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.

More Interview-ness with Shaun

Last year, I had the enviable task of interviewing Shaun about his latest works. Unfortunately we ran out of time, so he kindly answered the rest via email… and through the busyness of last year – I forgot to post it!

So, as originally promised, part 2 of the 2012 interview: (some facts may have changed since first answered)

Me: You’ve traditionally been very private about your family and home life, what made you decide to participate in Who Do You Think You Are?

Shaun: I would never want to take part in a documentary about myself. I don’t even like doing an interview unless I’m plugging something and I can do some shtick. Sometimes if it’s someone I know well, I’ll do it (like Tony Martin) but otherwise I just assume people really wouldn’t be that fascinated by me blathering on about myself. It’s okay on a website like this because people come looking for it – but on TV it’s a bit different and has a slightly higher obligation to be a bit entertaining (sorry Stuart). WDYTYA was a bit different though: part history lesson and part travelogue. I thought it would be interesting and was surprised that I opened up emotionally (for me).

Your appearance on the show got such a response from people who felt connected to your story. Did you imagine that would happen?

I must admit I hadn’t thought about that. I was amazed at the number of people who watched it, who actually knew my father. Quite a few people lived in the same street and remembered the bombing. My cousin contacted me (I have not seen her for many years) to tell me the two little girls who were killed (and who shared our surname) were, in fact, related to us. Very sad obviously. But the whole point of the series is to connect with people – and it did that.

Has what you found out in WDYTYA changed things for you and your relationships? (If it’s not too personal)

Well, it did for a while – I was all charged up with embracing my family and looking up relatives I haven’t spoken to in decades – but I have since reverted to my usual aloof self.

How long have you been planning Mr and Mrs Murder? Is there anything you can give away about it?

Mr & Mrs Murder was an idea Jason Stephens and I had a couple of years ago. We had been trying to hatch a project for myself and Kat for a while ) We’d both come up with Newstopia back in 2008 – along with Gary and Michael). There was a sketch show the ABC were interested in which turned out to be too expensive (the doctor-wants-your-husband’s-bed sketch from MAH was written for the Pilot). Mr & Mrs is the one that TEN liked. Can’t give away too much as TEN like thinking they are in charge and will get cross if I reveal anything…like that my character is a Martian and Kat’s character is actually a robot. Oops.

Are you looking forward to concentrating more on the acting?

I’m always acting – even when I’m not on screen. But I am looking forward to just acting and not having to produce or write the show.

You worked with Kat in Newstopia, and obviously developed a bond. Was it a preference to work with her in a more dramatic role rather than having her join Mad As Hell?

Well, I loved working with everyone in Newstopia but we wanted to make Mad as Hell a new show – or as new as possible, given the type of show it was – and that is why we didn’t use the same cast. I’d work with Kat in anything – the same goes for Nicholas Bell, Julie Eckersly, Ben Anderson and Peter Houghton. All brilliant.

Jenn asks: After a busy year with TAYG, MAH and Mr and Mrs Murder, will you be taking a break or are you keen to jump straight into the next project (or the next season of MAH?)

MAH returns early next year. Not sure what’s happening beyond that. I may get time to work on my new book.

There have been a few in-jokes in MAH – such as the parrot sketch reference, the two iced vovos, the TV guide description mirroring Welcher and Welcher – do you (or the other writers) like to add them for those who’ll notice them, or purely for your own enjoyment?

Michael Ward wrote the sketch with the dead parrot reference, Gary wrote the one with the iced vovos in it and I wrote the program descriptions. Personal tics and favourite references turn up all the time but are rarely the point of a joke or front and centre in a sketch.  I suppose it’s a way of personalising the material. Gary’s sketches tend to have characters named after SANFL footballers and be about form rather than character, Michael’s tend to be mostly about characters who are idiots and mine involve me sitting at the desk, nodding.

Mr Griffiths asks: Where do you get your ideas for your sketches from?

There’s an internet site we use.

Have you enjoyed bringing back old characters like Nobby and Milo?

In MAH we had some jokes which required an immensely stupid character, so I resurrected Nobby. Milo didn’t make an appearance (unless you count Francis’s impression of him in the last episode). I did notice that Nobby seemed a bit sad and lonely looking. My hair is now so white Nobby had to wear a beanie.

What does Gary think of these old characters returning!?

I think Gary was happy to see Nobby. He used to write the sketches for him when he was on Full Frontal. Hard to tell what Gary is thinking. He’s so mysterious.

