Our 2016 Interview with Shaun

Mad As Hell S6Ep5: TV HottiesShaun has once again given us some of his valuable time after filming an episode of Mad As Hell recently to answer all our burning questions:


Has this season of Mad As Hell felt more frenetic because of the election which was impending and then imploded?

Tonight (episode 9) felt a lot stranger, because of what happened on Saturday (election) night. We had to put ourselves in a time machine and go ahead three days and think “what’s going to happen on Wednesday?” (They actually taped two openings due to the uncertainty of the election result at the time.)
Before we started, we thought this would be an interesting challenge, as we’ve never actually had to make a show during an election campaign; there was the faux election campaign of 2013 which seemed to go on all year. But this one was announced on the Sunday before we went to air. We anticipated there would be a lot more late writing on a Tuesday, but that hasn’t happened, and the election hasn’t altered the way we approach it at all, but it has focused us on more domestic and election topics, so the shows by the nature, when the election’s not on, tend to be about a range of topics. This season seems to be about 60% about the election, each show. I don’t think it’s made any different to way we do it, just the content.

Who do you think would be the best Prime Minister for comedy’s sake?

I have a suspicion that the next time we see a conservative PM in this country it will be Scott Morrison and he’ll be great. There’s just a confidence and an uncompromising quality about him that would be very valuable to us. I hope Malcolm does well and manages to hold it all together, but I think the next one’s going to be ScoMo.
On the Labor side, I hope Bill Shorten stays with us forever, but I’d like to see Tanya Plibersek or it might be Mark Dreyfuss. I think him against ScoMo might be really interesting.

Do you feel any obligation to bring out the crowd favourites like the Zinger or the Kraken, or only if the flow feels right?

If it feels right. I think we’ve learned that sometimes we write things for characters because we like the character, but we just edit them out, because there’s no reason for the character to be there. The characters are always a delivery system for a joke, rather than the joke in itself. Having said that there we quite a few characters who didn’t have nothing to do with anything tonight.

Francis was all made up as Bobo just…

..to not be there, and leave, yes. Sometimes it’s nice to burn these things to have them and not use, rather than them having nothing to do and having them hang around for too long.

What makes you want to perform a character yourself instead of having the ensemble perform it, such as Cardinal Nosey?

I get sick of sitting behind the desk, and want to play with the rest of them.

[Roz yells] They’re all Rollie!

[Replies, with a smile] No they’re not. Roz thinks all the characters I do sound like Rollie, a character I did in the Micallef Program. Bill Duthie is basically Rollie, just basically an idiot. He was an earnest older man, unaware of his surrounds, and Roz has rightly picked me as simply doing that character in a variety of different voices. Sometimes not even that.

So speaking of characters, why did you choose The Odd Couple to perform with the MTC?

It’s a good play, very good piece of writing. There were three vehicles that I thought would be suitable for Francis and I. One was Sleuth by Antony Shaffer, The Sunshine Boys and The Odd Couple, both by Neil Simon. Amazingly, it was thought we were too young for The Sunshine Boys, so we might do that in a few years, so The Odd Couple was the one we picked.

Will this be set in the 60’s as original written?

I think 1965 was when it originally went to Broadway, and that’s where we’ll set it. There’s something about no mobile phones, there’s something about the attitude towards marriage and women that is best set in the period, otherwise you have to apologise for it and explain it away.

For the casting, you told the audience tonight that weren’t really fussed which role you played and left it up to the director?

I was hoping it would be Felix (the tidy one), so I’m pleased about that. I would have been happy to have played Oscar (the messy one), that would have been more of a challenge.

Francis says you’re the neater one, closer to Felix in real life.

I think maybe that’s true, but I think Francis could have more easily played both. I think Oscar would have been a bit harder for me, so it’s worked out well.

(One option was also to swap roles every night, but that was decidedly too much of a challenge.)

You’ve finished filming the three new Stairway to Heaven specials?

Yes, they’ll be on in August.

How was it with these compared to the first one-off? Did you go in looking for something different?

No it’s the same (quest), because I don’t think I got the answer. I got part of an answer, but I felt less pushed this time, because I had three chances to find the answer. We did get there, we did find out what it was. Luckily in the last episode!

