In the past two decades, Shaun Micallef has gone from bit player to permanent fixture, beloved as much for his nonsensical tomfoolery as his incisive satire, but would never want to be dubbed a national treasure.
“I do get worried sometimes when the word ‘treasure’ is used, because that’s something dead and buried,” Micallef, 56, tells The New Daily.
“Anyway, not that too many people have used that expression.
“I don’t think I’m aware of how I’m perceived as a person. I can kind of tell whether I’ve kicked a goal or not in terms of the show being funny, but I’m not sure of what the cumulative effect of that is on people,” Micallef says.
“As long as I don’t get in the way, then I’ve done the job I’ve been asked to do.
“I want that on my tombstone: ‘He didn’t get in the way’.”
Micallef’s Logie-winning Mad As Hell has just started its 10th season on the ABC, with the comedy staple taking aim at the left, the right and all between.
The host says the show has the peculiar effect of freezing time, partly because he is still wearing the same suit from season one (spectacularly outdoing Karl Stefanovic’s mere year spent in one suit on Today).
“The reason I wear the same suit is because we sometimes use footage from a previous week,” he says.
“I quite like the colour and everything. But it doesn’t feel like eight years have passed. [Co-creator] Gary McCaffrie says to me, ‘This is our perfect show’.
“We’re not writing to someone else’s agenda or fitting in with someone’s business model. It is fed by the week’s events. It has a freshness to it.”
While the weekly scripts are new, Micallef’s meticulous research starts much earlier, re-watching all previous seasons with a critical eye at the start of each new series.
“I’m used to treating myself with as much disdain as I would any other actor,” he says.
“But as a writer I’m usually pretty good at covering my deficiencies as a performer, and as a performer I’m usually pretty good at amping up moments so you can’t tell the writing is a bit dodgy.”
It’s a big year for anniversaries for Micallef. He and his equally whip-smart wife Leandra, a lawyer who owns Melbourne design store Ziggurat, have just celebrated 30 years of marriage.
The couple live in a Melbourne beachside suburb and share three sons who have grown up watching their dad on TV.
While the boys don’t necessarily think that what he does is cool, “I don’t think they’re overly embarrassed by it. That’s a win,” he says.
“The three of them are quite funny. The middle boy is now doing a film and television course, and the young one is pretty funny. I think he’d like to do something like that.”
Like his parents, their other son is studying law – Micallef famously ditched a career in law to try his hand at comedy at Leandra’s suggestion – “so the fact that they’re not shying away from anything I’ve ever done, that’s quite good,” he says.
“As far as I’m concerned your kids can do anything they want to do. If they find something they love you’ve got no choice but to support them.”
Life hasn’t changed “not that much” in 10 seasons of creating a cult comedy. But Micallef is keenly aware the world is changing, and the way comedy is received continues to evolve.
“If there’s a point where if you can’t read the room any more you become a bit dated,” he said.
“It’s 25 years since I started on [Channel Seven’s] Full Frontal. If we had the audacity to do that sort of material now there would be no appetite or tolerance for it.”
In line with his professional goal to “always try do something … just to flex my muscles in a different area” on top of Mad As Hell, he’s done theatre, Mr and Mrs Murder (Channel 10), The Ex-PM (ABC), Talking About Your Generation (Channel 9) and documentaries for SBS.
“I’d go crazy doing just the one thing. I’ve been pretty lucky over the last 10 years to have had those options.”
Mad As Hell, ABC TV and iView, 8.30pm Wednesday