Has Mr William Duthie become a new favourite?

I liked him. Michael Ward and I wrote the sketches. He might have done his dash though as he became increasingly senile over his five appearances. Keen eyed viewers will note he looks a bit like a character I played in the Micallef Program who burns down a nursing home.

Alex asks: I’m all the way up here in Brisbane, and it’s hard for me to get down to Melbourne, but one day I would love to meet you Shaun! Do you have anything planned in the future in terms of a tour?

Nothing planned as yet, Alex, but I’m always thinking about doing a stage show of some description – perhaps with Francis. I have the title: ‘An Audience in front of Shaun Micallef (and Francis Greenslade) but no actual show written as yet.

Mardi asks: On the scale of one to ten, do you still have the superball I gave you?


Jenn asks: What is your weapon of choice in the inevitable zombie apocalypse?

Ka-Bar Black Cutlass Machete. Maybe also take out an AVO.

Thanks to Shaun for continuing to be pestered by my questions!

GQ Australia Comedian of the Year

Shaun has been announced by the Australian version of GQ magazine as “Comedian of the Year” in their Men of the Year awards for 2012. Noted as the “silver fox”, he is described as someone who “grafts the subversive to the obscure.”

For someone who doesn’t easily fall into the traditional “comedian” category, it’s a great acknowledge for his wit and charm.

You can read the full story on the website or in the Dec/Jan magazine.

Interview with Tosh Greenslade

Just who is Tosh Greenslade? Apart from seeing him play some great characters on Mad As Hell, and knowing he wasn’t related to Francis, he was an enigma to us all. Then I got to talk to him, after a taping of Mad As Hell, and it turns out he is just a big a fan of Shaun’s as we are! And very modest.

(And he agreed to have that photo posted!)

Me: There’s been a lot of interest on the website to learn more about you. (Tosh looks incredulous) I guess because everyone is familar with Francis, Roz and the rest of the cast, but you’re a new face. How did you become involved in Mad As Hell?

Tosh: Basically, Francis directed a show that I did at drama school about 4 years ago. At the time, I was like “awww it’s Francis”, because I’d never met him before. And then, last year in December I got a call from the production people, and they were like “Shaun Micallef want’s you to audition for his show.” I was at a call centre, at my job, and I had to pretend on the phone to everybody that I wasn’t pissing myself. And then, I auditioned for it. I hadn’t seen Francis really, except briefly (since the show). And he kindly recommended me for an audition!

Wow, fantastic. So you came in and did an audition…

Yes, that’s it. And then I went to America, and spent all my time there being like “I hope I got it… maybe I didn’t get it.” Then it got to April, and I was like, I can pretty much guarantee I haven’t got this – I’m going to work in a call centre the rest of my life. And then they called me, and said “Tosh, Shaun wants you to be in the show.” I was like *uurghn*, and then I was in the show!

How have you enjoyed working on the show, the format and the different characters?

Well, it’s pretty rediculous being able to work on the show. I know of (this website) because I’m a fan of Shaun myself.

I wish I had any talent to work with Shaun!

I mean, look at me, I’m working on Shaun’s show – it can happen to anybody. Most of the stuff I’d done previously, I’d done almost entirely theatre. It’s something where I work very much from a character perspective, and a lot of actors are entirely method and prefer to find realism in their characters. I’m usually like, “if I do a voice, thats a character isn’t it?” So it (the show) plays to my strengths, I think. Even if that’s not a lot…

So you enjoy the characters where you can work with them a little bit, but they might not be fully developed?

Yeah, I think the shortness of each scene and the chopping between scenes (works for me).

Lucy from the website wanted to know what your background is?

As an actor or a human being?

I guess as an actor. I mean, you’d been in theatre before?

Not paid – not of any profile! (laughs) I always wanted to be actor ever since I was 15 or 16 years old, and then I went to University and thought I should probably do something to fall back on. I did half of a science degree, and didn’t go to any classes and failed out of it. I failed a few semesters, and it got to the point where I thought, “they’ve let me in a lot of times, I really should do something else because they’re going to kick me out this time.” And then my friend said “go to drama school”, and so I did and I got out 2 years ago. It’s mainly been theatre shows and stuff with friends. Mainly indie-theatre. I haven’t been acting outside of drama school, in the public sphere for the that long, two years at most.

So this is your first…. ?

