Residents of the quiet Derry street where Serena Terry lives have got used to some unusual sights over the past three years.
On any given day, a neighbour might look out the window and see the digital creator rolling around her back garden dressed as a six-year-old boy or perfecting her adolescent eye-roll in a crop top pilfered from her teenage daughter.
They may recently have spotted Terry, known as Mammy Banter to her legions of social media followers, rustling around in some shrubbery, phone in hand, recording a skit about catching a child skipping school.
“I messaged two of my neighbours before that one and said, ‘Don’t be alarmed; in about five minutes you may see me in the bushes covered in muck. It’s not muck, it’s not sh**e, it’s chocolate’,” Terry recalls.
“Both of them just wrote back, ‘No bother’. People are used to it. My husband will come home and find all these wigs and hats and I’ll be like, ‘I’m in the midst of being creative! Don’t move any of that’.”
Mammy Banter’s honest, funny depictions of the absurdity and chaos of 30-something life have resonated with more than 2 million followers on TikTok, 764,000 on Facebook and 240,000 on Instagram.
But it’s not just a social-media numbers game for Terry. Since she first started uploading comedy videos mid-lockdown, she has quit her corporate job, published two novels and will soon embark on a debut stand-up tour across Ireland and the UK.
Just three years ago, Terry was in a darker place. When the pandemic began, she was struggling with anxiety and grieving the loss of her twin brothers, Patrick and Daniel, who died within two months of each other in summer 2019.
She was also holding down a full-time job as chief operations officer for a tech company and doing her best to homeschool her daughter and son (now aged 14 and seven) while her husband Mark, a binman, continued his key-worker role.
I think Derry Girls gave people a universal understanding of our humour for one, but also our accent. I still make sure and put subtitles on my videos, but they all understand it
Terry’s life was far from the Insta-perfect lockdown content she saw on social media – of sunrise yoga on the beach, or cutesy baking sessions with angelic offspring. When her daughter introduced her to TikTok, Terry began creating comedy clips about the messier reality that she, and many others, faced: parenting fails, excess wine consumption and mental health struggles.
To Terry’s surprise, the likes came, and began to grow quickly. While her accent and no-holds-barred humour are firmly rooted in her hometown – she grew up in a working-class family of nine in the close-knit Rosemount area of Derry – her jokes land globally. About 40 per cent of her followers are in the US and Canada, and celebrities such as Rita Ora and the Californian band Haim have shared her content.
Terry credits this international success, in part, to another Maiden City export.
“I think Derry Girls gave people a universal understanding of our humour for one, but also our accent,” she says. “I still make sure and put subtitles on my videos, but they all understand it.”
In fact, Terry, who “would have dressed up as a phone box” to be part of Lisa McGee’s hit show, makes a cameo in the third and final series as an RUC officer who arrests the girls for breaking into their own school.
She was also meant to whisper a line into Liam Neeson’s ear in the subsequent police interview scene, but missed her moment with the Ballymena star.
“I got Covid,” Terry says with a mock wail. “But it will happen someday. Even if he doesn’t want it, and it’s in the street, and a security guard is pushing me away, I will whisper into Liam Neeson’s ear.”
These days, Terry is a celebrity in her own right. She gets recognised almost everywhere she goes locally, from the busy city centre cafe where we meet, to the beaches of Co Donegal where she takes cold water dips with Waves for Mental Health, a group she set up last year.
No one bothers grabbing a selfie on the school run, however; “It’s just normal, and lovely. Though maybe they don’t recognise me because I look like a crack addict in the mornings.”
Mindful of stress and her anxiety levels, Terry has been taking time off her social channels to prepare for her Socially Needier stand-up tour, which begins in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall this weekend and will take in Dublin, Galway, Derry and the Edinburgh Fringe, among other locations. She has also spread the tour dates out over several months to ensure she isn’t away from her family for more than three days at a time.
Terry admits to experiencing imposter syndrome – “I have no qualms in saying I am sh**eing my tights” – but the fact that many of the dates sold out within hours of release has helped boost her confidence.
It’s okay to say that you might not understand what your teen is going through, or what somebody else is going through
However, those expecting to see madcap Mammy Banter sketches might be surprised by some of the live show’s content and more stripped back approach. As well as discussing personal stories, nostalgia and mental health, Terry plans to touch on issues including gender identity and the darker side of social media.
“It’s okay to say that you might not understand what your teen is going through, or what somebody else is going through. We’re allowed to be insecure and say we’re scared and we don’t understand,” she says.
“Our children are open to so much more now. A lot more than we were, a hell of a lot more than our parents were, which is an amazing and beautiful thing, but I just feel that we are censored a lot more in what we’re allowed to talk about or have an opinion on.”
Terry says she’s nervous about how some of her material will be received, but has tried it out in work-in-progress shows, “and it’s helped me to know that I’m not pushing it too far ... I’m not that kind of comedian”.
Part of what persuaded Terry to do a comedy tour was the opportunity to honour her brother, Daniel. A stand-up comic, he died aged 38 in August 2019, just eight weeks after his twin Patrick.
“He was one of those guys that was going around doing the clubs, he was writing his own sitcom, he was trying so much. I know how hard he worked and how hungry he was for it,” Terry says.
“It really breaks my heart that this was his dream. It was another one of the reasons for me going, ‘F*** it, just do it’.”
Entry into the stand-up market has changed, just like everything else has changed, because we live in a digital world
She is well aware that comedians who’ve served their time at open mic nights and half-empty clubs could feel frustrated at social media stars and podcasters swooping in and selling out large venues.
“It would kick you in the teeth if you’re grafting and working for years and years and this doll comes up during the pandemic and sells out,” she says.
“Entry into the stand-up market has changed, just like everything else has changed, because we live in a digital world. Social media is the easiest and cheapest PR tool that we have today.
“I don’t feel any shame about that ... But I cannot wait to prove that I DO belong in this circuit.”
From stage to (phone)screen: Irish women comics on social media
Emma Doran – Dublin comedian Emma Doran has been gigging for years, but her lockdown social media sketches, in particular the intensely relatable Mad, Isn’t It skit, led to her biggest show so far: a tour of the same name this year ... Mad, isn’t it?
Kayleigh Trappe – Monaghan primary schoolteacher Kayleigh Trappe (1.9 million likes on TikTok and counting) is best known for her remarkably convincing lip syncs of celebrities, ranging from Louis Walsh to Roy Keane.
Diona Doherty – Derry comic, actor and playwright Diona Doherty will be familiar to Derry Girls fans as Katya, the Chernobyl teenager from series one. When she isn’t filming funny content or doing stand-up, you’ll find Doherty discussing pop culture history on her Remember When…? podcast.
Tolu Ibikunle – Dubliner Tolu Ibikunle went viral with three friends in a 2021 TikTok challenge where they switch from apparently strong Nigerian accents to thick Dublin slang (sample line: “the absolute STATE of you”). Follow Ibikunle (her TikTok handle is @tolu_ibixx) for funny lip syncs and some seriously impressive dance moves.
Julie Jay – Another teacher-turned-comedian, Julie Jay’s wry online sketches include “An Irish person getting car jacked”, “Parenting in the 90s” and “When you’re in work on a Monday and soft-launching a sick day for Tuesday”.