People Try to Put Us Down

As Talkin’ ‘bout Your Generation edges ever closer to an indoors 2010 version of It’s A Knockout, it’s hard not to sympathize a little with those who’re asking “what happened to Shaun Micallef?” He used to be a low-key master of the subtle and surreal; now he’s hosting a show where Leo Sayer puts on a suit made of gravy and gets attacked by starving dogs*

But while it’s perfectly natural to wish Micallef was still doing sketch comedy a la The P(r )ogram(me) – AKA the best darn sketch show made in this country ever – let’s go against our usual wild idealism and face facts: sketch shows are a tough sell in this country at the moment. Commercial networks aren’t interested (especially after Double Take shat in the pool) and rumour has it that the ABC funds them under the “light entertainment” scale – that is, at the same level as something like Spicks & Specks. Which doesn’t have a (proper, structured) script, more than one set, costume changes, an actual cast…

So that’s out. What else is there? A talk show? Maybe. Except that Ten didn’t seem to be keen to turn Micallef’s excellent New Year’s Rave into a regular event, so that door seems slightly less ajar than it might otherwise be. How about bringing Newstopia back? Ahh, now things get interesting: Micallef’s often said he’d like to a): have kept doing Newstopia when he started on TAYG but scheduling got in the way, b): return to it at some stage in the future, most recently raising the possibility of doing it as a nightly (four nights a week) show.

Unfortunately for Newstopia fans – and while we had problems with the show, we’re firmly in the fan camp – these comments often sound more like keeping a door ajar than concrete plans for a revival. Newstopia certainly felt like a show running out of puff towards the end (the Inspektor Herring episode, while very funny, was hardly the thing a news satire show would do in its’ prime), and SBS seem to have given up on the local comedy side of things (that second series of Swift & Shift must’ve been a stinker) unless there’s a sports angle.

So we’re stuck with TAYG. On the plus side, its way, way better than any other similar show, thanks almost entirely to Shaun’s work. And much as it may depress some of us, “this kind of show” is what a majority of Australians want to watch when they put their feet up after a long day. Why should they be denied some Shaun goodness – or the chance to realise he’s a funny guy and worth following to whatever he does next?

It’s not like Micallef’s changed his act to make TAYG work either. He’s still clearly doing the same kind of thing he’s always done, and while doing it surrounded by people who, to be charitable, are nowhere near as funny and are often downright painful isn’t the best of all possible worlds, it does hold out some hope that when Micallef does move on, comedywise he’ll still be the same Shaun Micallef he was going into this lightweight game show.

It’s also hard to deny that TAYG’s success has helped Micallef realise some worthwhile side projects. The New Year’s Rave obviously wouldn’t have happened without TAYG’s ratings success. Same with that character-based comedy CD he put out last year, or his new book Preincarnate that’s out in a week or two. So he’s hardly asleep at the wheel when it comes to doing his own thing outside of the game show format.

More importantly, Micallef’s always seemed to be a guy who wants to try as many things as he can get away with. Sure, if he’s still hosting TAYG five years from now, that’ll suck – well, it’ll suck if they’re doing 30 episodes a year, if he’s doing 13 (and word is they’ll be scaling back production next year) and has time to do other stuff around it… well, most of us should be able to live with that.

And if he goes on to do something else different in 2011 – rumour has it he might be part of a new “variety” show Ten is planning, though his exact role is unclear – well, he’ll just have shown that he can be an awesome game show host as well as talk show host, comedian, writer, character performer, face-puller, etc…

*actually cute little puppies! awww

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  • Jay says:

    While I agree with so many points you raise here, I don’t think it’s a question of “What has happened to Shaun Micallef?” I don’t think he’s dumbed himself down for audiences – Preincarnate is pure, undiluted Micallef and his newly obtained fans will struggle to get through it without spending at least a solid year getting used to his style. Sure, TAYG isn’t genius, it isn’t Welcher or Pogram or even Tonisht, which had some fanbloodytastic moments in it. But it’s Micallef, successful, entertaining and friendly to someone completely new to the Micallef flavour.

    You have to remember the people watching TAYG are the same audience who kept that awful Rove in the business for so many freaking years. Heaps of my friends are now interested in seeing Micallef’s earlier works and he’s finally getting some recognition for being the comic genius that he is (3 logies and an AFI this year). This new profile no-doubt enabled him to get Good Evening off its feet too, and that was one of the best shows I’ve seen in the last five years.

    I would dearly love to keep Micallef as cult icon, but I can’t deny that to some degree, success is good for Shaun. And if someone didn’t laugh at least once in the bizarre Christmas special of TAYG, then they’re a very tricky customer indeed.


  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Thanks for the comment Jay… not sure if we made ourselves 100% clear with this one, but we actually agree with pretty much everything you said about Micallef’s career over the last few years. We have no interest in keeping anyone as a “cult icon” – in Australia, that basically means “unemployed”, and there aren’t enough really funny people around to keep any of them on the shelf for the sake of cult status.

    Our real problem / question is, “when will Micallef get to do a stand-alone, all-his-work TV show again?” Much as it’s great that there’s always some pure Shaun out there (Preincarnate this year, the NYE special and CD last year), seeing him back on TV doing his own thing is what we’d love to see.

    Unfortunately, despite the hopes of many that his current raise in profile / fans would translate to more opportunities on TV, it seems that a): Ten didn’t want a variety show along the lines of the NYE rave, and b): the ABC wouldn’t fund his two-hander sketch show with Kat Stewart.

    So while there’s much to enjoy about his current career spurt, it’s only fair to acknowledge that on one level at least, it’s not paying off in the way we would have liked.

  • Jay says:

    Aye, I see what you mean – a show where Shaun is allowed to do whatever he wants would be the greatest thing since… probably the Micallef P(r)ogram(me)! There’s sadly no such thing as TV made in the interest of comedy genius rather than ratings or money.

    Hopefully something like NEWStopia isn’t out of the question – I dearly loved that show, and considering it wasn’t axed, just discontinued, surely SBS wouldn’t mind taking Shaun back!