Why Shaun Micallef gave students the floor in Channel 10’s Brain Eisteddfod

Shaun Micallef’s Brain Eisteddfod

• Plus: Behind the decision to leave Mad As Hell

A decade after Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation wrapped up on Channel 10, Shaun Micallef is back on the network with Shaun Micallef’s Brain Eisteddfod. 

The quiz show seeks to unearth Australia’s smartest school, testing year 11 students on a range of school subjects – and giving those who have left school a laugh while reminding them how trigonometry works.

Mediaweek spoke to Micallef ahead of the show’s launch on Wednesday, 20 July at 7.30pm on 10 and 10 Play.

It’s been a while between appearances on 10 for Micallef, and the launch of Brain Eisteddfod is, in part, due to his last stint as a quiz host for the network.

“Because of Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation, I had worked with the producer of the show, Leonie Lowe from Lune Media – she was working at ITV at the time. Also, I’ve known Hilary Innes since she worked at Channel Nine.”

With Covid dominating the news cycle and restricting the television industry for the last two years, Brain Eisteddfod was born after Micallef decided to work within the parameters of a post-pandemic world.

“I thought it would be a nice idea during Covid to do a show where we could avoid having to fly people in – so if we were in Melbourne at the studio, then one school team could be in Melbourne and one could be in Perth, and you could have them on the screen. That would work, and that would be A: cheap and B: Covid friendly.”

Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

“We realised that no matter what equipment you use there’s always a delay, which did put the other team that was out of the state at a disadvantage in a beat the buzzer situation. So we went back to the old fashioned way of actually bringing people together in one space. I think that works better anyway, because you can have more fun.”

Shaun Micallef’s Brain Eisteddfod features Micallef testing year 11 students on their knowledge of a range of subjects from English, mathematics, history, foreign languages, biology, and economics. The decision to stick to year 11 students rather than a range of high school ages was a deliberate one. 

“My own children were not very far away in age when I had the idea,” says Micallef. “Young adults are smart, funny, they have their own sense of self, and they can hold their own in a conversation. We don’t often see them represented on television – because they’re probably at school, I guess – but usually, it’s on a soap opera or something like that and they’re played by 25-year-olds.

“We thought year 12 was probably too busy with real exams to waste their time doing a pretend version of an exam, so we thought year 11 might be better. That was a good pick, they did work very nicely. “

While Micallef says that all of the students were both smart and funny, the casting had really only been for smarts.

“Funny is a bonus, we weren’t really intending to make a comedy show. I kind of feel like a substitute teacher who’s not quite on top of his subjects, so we fill in the time by just having a bit of a chat and getting to know people.”

With the future of the country – and the world – eventually falling to the Shaun Micallef’s Brain Eisteddfod kids and their peers, Micallef says that he’s confident we’re in good hands.

“In the very last episode, I commended them and said that we’re all in safe hands. I think they care a bit more. The future is pretty bleak if the Boomers or even Generation X are in charge, and that age group is keenly aware of just how precious and precarious the future of humankind is – and I’m talking existentially here. If we’ve got a chance, it’s going to come from them rather than anybody over the age of 25.”

Shaun Micallef’s Brain Eisteddfod

As Brain Eisteddfod goes to air on Wednesday night, so too does the new season of Mad As Hell.

“It was funny, because we recorded the first Mad As Hell last night, and I found myself looking to my left quite a bit – because that’s where the crew was on the Brain Eisteddfod,” says Micallef. “I still had some muscle memory, so I was turning to the imaginary Channel 10 crew that weren’t there.

“I’ve made myself distinguishable because I’m wearing glasses on Brain Eisteddfod and not wearing glasses on Mad As Hell. That’s how I can tell myself apart.”

Micallef made headlines last week after tweeting that he was getting ready to leave the Mad As Hell seat that he’s been keeping warm for 10 years. 

“Really, the fact that the show lasted two or three seasons was a big surprise to me. It’s always a pleasant surprise – in fact, the fact that it lasted more than one season was a surprise!”

Shaun Micallef

Shaun Micallef on Mad As Hell

When asked whether there was a specific moment he decided to leave the show, Micallef says that it was more of a long time coming.

“I was looking at myself on camera, and I thought, ‘man, you are looking bad’. I have to sit in the edit suite when we put the show together, and say ‘can we not do a close up?’ The further away the camera can be from me, the happier I am. I guess at some point, the camera has to be so far away that you can’t see me.

“Also, let’s face it, the resources are always limited in TV, particularly at the ABC and I really genuinely wanted some younger comedians to have a go. I’ve had a very, very good run.”

See More: Shaun Micallef on 10 years of disregarding politics on Mad As Hell

As for what the future of Mad As Hell looks like, Micallef isn’t too fussed on the details.

“If we take a year off I’m hopeful that we can rejig the show, because we’ve got a very good cast and writers. We could rejig it to suit somebody else sitting in the chair, or it can be a new show – I’m happy either way. Any version of that will please me, and I can go off to do other things that are behind the camera.”

To Top