Getting to work with Shaun Micallef has got to be a treat for just about any performer.
He writes smart, contemporary material, he lets his co-performers shine and he brings a savvy, ready-made audience along for the ride.
On a recent recording to Mad as Hell, it wasn’t hard to notice a wide range of audience members, from cool uni students to middle-aged parents.
A Wednesday night recording is the end of the week for the ensemble, before material heads to post-production and a Friday night screening.
As Roz Hammond tells it, she gets first scripts on Friday ahead of outside broadcast scenes filmed on Monday and Tuesday. But with a show that is trying to stay on top of weekly news, the tough work begins on Tuesday afternoon.
“Tuesday 4pm is the very nervous wait for the scripts for Wednesday. It’s a big learn,” she admits.
“Then we come in on Wednesday at about midday, do a read through, camera rehearsal and then roll in to the night.
“Shaun writes about 90% (of the show). It’s unbelievable. He must spend every minute writing. But he’s very generous on the floor letting you play. Sometimes his writing is quite intellectual and sometimes quite oblique, that you have to hit all the words in the right order, because it’s so beautiful.”
Other writers include Stephen Hall, Gary McCaffrie and Michael Ward.
The recording begins with Micallef seated in the middle of his yin-yang desk and only stops to locate actors, most of whom undergo various theatrical ‘quick-changes,’ onto set.
Joining Hammond in the ensemble are Veronica Milsom, Emily Taheny, Francis Greenslade and -no relation- Tosh Greenslade.
“You have to play lots of reporters and lots of characters, so you try to open your bag of tricks enough so that they are a bit different,” says Hammond.
“But you can’t do too much because you’re not the joke. So you have to know where your place is in the sketch. It’s about the writing, not about the character. So that’s always a bit of fun.
“Working with Shaun and Francis again is wonderful.”
Keeping the mood buoyant at any comedy show recording is integral, and Mad as Hell draws upon the services of seasoned warm-up man Michael Pope. While Pope banters with the audience he also chats with Micallef, who keeps the punchlines coming. While some performers prefer to focus on their next sketch, Micallef is effectively performing from the moment he enters the studio to the moment he takes his final applause. It’s a generous gift for a free night at the ABC.
Given it’s a debut season, Mad as Hell is arguably still finding its comedic feet, still test-driving both format and characters. But the numbers have been strong for a Friday night, better than most of ABC’s Wednesday comedy line-up.
Roz Hammond, who has previously appeared in The Librarians and Thank God You’re Here, is relishing the chance to dabble in character work. She’s next due to appear in the comedy Happy Ending for the Melbourne Theatre Company. Hammond is high on casting directors’ lists for comedy roles, despite having appeared in Curtin and The King.
“You know what this country’s like. ‘You do comedy,” she quips.
“But I’m very happy. I’ve got no complaints.”
Of course not. She’s working with Micallef.
Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell airs 8pm Fridays on ABC1.