On this day, May 25th 2012, 10 years ago, Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell debuted on ABC1. It was announced with not much more than a title and a little bit of publicity – but we knew Shaun was coming back to the ABC and it was going to be something good.
Shaun began with an introduction to clarify he was not going to be as mad as the opening titles suggested. He was going to be a conduit for our rage, he didn’t take sides – as his round, yin-yang desk proved. And then he got straight into politics – a story on troubled MP Craig Thompson, although mostly sending it up with word play. We recapped the whole show at the time.
Since that time, Shaun has stopped wearing his glasses and the show has slowly become more sure of itself, moving more firmly into being a satire of what’s happening in the news and focusing on the in-studio characterisations of the news makers. But it has remained packed with jokes, from the left shoulder graphics and captions, to the one liners, to the characters, to the description of the show on the electronic program guides… You can honestly watch each episode multiple times and pick up on new jokes. No Australian comedy show has remained this consistent, clever and funny for so long.
THANK YOU to the ABC for commissioning it and sticking with it, THANK YOU to the delightful cast and crew (who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, and they really are quite nice), but most of all THANKS Shaun and Gary for giving us this wonderful show. We’re looking forward to many more years.
With the final episode of Season 14 of Mad As Hell this week, what else will Shaun be up to for the year?
Firstly, there will be another season of Mad As Hell this year, starting from August – the election will be done and, no matter the result, Shaun and the team will have some new form of Government to poke fun at.
There’s also a new show this year – Shaun Micallef’s Brain Eisteddfod! It’s a quiz show, a little less zany than Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation, pitting Year 11 students against each other, University Challenge style. He’s pretty excited to give a platform for a group he feels is under-represented on TV. It will shoot in the next few months and also air around August on Channel 10.
And an autobiography! I was pleasantly surprised to hear Shaun had been working on one, and expects it to be published later this year. We’re probably going to get a tone as seen in “Who Do You Think You Are” and “On the Sauce”. It should make for an interesting read.
Shaun graciously sat down with me after the recording of a recent episode of Mad As Hell to discuss the past, present and future of the show as we near the 10th anniversary of it – enjoy!
This year marks 10 years of Mad As Hell – a major achievement, so congratulations to you and to everyone involved – how has the show changed for you over that time?
Thank you! I think when it started it was kind of a continuation of Newstopia. In fact it was even thought of that way before we went to the ABC, we were going to do a version of it with a live audience, but it clashed with Talkin’ Bout Your Generation. I think what we started doing [with Mad As Hell] was kind of the same, which was a news parody, and then eventually you just sort of run-out of those jokes, and it became jokes about the news. That’s the biggest change in 10 years. And as you’d see each night, most of the jokes are political. There’s the occasional ridiculous bit just to help the edges of it, but we actually watch the news now, rather than watching how they present it.
It’s not so much a caricature of the news but more focused on the content of the news?
Yeah, I think it is the difference between a parody and satire, it is a proper satire now, which is probably the only way the show would have lasted, otherwise I’d just be making the same jokes about newsreaders and journalists – it wears thin after time!
You resisted for a while against the label that the show had a political element, and that you’re not really a political person, but obviously the show has continued to evolve and you’re a lot more politically active on Twitter. Is that a conscious development, or more of a product of the times?
I think that’s just where the jokes are. And maybe because I’m in the mindset of making the show, really the Twitter account helps with the show. Maybe I use it to promote someone else’s show, but I don’t use it as a soapbox because I don’t particularly want one or need one. I’m fortunate enough to have a weekly show, so I’ll try to save most of the jokes for that. Anything that comes up between shows and might “go off in a minute” I might tweet that out, but occasionally I’ll pick something up that I’ve tweeted a while ago, and I think “I could use that, shouldn’t waste it” so there’s the occasional photo that appears as a shoulder box. [Twitter] can be quite helpful, and I think the audience is the same, although I don’t profess to understand social media.
You tweet even when the show is off, so you’re paying more attention [to the news] than you once wanted to?
That’s fair enough, and I’m in the habit now of watching the news, and if a joke occurs and we’re not on, I’ll just throw it out there.
Are you enthusiastic about continuing with Mad As Hell?
I think the moment I feel the quality is dropping off, or we don’t have anywhere to go… It’s an older show now, there are people who probably like it but don’t watch it every week, or they catch up on the weekend – viewing habits have changed over the course of the lifetime of the show. I think the show is probably the best it’s ever been – it’s tight, fast and the cast are really on-song. We’re throwing away less [content] and recording less as a result. There have been nights where we’ve recorded a lot more and gone on longer. During some records we add a few things to see how they go, that we might tinker with and reshoot the next week.
