a lot during the documentary. He said: “Talking to Adam Harris was really great, he gave me a good insight into his childhood and background.
“Basically what he was talking about is Mrs Brown’s Boys is mainly focused on slapstick humour or physical comedy, which he thinks helps a lot of people understand humour and maybe want to enter the world of comedy. Adam also said in the documentary the show can also align with a person’s interest and a lot of autistic people love dinosaurs, Barney is a dinosaur so that is going to be a natural affinity.
“Sometimes certain TV shows might follow a particular format and the predictability of that format might be reassuring for some autistic people. Some of the signs and sensory elements might also appeal’, Adam said in the documentary. Adam also discussed his own enjoyment of Father Ted growing up.
Meanwhile, Eilish O’Carroll noted: “For an autistic person the attraction of Mrs Brown’s Boys might be that Agnes often goes outside the norm of what you would expect for an elderly person to behave, she enters their world and brings them on a journey which they find exceptionally funny.
Eilish O’Carroll from Mrs Brown’s Boys (Image: Thomas Hartigan)
“And it’s physical comedy as well, which I think appeals to people on the autism spectrum, not just people with autism we also have a lot of people with Down Syndrome and mentally different abled people who seem to really relate to Agnes.”
Thomas also spoke to Bob West who voiced Barney. He said: ‘”I think that for lot of people Barney and Friends had to do with the warmth and acceptance from Barney himself, as we went along making the show we realised that Barney never said no, never reprimanded anybody, never scolding. A lot of people who have autism and are adults now still might like Barney because it comes from a need an anchor, something that is familiar, something that is comforting and stays with them and is always there.”
Thomas explained that although not in the documentary, he also talked to the actor who was inside the Barney suit, David Joyner, who worked alongside Bob West for 10 years. He said: “David is also very passionate about his time on Barney and Friends.”
Thomas added: “I was really impressed about how they felt about the topic, especially Bob West who voiced Barney who was really passionate on playing the character and still is 23 years later.”
Thomas sent his documentary in for the annual SMEDIA Awards, but unfortunately it wasn’t shortlisted. Since his graduation from college, Thomas has been kept bust working as an extra and actor, and within the next year or so he is planning doing a course with Screen Ireland.
He said: “I’ve been working as an extra/actor with Movie Extras and Celtic Casting over the last six years and am still doing a lot of that at the moment. I’ve been involved with tons of productions such as Normal People, Fair City, Disenchanted to name just a few.
“Within the next year or so I’m hoping to do a course with Screen Ireland called passport to production which trains new crew members and from it you get a paid work placement on a production, and still do some acting on the side. I also hope to do a lot of travelling over the next year or so.”
He is hoping to publicly release his documentary Agnes, Barney and Me soon.