The Micallef Program Pogram Programme

The extended version of an interview conducted with Shaun Micallef for FilmInk in honour of the DVD release of The Micallef Programme (the second season; the first season was entitled The Micallef Program and the third, The Micallef Pogram ). Can’t wait to own that one – and the other two when they are released. The interview was for theIn Da House column, which involves discussion of DVD consumption, as well as a new release DVD for which the interview subject is either responsible or involved with. If you like Shaun Micallef’s work and want to know more about him, you’d be hardpressed to find a more comprehensive source of information than the unofficial but highly informed Online World Around Him.

Demetrius Romeo: Are you an avid DVD consumer?

SHAUN MICALLEF: I have purchased for myself three DVDs. They are: Some Like It Hot, Citizen Cane and the other isn’t really one DVD, it’s The Pink Panther Collection less one. They brought the Pink Panther films out and they seem to have left out The Return of the Pink Panther. It’s quite strange: you end up watching Shot in the Dark which was made in about 1965 or something, and suddenly you leap ahead to 1977. Very strange. I was talking to Tony Martin – he’s got about a billion DVDs – and he was telling me that he thought there might be some problem with MGM not owning the rights to the comeback film.

Demetrius Romeo: Are you a fan of DVD bonuses and extra features?

SHAUN MICALLEF: I haven’t really got into them, I must say. I’m a great reader of film books and over the years I’ve amassed quite a number of those sorts of books, so I sort of know all the stories. Also, I’ve got three young children, so whenever I hire a DVD, I don’t really have time to sit through it again listening to the commentary tracks.

Demetrius Romeo: So most of the DVDs you watch are kids flicks that you watch with your children?

SHAUN MICALLEF: Yeah. But they’re movies I enjoy too, like Shrek and Toy Story. I’ve actually bought the Christopher Reeve Superman series for the kids, as well.

Demetrius Romeo: Do you get much time to watch DVDs that you like?

SHAUN MICALLEF: No I don’t. I still haven’t watched Citizen Kane, even though I’ve had it for about a month. I don’t really get the time, unfortunately, to really watch them and enjoy them. When Tony Martin gave me a copy of the Bad Eggs DVD, which had like a billion hours of extras on it, it took me a good two weeks to get around to watching everything on it. But that’s probably an exception. That’s probably a very unusual example of cramming as much as you can onto a DVD. But I did like the effort he went to.

Demetrius Romeo: Of course, there will be a time when your kids are able to sit down with you and appreciate the films that you like.

SHAUN MICALLEF: I’ve been introducing them to my videos, anyway. They’re watching Laurel & Hardy and Laurel & Hardy and Chaplin, so I think that’s a good start.

Demetrius Romeo: Do you have an extensive video collection?

SHAUN MICALLEF: Yeah, massive. I started collecting that when I was able to – when they started coming out when I was sixteen or something. There’s about seven boxes of old, classic comedies which, in time, I guess I’ll replace with DVDs.

Demetrius Romeo: Which of them stand out for you?

SHAUN MICALLEF: The Marx Brothers’ A Night At The Opera, I think, is a perfect comedy film, and the Chaplin stuff. And Buster Keaton’s The General. I love The General. The kids haven’t quite gotten into the features, but I’m just introducing them to the shorts. It’s a very mercurial process that we’re going through.

Demetrius Romeo: I hope the fact that you don’t often get to enjoy DVD extras won’t preclude you from including them on your own DVD that’s about to be released.

SHAUN MICALLEF: Oh, no, no, I’m quite happy to give the DVD bonuses. There’ll be a commentary track and extras and things like that. Far too much time will be wasted experiencing the DVD that we’re releasing. Maybe just watching the episodes will be enough of a waste of time, perhaps. A pleasant kind of waste of time, I hope.

Demetrius Romeo: What sort of extras will you have? Are there many outtakes?

