From law to laughter
Shaun Micallef is one of Australia's most successful entertainers. He has succeeded in writing, producing, performing on stage, in movies and on television, appearing in such popular programs as SeaChange and Full Frontal.
This month, Micallef - who is also a Law graduate of the University of Adelaide - returns to Adelaide to perform with fellow comedian Glynn Nicholas in The Pleasure of Their Company.
The following is an edited version of an interview with Edward Joyner, arts writer for the student newspaper, On Dit.
EJ: Readers might not be aware that you actually have a law degree from the University of Adelaide, which I think you completed in 1983... I believe you also met some of your colleagues, like Francis Greenslade, at Adelaide University - do you have any memories of your time at Adelaide?
SM: Despite my efforts to obliterate most of them, I do have some trace elements of memory! I started at Adelaide Uni in 1980... The big memory is doing Footlights Reviews... we used to do about three shows a year. Each would run for about two weeks, and would follow exams... so about two weeks of rehearsal, then you do two weeks of actual show... and we'd do them in the Union Hall at the end of the year, and the other two shows were at the Little Theatre... it's about 100 seats I think, and quite a nice little theatre - that was my favourite theatre. Francis Greenslade, with whom I worked on television on many occasions, was also studying French at the time I think... and also Gary McCaffrie, who co-writes and co-produces a lot of stuff we do on television, he was there at law school about a year ahead of me... he sort of led me into Footlights, and then once we'd finished at law school, eventually let me into writing for a TV program on Channel 7. So those two guys have been with me for a long time, I've known them for over 20 years.
EJ: Would you say that Adelaide Uni was where you started out performing?
SM: Yeah, I think so. I did a little bit of acting when I was younger, I went to acting classes... but I wasn't very good, I'm not really an actor! At university I learnt how to write sketches and things, which is really what I'm still doing. It was that exposure to the audience at university... they laughed at a lot of stuff, and if they didn't you just cut it out of the show - it was a great test. A lot of people working on TV now have never had that experience, there doesn't seem to be that tradition anymore of coming from university review at all, it seems to be if there are any comics on they come from stand-up... and they can't string together a sketch or a character or anything like that, which is a great pity.
EJ: Your legal training must have been useful with shows like Welcher & Welcher (legal comedy), but how has it related to the rest of your work?
SM: Well I've always done both. I guess at university I was always studying law and finding time to do these reviews... to me they were always vaguely connected, so even when I went out and worked as a solicitor I was still writing and directing for Footlights, and appearing in them... and doing shows off-campus with university friends like Francis, and Alex Ward also - who is now president of the Law Society! He's a good friend of mine, and we used to do many shows together... he remained in the legal profession, and I left. So even while I was working, Alex and I used to do radio comedy and cabaret shows... I used to write for Glynn Nicholas when he was on a show called The Big Gig on the ABC. While I was still practising I used to write it out by hand and post it off... so when I made the decision to come to Melbourne and write for TV, I'd always been doing that stuff... I think I still use the discipline I picked up in the law course.
EJ: Your delivery is very... deadpan. Do you think that stemmed from your law?
SM: Yeah, even when I see myself on TV now, I reckon I always look like a solicitor [laughs] who is dressed up in a stupid costume and looks slightly uncomfortable... I think that because I happen to have a voice that suits appearing in court, I've always got that with me, that's why I have that slightly uncomfortable look of "why am I here? Shouldn't I be sitting in an office?"
EJ: Do you miss living in Adelaide?
SM: Yeah, all my good friends are in Adelaide... I have two really close friends who I'd see a couple of times a year. I didn't leave Adelaide until I was 31, and I come back every year at Christmas time as my family is still there... it's just unfortunate that Adelaide didn't have the television industry that seems to exist here in Melbourne. Even in Sydney, television is very Sydney-centric, but in terms of comedy, Melbourne is really the place to come - lots of supportive audiences, and lots of pubs around the place.
EJ: Speaking of Adelaide... your latest show, The Pleasure of Their Company, is the first theatre performance you've done in a while, isn't it?
SM: Yeah, it would be the first since I left. I did a tiny little bit of stand-up in Melbourne when I first started, but really I haven't done any since... we used to do shows all the time in Adelaide, indeed, much of the material I will be doing [laughs] so if you remember those shows... but yeah, it's been... 10 years. So it's quite significant, it's like an anniversary - it's been 10 years since I left, and really, 10 years since I performed in front of a live audience.
The Pleasure of Their Company will be held at the Adelaide Arts Theatre from March 12-20. Bookings available through BASS.
The Adelaidean thanks Edward Joyner and On Dit for this contribution