Yeah, this is my first job. It’s basically like if you left high school and got to be an Astronaut, or what ever you wanted to be when you were a child. “Here, let your first job be your dream job – enjoy that!” It’s rediculous, it doesn’t make any sense. Right up until we actually started filming, I thought it was a horrible, horrible joke that was going to end up with me being hit with a stick. It’s rediculously good.

You end up playing a lot of the characters in suits, trying to debunk theories….

Basically, all I do is I come in, I learn my lines… not always – as evidenced (on this website)! (Tosh breaks into laughter)

You had the most scientific lines possible, so I did preface that they were quite difficult.

Nah, I was just shit at them. I come in, get my clothes on, which is usually a suit. Then they do something with my hair, or put a wig on. And then I just do it straight, and the material is such that I don’t really have to do anything at all. It’s the easiest job I’ve ever done. If there is room to create a character, I will try to do a little bit of character stuff, but it’s almost entirely in the material. When I get the scripts, I read it and you can tell “that’s funny, Shaun’s written that” – it feels like something that Shaun’s written, and you know just straight away from the words. You read the rhythms of it.

You can tell when Shaun’s written something as opposed to one of the other writers?

To an extent. I probably can’t tell so much between Shaun and Gary, just because I’ve grown up watching Full Frontal or The Micallef P(r)ogram(me) where they write together. I’m starting to pick between them, and starting to feel the little differences. When I say, “that’s a Micallef script” – I mean that’s Shaun’s team, it’s that style. If you play it completely straight, the comedy just comes out of it. You don’t need to do anything with it. And when you try and do things to it, when you try and put a funny voice on it or put a funny character on, it wrecks it because it hides all the material. Basically I’m a prop that breathes.

You’re way too modest! It’s been fantastic.

The show’s very fantastic. I really like the show. I watch it myself, and I don’t like my own stuff.

Are you someone who would fast forward your own bits?

No, I’m somebody who would watch my own bits intently and say “that’s terrible.” Not self analyse, just beat myself up by watching my own performances. I go online a lot, and I look for people who don’t like my performances, and it’s very hard to find them. I’ve only found one, and I dwell on that. I’m getting it tatooed on my face.

You’re terrible. What thing have you done so far that you’ve enjoyed the most?

There’s some things coming up (in the final episode) that are really fun. And blowing up the van (in the 9th episode) – you didn’t see how big it was on the film, because it was shot from above. The fireball was massive, it was so good. If you listen to the audio of it, just after it cuts off you can hear me go “awwwww!” I would say Worksafe, but that wasn’t overly fun given that they had to belt my arm to my body, so I couldn’t feel it.It’s all fun. Any day I get to come into work is really fun.

We’re very lucky that’s you’re here doing it. Thanks Tosh!

Interview with Shaun on Mad As Hell

Shaun Micallef is such a funny, pleasant and gracious person – on his fiftieth birthday, and after finishing the filming of the penultimate episode of Mad As Hell, Shaun Micallef gave me some of his time to answer my (and your) barrage of strange questions.

Me: I wanted to start out to wish you a happy birthday – a few people in the audience knew it was your fiftieth.

Shaun: Thankyou.

It got mentioned in Who Do You Think You Are that you were coming up to that.

We did that about a year ago, in August (last year).

Do you have any plans on how you will celebrate your birthday? Obviously you’re working on Mad As Hell at the moment, but maybe anything on the weekend?

No, it’s not really something that if I even if I had the time I would actually set aside, I’m not a party person anyway. So, for me it’s just spending a bit of time with the kids, which we did, we saw the Three Stooges film on the weekend. And my wife and I will go and see Barry Humphries tomorrow, so we’ll celebrate it going and seeing things… being amused by other people.

Was The Three Stooges any good?

It was alright – it was fine.

It worries me a bit.

You can’t be snobby about the Three Stooges, it’s not like they ever had high art. It’s sort of a low rent approach to the jokes, the Farrelly’s didn’t high tech it. It doesn’t look like a Jim Carrey film, it looks like a Three Stooges film. It looks like 3, Three Stooges shorts tacked together, so there’s a certain ramshackle, shit quality about it, but it works.

It’s like maybe if someone did the 60’s Batman again (which got mentioned during the recording) today…

It might be a bit too self aware, that’s the trouble with irony. There’s no irony in this film, which is good.

Mad As Hell, how has it been working back to the ABC? The last time was of course Welcher and Welcher.

