The 172nd and final episode of Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell has aired, and we now have one less thing to look forward to on Wednesdays next year.
In the show’s early years, there was often a “will it return” question after each season which soon dissipated as it proved continually popular in the ratings and with the ABC. Eventually we took it for granted that it would be on our screens for years to come. However it was Shaun himself who decided to call time after 10 years, seemingly much to the pains of those at the ABC and ITV.
It has truly been Shaun’s magnum opus, second only (just) to The Micallef P(r)ogram(me). It combined the sketch format of that aforementioned show, with the news format of Newstopia, the non-sequitur elements of Micallef Tonight and the accessibility of Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation. Each episode was crammed full of so many jokes that they required a rewatch. This humble blog tried to summarise each episode initially, until it started taking 5 times as long as the episode itself!
Shaun was the star; the face and the voice. His delivery, mannerisms and physicality have always been an extra element that has made his work a joy to watch. He can be an authority one minute, and play up for the camera the next without skipping a beat.
But it wouldn’t have lasted longer than a season without the brilliant cast who blended into their characters – Francis, Emily, Roz, Veronica, Tosh, Stephen, Christie – and of course the writing team, headed by Shaun’s long time writing partner Gary McCaffrie.
The end is a huge loss to fan’s of Shaun’s work, but also to fans of political satire and Australian comedy.
On a personal note, I was quick enough to snag tickets to the very first episode, saw the last one at Ripponlea as well as the very final episode (plus a number of others along the way) – every time was like a well oiled machine, and looking back it feels like being part of television history.
We still hold out hope that Shaun will return to being in front of the camera again soon. Although a brilliant writer, nothing is like seeing him perform his own work.
But for now, we’re #SadAsHell. And there’s nothing we can do about it.
Stephen Hall is a man of many talents, as well as being is really lovely person. On Mad As Hell, he plays Darius Horsham, Crane Girdle, Donald McEngadine, Wendell Vestibule and so many more. He gave us some of his time to answer questions about Mad As Hell and what’s coming next.
You’ve worked on Mad As Hell since it began, originally as a writer – what have you enjoyed most about being part of the show?
So many things! The opportunity to do what I do – comedy acting – in so many roles and guises. The chance to explore and play, and to hone and tweak my skills. The camaraderie of working with like-minded souls. Speaking Truth To Power on a widely viewed platform. On those occasions when (out in the real world) the bad guys are winning, it feels SO good to give them a public kicking! I’m very proud to be part of something that’s of such consistently high quality – in each and every department – week in, week out. And of course, it’s always wonderful to make people laugh.
Do you prefer or enjoy recurring characters or the chance to try out a new character?
If I’m given the opportunity to do a character more than once, that tells me that something about it struck a chord. So that’s a win! Then, when I’m performing it on subsequent occasions, I’ll always try to improve it, grow it, and see where I can find opportunities for more laughs. But it’s also always great to be handed a new challenge – to get a script where the (new) character description is just a line or two (“he has an air of ______ about him”), and then get to work on choosing characteristics and creating something that’ll serve the script as best I can – I love that part of the process too!
The studio audience loves when Darius appears. Does that help build his character?
I don’t really think of it in those terms. Darius is very much an Alpha Male; when I’m him, I’m just concentrating on barrelling through those wonderful, complex, densely packed scripts with as much speed, energy and swagger as possible, while trying to find new moments of silliness and playfulness with that ludicrous accent. And that cigar.
Who have been your favourite characters? (doesn’t have to be yours)
There have been so many over the years, but standouts for me include Roz’s characters Dolly Norman, Gay March, Mrs Cribbage, and Emily’s Maggie Bathysphere, Jelly Cannister, Lois Price and (although it’s not very PC to say this)… Cindy. And it’s always a joy to see Shaun in character mode – Bill Duthie, Mr Spon and of course the very occasional appearance of the mighty Milo Kerrigan.
