Mad as Hell returns!

Into the Bin!We’re off and running into the fifth season of Mad as Hell, and already a few nods to the Micallef fans, with a “High Horse” routine sneaking itself into the News from Countries Other Than Australia, with Freedom bars and Coco Pops both going “Into the Bin!”

You may have also spotted his Tyrell Corp Blade Runner chair at the back of the set, which originally appeared in Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation.

We’ve got another nine episodes for this year, 8:30pm Wednesdays on ABC. Catch up on iView or it’s repeated Sunday nights.

Edit: It also made the Top 10 ratings for the night, albeit with similar figures as last year. Also, the Herald Sun had a write up of how the first episode came together, including sketches that were cut (and why).

It’s Gary McCaffrie!

Gary McCaffrie off camera in Shaun's interview with Tony MartinIf you don’t know Gary, he’s the yin to Shaun’s writing yang… or something. It was he who got Shaun into the Full Frontal writers room, eventually taking hold of the show before creating The Micallef P(r)ogram(me) together, and the two have been collaborators ever since. Gary’s not a spotlight kind of person, but I was lucky enough to meet him and he agreed to answer some questions.

Me: I would describe you and Shaun as a partnership, working together on nearly every one of Shaun’s projects.

Gary: Not every one, there’s exceptions. But we’ve worked on a lot of comedy together, because we have a really similar sensibility. In our comedy Venn diagram, the intersecting bits are quite big.

The same comedy loves and influences?

Some of them, not all. Shaun’s more of student of comedy, and he likes a lot of really old comics and a lot of the physical comics from the silent era and the post-silent era. I’m not much of student of that material, I basically start with The Goon Show. We share similar ones, but he’s got a much broader base of comedy influences.

You’ve written for many Australian comedy shows. Is it different writing with Shaun than with others?

We don’t really sit together and write. Even on The Micallef P(r)ogram(me), we would only write about a third of that sitting together at the computer. We both tend to like being on our own and writing something from start to finish. On this show [Mad As Hell], we don’t write together at all, and because of the nature, there’s so much material required each week, it’s more efficient to divide your time individually.

So is the process writing something and seeing if the other one laughs at it?

It is a bit, but our sensibilities are similar. I know how he’s going to deliver the material. Sometimes he’ll tweak it a bit to help his delivery, I just know I’m in safe hands when I write for him. As a writer and not a hands-on producer, that is invaluable. When you’re a writer on Fast Forward or Full Frontal, you have no control, and you just hope that what comes out closely resembles what you originally wrote. With Shaun, he’s got a firm guiding hand over this show, you’re in safe hands.

Is there any comedy program you wish you’d written for? Or any you’ve enjoyed the most?

The Norman Gunston show was very influential on me. I think I recognised the comedy of failure was especially funny. There’s any number of shows I’d like to have written on, but rather than wish I’d written something, I think if I see something of really high quality, it inspires me to write something new and different myself, and push myself in my writing. I think in sketch terms anything you watch when you’re 15-16, like Not The 9 O’Clock News or The Two Ronnies, are going to have a big influence and certainly did on me.

Do you ever hold onto unused sketch ideas? Something that might not work at the time, but maybe want to bring back later?

Always. Nothing’s ever wasted, a mantra we both hold dear I think. Something that’s written but doesn’t quite work, there will be something salvageable in it. I think we both have a massive amount of material [in a bottom desk drawer] that will be mined at some stage, maybe for a line or a character. Nothing goes to waste.

Famously you didn’t want David McGhan to return to The Micallef P(r)ogram(me) as Dr Miracle. Are there things you still disagree about with Shaun?

That got blown a little out [of proportion], as if I hated David McGhan.

Were you tired of him maybe?

Yes, that’s right. Dr Miracle was presented as a bit of a fait-accompli on that show. Shaun had written these massive pieces and I said “these are a bit long for the show”, and he said “they’ll be alright.” And next thing I knew, they’d built the sets. Absolutely, there are pieces that I say “I’m not so sure about this”, and he takes that into account. He wants my opinion on something, but he has to take a broader view and goes to the edits and sees that we need something different for a change of pace [in the show] – I’m not taking that into account when I’m giving my feedback. I don’t get involved in the editing on this show. But we certainly have areas where we differ in taste, like two people will do. But like the Venn diagram I mentioned earlier, there’s a big area of intersection, and even in the areas where we might not agree, we know why we don’t agree and can almost predict it, and therefore accept it.

