“I got a call from a Senator. He or she rang several times, I don’t know how he got my number,” Micallef admits. “But we had a conversation about a joke that he felt was a little unfair. He had a point, but he also made me realise these people are human beings. They have families and the family watches the show.”
Micallef took it on board that the joke may have been lacked a genuine comedic point. Working out how to respond to such influence was the next step. Giving in would send the wrong message, after all.
“(The joke) wasn’t really about anything, it was a sort of off-handed comment. So for that reason I think it was a good point that he made.
“I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask how he got my phone number. Did he pop into ASIO or the National Security database? I think maybe Julian Morrow gave it to him.
“It did make me perversely think, ‘I must mention him next week.’
“So I did make a joke, literally the next week, but I didn’t hear from him again.”
Since the Abbott government has taken power after two seasons of his ABC comedy, the writers have been provided with new comic targets. But it has also delivered a change in the tone of the jokes.
“Everyone was a bit more menacing and darker,” he explains.
“There was a tendency by the writers to create characters who were male, and I think that was because of the aggression involved.
“But this season they’ve settled in and the ideology is pretty clear.”
Indeed much has changed in the political landscape since the series began in 2012.
“There’s a bunch of nutcases in the senate. These aren’t people I’m comfortable with running the country.
“It’s nothing to do with their education or that they have no experience, but that they don’t really have a mandate. The independents, particularly, are there because of a preference deal that was rather cynically employed by major parties who are now wearing the consequences of that. So they really only have themselves to blame.”
Senator interjections aside, Shaun Micallef is more relaxed about his ABC series. At 4 seasons, it’s also the longest any of his own vehicles have lasted on television (Talkin’ Bout Your Generation, wasn’t really his creation and also lasted 4 seasons).
“We know and understand the show and it’s still growing and developing so as long as it continues to do that my interest will be there. If it feels like we’ve done the same show twice then it’s probably time to go and do something else and be tackled by another TV show,” he says.
“But at the moment I’m really enjoying it.
“The fuel -the news- continues to alarm and excite us. But the show knows what it is now. It was a little bit schizophrenic when it started off, with a foot in the camp of Newstopia and another in the Micallef programme I guess.
“If you compare the first show, we had exploding vans, pianos dropping on people’s heads because we couldn’t think of a punchline.
“There were elaborate set pieces. We threw a guy out of a plane. But we don’t tend to do that so much anymore.”
Famously assuming zany characters are Francis Greenslade, Roz Hammond, Veronica Milsom, Emily Taheny, Stephen Hall and Tosh Greenslade (no relation), sometimes in pre-recorded sketches. But the focus remains Micallef at the desk.
“We have things that hold that we put to one side, and if we need them then we use them. But our hit rate at the desk is pretty good with mostly live and topical material,” he says.
“I’m doing the joke myself rather than hand–passing it to a field piece, so it’s trusting me more as a performer and the material is a bit more like stand-up material. No bells and whistles.
“It becomes a sleeker and faster television show.”
While it’s easy to liken the show to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or The Colbert Report, Micallef says his show is led by jokes, while his hosting is a heightened persona.
“We’re all fake. I’m not really like that. I’m not really that host, whereas I think when you watch Jon Stewart in The Daily Show you get the idea that’s him,” he continues.
“Colbert is a construct. He has an attitude that comes from the character. His stuff is probably more similar to our show than Stewart. Having said that we have a lot of fake interviews and he doesn’t have any.”
The ITV Studios show has a small team of writers and, amazingly, no writers’ meeting. Huh?
“We don’t sit at a big table and decide we’re going to deal with (certain) topics,” he inists.
“They’re not pitched. The writers just write what they think is funny and it gets put in a box. I read them, make some notes on them…. I edit all the material, and we stick them on a board with magnetic strips where I cull them or move them around. Put them in the bank or thrown them away.
“It is more organic and it comes from the right place, which is ‘Let’s write some jokes. Let’s not be Left or Right or bash anybody. It’s not that sort of show.
“(The show) doesn’t have a serious agenda, in any way. Any comment is incidental. It’s important to have a point of view, and an arguable one.
“I’m not one for making a show about the way someone looks. Having said that, if there’s a good Clive Palmer joke about his suit size then as long as we’ve got 10 other ones about what he’s doing then we can sneak that one in.”
TOMORROW: Pt 2: Micallef gets ‘Mad’ over commercial TV
Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell airs 8pm Wednesday on ABC.