Previously we’ve talking about how people all around the world still love Mr and Mrs Murder, and how the dialog between the characters was so natural. We also spoke about how your nickname for Nicola came about but Mike want’s to know about her’s for you, Chaka-khan?

I came up with Charlie to call her Fizzy, and Kat came up with Nicole to call him Chaka-khan. I guess that comes from Charlie, and it amused Kat. It just sounded close enough and like a pet name. I remember Kat laughing a lot, we were both amused by the characters.

And Mad As Hell is back next year?

I’m not sure if I’m meant to announce it, but yes, we’re back mid next-year. I get to say “see you next year” at the end of the last episode, which I can’t usually.

Will this be your last season at Gordon Street (which is due to close, and where Shaun has filmed most of his shows)?

I think we’re here next year, one more season.


Stay tuned for our interview with Francis!

Interview with Shaun on his 2015 projects

As Mad As Hell was wrapping up a few months ago, Shaun spoke to me about his projects through to next year, including The Ex-PM, Stairway to Heaven and the return of Mad As Hell. I’ve finally written it up, so enjoy!


I can’t think of anybody who’s so heavily involved in so many TV projects at one time (Mad As Hell, The Ex-PM and Stairway to Heaven) – you must be pretty busy at the moment!

I would have been busy anyway, because the plan was to do Mad As Hell at the beginning and the end of the year, and for one reason or another the Mad As Hell at the end of the year was vacated, and I think that was to do with funding generally. [Note: Mad As Hell comes from the Light Entertainment budget].

That meant that the back end of the year was free, so I said why don’t we have a look at doing the documentaries – we’re doing (the filming of) two at the end of the year and one at the beginning of next year. I’m still to have talks about what they are; (the production company) probably know, but they haven’t told me yet.

So it’s more the process of they’ll come to you with a suggestion of “we think you should go here” and you’ll go?

We have talked about where we might go, so it won’t surprise me, it will just be a case of which three they pick.

Shaun in Stairway to HeavenWas that how the first one came about, was it their (Artemis’) suggestion to go to India and look at Buddhism?

It was one of the ones we talked about, and oddly enough, I think it was the easiest to get to and the most exotic. Maybe the other ones won’t be so far away. The US might be a good place to go.

You haven’t been to the States have you?

No. It was interesting having never been to India to go to Haridwar, a country town, instead of the big cities, and ditto in the US: I would be going somewhere that would be quite unusual to go to for a first visit.

Is there anything you are hoping to learn in the upcoming three episodes of Stairway to Heaven? Will it be a continuation of the journey in the original special?

Hopefully it’s a refinement, I don’t really know. I certainly didn’t answer every question, and I didn’t ask every question. So, if it is about Mormonism for example, it’s interesting because I’m connected to the basic bedrock of the Christian traditions, so it’s easier for me to follow. But “why is this relatively new strand been so embraced?” It’s not a venerable as Hinduism. It’s a different question. It still links to someone’s absolute certainty about this particular version of faith that people have. The question is the same, it’s probably more about perspective.

So you’ll be treating it as a continuing enlightenment experience, trying to learn from people?

Because it would be in the same family of faith that I grew up in (Catholic), it might be easier for me know what I’m talking about when I ask the questions. So it may be less reverent than it would be in a more foreign environment.

Shaun Micalled as "The Ex-PM"I’m very much looking forward to The Ex-PM, since you teased it so long ago. How is preparation going for it?

Downstairs from the Mad As Hell office is the ABC drama department, so we’re casting for it now. So occasionally on a Wednesday, after doing the edit for Mad As Hell, I’ll go back to the office and look at some of the scripts that are coming in, then pop downstairs and do a couple of auditions, then come back upstairs and sign off on the sound edit and the audio post and the shows finished. So I’ve been doing two things on the Wednesdays. Once we finish (Mad As Hell), I’ll re-write the scripts and we start shooting in late May maybe.

Will it be mostly a set piece, or a bit of outdoors and in-studio?

There won’t be any studio component; it will all be in the real world. We’ll find a house to shoot in.

I guess he (Andrew Dugdale) will be running a home office?

It will be a bit of an upstairs/downstairs sort of arrangement.

And it will air later in the year?

Probably about September; 6 episodes.

