Shaun Micallef and Mad as Hell winning out of political madness
As Mad as Hell prepared to come back for its ninth season in September, the show commissioned a new portrait of Malcolm Turnbull.
The series already had one but this portrait would have a lenticular surface, which gave the effect of Mr Turnbull’s eyes opening and closing.
But before Shaun Micallef and his team could roll out its shiny new prop, Mr Turnbull had been dumped as prime minister — three weeks prior to Mad as Hell’s season nine premiere.
“That portrait cost us quite a bit of money,” Micallef confesses to news.com.au. “So whenever Malcolm does anything now, we make sure we have the portrait on the wall so we can (justify the cost), otherwise we’d be criticised heavily, probably by either Senate Estimates or by the newspapers.”
The farcical state of Australian politics, and the revolving door of prime ministers, might be wearing thin on the voters, but it’s also given Mad as Hell ripe material to skewer. It’s as if they’re the only ones benefiting from the insanity that’s taken over Parliament House.
The show celebrates its 100th episode this week and over nine seasons, its ratings have actually increased since its first series in 2012. The PM then, by the way, was Julia Gillard.
It’s that take-no-prisoners, deliciously venomous sense of humour that’s made Mad as Hell so successful, and one of the best Australian TV shows on air.
“We’ve been going nine seasons and there were series earlier on when we would sometimes have a segment called news from other countries and we would do funny things that were happening elsewhere,” Micallef says.
“And for the last two seasons, we haven’t had time to do any of that. We’ve really been really concentrating on local politics, not even stories about how the news is presented.
“Politics is a very special category in this country at the moment — it’s quite odd.”
Micallef puts it down to short-sightedness in government, where politicians have become obsessed with how people are responding to every little thing immediately.
That and how many politicians go off half-cocked with their own media “strategies”, writing op-eds or posting social media videos.
We talk about how “back in the day” when maverick senators like Family First’s Steve Fielding dressed up as a beer bottle it was a noteworthy stunt.
“That was an unusual thing, now you’d go ‘that again?’. You’d roll your eyes at it,” Micallef says. “And our PM seems incapable of putting together a coherent sentence. Which is good for us at the show.”
In March, Micallef told Fairfax he thought there was no gravitas left in Australian politics. It definitely hasn’t become better.
“There’s been more helium inserted into Australian politics, there is even less gravitas than before. There’s no mass, no density. We’ve entered a post-post-post-modern period.”
But he’s the first to admit that he doesn’t know as much about politics as the average person on the street might think he does, just because he’s the face of a political parody show.
“We have a writers’ room so I’m the product of a number of minds, addressing themselves to these issues that I could barely hold a conversation on. It’s one of the reasons I don’t go on Q&A.”
So, he’s been asked?
“I’ve been asked a few times, very kindly, by Tony Jones. But I have declined because I would be revealed as the fraud I am in about two or three seconds.”
As humbling a revelation as that may be, to try and eke out some silver lining from the shenanigans in Canberra, close to 800,000 Australians each week will tune in to watch Micallef and his team for their acid-laced take on what our pollies have been up to.
As this point in time, it’s the most joy Australian voters could possibly hope for from the political circus.
Mad as Hell airs Wednesdays at 8.30pm on the ABC. The 100th episode airs tonight.