You’ve played a few characters that Shaun had originally played, is there any trepidation to taking them on? Do you try to be faithful to his original portrayal, or just have fun with it?
Yes, that’s happened a couple of times (with the characters of Bill Duthie and Mr Spon), and it’s an INCREDIBLE compliment when Shaun entrusts those characters to me. I try to emulate his performance as closely as I can – studying and copying his inflections, rhythms and body movements. I’m quite forensic about it, as I tend to be with most impressions. There’s a lot of analysis and study behind the scenes before the performance that the audience doesn’t see. Of course, I know I’m not Shaun, and I’m not trying to pass for him… but the perfectionist in me wants the portrayal of the character to be as similar as possible.
You’ve been a multiple quiz show champion (among other things). Do you still like to hoover up as much information as possible and stay match fit, or is it something that you’d have to prepare for?
Aha! No, I’ve become quite rusty on that front, I’m afraid. I do remain perennially curious, and when I come across any new facts that delight me, I do consciously lock them away. But if I were to do any serious quizzing these days, I’d definitely want to put in some study beforehand. My official position on quiz shows and game shows is that I’m retired. Although that’s not to say I could never be coaxed out of retirement… 🙂
What are you looking forward to working on next?
I have three projects in the pipeline that I’m really excited about at the moment. The first one’s my next book: 50 Things To Be Seriously Grateful For Today* *and 50 not-so-serious things to illustrate them. (www.50Things.today) This is a hybrid serious/silly book that I’ve been working on for a couple of years now, and depending on when you’re reading this, it’s just about to come out, or it just has come out (check the website for details!)
The second thing I’m working on is a new one-man show for next year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival. It’s called Letters to My Heroes, and here’s the blurb:
For years, Stephen Hall (Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell) has been writing to his heroes – the stars of stage and screen – asking for advice. Tonight, he takes us through all their replies, in this brand new one-man show, that critics are calling “a convenient way of stringing together a bunch of celebrity impressions”.
And the third thing I’m working on is a play. It’s a whodunnit with loads of gags in it. I’ve always loved whodunnits, and Agatha Christie, and although I included a whodunnit story strand in my novel (Symphony Under Siege) I really wanted to explore the genre further, in another medium. I’ve never written a play before, so I thought “why not?” I’ve worked out all the characters, and the killer’s master plan, and I’m finding crafting all the intricate, puzzle making aspects of the thing really fascinating!
In very happy news, Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell is back for a 15th season on Wednesday 20th July at 8:40pm (pushed back because of Gruen, but this nicely allows Shaun fans time to switch from the Brain Eisteddfod on Channel 10 which finishes 8:30pm ish). A new government, and a new set of politicians to poke fun at.
But all good things must come to an end too, and Shaun has confirmed on Twitter than this will be the last season. He has advised it was his decision: “After 11 years and 15 seasons, I just felt it was time for someone younger to take advantage of the resources and opportunities on offer. I’m turning 60 in a week for fuck’s sake.”
When we spoke to Shaun earlier this year, he seemed optimistic about more episodes after this year, but some time away from the show must have changed his mind. We can’t say we’re not sad here at SMO-HQ, but understand Shaun’s reasoning. We just hope he’s not planning a full transition to a behind the scenes role (like Andrew Denton), because it’s the “Shaun-ness” of the show that really makes it our favourite program on TV.
We now know that Shaun Micallef’s Brain Eisteddfod will premiere on July 20 on Channel 10 (and all the associated catch-up locations) at 7:30pm.
The new quiz show is a blend of Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation and the old University Challenge style shows, with teams of Year 11 High School students pitted against each other to determine who has the biggest brains.
Shaun wanted to feature Year 11 students because he felt they were under-represented on TV, and jumped at the chance to demonstrate that ‘intelligent life’ exists on the planet.
It’s expected to be a little less zany than TAYG, but still with a good dose of Shaun’s humour. See the preview below:
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.