Will Francis be in it?

Yes, absolutely. We’ll try and get everyone guesting in it, but Francis will have a role written for him in it, as always.

What are the chances of more Mad As Hell in the future?

It will be next year. It’s a good show, we’re match fit, we know what we’re doing, we just need to wait a year. We’ve done that before, waited a year between the first and the second series. We don’t want to wear out our welcome.

So you’re enjoying it enough that you’d love to come back and do some more?

Yeah! [said emphatically]

Do you like to seek out these projects, or do these opportunities come along for you to pounce on?

These days I don’t have to do much chasing. Mr and Mrs Murder was easy to get up, harder to do. I’ve been really lucky. There have been projects which haven’t gotten up, you just draw a conclusion that it wasn’t the right time or it wasn’t a strong project. If the will isn’t there, no amount of pushing is going to get them to do it.

Milo Kerrigan on TAYGIs it endearing that people still request Milo?

It’s alright, I don’t mind. There are worse things to be remembered for.  No one is asking me to do Milo professionally on a TV show – if that was the only job I was being offered I’d be a bit bitter I suppose.  It will come to that maybe, turning up in someone’s short film and that’s all they’ll want me to do.

I think we the fans feel part of an in-joke when you reference your previous work, as you do a bit in Mad As Hell. You like to layer the jokes, so everyone can feel like there is a joke for them.

Like throwing in the clips from The Micallef P(r)ogram(me), it doesn’t hurt if you don’t know the reference. Maybe it’s a bit more of an interesting experience if you go: “I remember that when I was 15.” Everything I’ve done had references in it. It’s about the level of commitment to it; if it’s just a reference and it doesn’t matter here nor there, that’s the way to do it. We did a New Years Eve show which was just layered with references to the past, and that was probably a bit too much. You can’t visit the past too much or it looks indulgent.

Thanks to Shaun and all the Mad As Hell crew (Anthony specially) for their time and assistance.

Stephen Hall, man of many talents

Stephen holding his Brainest Quiz Master award

Not only has he acted on stage, performed in a one-man Indiana Jones show, been a quiz show champion and devised an app, Stephen Hall has both written and acted in Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hall. He gave me some of his time to chat, and here’s the result:


Me: The last time we spoke, you were a writer on the show (the first series). What was it like transitioning to an acting role?

Stephen: Great! I’d done a few little appearances in the first couple of series, and I was writing, but I didn’t get much stuff through. It was deemed I was better utilised in the cast, and I couldn’t be happier, it’s been fantastic. I’ve been performing longer than I’ve been writing in general, it’s much more fun. It’s much easier in terms of – with writing, as they say, just stare at a blank page and open a vein – you come in and do it, and it’s different and fun every week, and hopefully you do a performance that’s worthy of these brilliant scripts that keep showing up every week.

You’ve got a few recurring characters now, and one that’s made a bit of splash in the media. Is it better to bring out a character repeatedly, or do you enjoy the one-off roles?

Mad As Hell S4E5 Darius HorshamWith Darius Horsham, which is based on an homage to Arnold Schwarzenegger – let’s not deny it – it’s great to come back and do new things with the character and see what other buttons we can push, and people have responded well to it. Even Mathias Cormann has responded well to it, evidently – he quoted the character, although some media would lead you to believe he quoted Schwarzenegger from a Republican Party convention 10 years ago. My money is on him quoting Mad As Hell, which quoted Schwarzenegger from 10 years ago, which in turn quoted a Schwarzenegger  sketch on Saturday Night Live. It’s got a quite a long history. I’m just happy whatever comes my way, and if a character has been well received enough they think it’s worth revisiting, that’s a great compliment. Then again, new ones come along I think “I hope I can make this worthy of being a re-occurring character”. I can’t tell you [when I’m doing a character for the first time] whether it was received well, because I have no perception of how the audience is reacting, because I’m concentrating so hard – I’ll watch it [when it airs] and see it for the first time, which will be interesting.

There’s a lot of content in the lines, you almost need to watch each episode twice to get every second “beat”.

Yes, and some of the lines go on for half-a-page, and that’s part of the joke, that they are so complicated, which can make them very difficult to learn, but it’s always a challenge. You don’t get heaps of time, because you get the scripts on the Friday, Sunday or Monday for the Tuesday recording – it’s a challenge, keeps you on your toes.