Thanks Gary, we’re glad that most the time you do!

Mad As Hell, back February 11th

It’s official – Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell is confirmed to return for its fifth season on Wednesday February 11th on ABC. This time, it’s shifted back half and hour, to 8:30pm.

The team really hit their stride last year, so expect more comedy gold, although Veronica has moved to a full time role on Triple J, so there may be a new cast member.

This will be the only season for 2015, with Shaun working on “The Ex-PM” later in the year. We’re yet to see what the future will hold after that.

Danger, Danger!

Since it first premiered in 2012, Danger 5 has become a bit of a cult classic – a 60’s style spy series anachronistically set during World War II, with a team of agents from across the globe working together to stop the Nazis and kill Hitler. The show is a pastiche of dubbed Japanese adventure dramas, such as Monkey, and spy series, such as Thunderbirds (with a dash of Get Smart). You can watch the prequel episode on YouTube.

Shaun was a big fan of the first series calling it “the funniest thing I’d seen in 10 years on TV”, even writing to the creators to express his enjoyment. So when series 2 was commissioned, the team jumped at the opportunity to get Shaun involved. This time, it’s the 80’s, and Hitler is back for vengeance. Shaun will play dual roles as a school teacher and a bald-headed Nazi, and will appear in more than one episode.

Season 2 of Danger 5 starts on SBS2 on January 4th at 9:30pm.

Just one Mad as Hell series in 2015

As previously hinted here, and reported by TV Tonight recently, Mad as Hell is only returning for the one series next year. Although budget cuts have been touted as a reason, the most likely explanation is that Shaun will be working on his other big project for the ABC: “The Ex-PM”. So it’s not all bad news!

This is not unprecedented though: in 2013, Shaun took most of the second half of the year off after two seasons of Mad As and one of Mr & Mrs Murder, giving himself time to finish his book “The President’s Desk”.

On the topic of The Ex-PM, TV Tonight spoke to Rick Kalowski, Head of Comedy at the ABC, about the show:

“It’s a great concept and the quality of the idea has really come along in the development process. The scripts are so funny. I think you’ll see a more humanistic side to Shaun’s comedy. It’s not just about a person struggling with relevance deprivation syndrome –which in and of itself is funny at a very high stakes level,” he explains.

“But there’s something about what happens to men when they get to the end of their careers, running around like whirling dervishes, convincing themselves they are doing it for their families or countries. They get to the end of their careers and they are faced with the question: Was it all worth it? Or to put it even more painfully: Have I Led a Worthwhile Life? I think the show has the potential to open up the way people see Shaun as a comedian.”

Stairway to Heaven this Sunday

Shaun with his Guru

As if Santa had set his clock forward, a Micallef-sized gift has come early. Shaun Micallef’s Stairway to Heaven was originally announced by SBS to air next year, but luckily for us, it will actually air this Sunday 7:30pm!

After his experience on Who Do You Think You Are, he was invited to travel to India and immerse himself in the Hindu world of Gods, Gurus and the Ganges. He’ll travel away from the crowds and the polluted Ganges, to meet a Guru who encourages him to challenge his beliefs, confront his fears, strip back his ego and examine the ‘Self’. Eventually Shaun will find himself heading deep into the Himalayas, towards the ultimate source of the Ganges and maybe the source of life.

This is sure to be more than just another “comedian discovers spirituality” story, with a good dose of the Shaun deprecating style to make it unmissable.


Top 11 Moments from Mad As Hell Series 4

As Shaun previously spoke to us about, series four of Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell continued to move from a “news show” to more of a editorial or commentary on the week’s news. Along with the expert characters and sketch-show snippets, it was a brilliant season, and rated very well for the ABC.

Here are the top 11 moments from this season, as un-democratically not voted by you:

Mad As Hell S4E4 Fiesty11. The Feisty Award
After Emma Alberichi had a particularly difficult interview on Lateline with someone who wouldn’t denounce terrorism, she was complimented by Tony Abbott as being “feisty”. Shaun wanted to help reclaim the word for all women, so it couldn’t be seen as sexist, and dedicated The Feisty Award – “for excellence in a man’s recognition of a sassy lady who says something he agrees with.” Shaun was the inaugural (and only) winner in Episode 4, for retweeting a tweet from Sarah Hanson-Young about how much she enjoyed the show.

