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!