A Whole Lotta Kids in the Hall

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Bruce: Maclean's (May 25, 1995)
"The Demonic Comic"

Going in new directions after Kids in the Hall.

His face may be cherubic, but there is a slightly demonic glint in his deep brown eyes. After introducing his black standard poodle, Kelsey, Bruce McCulloch, looking clean-cut in blue jeans and a red wool cardigan, ushers a visitor into his downtown Toronto office. "It's sort of weird, " the enfant terrible of "Kids in the Hall" fame says with a shrug.

"When people find out you have an office, it disappoints them some how." At first glance, the irreverent comic's workplace, where he arrives each morning between 9 and 9:30, resembles any other. But like McCulloch himself, it contains bizarre twists. The titles of skits in progress written on index cards and pinned to a corkboard include "Nancy Sinatra Video" and something called "Christ of the Ocean." Above a threadbare sofa hangs a bargain-basement tapestry of dogs playing pool. Nearby, McCulloch's desk is looking awfully cluttered. "I'm what I call a work pig," he confesses.

After a five-season run on the CBC, "The Kids in the Hall"--which also aired on CBS and cable's Comedy Central in the United States--ceased production in January. Since then, cast members McCulloch, Scott Thompson, Dave Foley, Mark McKinney, and Kevin McDonald have pursued solo careers--although they have not officially broke up as a troupe. McDonald has gone on to star in the yet-to-be-released movie "National Lampoon's Senior Trip." Thompson, Foley, and McKinney each scored big-time American TV gigs:McKinney as a cast member of "Saturday Night Live", Foley on the sitcom "NewsRadio" with SNL alumnus Phil Hartman, and Thompson on the critically acclaimed "Larry Sanders Show."

McCulloch, meanwhile, has chosen a slightly less high-profile path. For the past few months, the boyish 35-year-old comic, who says he thinks of himself "first and foremost" as a writer, has been juggling a number of creative projects. The Edmonton-born, Calgary-raised McCulloch--best known to "Kids" fans for his deadpan delivery of some of the shows darkest twists--has directed four 16-mm short films for SNL. (One, called "Clear", features members of a perky suburban family who begin their day with a jump-start from a heart defibrillator.) He is now working on another independent movie, "Dogs Play Pool", along with longtime friend and former "Kids" writer Garry Campbell. And, with the backing of Lorne Michaels, SNL creator and executive producer, McCulloch and the other Kids have been "ferociously writing" a long-awaited feature movie, which will begin shooting in Toronto at the end of June--and is scheduled to be released early next year. "I guess you could call it social commentary," says McCulloch. "It is about a fictitious drug that moves through society--a good drug."

But there is more. Last week, McCulloch was busy putting the finishing touches on a MuchMusic TV special, called "Bruce McCulloch: 50 Years in Show Business," which is scheduled to air on May 25. "It is retrospective of my career and it's different phases," he says, straight-faced. "You know, my club phase, my funk phase, that sort of thing." And last month, he released a hysterically funny CD, "Shame-Based Man" (Warner), which combines comedy and music in innovative ways. The album is a bit of a depature for McCulloch. "I am not a musician," he says. "I have a bass and a guitar. They're better props than ceramic plates of Elvis--they make me seem cool."

Fans will recognize a couple of McCulloch's numbers ("Daves I Know" and "That's America") from the Kids' TV show. The other selections are a unique mixture of spoken word, beat poetry and double-edged lyrics set to wildly divergent musical styles: country, jazz, blues, and rock 'n' roll. But all the pieces zero in on the darker side of human existence like a heat seeking missile.

A collaboration with former Blue Rodeo keyboardist Bob Wiseman and fellow Calgarian Brian Connelly, lead guitarist from Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet--which played the musical introduction to "Kids in the Hall"--the CD is not for the faint of heart or easily offended. "Shame-Based Man" concentrates on the twisted and the profane, the dysfunctional and the perverse. And for connoisseurs of black humor, those contemptuous of the politically correct, it offers a true feast. One of the pieces features a stalker making small talk with his victim. Another asks if there is a "drunk dad fairy" that "tiptoes in, takes the TV changer from his hand, lifts his head of his chest so his neck won't be sore tomorrow" and "pays for the Chinese food." (McCulloch says that his own father, a retired furniture salesman divorced from his mother, has been a member of Alcoholics Anonymous for about 25 years.) "There are a lot of lonely people characterized on this record," notes McCulloch. "I was trying to think of a title, and I remembered this guy saying that everything he had done in the last five years was based only on guilt and shame." Does McCulloch experience those emotions? "Of course I do," he says matter-of-factly. "I think that every bad and good thing that you have ever done is still inside of you."

McCulloch is surprised that people find his work demented. "I guess it is," he says. "But my stuff--and it's the same with all the troupe's stuff--it always seems so normal to me, some of it even square." Hardly. Unlike many comedy recordings, which after one listen are no longer funny, "Shame Based Man", like a good therapist, requires more than one visit.

[Steele, Scott. "The Demonic Comic." Maclean's. 22 May 1995. p 69.]



 Trista Lycosky

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