Mad As Hell S4E8 Dolly10. Dolly Norman, Jacqui Lambie’s advisor
With Jacqui Lambie making plenty of headlines with her political stances and dispute with and eventual exit from Palmer United, her “chief advisor” Dolly Norman (Roz) (first in Ep3) was on hand to… explain… Jacqui’s stance on many issues. It was certainly grass-roots advice Dolly was giving, with a lunch lady vibe to go with it. (Video)

Mad As Hell S4E2 Dating Scam9. Shaun scamming a dating site victim (Ep 2)
With the ACCC noting that online dating websites were becoming a hotbed of scammers, Shaun interviewed Pauline O’Grady (Emily) who was herself a victim, sending hundreds of thousands of dollars to a scammer. We soon got another side to Shaun’s character, as he took the opportunity to gain Pauline’s trust and exploit her kindness for his own financial gain. It was very cleverly written, as we were slowly taken down the garden path to where “Shaun’s” mind was at.

8. Media Sasquatch
Shaun tried to use “Media Watch” as his segment name to talk about the death of community TV (Ep 1) and Fairfax regional papers (Ep 7), but Paul Barry was having none of it. It makes no sense, but it’s absurd enough to be perfect.

Mad As Hell S4E2 OurABC7. Our/Their ABC
Only a few months before the season began, the ABC updated their idents to the theme of “#ourABC”, often with graphics of a person doing something they love, labelled as being “their ABC”. Could the Mad team help themselves? Thankfully not.
Henrietta and Walter’s ABC (Ep 2) – a retired couple sitting in their comfy chairs, reading
Colin and Angie’s (Ep 3) – two youths stealing a television
Kaylie’s (Ep 4) – throwing up after a big night out
Adam’s (Ep 6) – stranded and injured rock climbing, à la 127 Hours
Ali’s (Ep 9) – heavy metal band performing

Mad As Hell S4E8 Two Ronnies6. Two Ronnies
Amongst all of the brilliant monologues and interviews, Mad As Hell still has the time for a few single story word-play jokes. As a full stop to these punch lines, long time Micallef fans got a treat starting in Episode 6 – a cut away of Shaun and Francis as “The Two Ronnies”, originally from The Micallef P(r)ogram(me) (and before that, real people with many punch lines in the same vein), was brought out of the archive, achieving exactly the same purpose as it had done in that show.

Mad As Hell S4E8 Caspar Jonquil5. A Day in the life of Caspar Jonquil
Caspar (Tosh) has been popping up on Mad As Hell for a while, long the voice of the AM radio talkback callers. He finally got his own biopic in the final episode, and we got a insight into his life – spying on his neighbour Spakfilla Vole, frequenting the business of Chloris Webbler and Gwen Cribbage, and having neighbourhood watch shoot-outs with Larry and Evagnie Sideburns – all favourite characters who have been part of the show since the beginning. (Video)

Mad As Hell S4E8 Hair Whispering4. Shaun’s Hair Whispering
One of the strangest phenomena to surface recently, “whispering videos” are used by a select group of people to ease tension by watching people perform quiet, repetitive tasks such as hair brushing. The head of light entertainment used the method to also inform Shaun of the show’s reduced budget for next year, and Shaun tried it himself.

Mad As Hell S4E1 Tony the AFP Officer3. AFP Officer Tony
The series included a number of nods to the recent increase in national security, with the opening titles being prefixed with the terror threat indicator. To aid with the security at the ABC, Tony from the AFP (Stephen Hall) kept an eye on proceedings, initially fan-boying with Shaun over his previous roles (Milo, Fabio, Poida?).
He then prevented Shaun from talking to his Hypothetical panel of people with head coverings (in the interest of national security) (Ep 3) (Video), cut the string of a Yo-yo champion, in case she “garotted” Shaun (Ep 7), and tasered more than four people (including Shaun as Christopher Walken). (Video)

