Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell

Mad as Hell DVD

Wednesday nights are the highlight of this author’s week, for it is Comedy Night on Australia’s public broadcaster. Since the mid-Noughties, comedy programming has been a mainstay of the ABC’s mid-week scheduling, bringing with it ratings hitherto unseen on a government-funded station. Central to Aunty’s success has been a half-hour news show hosted by Australia’s funniest personality.

In its simplest form, Mad as Hell is a series which delivers news in a satirical manner. This oft-used concept will no doubt be familiar to most readers, for there are now more news programmes hosted by comedians than at any time previously. But unlike Comedy Central’s Daily Show or HBO’s Last Week Tonight, the series does not use comedy to deliver hard-hitting analysis. Rather, the opposite is true – it uses the past week’s news to deliver comedy.

Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell was originally conceived as an end-of-week revue, providing a light-hearted look at the events that made headlines in the days prior. Its first series aired in 2012, earning surprisingly solid ratings in the dreaded Friday night time-slot – a time generally devoted to Australia’s football codes. For its following season, Mad as Hell was moved to a Wednesday night schedule, where it has remained ever since. As a consequence of this move, Mad as Hell‘s focus shifted from distributing factual news in a humorous manner to providing punchlines based on recent events.

The eponymous host of Mad as Hell is Shaun Micallef, who has prior experience in the field of satirical programming. Since the early 2000s, he has hosted three such series with a similar format, including his own variety show on the ABC, The Micallef Program(me); the short-lived, but fondly remembered, Micallef Tonight on the Nine Network; and on the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), NEWStopia. His time presenting those shows has allowed Micallef to hone his skills as a TV host, to the point where he makes his job look effortless.

As well as that, Micallef’s latest foray into variety television feels very much like a combination of the three previous approaches. It utilises the sketch format of his earliest work, the absurdity of Micallef Tonight and the sharp wit of NEWStopia – as well as its news presentation – to deliver what seems like a melange of Micallef’s career. This feeling is reinforced by the supporting cast, which includes Shaun’s long-time comedy partner, Francis Greenslade and his Micallef Program(me) co-star, Roz Hammond.

Mad as Hell cast
Mad as Hell‘s ensemble cast includes (from left) Emily Taheny, Stephen Hall, Francis Greenslade, Roz Hammond, and Tosh Greenslade.

As one can see in the image above, Greenslade and Hammond are part of an ensemble cast who help the host to deliver his comedy. In the most-recent series, this cast includes Tosh Greenslade (no relation to Francis), Emily Taheny and Stephen Hall, who is also one of the writers; previous cast members include Veronica Milsom and Nicholas Bell. The role of a support will vary with each episode – they may play a fictitious journalist, a caricature of a public figure or, on occasion, a self-deprecating version of themselves.

This means there are a multitude of characters in the series, many of which have recurring roles. Some of this author’s favourites include ABC Sport commentator Maggie Bathysphere; right-wing hipster blogger Vomitoria Catchment; spokeswoman for Senator Jacqui Lambie, Dolly Norman; Matthias Cormann’s Schwarzenegger-like spokesman, Darius Horsham; geek and pop-culture reporter Crane Girdle; talk-back radio caller and One Nation supporter, Casper Jonquil; and a Toni Basil-loving sea monster simply known as The Kraken.

The cast are wonderful, but nobody is as entertaining as Shaun. Whether he is reading from an autocue or playing another character in a sketch, his dialogue is timed to perfection, and can boast having a great dynamic with every cast member. Additionally, he has an ability to mock politicians and the media without coming across as crude or insensitive – whenever he criticises or derides a state of affairs, it’s always done with a twinkle in his eye. And while it’s obvious that Micallef is Left-leaning, he never tries to push an agenda like the other satirical programmes.

More than anything though, it’s the style of comedy that sets Mad as Hell apart from its contemporaries. The cast will often resort to slapstick or physical comedy to evoke chuckles, while the sketches are so unpredictable that they often descend into ridiculousness. No other news series is willing to be as silly, nor could it ever be – Micallef’s mastery of wordplay is inimitable, as is his ability to amuse by simply pulling faces. So funny is the show that at times, even the host cannot help but break into laughter.

Photo promoting "Shaun Micallef's Mad as Hell"
A still featuring the aforementioned Kraken in Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell.

It’s for these many reasons that Mad as Hell is one of the few shows that I consistently look forward to viewing – every Wednesday, I’ll have my TV switched to Channel 2, ready and eager to see what Micallef will ridicule. Each episode has produced laughs, and even though the show is now into its seventh series, it still seems as fresh and frivolous as it was five years ago. Along with repeats of Bob’s Burgers on Eleven, it’s the perfect cure for my mid-week blues.

While it may not be as informative as the other satirical news programmes, Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell remains the funniest series currently airing on Australian television, thanks in no small part to its fabulous host and his very talented cohorts. So, remember to watch ABC TV tomorrow night at 8.30pm. You won’t be disappointed.


Clips of “Shaun Micallef’s MAD AS HELL” are available to watch on YouTube.

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