It was too. A very different show, although Welcher and Welcher was originally designed to be in front of a live audience, that’s why the sets look so cross-arched, they look very theatrical. It was my first time writing a sitcom, I didn’t write it properly. It was so complicated, there was no way it could have been shot in front of an audience. So we shot it like… I don’t know what it was like. It fell between the stools I think, it wasn’t quite farce, it wasn’t quite drama, and it wasn’t quite a sitcom. And because we didn’t have an audience, it played faster, so we often finished 3 minutes down on time. So I’d be off writing another scene, or if I couldn’t think of one, Francis and I would muck around, which we did a couple of times.

Is that how you ended up with the bin scenes and things like that?

Oh that was planned, but things like singing George Formby songs and Francis attacking me with a Frankenstein mask on, just a few bizzare endings were… and one show we book ended with as a memory because we were 5 minutes down.

So it was missing the pacing of the audience laughs?

Well it was too fast, because it wasn’t riding the audience response and relaxing – it was quite fast. But anyway, I must admit I haven’t watched it since it went to air, it’s been many years now. I’ll look at it again one day, I’ll learn how to do a sitcom and have another crack at it.

The title Mad As Hell, was that a spur of the moment thing when you began talking with the ABC, or was it something you’d planned to do?

It was originally called Newsnight, which oddly enough is the title of the show on Channel Ten. They’ve decided to use Newsnight, which is an old English show hosted by Jeremy Paxman. And the ABC said it’s a bit too straight, so Gary came up with Mad As Hell, which we thought was funny… Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell, so we suggested that, they liked it and we went with it. Originally it was just going to be called Mad As Hell, and Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell in the press materials, but it seems to have become… as much as I would prefer my name not to be part of the title… Myf Warhurst’s Nice, Judith Lucy’s Spiritual Journey… you put the comedians name up front – that’s the franchise.

Were you always keen to get the Newstopia writing team back together? I know you worked with a number of them on TAYG, but was that always something you wanted to bring back?

I had always wanted to do a bit more with Newstopia, I always thought that it had been cut short of where it was going to go. Indeed the next step of Newstopia was going to be a live audience, and opened up. But we couldn’t do it because of TAYG. I suppose we brought that approach of having a live audience, and… not softening the material, but making it a little more accessible. And one of the major differences between this and what we had in mind for Newstopia is that the material is a lot more domestic and obsessed with Australia. And we don’t tend to do that sort of “let’s make light of something serious and horrible” which is what we were doing on Newstopia, which you can do without an audience, quite easily without seeming cold and heartless. But if you do it in front of an audience, they’ll either shrink from it, or they’ll laugh and the folks at home will go “ooh that’s a bit… you can’t make jokes about that.” Some of those jokes we did on Newstopia….

.. there were a lot of things in warzones and …

that’s right, obviously being on SBS, we were obsessed with international news and on the ABC, we’re not as obsessed, which is good I think.

Do you think that focus has come about due to the change in station?

A little bit, that’s true. But also on the second episode we did a story about Syria, which would have been at home on Newstopia, and it just didn’t feel right. And there were a few jokes that were sort of a little harder, and we thought “we just don’t want to make that show, we want to make sure it doesn’t look like it’s insensitive.” So therefore, apart from a few of those, we call them TJs, those three jokes where we say coming later on it’s this, this and this, where we can deal with international issues very quickly without dwelling on it, we don’t tend to deal with international stories at all. It’s mainly… the obsession is the pettiness that is Australian news. Or occasionally, as we do with Sky News, just the way some Australian media reports things. Very rarely, because that’s the Hamster Wheel’s gig and we don’t want to go into their territory, or even Jonathon Holmes’ territory on Media Watch, so we don’t tend to do that much. But we’ve done that 3 times, and we seem to be whipping Sky News, which I quite enjoy.

The cast, you mentioned (to the audience during the taping) it was a concious thing to mix up the age range…

I didn’t want it to be an old show.

How did you come together? Obviously you’ve worked with Francis and Roz before.