I think you and Francis are neck-and-neck on impersonations of Shaun and his characters. Is that something you enjoy, does it just come to you or is it delivered to you (as lines) as a great opportunity?

Mad As Hell S4E1 Tony the AFP OfficerYeah, it’s great. Shaun came up with this AFP officer character Tony, who is a slightly overly enthusiastic fan of Shaun’s, and quote him back to himself in various characters Shaun’s performed over the years, and it’s great fun to be able to do those impressions. One of the great things about the show is it does layer-upon-layer of jokes about itself and of itself. Every type of joke is a good joke, and that’s one of them. I think Shaun enjoys me doing impressions of his characters in the show.

Shaun said that the first time he worked with you was on The Micallef Program, and you played a police officer who arrested the old guy who skipped the draft years ago.

I played one of them, I think there was two of us. I’ve played a few policemen over the years. In Welcher and Welcher I was also a security guard when Shaun had to empty his pockets as he entered the family law court. But, that would have been the first time I guess. Shaun was in the cast and writing on Full Frontal in 96/97, and I was starting out as a writer then. I hadn’t performed with him then, but he did kindly appear on our Channel 31 show way-back-when as a guest, Under Melbourne Tonight, that might have been the first time on camera together. But in The Micallef Program, it was a surprise arrest of a guy from dodging the draft 40 years ago, and we just chased him off the set!

You also have a claim to fame as a quiz show champion – you’ve been involved in so many things!

If you want all the details, you can go to www.howtowingameshows.com. It’s something I’ve been doing for over a year. [The win] was 2005, and that came after originally going on Sale of the Century in 1994, losing and not getting anything, back in 1999, losing and not getting anything at all, then when it was rebooted as Temptation in 2005, I thought “I’ll get it right this time” and I did. It was the culmination of a long persistent, stubborn journey. That was amazing, and it was life changing.

I think I’ve seen the ending of the last episode, and it was nerve wracking, even if you know what happens.

Spoiler alert.

You win. And I love the concept of the app you’ve got, Step-By-Step Story, but I can’t download it because I don’t have an iPhone.

Down the track we’ll be doing an Android app if demand allows for it. It’s a two player game where you write a story, one paragraph at a time. It was a new thing I wanted to do, found out how to do it, hired the people to code it last year. We’re persisting with that, going to keep on tweaking that, as Indy would say: “I’m making it up as I go.” The response so far has been very good. It’s for anyone who dares to believe that writing can be fun, and you can do it collaboratively with someone over long distances.

Collaborative creative writing would be more fun than doing it by yourself, because if you ever get stuck – staring at a blank page – the other person can pick the spark up.

Or you can drop your co-author in it, by killing all the characters – then over to you.

Maybe that explains Game of Thrones. Thanks for talking with us Stephen!

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!

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 spills on…

Shaun MicallefA little while ago, Shaun spoke (exclusively?) to this site about a number of things. Here’s a selection of the topics and Shaun’s responses:

Shaun was very happy with Mad As Hell season 3, felt it was a polished version of season 2. I asked if he’s become more comfortable with the show and he agreed, saying the show feels like it has more of an attitude about it, and that adding more writers has assisted in making it a bigger show. The third series was also allowed to use parliamentary footage, which made for some great zingers.

I congratulated him on reaching four seasons for MAH, equaling TAYG. He agreed it’s not something that happens often for him. Shaun nixed any chance of Talkin’ Bout Your Generation returning, saying it had ran its course; everyone has gone off and done their own thing with plenty of success. The show was a good mix of being a bit niche and nerdy, but with a bigger pond of content. Shaun says he stayed neutral on the generations, and didn’t pick on Josh because he was Gen Y  – it was because he was Josh.
Rosanne Barr did an international pilot version, but nothing came of it.

Mad As Hell S3E1: Micallef Tonight signWith the Micallef Tonight imagery and music appearing in Mad As Hell and Mr & Mrs Murder, I asked if 10 years made him more nostalgic about the show?
At the time, he couldn’t watch the episodes again, but would have another crack if the opportunity came around. He felt the New Year’s Eve special (on Channel 10 in 2009) demonstrated the concept had passed by, and couldn’t be revisited. The sign was rescued from Channel 9 when they sold their Bendigo Street studios; it looks good, and there is no where else to put it.

