Mad As Hell will probably be back next year – maybe even this year – so this is (hopefully) not a goodbye, merely an adieu. “But we want it on every week, all year ‘round!” you cry. And it’s at this point that if this blog was an episode of Mad As Hell, Shaun would introduce some bizarre character to riff on this topic for a minute or so and we’d all be cackling with laughter. Sigh.
One of the things that we find most impressive about Mad As Hell is that there is a formula to the show – oddly named, strange characters discuss topical issues with a hectoring semi-madman who breaks in to do some silly eye movements a couple of times an episode – but it’s okay because it’s a formula that works. And as the formulaic elements of Mad As Hell are used sparingly enough and inventively enough that you don’t really notice there’s a formula.
In pretty much any other topical sketch show made in Australia in the past however-many-decades being formulaic was one of its major flaws. Wednesday Night Fever, Live From Planet Earth…why are we even bothering to name them? All we need – and want – to remember are a) they had a very simplistic formula which they hammered in to the ground, i.e. they created a number of recurring characters and thought “recurring” equalled “must include in every episode”, and b) because they did a) audiences turned off and they were axed. Don’t get us wrong, we love Ian Orbspider, we love The Kraken, and we love Vomitoria Catchment, but we don’t mind not seeing them every week, or even every series, because we know that when they do appear they will be funny.
Another part of the Mad As Hell “formula” is, of course, the satire. While many of this country’s newspapers and news websites fail to make the government accountable, Mad As Hell usually manages to throw stones in the right direction. And in a country still plagued by wowsers full of OUTRAGE, satire – often seen as an audience repellent – seems to work just fine for anyone who happens to tune in. Maybe those audiences who normally wouldn’t enjoy satire are being satiated with the wacky costumes? Or, more likely, maybe it’s just that Mad As Hell has a knack of nailing the right targets in the right way. Behind every sketch, whether a scripted piece or a YouTube-esque moment of LOLZ footage, there’s usually a sage political point of some kind. And like the formula, it’s not always obvious but it is there.
Mad As Hell is more than a show that’s funny, for students of comedy it’s also instructive: you don’t have to set out to shock (The Chaser) or try to appeal to the lowest common denominator (Wednesday Night Fever) to get audiences to pay attention. You can even do basically the same thing every week. What you need is a unique vision, a flexible formula, and the ability to write a bunch of piss-funny gags. Oh right, so that’s why there aren’t more Mad As Hells. Sorry to have troubled you.