That was the appeal, I would always do something with Francis, and it had been a while since I’d specifically worked one-on-one with him. Roz, I hadn’t really worked with since The Micallef P(r)ogram(me), and I scratch my head now thinking “gosh, she’s just so good, why wouldn’t I use her in everything?” The truth is, I enjoy collaborating with new people, and I think this show is bit of both. The certainty of Roz and Francis… just the pleasure of working with them. I’d seen Veronica on the Ben Elton show, Live From Planet Earth, and I thought she was fantastic in it. Quite coincidentally, Andrew Denton recommended her because he worked with her on Hungry Beast. And Veronica and I corresponded, and we auditioned, and I think she’s fantastic. Emily, Gary had worked with on Comedy Inc, when he was writing for Comedy Inc, and I thought she was great too. She was almost in Newstopia, we almost approached her to be in Newstopia, but I think was doing Comedy Inc at that time. So that was nice to work with her. And Tosh Greenslade, is actually… I think this is his first TV, in fact I’m absolutely sure of it. Francis worked with him in theatre, and recommended him, not just because of his name. And he’s great, I mean he’s really good.

It has been mentioned, “there’s nothing about him” and “where has he come front?” And you had to press release a few times that he’s not related to Francis.

It’s just an unusual name, and for it to turn up twice in a credit roll begs the question doesn’t it?

And this question got answered (in discussion with the audience), will there be another series of Mad As Hell – you’ve said yes, absolutely there will be.

From about mid-February on.

So next year. And you’re hoping (another) for the election later next year?

I hope so. I’m doing a drama, so we’ll see if that’s shooting or not.

More generally, something I have noticed with some of your work you do, I noticed it on TAYG, even with Tom and Alex (on Triple J), you’re very good at slowly unleashing the absurd-ism. On TAYG, you were a little bit straighter to start with, and slowly the Meercat came out, and the use of the Blue Juice music, and on Triple J it only took a 3 or 4 weeks before you were playing sound effects on tape decks. Is that a concious thing, or does it just happen that way?

Oh I think it happens, but it’s different though. On Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation, I was a hired gun to front someone else’s show. So the process was a bit slower, but once you’re in charge of the writing you can start to bend things. You could argue that the more absurd it got, the more alienating it got for certain members of the audience – maybe not, I don’t know. I think I just started to get comfortable with it. It’s not a concious thing. You can see it with the development of this show, it’s quite odd now. We’re back in the world that we always inhabit, we start bending the edges and playing with the transitions. The content is always there, make sure all that fun doesn’t overwhelm the content, it still has to mean something and be about something. It’s a particular song, with a particular bunch of lyrics, but the way we sing it is peculiar to us I think.

And when I’m guesting on things, like Tom and Alex or Gordon Street Tonight or whatever, the agreement is always “we’ll can I just have fun, can I do what I like?” And they’re like, “sure, do what you want”. Usually, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, like the Channel Ten breakfast show.

That was hilarious, because at the time that happened, I noticed it, blogged about it, and a few people watched it, and then 2 months later it hit the Internet and people were saying it happened the other day. But it happened in March or the end of February.

I think people assumed it coincided with when this show (Mad As Hell) went to air, and thought it was a plug for that show.

But Your Gen was still on?

Yeah, it was about TAYG. It hadn’t actually gone to air.

I’ve been reading your books, Preincarnate, The Moment, which I’m still not sure what to think, and your latest, Ahead of the Game. All of these had an element of time shifting in there, is that a subject that fascinates you?

Might be, yeah, I hadn’t really thought about that, but I guess that’s true. It’s all about perception, which is a particular thing I quite enjoy. It might be because my grandmother had Alzheimer’s, and over the course… I could see hunks of her memory disappear. So that might account for some of the stuff, that’s all happening in the mind. Time travel… maybe I just like time travel stories.

Do you plan to write any more fiction? I know you said Preincarnate was to be your only novella.

I’m writing another book at the moment, but it might be another year or so before I get time to finish it, but that will come out.

And while Shaun ran out of time on the night, he agreed to answer more questions by old fashioned email. So stay tuned over the next few weeks, as I add the interviews with Tosh (Greenslade), Stephen (Hall) and the part 2 of Shaun!

Shaun on his characters

While at a recent recording night, Shaun was asked about which of his old Full Frontal characters might also make a return, on the back of Nobby Doldrums being in the Vox Pops of Mad as Hell. As far as I can recall, here was some of his comments:

Milo Kerrigan, of course made a few appearances on TAYG, but Shaun recalls that a senior person at Channel Ten did say something to the effect of “he doesn’t really work, we can’t really understand him. It would be better if he could be understood.” And so Milo stopped making appearances.