Mad As Hell S4E5 Darius Horsham2. Darius Horsham
First appearing last season, Darius had a staring role all season, as Mathias Cormann’s spokesperson (and impersonator) as a number of economic reforms were pushed through. His line “don’t be an economic girly man”, taken from Arnie himself, was picked up by Mathias in an interview, putting Mad As Hell at the centre of the very zeitgeist they were satirising. (Video)

Mad As Hell S4E8 Zinger!1. Bill Shorten’s Zingers
Shaun first noted the “burn” of Bill’s pithy press conference one-liners in the second episode, but as the season progressed, and Bill kept dishing them out, Shaun treated each with the finger guns they deserved. By the last episode, even Bill was defending “Shaun Mick-alifs” right to air “Bill’s Zingers”, again completing the referential circle. (Bill later made up for mis-pronouncing Shaun’s name by purposely doing so as “Shane Mcaulif”, like in The Micallef P(r)ogram(me) and throughout his career.) (Video)

A shout out to the War Is Hell segment, which was worth the expensive graphics to see Shaun lip-sync along with Edwin Starr’s song each week, once with dancing okra.

Episode Synopses for Mad as Hell Season 4

As has become tradition, the synopsis for each episode of Mad as Hell has become another place for the writers to take some creative license, usually making them incongruous with all of the other one sentence summations of programs in the TV guide. But blink and you’ll miss them, as the ABC usually updates its website to match the actual content after the show is recorded (although Shaun has asked them to stop doing that).

Here’s all the Season 4 synopses for your enjoyment (note that some episodes seemed to miss out this season – was Wardy asleep at the wheel?!):

Episode 1
A half-fortnightly reaping, threshing and winnowing of current affairs asphodel by the combine harvester that is Shaun Micallef. #madashelltv

Episode 2
Here’s a magic trick you can try out on your friends. Pick a card, any card. Put it in your mouth. Eat it, then go to the toilet. Then invite them in and ask sarcastically, “Is that your card?”

Episode 3
For centuries the Taklamakan Desert in China’s northwest has been known as the ‘desert of death’. Now, you can have your very own piece of heaven starting from as little as $275,000!

Episode 4
“And lo, when I did wake from my sleep and open my eyes I was blind, my sight vanished into darkness like the sun at midnight.” Cataractus 20:20

Episode 5
Single 42-yr-old male writer of electronic program guide, non-smoker, GSOH, uni-educated, seeks attractive female to write electronic program guide for Good Times starring Jimmi ‘Dyn-o-mite’ Walker. Discretion assured.

Episode 6 – no custom EPG, same as episode 1

Episode 7
Dave, it’s me. Sorry I didn’t get back to you, been flat out writing this EPG. I guess you want to know about the rocket? Well, good news – Derek Jacobi’s on board! Call me.

Episode 8
Hey guys! Tired of having sand kicked in your face? Then why not stop burying yourself up to your neck in the middle of beach volleyball courts, you idiots.

Episode 9
Roderick prised open the coffin – and gasped. On the underside of the lid were dozens of ragged scratches! He stepped back, horrified. Could it be? Had he really buried his beloved wife… in a second hand coffin?

Episode 10
Final episode competition time! For your chance at a great prize from the ABC, just tell us in seven million words or more ‘The Best Thing About Being Prolix’. (NOT VALID IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA)

Me interviewing Shaun

In conversation with Shaun

Shaun is a really enjoyable person to talk to and interview, and I recently had the opportunity to talk to him after a taping of Mad As Hell. Here’s how it went:

Me: Mad as Hell is continuing to have an impact on the zeitgiest, with you being referenced from what you’re referencing (ie. Darius Horsham), how is the season feeling for you? Is it feeling as comfortable at the previous one?

Shaun: It feels as comfortable. I think the main difference between the season earlier this year and this one we’re doing now is that there’s a lot more at the desk just of me talking, and also we’ll often spend 5, 6, 7 minutes on a given topic, rather than being driven from news item to news item. It’s actually a bit more openly editorial now, it’s just me having a conversation. Apart from news from other countries, I’m not really playing a news reader now, I’m just talking to the audience. We were on our way to that in the first season this year, it just feels that’s mainly what the show is now. And a lot of the language of the show is quite peculiar now, and not terribly related to what a news show is.

Do you have plans to continue Mad as Hell in 2015?

