Just keep doing what you’re doing, Shaun
Newstopia 10pm, SBS
THROUGHOUT his career, Shaun Micallef has had some very mainstream gigs. He first came to public attention in the 1993 sketch comedy Full Frontal , which was about as safe and commercial as comedy comes.
He had a love interest role on SeaChange. Then there was that short- lived variety program on Nine and the present gig hosting breakfast on Melbourne radio station Vega.
Which wouldn’t be so surprising if it weren’t for the fact that his style of comedy generates extreme reactions.
Those who like his work ( and I am one of them) love him with such passion that they would probably help him hide a dead body, no questions asked, if he phoned.
Those who don’t like his use of non sequiturs, obscure cultural references and word play tend to hate his work. Stan Zemanek once delivered a lengthy rant on Beauty and the Beast expressing his astonishment that the ABC was spending money on The Micallef Program .
For instance, one of my favourite sketches from The Micallef Program ( or Programme, or Pogrom — I can’t recall which season of the everchanging title show it was) involved Micallef going up to a man wearing a beret in a cafe and saying: ‘‘ Excuse me, but do you know you’re wearing a beret?’’ At which point the man looks embarrassed, takes it off and thanks him for drawing it to his attention. It’s hard to point to why this is funny, unless of course you really, really hate berets.
So SBS is proving to be the perfect home for Micallef. Not only is there a higher chance that the audience will understand his reference to, say, Aung San Suu Kyi, but it’s out of the line of vision of the haters. It also has given Micallef the chance to employ some of the most hilarious use of swearing in recent memory, such as the revelation of obscenities that Tony Abbott has muttered under his breath.
While the Chaser team and Jon Stewart are both masters of the satirical news program, Micallef has come up with something different. It parodies politicians, broadcast news values and society in general. And because of Micallef’s goofy yet uptight persona, he can offer quite biting political commentary without seeming as overt in his criticism as other comedians, such as in this recent observation: ‘‘ The popularity of the Melbourne Cup continues to make it a race that stops the nation, while Kevin Andrews’s continued stance on the Sudanese makes us the nation that stops a race.’’ With the election over, Newstopia now faces the challenge of losing one of its richest veins of humour, so it will be interesting to see how it copes.
But we shouldn’t worry too much; after a rough start, the show has hit its stride and the jokes work far more often than they don’t. Just don’t tell the mainstream networks because Micallef works best where he is.
Biting comment: Shaun Micallef uses his goofy persona to good effect