Fabio – age was Shaun’s main reason for not resurrecting him, but did indicate they once planned to bring him back a few years ago. He would have been living in Rosebud and be known as the “most beautiful man… in these pants.”

David McGahan – Shaun feels that this character really got merged into the TV personas he’s portrayed as “himself”. Besides, Gary (McCaffrie) would probably put a stop to any re-appearance – as he did during the P(r)ogram(me).

But he certainly still gave some great impressions of Billy Connolly, Michael Cane and Jimmy Stewart.

More seriously, he even commented: “Hidden away on SBS, with Newstopia, I got to play Kofi Anan, and no-one complained. It was beautiful makeup, I would have defied you to [guess it wasn’t me], in fact I went home wearing it…. If you’re playing a person, and you can play that person, I think that’s OK. But if you’re playing just a character of ethnicity, and that’s the joke, I don’t know if that’s defensible.”

Mad As Hell will return, plus Preview of 20th July 2012

It has been confirmed that Mad As Hell will return for a second series of 10 episodes, probably in February 2013. This will be after filming of Mr and Mrs Murder, which will take most of the next 6 months. Shaun’s also keen for a third season, around the time of the next federal election, but this will depend on other factors.

Friday’s episode should be one of the best yet, with a beautiful report-cross-sketch on the topic of health care with an ever-changing Xanthe, a clever four-way discussion on obesity, Gay March pops back, and hopefully the premiere of the gay Olympic table tennis team sketch, which has been teased at a few “live nights”. Josh Thomas makes a guest appearance too! Shaun was also very generous with his time to the audience, answering (and asking) questions while the cast was changing wardrobes. Even Tony Martin popped in during the taping, to wish Shaun a Happy Birthday and celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Late Show.

I also had the great pleasure to interview Shaun, as well as Tosh and Stephen, and look forward to slowly getting those written up and posted. Thanks to everyone, especially Anthony, for their time.

Fan Interview with Shaun, circa 1999

The first known website dedicated to Mr Micallef dates back to 1999, and was run by Chelsea Allen as part of her website HalfSmarts – hats off to Chelsea for being the first to bring Shaun to the world weird web!

The site featured information on the upcoming third season of The Micallef Pogram and the possibility of a new show: “Welcher and Welcher”. A number of the site’s fans at the time submitted questions, and Shaun answered them – so we’ve re-published them here, 13 years later!

The Pressing Question:
But how DO you spell “McGhan/McGahan,” Shaun?

It’s “McGhan”. The editor who used to do the graphics and titles on Full Frontal insisted on spelling it “McGahan” despite my objections. He also did the graphic for ‘Australian Nightly Network News’ as ‘Australian Nighty Network News’. The fool.

Chelsea of Brisbane, asks:
Is there a character that you particularly love to play?

Favourite character – Milo. No lines to learn and I get to destroy things.

Justin Edbrooke of Melbourne, asks:
In any of the sketches you’ve performed in, have you ever been hurt? I’d imagine playing Milo Kerrigan would be pretty dangerous, catapulting through walls and smashing things left and right.

Injuries – none. But I once gashed Kitty Flanagan’s leg during Milo Does Ballet when I threw her out of frame and she missed the gym mats. Kitty’s fault not mine.

What’s the word on a third season of The Micallef Programme?

Probably. But nothing is certain in the vague and amorphous world of TV. If it does go on it will not be filmed before July 2000 owing to Seachange 3 and Something In The Air (a new ABC Soap) occupying the studios. The third series will be quite different from the other two. More surreal. It’ll probably be the last one. Look for a new sit-com “Welcher and Welcher” which might be happening.

Have the Micallef Programme team cracked the overseas market for the show?

We are discussing a 3rd series with the ABC and one of the episodes is to be funded by a UK network for screening over there. This will be skewed for the UK market and may lead to sales of the other shows. Whether this actually happens is in the lap of the Gods and assorted executive producers.

Shane of Perth, asks:
Are most of the sketches written by you? Oh and who came up with the idea of you drinking from something different in every intro in the second series, who ever it was… PURE GENIUS!

I would write about a third of them on my own. I would co-write another quarter with Gary. He would do another third by himself. Although we read and offer suggestions on each others material. We have a couple of other writers who come up with quickies, ideas and other short sketches. They’d write about a sixteenth. And the cast would come up with stuff too – let’s say that’s a tenth of Gary’s third. So as a percentile.. I can’t work this out. Drinking vessels? My idea. We started it in the First Series though. I first asked for some water and Francis gives me a bag of goldfish in episode 3.

