Sketch left up in air but gags still enrage

WE just talked to Shaun Micallef. No, it wasn’t for Topics. It was for our other job as Weekender TV writer.

But we’re bringing it up here because he mentioned something we hadn’t heard reported.

You may already know that the surreal and risk-taking Micallef P(r)ogram(me) wound up in 2001 after three seasons. It won a cult following, but most people heard of it because of a sketch that never aired.

The joke comprised Micallef throwing to a promo for a fictional documentary called Weary Dunlop: Transsexual. Cut to a switchboard lighting up with angry calls. End of sketch.

It was a joke about censorship, not war heroes.

The comic says he’s more discerning these days. He’ll cut a joke if he decides it’s only there to generate outrage.

‘‘If we can defend the joke, we’ll do it,’’ he says.

But at the time, he made the mistake of mentioning the Dunlop sketch to a reporter.

For a few days, talkback radio throbbed with rage.

Howard government communications minister Richard Alston got involved, as did the RSL, and the unseen sketch was banished.

What isn’t well-known is that a gag that later went to air – about holy communion – further enraged Alston.

It was to be deleted, he thundered. Micallef, by this point, had had enough. How do you delete something that’s already been on TV? Well, it was never to be seen in a repeat, Alston declared.

Micallef refused, ABC executives got jittery and The Micallef P(r)ogram(me) wasn’t renewed.

The comic believes, to this day, that the minister’s pressure was the reason.

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