Pop Culture [#596]

Pop Culture [#596]

Shaun Micallef gets a lot done in a year. Or at least he gets a lot done compared to the rest of Australia’s comedy industry, and it’s up to the individual to consider whether he’s really hard-working or the rest of the business is just full of slackers. For example, the second 10 episode series for 2014 of Mad as Hell has just started on the ABC (Wednesdays, 8 p.m.), and the only reason there wasn’t two series of it last year was because he was also making a mystery series, Mr & Mrs Murder, for Channel 10. By Australian television standards, this workload is insane: The Chaser – a team of six people – are only doing eight episodes of their upcoming series Media Circus. To be fair, they’ve also done a series of The Checkout this year; to be unfair, they’ve also brought in a bunch of new faces to help out with the on-air side of things.
Meanwhile, Micallef also has a book out next month, The President’s Desk, in which he puts his own spin on American history as told from the point of view of the titular desk. It’s his third book. Though his second, Preincarnate, was more of a novella, there are name brand authors in this country who haven’t written three books. And Micallef’s put out a comedy CD, and he’s constantly turning up on other people’s shows, and for a while there he was doing stage work as well, and… you get the idea.
A lot of this no doubt comes down to opportunity: it seems safe to say that if Micallef wants to do a project there’s a pretty good chance it’ll happen (aside from the numerous television projects that never happened, including a tonight show and a handful of sitcoms). And a lot of it comes down to demand: would people want to watch twenty episodes a year of Chris Lilley’s work? But it does also show how the Australian comedy scene has been stunted in recent years (decades) by the focus on stand-up comedians. For a stand-up, an hour of new material a year is good work: once they’ve got that they can tour on it for the year, then maybe put out a DVD or do it on television and then move on to new gear.
Micallef, as one of the few remaining writer-performers who learnt his trade doing sketch comedy on television, has been trained to create large amounts of material – and while doing a topical television comedy series certainly helps (he can get jokes out of situations that may be forgotten in a week, so he doesn’t need to look for the timeless joke), he’s done more than enough non-topical stuff to show he can work just as well on his own. Plus, like pretty much every other human endeavour out there, the more you do it the better you get at it.
Who knows how good the Australian comedy scene might be if we had a few more people out there willing and able to tell a lot of jokes?
By Anthony Morris