Dale also of Perth, asks:
If there is a third series or any more series (hope so), what other David McGhan segments will you do? Are you going to carry on with District Attorney Ferguson, or have you got any new ideas?

More David McGhan? Mmmm. Not sure about that. He might have done his dash. McCaffrie may get his way…

Meev B of Melbourne, asks:
Who is Gary McCaffrie? Will he be making an appearance on the show? Do you and he ever disagree on what is and isn’t funny when writing for your show?

Gary McCaffrie – my writing partner and friend since our days at Uni. He first encouraged me to write and perform and got me my job in Full Frontal. That’s him as ‘Person Of The Week” in the sketch before the domino record attempt. Do Gary and I ever disagree? Often. He hates David McGhan. He got me to stop doing Fabio and Milo which probably wasn’t such a bad thing. But I do like David McGhan and just sort of snuck the sketches past him until it was too late and we’d already built the set. Generally though if one of us doesn’t think something is up to it it’s out. He does trust me to make some things funny in performance though – like the Tilting Wine Cellar sketch and Spiffington Manse. They actually read very unfunny. It’s all in the delivery and it’s good to allow some sketches like that into the show.

Carmen of Brisbane, asks:
I really loved the end joke on the programme when there was the take-off of “The Seventh Seal”. Also, I had been walking around the house for years saying “Oh, Shane!” in an annoying voice and was overjoyed when it was on the end of the last show of the second series. Do you expect the wider audience to pick up on these ripping gags?

Obscure Jokes – Someone always gets them (as you did) but we try and do a few things at once so there’s always another joke for someone who might not get the reference.

John of Melbourne, asks:
What on earth possessed you to create Myron?

Myron was a salute to “The Red And The Blue” an Italian pixillated series which was on TV in the 70’s. It wasn’t as minimalist as our effort. Gary and I filmed ours ourselves in our office. We used a digital camera which made it very easy. We had a little white cyclorama made – which you can see gets grubbier and grubbier with every succeeding Myron. The signature tune was inspired by “Pingu” although it hasn’t ended up sounding much like it. The lyrics represent my own faltering schoolboy French.

Dale of Perth, asks:
Will there be a special titled, ‘The Best Of The Micallef Programme’ where all the best material you like in one special? (Though I personally think every episode has the best material.) Also, do you like old classic TV Shows (ie- Get Smart, Fawlty Towers, Hogan’s Heroes, Monty Python etc.)?

Best Of…and Influences – Not much chance we’ll see a Best Of video as the ABC don’t seem to think it’ll sell well. I have in fact already edited a Best Of from the first series and it’s just sitting in the archives. Write to the ABC demanding its release. As for influences – I guess Python is the big one. The Goon Show. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Woody Allen…would be others.

Diefledermaus of Adelaide, asks:
When the original Full Frontal went off air and everyone seemed to go their separate ways, how and why did you get the opportunity to have your own show on the ABC? (Of course we all know that there is always one to rise above the pack).

I enjoyed the experience of making the World Around Him Special and wanted to try for a series. Channel 7 passed on it so we pitched it to the ABC with a few changes. The special was pretty much the prototype for the series.

Wade “Your Gas Bill is Overdue” Shiell of Adelaide, asks:
If there were any way to do it, would you go back in time and perhaps change some of your characters? That is, have you been pleased with the way that the characters you brought to life have performed, and the way in which they’ve been received by the general viewing audience?

If I Could Go Back In Time…? I’d change a lot of stuff. Everything can be improved as far as I’m concerned. Some things were just bad ideas. Some performances were clumsy or beyond me. If I could back I’d probably be tinkering forever. Best just to erase the whole lot and start again.

Chelsea of Brisbane, asks:
Do you more prefer the processes of performing, or writing on the show, and in general? (Or editing, perhaps?)

Strangely enough I had not really ever considered this until your question. The writing is a hard slog and I like it less and less as I get older. I’ll do almost anything to avoid it. Performing I do enjoy very much, particularly when it works. But I really do miss performing for a real audience. Studio audiences are very supportive but it’s not quite the same as when they’ve paid to see you and it’s an occassion for everybody (including me). I do love getting a laugh and it’s not quite the same as something I’ve written getting a laugh when someone else performs it. I get a kick from it but it’s a bit like watching someone else open a present you’ve bought for them. All a bit vicarious. The editing is the most intellectually satisfying and is a vital part of the process. But sitting in a dark room for two weeks is not at all healthy.