So you kind of feel it out as you’re at the desk recording?
I kind of know when we’re recording if the studio audience isn’t quite digging it, but maybe it will work at home. We pull parts together, and compact them down to their best ingredients. Sometimes we record intros to segments for the audience, we go with [pre-recorded or re-edited parts].
That can be a downside to being in the studio audience – you can be really excited about seeing a bit you saw on air, but then it doesn’t make it, and you have to hope it comes up later in the season.
There was a sketch we showed to the audience [the night of this interview], which was from 2020, and I look a bit different, so there’s stuff that’s lying around that may still get seen. In fact, there’s a sketch we’re planning for the last show ever, whenever that is, which we recorded in the first season, and everyone’s 10 years younger. So it will be fun to say that and then play it, [the whole cast] will look very different.
How long do you spend putting the episode together after the recording?
[After the record] I talk to Gary and get his views on the sketches, and go upstairs [at the ABC] where it will be roughly edited together and probably run for an hour, and we’ll just cut it down. The main edit is Tuesday [after the recording] and then on Wednesday we do a fine edit, we change things like some of the angles, although we’re doing less of that because the director [Jon Olb] tends to switch it in a way that I like.
In an interview I’m never in a single, I’m always in an over the shoulder shot or a two shot, because I’m in a single [shot] so often, whenever the guest comes on, give them the single, because people will become tired of seeing me. I’m also better seen reacting than asking a question.
Otherwise we might hold a shot a bit longer, have me look at the camera a bit longer, play around with the timing.
How did you find the transition back and forth from having an audience? (due to COVID restrictions)
It was fine, we didn’t skip a beat, we kind of wanted them back because it makes more sense. [Without an audience] we had the fun of having a more precise show and probably more elaborate show – we could shoot more split screen stuff with me reacting to myself, we could do more special effects, and take longer shooting over both a Monday and a Tuesday. So we didn’t have to wait for costume changes. But what you trade off from that, is you get more fun from the audience and have four minutes less material from all the laughs. And I and the cast enjoy having the audience – we were playing to each other when the audience wasn’t there, but now we can play to both! We’re lucky we can do both.
One of the benefits of that additional preparation time was that Milo made a couple of reappearances over the last few seasons. You have a little bit of a love/hate relationship with Milo, how was it to bring him back?
It feels safer without the audience being there. I still feel it’s a bit unjustifiable these days [to play Milo]. I probably wouldn’t do it for an audience, because it involves a lot of makeup. But he’s just a character, a bit like doing Fabio again – it’s leading with your chin, you’re going to have some people say it’s inappropriate, which it is.
We’ve used him in Newstopia as a finance reporter, talking about Standard and Poors, explaining economics, which was funny because I never understand any of that.
And then for Mad As Hall, he was a hairdresser – Gary [McCaffrie] had actually written that sketch originally not for Milo, it was originally just a straight sketch. It was a surprise for him on the night [to see Milo appear]. Those gags lent themselves to the old sketches, so I retooled it to suit Milo, and that was fun. And the next time we did him, it was as Craig Kelly’s spokesperson, which in a Standard and Poors way, kind of makes sense. But other than that I can’t think of any justification for bringing out Milo again.
And if you’re looking for some news about Shaun’s future work – stay tuned!
Anyone keeping an eye on Shaun’s Twitter feed after episode 3 of the current season (14) of Mad as Hell, may have noticed this:
Turns out Shaun caused a mini-Twitter storm over this censorship, despite his obvious joke on the whole situation. It seems much more likely a self-edit by Shaun or the MaH team; due to the recent loss of life due to a shark attack in Sydney harbour, Tosh’s segment equivalating our debt to a shark bite seemed a little tasteless (pardon the pun). Basically this bit was re-edited into a similar topic but different approach.
Anyway, if you’re pedantic (and you’ve read this far… so chances are…), you can rewatch from about 6:20 to 7:40 on iView and see a whole new bit!
I’ve never been able to be sure, but I do think there’s been a minor edit before… not sure if anyone else remembers it.
If Shaun is known for one thing from his long canon of work, it is the “brownish bomber”, his character Milo Kerrigan.
Milo is of course an ex-boxer with a speech impediment and a clumsy but earnest demeaner – you can see some of his work on YouTube.