That’s the plan, to come back in February and do another season. It’s as locked in as anything can be at the ABC. So we’re not ending the series, but at the very least we’ll come back and do 10 next year.

I’m really enjoying The President’s Desk, I really liked that among the editor’s note, introduction, and preface, you made a note to the genuine inaccuracies, like the positioning of the Oval Office. Is there anyone you’ve ever thought may have actually been re-created as a robot?

I haven’t been to Disneyland, but they’re all there apparently. From what I’ve heard, they say the Reagan one is very lifelike, but I think that’s more of statement of how un-lifelike the real one was. It may well be him.

Do you think any Australian Prime Ministers could ever have had any interested furniture related stories?

Having seen the office of the Prime Minister, it’s a very disappointing, jerry-built, IKEA influenced, generic room. There’s nothing special in there at all, because it’s not an illustrious building. I haven’t been in Kirribilli, but I imagine that would have some very nice furniture; Kirribilli House rather than Parliament House. Even Old Parliament House, there’s some pressed ceilings and some decent woodwork there.

Do you enjoy the character of Roland in It’s a Date, and would you ever break him out again?

It was good fun working with Rove. I kept listening to him (Roland), thinking “Oh, he sound’s like Fabio!” It was interesting, because it was a supporting character for Rove and Adrianne’s story, and as we didn’t see a lot of him I could make him a little big bigger than if he was the centre of attention. But as it turned out, he dominated quite a lot.

Were you surprised how that edited together?

Yes, because I had done a really big performance, like a terribly overdone one, but I think it fitted in. It didn’t seem too big.

Is it more fun to play with someone else’s script, or your own?

It’s different, it was all done with permission, it was all collaborative. It’s quite nice to come in just as an actor, I’ve done a bit of that lately. All care and no responsibility, just to look after your part. They sent me some outakes, which we very funny, some of the stuff between Rove and I.

Were you trying to make him laugh a lot?

Pretty much. For two people who’ve had their careers run along side each other, we haven’t overlapped that much. The only time I’ve ever really met him was on set, when we’re on camera. It was the first time I’ve spent any time with him off camera.

Wasn’t there a time you brought a guitar on his show? Was he expecting that?

No, we didn’t tell him. But he was good that way, he had no brief about what I was going to talk about. He was good fun to play with. And to his credit, Adam Hills did exactly the same. I think that’s more fun, I hate telling them what I’m going to do.

Mr and Mrs Murder has been aired on PBS in America recently, are you surprised that’s it’s getting a successful audience over there?

I can’t think why it wouldn’t work in the US. I’ve never really liked to play up the Australian side, I watch it in others, but it’s not something I usually do. So therefore, Mr & Mrs Murder had none of those hallmarks. (With no particular intention) it wasn’t “Australian”. It was peculiar, it had Kat’s sense of humour and my sense of humour and that was a good combination.

In many ways it was the couple’s relationship which drove the enjoyment of the show. It was a very sweet and supportive one, with lots of the in-jokes that couples have, and it felt very real.

It’s like the nicknames we’d worked out for each other. Nicola called me “Chuka-Khan”, and I called her “Fizzy”. We never explained it, and if you’d written it, they would have had someone explain what “Fizzy” meant – Nicola, Cola, Fizzy. That’s what I loath about a lot of bad writing, it’s so exploratory, and there is no room to give performances on another level to the writing. You’re just serving the writing, then going home. It was a way to have some decent dialogue.

Of course, Shaun has already shared that there’s almost no chance of a second season of Mr & Mrs Murder, but we’re grateful for the one we got!

During the interview, they found Shaun’s second last copy of The President’s Desk (which he’d used as a prop), which he was going to send to his mum – if only we got to hear her review!

Thanks to Shaun, for being very giving with his time, as always.

Photo by David M. Green

Shaun’s Stairway to Heaven

Ganges at sunriseIn addition to his ABC shows, in 2015 SBS will also air Shaun Micallef’s Stairway to Heaven, a one-hour documentary where Shaun heads to India to immerse himself in the Hindu world of Gods, Gurus and the Ganges, on his quest for the meaning of life.

It was Shaun’s first trip to India and was filmed in June/July of this year. The show is produced by Artemis International, the same people behind “Who Do You Think You Are“, which was how the whole thing came about.