SHAUN MICALLEF: Look, I’ve got a thing about bloopers, I don’t really like them all that much. What we’ve included instead is about an hour’s worth complete sketches that we really liked. Gary [McCaffrie, co-writer and co-producer] and I went back and watched all the stuff we didn’t use for the second series, some of which we ended up putting in the third series, but there was still an hour’s worth of material that we left out because we’re pretty black in our sense of humour, and there were lots of sketches about death, and we felt that we couldn’t use them all in every episode because it would just be a little bit unrelenting. We don’t have that worry if we just use them as extras – they’re there to be seen. In their raw state, unmixed, some of the stuff’s in front of an audience, some of it is beautifully recorded. For example, we did a sketch that was set in the trenches of World War I which was beautifully shot. We dug out some turf, went down there, got covered in mud. We recorded three quickie sketches down there, but we only used one in the series because we thought that it had more value if we didn’t have too many of them. But we thought they were still pretty funny, so we’ve added them on as extras.

In terms of bloopers and things, if I work with people, I’d rather that they feel free to experiment rather than have in the back of their minds, ‘oh, whatever I’m doing now might end up on a blooper reel’. They used to do that on Full Frontal: they used to run a blooper reel over the closing credits and it just gave me the heebee geebies.

Demetrius Romeo: Why are you releasing the second season of your comedy show first?

SHAUN MICALLEF: The reason we picked that one is because we’re a bit more sure-footed in that second season than we were in the first season, and it’s probably a bit more accessible than the third season, which was getting a bit strange by that stage.

Demetrius Romeo: With most comedy shows it’s the case that the second season is more consistently funny; by the third season it will be funnier, but will go places that the broader audience may not necessarily be able to follow. This is true of shows like D-Generation and Monty Python.

SHAUN MICALLEF: I think that’s right. You’ve got a better chance of enjoying the first series of ours, if you have already seen the second series. I think it would have been an error to release the first series. When they released the Python videos, they completely ignored the first season until the very end; they released the second and third series, and then they released the first and fourth series. I think they were in turn-around in the first series: I think they were still making at least the studio component of the first series while it was going to air; it has a certain rushed quality to it, but the second series was packaged and sewn-up before it went to air, which is actually true of our series as well – not that I’m comparing us to Python. In the first season we were in turn-around, so it was a bit hectic but we had the second series in the can for a couple of months before it went to air.

Demetrius Romeo: Let me make the comparison to Python: what you share, as do and the D-Gen, with Python – and it shows in your television work – is the training ground of university revue.

SHAUN MICALLEF: I would agree. There is a collegiate atmosphere in the manner in which the troupe plays together.

Demetrius Romeo: Was doing a law degree just an excuse to get to do university comedy?

SHAUN MICALLEF: It certainly was for Gary McCaffrie who is the co-writer and co-producer of the series. I actually went in foolishly assuming I’d earn a living as a lawyer and I treated the degree with a bit more seriousness than he did. But we did the bare minimum and got through it and pretty much did two or three shows a year. So you’re probably right, we probably got more out of it in terms of it being a varsity experience than a scholastic experience.

Demetrius Romeo: When you were actually practicing law, were you able to put the comedy out of your mind and give your full attention to the law, or was it a struggle because part of you knew that you should have been doing something else?

SHAUN MICALLEF: Even when I was practicing, I was still doing cabaret shows with Francis Greenslade, I was writing for radio – for SAFM in Adelaide, which was part of the Austereo set-up – and I also started writing for Glynn Nicholas on The Big Gig. So I hadn’t really gotten out of it completely; it was only after nine years that I thought that I wanted to see if I could do this comedy thing full time – but as as a writer; I never intended to perform again. That was pretty much over and done with. At thirty-one, I thought, ‘I can’t play the juvenile lead anymore, I’d just better stick to being a writer’. So it was sort of an accident, really, that within a couple of years I ended up doing stuff in that dreadful show Full Frontal.

Demetrius Romeo: You say ‘dreadful’, but, at the time, there was nothing else.