Other tid-bits he revealed:

  • Gary (McCaffrie, his writing partner) wrote the jokes for ABC’s New Year’s special; Shaun just delivered them when they couldn’t get anyone else. He wishes they kept some of those jokes for MAH!
  • He’s been asked on Q&A, but declined because he doesn’t really live and breath the news when MAH isn’t on. He watches the SBS news usually.
  • His pop culture isn’t really up to scratch; it stops at Blade Runner. For that reason he thinks he wouldn’t make a good panelist on Dirty Laundry Live (although was the after party host once)

More to reveal from our chat with Shaun!

More Fan Questions from Long-ago

Some time ago, we re-posted a Fan Q&A with Shaun from 1999, which had featured on the first known website dedicated to Mr Micallef.

Now, 14 years later, we post the other half, originally posted in 2000. No ground-breaking news obviously, but a nice little walk down the memory garden path. Even Gary got a question!

Chelsea asks:
What’s the writing process like for you? Do you see something ridiculous on a street corner and mentally convert it into a sketch, or is it more that you have to sit down at a desk, start with a character in a costume and put them through the motions of funny?

Shaun —
Bit of both I suppose. I’ll tend to write whether I have an idea or not. Usually something ends up on the page worth keeping. The best things though are the ideas that pop into your head fully formed and you just have to write them down. The second best ideas are those that pop out in conversation without really thinking about them – a line or a phrase will just fall out of your mouth and surprise the speaker as much as anyone else. Then you jot them down word for word and find a place to use them later.

Lindell asks:
Gary, do you have any ambitions as to comedy performance, or is the writing your best mode of expression? I’m very much a fan of your writing, any plans to write a book, novella, collection of recipes?

Gary —
Yes Lindell, I’d love to (as you say, and quite accurately) perform comedy but Shaun won’t allow it. He’s quite insecure and feels that if I were allowed to (as you say) perform on the show I would reserve my best material for me. Of course this is ridiculous. I would always give him my best material, leaving me to die in the arse. I have no plans to write anything else, and hope to return to my previous occupation of kitchen hand at the “Empress of India”, Payneham Rd. St Peters. But thank you for asking.

Mab asks:
Is Roz single??? 🙂 (Absolutely *lurve* the show! Can’t wait for season 3!!!)

Shaun —
I couldn’t possibly comment on that (the first bit). Glad you like the show and are looking forward to the third bit of it.

Cathy asks:
Hi Shaun – do you have a single favourite sketch or moment from the show that you think worked best, or that you most enjoyed doing/writing?

Shaun —
I really liked ‘Filthy Stinking Poms’, although it did rather turn out looking like the Royal Family, which we didn’t know about at the time. My favorite though would have to be Spiffington Manse.

Cancerboy asks:
How open are you guys to suggestions for jokes/sketches, etc? If somebody has written something that they think would suit the style of the show would you read it and seriously consider it?

Shaun —
Yeah, but generally we prefer our own stuff.

Gropogi asks:
How come we never get to see the final episode of Season 1?

Shaun —
Just bad luck Gropogi. The scheduling the first time around just dropped it from that week and the second time around it was dropped because of the Paralympics. It’s a pity too because it’s got some good stuff in it. Anyway a mystique will develop around it now and it will be remembered more fondly than it should.

Liv asks:
Hi Shaun and Gary, your show is the FUNNIEST thing I’ve ever seen!!! I was wondering, what kind of shows do you find yourselves watching on tv at the moment? Do you get into comedies or try to stay away from those, in case you accidentally copycat a particular gag/style?

Shaun —
Thanks Liv – I tend to avoid sketch comedy for the reason you suggested. We might pick up on something or get all paranoid about something that’s a bit similar to what we were planning to do (for example Rove had a joke on Monday which is a bit similar to one we were planning on doing next week – ah well…) Me? I like Frasier. Gary? He likes The Royale Family.

Sheryl asks:
What do you guys think of Stan Zemaneck and Beauty and the Beast? I’ve heard Stan bag your show on more than one occasion (presumably after your brilliant piss-take ‘Ali-Baba and his Forty Thieves’).