Matthew of Melbourne, asks:
Will there be any more Myron?

Myron – he’ll be back but his budget will be bigger. We might have sets and costumes.

Chelsea of Question Hog, Brisbane, asks:
Do you ever think about the audience to which The Micallef Programme appeals, and find yourself trying to please or aim your humour at a particular demographic?

The ratings boffins tell me my demographic is very wide. 15-65 (rather like a Mattel game) but the majority are in the middle aged category. Personally I think the majority demographic depends on the time slot and day the programmers give us. Last year when we were on a Monday our majority demographic was in the 25-35 category. Go figure. They also tell me I appeal equally to men as women which is apparently unusual. My target audience at the moment are therefore bisexual pensioners who stay in of a Friday. None of this actually makes any difference to what we put in the show. We can only write what we think is funny and I can only perform in a way that is natural to me. Whether people like it or not is up to them. I do try for accessability – there’s no point in being too insular with humour. Being insular is usually a sign that you’re not terribly confident about whether you’re funny or not. Most comedians go through this phase in their 20’s. I know I did. But it all gets back to an answer I gave to one of the other questions about in-jokes. You try and work on as many levels as possible. Some people respond to Milo falling through a wall, others get the fact that sometimes when he answers questions he just describes the plots to old films (Citizen Kane and On The Waterfront to name but two). I like both aspects. But characters like McGhan and Milo have a limited shelf life. There’s no point repeating yourself, as I’ve found out a few times. So – in answer to your question, I guess I don’t aim for any group at all. It’s a mass audience as far as I’m concerned. Everyone in the audience is different and you’ve just got to try and bring as many together as possible so that they laugh at the same time at more or less the same thing. You bring them together with character and plot and then give them the gag. But people enjoy different aspects of the journey on the way to the gag (even if it’s about how your characters are dressed).

Dale of Perth, asks:
Why did you leave Full Frontal mid-way through the fifth season? Was it to work on The Micallef Programme?

No, I left because I was a bit tired of doing FF. I wanted to do something else. Gary and I wrote a pilot for a science fiction puppet sit-com which Channel 7 made and passed on. As we were writing it the ABC expressed interest in wanting a sketch comedy show that wasn’t like FF. I pitched one and it got through. The fact of the matter though is that the show is very much like a special I did for Channel 7 in 1996.

Kent Wagner of Brisbane, asks:
Hey Shaun, In the opening titles of the second series there are clips of sketches that you have filmed, but have not shown on any of your episodes! (eg. You dressed up as a lady, and Roz dressed as you) Will we ever get to see them?

The opening titles for the 2nd series were made up of stuff that we decided not to use in the show. There are three shots we recorded especially – me talking to the ghost, me in drag, and the vase getting smashed by the light.

Olivia Farag of Sydney, asks:
Which members from The Panel contacted you about appearing on their show, and what was your initial reaction?

Glenn Robbins asked me if I was interested. I had known Glenn since the time I first started writing for the Jimeoin TV show. (Glenn got me my first job doing voice overs for that show.) I was a little nervous about appearing live as myself. I much prefer being dead and someone else. The nerves have eased as I have appeared on the show more and more. Working Dog are a fine bunch of coves and go out of their way to support our show.

Chelsea [again?] of Brisburg, asks:
How does it feel to shed that comedic skin and play a dramatic role in SeaChange?

Mmmm. Wait until you see the performance, I’m not sure it’s all that dramatic. It’s no Rain Man, let me tell you.

More of these insightful/historical Q&A’s to come!

Shaun’s media appearance round-up

On “The Circle”, 10/8:
Gropes all of the hosts before talking about TAYG, Laid, acting, the John Williams concert, Preincarnate

On “Drive with The Doctor” on Triple J, 10/8 (from the 30:50 point):
Talk about hair, Laid, Your Gen, Adam Hills, Josh Thomas, the topsy-turvey TAYG episode, the Census and the John Williams concert

On “The 7PM Project“, 10/8
Talks about his new fashion line and the difference of Your Gen being at 8:30pm

On “Saturday Morning Monty“, 6/8 (all 18 mins):
Judging each other (and an overdue library book), his three (unidentified) sons, banana bread, dunk-a-roos, Jack Fidgen, school claim-to-fame, newspaper headlines