The collective memory that is Shaun Micallef
With around 20 years in TV comedy, even viewers who love Shaun Micallef struggle to name his shows.
To TV connoisseurs, he is simply the bee knees: clever, funny, self-deprecating, intelligent.
Yet there are still some viewers who are only just grasping the exquisite concept that is Shaun Micallef, or can determine which of his shows they have appreciated. Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation, Newstopia, Mr. & Mrs. Murder, The Ex-PM or even Welcher & Welcher.
“In the street people tend to say, ‘Like your show’ but I’m not sure what show they’re talking about. I now have hit the level where there is a collective memory of me over 20 years. They know who I am, but they don’t quite know where I’ve been,” he explains.
“It could be Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation, even though it’s been a few years now. People still remember Milo Kerrigan, and Newstopia was the one where I had the most people who would come up to me.”
So with Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell back for its sixth season tonight, perhaps the penny will drop. Back to wreak havoc on news and current events, the show knows no bounds in its comic targets. But on occasions viewers see more going on than was ever intended.
“We’re not really a satirical show, we’re a sketch show. But they read more into it. I’ve had people come up to me and say ‘Thank you for saying what you said last week’ and I think ‘What are they talking about?’”
“We’re not like Charlie’s show in that we’re not quite as immediately adaptable.”
This season the ensemble of Micallef, Roz Hammond, Francis Greenslade, Emily Taheny, Stephen Hall, Tosh Greenslade will be joined by Nicholas Bell.
“I love working with Nicholas, most recently with The Ex-PM. Veronica (Milsom) will come back for a couple of weeks, which will be nice. But I guess the main difference is this is the first time we’ve actually, seriously, got an election to deal with.
“It’s a blessing and a curse really. We’re not like Charlie’s show in that we’re not quite as immediately adaptable. He does his show on a Wednesday so he’s technically more up to date than we are.
“But I find that a challenge rather than a worry.
“And I keep reminding the executive producers here at the ABC that we’re not obliged to deal with topics that come up.”
Mad as Hell shoots on Tuesday nights and edits frantically until it delivers to ABC for a Wednesday broadcast. In the run up to tonight’s season return the team have been filming a pool of sketches to draw upon in coming weeks.
“We have a white board with what I call ‘magazine pieces,’ – attitudes and topics that hang around for a while. Flavour of the Year or Month, or whatever. Then there are ABC ads that are jokes about television, and news of the week. The first show is a bit different because we almost have to say ‘What’s been happening in the last year?’”
“I wondered whether the files of ASIO had raided my metadata.”
With an election on July 2nd, Micallef is clearly looking forward to plenty of comedy gold to mine from Canberra. Yet he also remembers getting a call from one unnamed politician unhappy with being used for a ‘cheap shot’ gag -and one which Micallef acknowledges should have been cleverer.
“He did make me think after to make sure that it’s not a cheap shot about some person. If someone has done something objectionable or funny that’s fine,” he suggests.
“(For instance) there have been a couple of Clive Palmer jokes that I do regret. They were always slaps as we went past him rather than anything else, but we could do without those. I think we could lose them. He does plenty of other things you can have fun with.”
As for whom the pollie concerned was, Micallef isn’t spilling. Yet he hasn’t forgotten taking the call in which the protest was lodged.
“He did so in a good natured way but I did wonder how he got my phone number. I wondered whether the files of ASIO had raided my metadata.”
“Not too many people put jokes in the EPG.”
Mad as Hell devotees also look forward to the equivalent of hidden ‘easter eggs’ such as the show’s own synopsis in the Electronic Programme Guide.
Tonight’s description: To raise money for charity, the San Antonio Spurs basketball team is miniaturised, injected into Iggy Pop’s head and given just 60 minutes to find five living brain cells which it can challenge to a game of ‘hoops’.
“It’s quite a nice surprise because not too many people put jokes in the EPG. I remember one season we just described Dick Van Dyke episodes. Or My Mother, The Car,” Micallef recalls.
Those same devotees will also undoubtedly be pleased to hear about a promising update for The Ex-PM.
“They’re talking about coming back next year which would be nice,” he confirms.
But meanwhile the focus is on Mad As Hell, keeping one eye on Canberra, another on scripts and maybe even a passing gaze at the TV ratings.
“Usually what happens is I’ll walk in here and if nobody says anything then I know we got less than the previous week. But if I walk in and we did ok, Rachel usually says how we went.
“But I don’t like to know too early, because I like the thrill of the anticipation. Not that ratings matter at all at the ABC.”
Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell returns 8:30pm tonight on ABC.