Shaun —
I thinked he bagged me on TV and radio before Ali Baba went to air. That’s his character I guess, to complain about such things. The show probably isn’t his cup of tea. A lot of people don’t like it.

Dale asks:
How did you get into the Harry Hears You commercials for Bankwest, Shaun?

Shaun —
Found out about them, eh? Just the usual Dale – the agent rang and said there was an ad up, I auditioned, did some improvised schtick, got the gig. I did the ads in one week. It was fun. No lines. Lots of ad libbing. We made it up as we went along. Like in the old silent film days.

Marguerite asks:
Will we ever see you do stand-up, or live theatresports or comedy Shaun? I think you’d be grouse!

Shaun —
I’m thinking of touring with a live show (avec Francis) in the second half of the year. [2001] It’s called “An Audience In Front Of Shaun Micallef and Francis Greenslade”. No doubt potential backers will dissuade me of this title. I used to do theatre sports but gave it up when a comedian called Geoff Kelso balled me out in front of about 100 other actors and told me to not give up my day job. I’ve never really recovered.

Brian Lee asks:
Although I am only 12 years old I am a great fan of your show. I was just wondering what is a normal day in the life of Shaun Micallef.

Shaun —
Tuesday is pretty much a normal day for me. Sometimes Thursday.

Tess asks:
I’m really looking forward to seeing your sit-com Welcher and Welcher Shaun, and wondered how you felt about the canned laughter that comes with the sit-com territory?

Shaun —
I can’t stand canned laughter. We don’t use it in the Micallef Program – if only one person laughed at a joke that’s what you hear.

Interview with Francis

Francis Greenslade with David M Green

David M Green, long-time Shaun fan and now a writer in the Mad As Hell team, got to talk to Francis Greenslade last year. You can listen to the whole thing on David’s website or iTunes, but here’s some things we learnt (in relation to Shaun):

Francis first saw Shaun on stage, doing a sketch called “The Incredible Low-Fat Ice Coffee Carton”. Both being members of the Adelaide University Footlights, they would often arrive nearly an hour and a half before rehearsal, just waiting for the doors to open.

It was Shaun and Gary who got Francis onto TV, specifically Full Frontal, and did so by getting him in as an extra for a sketch they had written.

He comments that The Micallef Program was “a joy” to work on, and says there hasn’t been a more seemless and hysterical sketch comedy show in Australia. Meat Boy is his favourite sketch. Everything was written before filming began, allowing plenty of time for the cast to prepare (especially when compared to Mad As Hell).

They also talk about one of the sketches filmed for Season 2 of Mad As Hell, which never went to our screens, called ‘Blather’. The question remains if this, and other unaired material for the show, will ever be released.

Shaun talks about getting Mad

In an interview with David Knox, Shaun revealed a lot about what we can expect from Mad As Hell this year, plus a few other tidbits.

Firstly, there will be two seasons this year, each of 10 episodes.

His original plan for Mad As Hell was to push to 5 nights a week, similar to shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (although that’s only four nights). And Shaun still wants to get there: “A proper, nightly show. And the idea is to eventually have it 2 nights a week, then 3 and then be on every night.”

This season, he’s looking forward to the new content provided by a change in government. “It’s great. If we had more of the same we’d be worried about repeating ourselves. But it’s a very different dynamic.”

Some favourite characters will return: “Roz Hammond seems to have the best hit ratio. She has lots of characters that everyone loves writing for.” But Shaun will continue to avoid any shots of the audience: “I loathe them.”

And there’s a few hidden gems in this season for fans like us: the humorous episode synopsis will continue, with inspiration from some Three Stooges episodes; plus the Micallef Tonight sign, saved from the old GTV9 building before it was demolished recently (or “burned down” as Shaun put it), will make a background appearance somewhere on the set.

Finally, he also confirmed that his decision to pursue two seasons of Mad As Hell this year has halted any chance of Mr & Mrs Murder returning, had Channel Ten been interested.

Interview with Stephen Hall

Stephen Hall is one of the writers on Mad As Hell, not to mention a number of Shaun’s other shows, an actor, and really nice guy. Last year, he gave me some of his time in the hallways of the ABC for a chat.

