Interview with Stephen Hall

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. ( 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!

Thanks Stephen!

Shaun on 10 Years of Mad As Hell

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!

Shaun and I talking about Mad As Hell in a previous interview

Shaun on this season of Mad As

With season 10 of Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell wrapping up, I spoke to Shaun a few weeks ago about how it was going and what lies ahead for the future.

Ten seasons and a 100+ episodes – are you still enjoying Mad As Hell and would you do another 10?
I always talk to Gary (McCaffrie) immediately afterwards, and now he’s in Tasmania so I just ring him; he watches a feed from the studio. He just moved there, so is writing from home. He used to work in the office next to me, but it doesn’t feel much different, we might miss the lunch. Because he’s not driving any more, he’s working – we get another three sketches out of him! As long as he wants to do (Mad As Hell), I’m pretty happy doing it. As he said to me last year, “this is the perfect show for us”, which is no surprise because it was constructed by us. It’s pretty good, and I can’t think that in my remaining life in television, we’ll find something that is better. As long as they want it, and as long as Gary wants to do it… If the cast and crew wanted to go off and do their own thing, as they do from time to time, we’re able to bring new people in, and we’ve had Christie (Wheelan-Browne) hit the ground running. And that’s good, because everyone steps up with someone new there. There will come a time when the audience say “that’s enough, let’s not hear from someone who’s 60 years old.” (“Don’t be like that!” I replied)

There have been a few cast changes this season: you mentioned Christie, plus Roz has departed and Francis has been in and out.
Francis did the first live night, and he did some later ones, but he otherwise hasn’t been available because of the play he’s been in. But he has made himself available to do some field pieces. If you didn’t look too closely, you wouldn’t be able to tell. Just as Roz being absent for the latter part of the season. Roz isn’t going to come back, she’s decided it’s time to take advantage of some new opportunities which she deserves. It’s perfectly understandable she wants to flex her dramatic muscles. I do it myself, go off and do a few things between seasons. You’ll see Laurence (Boxhall) appearing in the Curiosity Cul-de-sac sketches. He’s in the play with Francis, so when I saw the show, I caught up with Laurence and I wrote up a little piece for him.

Christie you had worked with in The Odd Couple, how did you meet Michelle (Brazier)?
I was seeing some Aunty Donna stuff, and she had featured a bit in their stuff, and I noticed how good she was. Then she happened to be doing a show at the Comedy Festival called QANDA (a send up of Q&A) with Emily, and it all seemed to work as a sort of audition. We asked if she was interested, and she was, and she also hit the ground running. She had to go away for Edinburgh fringe, but in the last 2 weeks we have everyone, so it will be an old-school full-sized cast.

Are you hopeful the show will be back next year?
Always hopeful, but we’ve had an indication – it will be back.

And will you be able to bring all the cast along?
I think everyone is up for it.

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… 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 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.