Just keep do­ing what you’re do­ing, Shaun

New­stopia 10pm, SBS

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

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.

Ker­rie Mur­phy

Bit­ing com­ment: Shaun Mi­callef uses his goofy per­sona to good ef­fect

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