SHAUN MICALLEF: Yeah, I don’t think that anywhere else can you go on and make some mistakes and have them forgiven before the next commercial break.

Demetrius Romeo: But in addition to that – your stuff stands out. You clearly knew what you were doing.

SHAUN MICALLEF: Well… thank you… after a few years we got to the stage where I could do my own material. That DVD that was released – there was a whole lot of stuff we left out – it was really an exercise in ‘damage control’, my involvement with that DVD. I certainly had no control in them releasing it because they were going to do it anyway, I just pointed them gently in the right direction – I hope – picking material that wouldn’t sully me too much.

Demetrius Romeo: From a comedy nerd’s point of view, it’s so important that that earlier material is released…

SHAUN MICALLEF: I’m of two minds. I don’t think I’ve really decided what my attitude is to it, because when we were making it, we were making these things every week, sometimes for twenty-six weeks in a row each year. It was very disposable, and I was under the impression that no-one would ever see it again – maybe a repeat halfway through the next year and that would be pretty much it. Given that we did this in 1994/95, not really knowing that it would have a life – it seems that everything is getting released on DVD, certainly with the Kaleidoscope – I think I come down on the side of I’d rather it not have been released simply because it’s not being seen the way it was originally intended, which is in a disposable one-hour format. It’s a bit hard to sit there and watch the whole thing, in other words – it’s not really a show, it is a ‘dip into’ DVD.

Demetrius Romeo: That’s fair enough, but I’m still of the opinion that I’m glad I was able to hear the Beatles’ Hamburg tapes, even though they preferred that no-one ever heard them.

SHAUN MICALLEF: I know what you mean. And there are a number of people who still today come up to me and say, ‘oh, you know, Milo Kerrigan, when are you gonna bring him back’, and the fact is, I won’t, but it’s sort of nice for them, if they enjoyed it, to have a version of that if they want to. It’s probably better served if people just remember it, but if people want to watch it, I guess it’s interesting.

Demetrius Romeo: On your forthcoming DVD there’s a sketch in which you take the mickey out of SeaChange by having Dracula move to the sleepy little seaside village. And then in the subsequent season of SeaChange, you start appearing as a different sort of blood-sucking vampire, a lawyer!

SHAUN MICALLEF: Well, you could draw a very close parallel, suppose. That’s weird, because we did that in 1999, and by 2000, I was in the series, so it was quite strange for Kevin Harrington, who guested as his SeaChange character, Kevin Findlay, on our show, when he ended up playing a scene with me for real. It was a case of art imitating art, maybe.

Demetrius Romeo: In the third season there was something that was actually censored by the ABC – is that correct?

SHAUN MICALLEF: That was a sketch about a documentary about Weary Dunlop being a transsexual. It wasn’t really a documentary about Weary Dunlop being a transsexual, it was just about the idea of it – what happens is I introduce this doco, we see about ten seconds of the opening title segment, and then we cut to the ABC switchboard lighting up with people complaining. I was asked during the publicity for the show, whether there was anything controversial in it, and jokingly, I suggested that sketch. It ended up with that sketch being pulled, which is funny, because that’s what the sketch was about – that sort of overreaction is exactly what happened. So if you watch that third series, we put in a new sketch, but there’s actually a gap of about two seconds where there’s just colour bars with sketch number – it says ‘sketch 0365 removed’ – just so people know where it was going to be.

Demetrius Romeo: There was something I read about the first season, in which an item from the first season was replaced between its initial broadcast and subsequent repeat. It was an interview between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish political leader Gerry Adams, in which you play both characters.

SHAUN MICALLEF: We cut that out when it got repeated just because we felt it had dated. It was about eight months later. We just removed it and stuck in another sketch. If the sales of this DVD is sufficient that Kaleidoscope want to release the other stuff, we will include all that material that was cut out. There were a few topical sketches that were cut out of the first series, and we didn’t include the Weary Dunlop sketch in the third series. There are always alternate versions of these things.