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

A quick edit

Anyone keeping an eye on Shaun’s Twitter feed after episode 3 of the current season (14) of Mad as Hell, may have noticed this:

Turns out Shaun caused a mini-Twitter storm over this censorship, despite his obvious joke on the whole situation. It seems much more likely a self-edit by Shaun or the MaH team; due to the recent loss of life due to a shark attack in Sydney harbour, Tosh’s segment equivalating our debt to a shark bite seemed a little tasteless (pardon the pun). Basically this bit was re-edited into a similar topic but different approach.

Anyway, if you’re pedantic (and you’ve read this far… so chances are…), you can rewatch from about 6:20 to 7:40 on iView and see a whole new bit!

I’ve never been able to be sure, but I do think there’s been a minor edit before… not sure if anyone else remembers it.

Mad for Season 14

Finally (and thankfully) we have a new season of Mad As Hell – the fourteenth to be exact – starting this Wednesday 2nd February 2022 at 8:30pm (ish).

It always feels like a waste when there’s so much political nonsense going on and the show is on hiatus, but on the plus side there’s plenty to catch up on.

And if our Prime Minister (Scott Morrison) calls the election four weeks earlier than the latest date he can, Mad As Hell will be on the air to cover it, so we should be in for a Kraken good time.

Last but not least, when this season does wrap up, it will be the 10th anniversary of the show… more on that later.

The endurance of Milo

If Shaun is known for one thing from his long canon of work, it is the “brownish bomber”, his character Milo Kerrigan.

Milo is of course an ex-boxer with a speech impediment and a clumsy but earnest demeaner – you can see some of his work on YouTube.

Created by Shaun and Gary McCaffrie for Full Frontal in the mid 1990’s, Milo was often used as a bit of a “time filler” for a comedy show that had 42 minutes (an hour less ads) of content to fill – by smashing up the set and generally being non-sensical. This mayhem and Shaun’s portrayal of the character did endear him to the audience, making him much beloved. He appeared many times over many episodes, in his boxing training room, as a weatherman or teaching viewers how he hosts a dinner party.

Although Shaun has shown mixed feelings to bringing Milo back over the years, Milo has endured and has appeared in most of Shaun’s projects. Most recently, after holding out for 11 seasons, Shaun has unleashed Milo twice on Mad As Hell – as a barber and then as a spokesperson for Craig Kelly, surprisingly being interviewed “live” by Shaun.

Other appearances include

  • Micallef Program: Appeared just one time as a substitute for Chris Corrigan, who was a prominent figure in the news around 1998 due to the wharf dispute
  • Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation: On the Channel 10 incarnation, doing movie quotes for a round
  • Shaun Micallef’s New Year’s Rave: in this 2009 special, there was a special segment covering Milo’s boxing roots

(From memory there was no Newstopia appearance….)

Have you enjoyed seeing Milo pop back on the screens? 

More Tales from the Forest

Happily Ever Afterwards book cover

A few years ago, Shaun penned a book aimed at early-teenage kids (or “tweens” as some people say), based on the way he used to twist his telling of fairytales to his kids when they were younger. It was smart and fun, and a little less mind-bending than some of Shaun’s other books.

Now, Tales from a Tall Forest has a sequel: Happily Ever Afterwards

The Queen of Tancred and her royal retinue are on a mission: to ensure all the citizens of Tancred are happy. But that’s a lot harder than it sounds – especially when the Happiness Tour accidentally stumbles into the neighbouring region of Hamelin. Oops. Soon, Queen Mathilde smells a rat. A whole kingdom of them, in fact … because Hamelin has been overrun with rodents. Why is a rat on the throne? Where are all of Hamelin’s children?

Like the previous book, it’s been illustrated throughout, but by a different illustrator. It is due to be released September 29th, and can be pre-ordered online. Sadly, with the current COVID situation, it doesn’t look like we’ll see any book signings.

Lucky 13 for Mad As Hell!

The thirteenth series of Mad As Hell began last Wednesday – and are we very glad for that! It’s the ninth year for the show, and we’re expecting 12 episodes. Six! Other Random Numbers!

All the cast has returned, so we can just crack on an enjoy it. 

It’s back again without an audience due to COVID restrictions – but it nearly had one… New restrictions were introduced by the Victorian government at 6pm, just 30 minutes before the first episode was about to be taped WITH an audience. It would have been a huge letdown for that audience, but strangely enough, the lack of audience hasn’t really taken away from the show in the last season and a bit… it might be a bit of a shock when those laughs return.

Usual time slot of 8:30pm Wednesdays, or watch on iView. You may need a login now to watch online (as sent up by Tosh’s parody of Charlie Pickering’s ad about it in episode one of season 13).

Time for Round 12 of Mad As Hell

It’s almost difficult to believe that we’re about to enjoy a 12th season of Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell, almost 8 years after it first started.

There’s is no doubt it is the best Australian political satire, which is pretty good for a show that Shaun considers a sketch comedy show framed around the local politics of the day.

This season, like the second half of the previous one, will continue to have no studio audience due to the Coronavirus restrictions in Melbourne, where Mad As Hell is filmed.

The lack of audience makes it reminiscent of one of Shaun’s previous shows, Newstopia, an SBS news based show that had international news, rather than Australian, as a source. The Newstopia link hasn’t been lost on Shaun, with the Newstopia music and style making a few appearances, significantly in Episode 7 of last season, which was the first audience-less.

Mad As Hell is back for 12 weeks starting August 5th at 8:30pm on ABC.

Ten years!

It’s been ten years since this very website first appeared on the Internet, and wow hasn’t time flown!

At the time, Shaun was between seasons on Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation (the Channel 10 years) … Mad As Hell was still a few years away. I’m so grateful to Shaun and all the fellow fans for making this website what it is over the last 10 years; Shaun’s someone who’s always got something new on the boil, and it’s been enjoyable to help share them. (He’s also a really nice person.)

But I must apologise, as I feel like I’ve dropped the ball on this website, having been so long since the last update. With Mad As Hell continuing it’s path of excellence (renewed for another season later this year), using Twitter to share breaking information and Shaun himself being on Twitter, there’s not much extra news to share. It’s mostly been sit back and enjoy the Micallef time. Also, I’m excellent at procrastination, so there’s that too. I’ll try to post some new things over the next few weeks 🙂

Here’s to another ten years of Shaun brilliance, and this website sticking around to discuss it.

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.

25 years in one book

Shaun’s latest book has hit the shelves: Mad As Hell And Back, an anthology of sketches from Full Frontal, The Micallef P(r)ogram(me), Newstopia and, of course, Mad As Hell.

It’s co-written with Shaun’s writing partner Gary McCaffrie, and the two introduce each section of the book (grouped by program) with a story about how they got to that point, sparing back and forth.

I was very happy to get my hands on my copy, it’s a celebration of some of Shaun and Gary’s best sketches in 370 pages. Sure it’s really for die-hard fans, but why would you want to be anything else?