Before we began, Stephen indulged me in a “nerd-off” on the topic of James Bond – he being one half of the team behind Bond-A-Rama. We came to agreement that “The Man with the Golden Gun” had one of the worst theme songs. When that was done, the questions began!


Me: I was going to ask if the writers ever get to say any lines, as previously you’ve appeared twice [in Mad As Hell], but tonight’s episode (Episode 9) that was proved wrong!

Stephen: That character is called Lionel.

He was carrying a lot of toilet paper around.

You noticed that did you?

It got more and more (in the shot pieces) – was that me?

No, I think that was Lionel.

The people in Glenhuntly Road (where the vox pops are shot) must think there’s some strange characters around.

We got looks, and people stood around. I’d be more worried if there weren’t looks – it’s not New York, it’s Elsternwick ladies and gentlement. I didn’t know what voice to do, because I didn’t think he was ever going speak. Shaun said make it counter to what we think it’s going to be. So I made it after Noel Coward or Lionel Barrymore. Named after Lionel Barrymore actually.

So they named him before the voice?

He was always called Lionel. He always had a caftan. Always had a WW1 flying helmet. That was Shaun writing that for me to do – as a mark of respect.

How does the writing process work? There’s five of you…?

Yes, there’s Shaun, Gary Mcaffrie, Michael Ward, Tony Moclair and me. Gary and Michael are on five days a week, Tony and I are on three days a week. Tony, Gary, Michael and I share an office, and we sit at our computers and write. We read the news everyday, and watch the news everyday and try to think of funny stuff that’s happening, in the various formats of sketches for the show. We email them to Shaun, print it out and put it in the script box at the same time, and he has the final say on them.

You were involved in [the writing of] TAYG as well, and Newstopia too?

Yes. Gary and Michael have written with Shaun a lot longer than I have; Gary and Shaun have known each other since they were teenagers.

[Gary] was the foot in the door [to the industry] for Shaun I believe.

I first met Shaun in 1996 on Full Frontal, where Wardy and I both started in Melbourne professional comedy writing. Wardy had been in Canberra before that, doing breakfast radio. Canberra’s 92.3 Kook and the Bambino in the Morning – I just made that up.

It sounds like something it would be. How is writing for TAYG different to Mad As Hell? Were you involved in the questions, or monologues?

It’s a different beast. There was [writing for] intros and outros, and bits where we had other people coming in and fanciful conversations with Hello Kitty. And the end game envelope delivery, ideas for those. We alternated – Wardy would write the script one week, and I the next and send it through to Shaun. As on this, he was the final arbitor. The content of the games was largely dictated by the producers of the show, and if we had ideas we could slot them in, but everyones ideas were listened to. It was a group beast. Our brief was to write the gags for Shaun, within the structure of the show. Trying to say the same thing different ways, hundreds of times.

Do you find the process of writing for TAYG different to Mad As Hell?

It’s the same people, which is really nice, and a lot of the production team are the same. It’s very different content, it’s much more challenging as it changes every day, and there are days when we look through the newpaper and say “for goodness sake, can’t something usable happen in the world.” And, it’s difficult to make jokes about death and destruction, so we shy away from those things. [If they’re] absurd, pompous and basic wankery – there’s always a good time. Tony Abbott’s hair net tour is a case in point.

Other people would be familiar with you in your acting, such as in The King or on stage as well, and you do a lot of writing. Do you have a preference?

I’ve had a lot more work writing than acting, acting is tougher, and as I have a certain look which people don’t always think of me [for roles]. With writing, it doesn’t matter as much. Things lead to other things, as much of you do something and do an OK job, and people think for you for the next thing and they contact you.

But acting not so much, in my experience there’s no such thing as a big break. You think “this will lead to other things”, but it hasn’t happened so much. For me, and my particular “journey”, I’ve had a lot more work writing than acting. But having said that, acting’s much more fun. Ideally it’s great to do stuff you’ve written, which is why Bond-o-rama is fantastic, because Wardy and I wrote it together, we gave me the really plum roles. How else am I going to get cast as Sean Connery?

Thanks for your time Stephen – we look forward to seeing your appearances during Season 2.