Created by Shaun and Gary McCaffrie for Full Frontal in the mid 1990’s, Milo was often used as a bit of a “time filler” for a comedy show that had 42 minutes (an hour less ads) of content to fill – by smashing up the set and generally being non-sensical. This mayhem and Shaun’s portrayal of the character did endear him to the audience, making him much beloved. He appeared many times over many episodes, in his boxing training room, as a weatherman or teaching viewers how he hosts a dinner party.
Although Shaun has shown mixed feelings to bringing Milo back over the years, Milo has endured and has appeared in most of Shaun’s projects. Most recently, after holding out for 11 seasons, Shaun has unleashed Milo twice on Mad As Hell – as a barber and then as a spokesperson for Craig Kelly, surprisingly being interviewed “live” by Shaun.
Other appearances include
Micallef Program: Appeared just one time as a substitute for Chris Corrigan, who was a prominent figure in the news around 1998 due to the wharf dispute
Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation: On the Channel 10 incarnation, doing movie quotes for a round
Shaun Micallef’s New Year’s Rave: in this 2009 special, there was a special segment covering Milo’s boxing roots
(From memory there was no Newstopia appearance….)
Have you enjoyed seeing Milo pop back on the screens?
A few years ago, Shaun penned a book aimed at early-teenage kids (or “tweens” as some people say), based on the way he used to twist his telling of fairytales to his kids when they were younger. It was smart and fun, and a little less mind-bending than some of Shaun’s other books.
Now, Tales from a Tall Forest has a sequel: Happily Ever Afterwards
The Queen of Tancred and her royal retinue are on a mission: to ensure all the citizens of Tancred are happy. But that’s a lot harder than it sounds – especially when the Happiness Tour accidentally stumbles into the neighbouring region of Hamelin. Oops. Soon, Queen Mathilde smells a rat. A whole kingdom of them, in fact … because Hamelin has been overrun with rodents. Why is a rat on the throne? Where are all of Hamelin’s children?
Like the previous book, it’s been illustrated throughout, but by a different illustrator. It is due to be released September 29th, and can be pre-ordered online. Sadly, with the current COVID situation, it doesn’t look like we’ll see any book signings.
The thirteenth series of Mad As Hell began last Wednesday – and are we very glad for that! It’s the ninth year for the show, and we’re expecting 12 episodes. Six! Other Random Numbers!
All the cast has returned, so we can just crack on an enjoy it.
It’s back again without an audience due to COVID restrictions – but it nearly had one… New restrictions were introduced by the Victorian government at 6pm, just 30 minutes before the first episode was about to be taped WITH an audience. It would have been a huge letdown for that audience, but strangely enough, the lack of audience hasn’t really taken away from the show in the last season and a bit… it might be a bit of a shock when those laughs return.
Usual time slot of 8:30pm Wednesdays, or watch on iView. You may need a login now to watch online (as sent up by Tosh’s parody of Charlie Pickering’s ad about it in episode one of season 13).
It’s almost difficult to believe that we’re about to enjoy a 12th season of Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell, almost 8 years after it first started.
There’s is no doubt it is the best Australian political satire, which is pretty good for a show that Shaun considers a sketch comedy show framed around the local politics of the day.
This season, like the second half of the previous one, will continue to have no studio audience due to the Coronavirus restrictions in Melbourne, where Mad As Hell is filmed.
The lack of audience makes it reminiscent of one of Shaun’s previous shows, Newstopia, an SBS news based show that had international news, rather than Australian, as a source. The Newstopia link hasn’t been lost on Shaun, with the Newstopia music and style making a few appearances, significantly in Episode 7 of last season, which was the first audience-less.
Mad As Hell is back for 12 weeks starting August 5th at 8:30pm on ABC.
It’s been ten years since this very website first appeared on the Internet, and wow hasn’t time flown!
At the time, Shaun was between seasons on Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation (the Channel 10 years) … Mad As Hell was still a few years away. I’m so grateful to Shaun and all the fellow fans for making this website what it is over the last 10 years; Shaun’s someone who’s always got something new on the boil, and it’s been enjoyable to help share them. (He’s also a really nice person.)
But I must apologise, as I feel like I’ve dropped the ball on this website, having been so long since the last update. With Mad As Hell continuing it’s path of excellence (renewed for another season later this year), using Twitter to share breaking information and Shaun himself being on Twitter, there’s not much extra news to share. It’s mostly been sit back and enjoy the Micallef time. Also, I’m excellent at procrastination, so there’s that too. I’ll try to post some new things over the next few weeks 🙂
Here’s to another ten years of Shaun brilliance, and this website sticking around to discuss it.