A Whole Lotta Kids in the Hall

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Bruce: The Stranger (April 10-16, 1996)
"Sugar and Malice"

Bruce McCulloch, a member of the comedy troupe, Kids In the Hall, is staying at Seattle's posh Four Seasons hotel. When I walk into his room, he's shouting into the phone:

"Room Service! Where the FUCK is that Fresca I ordered!?"

I'm barely in the door, and I'm already in hysterics. I ask Bruce if he puts on similar shows in all his interviews:

"I know I'm not literally being judged," he says, "but I always have this knee-jerk reaction during interviews where I always wanna scream, 'Is that FUCKING coffee here yet!?' Then to the reporter, 'I'm sorry, you were saying?' For some reason I always wanna do the worst possible thing in these situations."

It seems Bruce has made a career of finding the "worst possible" in his sketches ever since The Kids in the Hall first performed together in 1984. After five years of hilariously surreal stage shows, they got their own hilariously surreal TV show on Canada's CBC network, and produced 110 episodes which have played on HBO, CBS, and currently run on Comedy Central (Monday through Friday, 1:30 am). This month they move from TV to film with their first feature film, Brain Candy.

Brain Candy captures the Kids at their morbid best, spoofing our culture's never-ending search for the next feel-good prescription drug. Bruce, along with cast members Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson, have created over 40 new sugar-coated and malicious characters for the film. These include heavy-metal rockers, an evil corporate president, a TV talk show host, repressed homosexuals, love-lorn scientists, and what will probably be the most controversial movie character of the year, the wheel-chair confined, chemo-riddled "Cancer Boy." Despite the film's darkness, and probably because of it, I started by telling Bruce I thought Brain Candy was the funniest movie since Mary Poppins.

Bruce: What in the hell are you talking about? We can't put that on the movie poster.

No, see, because in Mary Poppins you have that same kind of mean-spirited sense of humor, but somehow you end up liking the characters.

Oh. . . thanks then.

So did you experience a lot more freedom making a film, than in the TV show?

Not really. The freedom came from being able to do a longer piece, but the constraints came from the studio people discussing our work. Much of our time during the television show was spent keeping our shit from executives until it was too late for them to do anything about it. With film it's a lot harder.

How did the movie come about?

We've always cherished the film work we did on the show, because it had a different feel than the live sketches. However, we couldn't focus on the films much during the series because we're dumb. Individually we're smart guys, but together we're one big dumb guy, and couldn't concentrate on two things at once.

So was Brain Candy's script an equal collaboration?

Yeah, all except Dave (Foley) who went off to do NewsRadio. When the series finished production, one of the few good instincts we had was "We have to work on this script right away, because if we take a break, Scott'll fly off to Jamaica and shave his head, or whatever, and the project will fall apart." So we went off to Northern Ontario for three weeks and had a "bake-off" of all our best ideas, and that's how Brain Candy came about.

Was writing the movie like putting together sketches?

Not really, because we had to work together. In terms of the series, we worked separately, getting together in rehearsal to beat out the material. But we wanted to work in a way we never had, which was write everything together. We had to face each other in the same creative room, which gets tougher as you get older, because you don't want to be confrontational.

So does the group still get along as well as it once did?

We see less of Dave, certainly, and he's kind of fallen out of the sphere of our group, mostly because he's working on his show, and has kind of lost the fun of the party. But after this last year and dealing with the studio, the rest of us are closer than we've ever been.

Was Brain Candy designed as a "just say no to drugs" movie?

Actually, it was written at a time when a lot of people we knew were getting picked off by Prozac. People kept turning up, saying, "Sure, I'm on it. And I'm feeling better now, and I'm sleeping better, my appetite's better, and I'm.... umm.... as creative.... I think." Even Scott (Thompson) was considering getting on Prozac, but then he was like, "I'm not fucking taking it! I'm depressed some days, and I'm really happy other days! So WHAT?!"

So I think the idea was more "just say no to the proverbial notion of always being happy." That's the American dream, you know. Everything should be a day on the beach and you should always be happy, and if you're sad, then that's weird. Life isn't about feeling just one thing. And that's part of the troupe's outlook; darkness is part of life, and it's part of the beauty of life, too.

Well, the movie does have it's share of dark humor. At certain points, I kept my hand over my mouth because I didn't want anyone to hear me laughing. Like the "Cancer Boy" section. . .

Yeah, we've gotten a lot of questions about Cancer Boy. At one press conference where there were about 100 journalists, the first question was, "What's up with Cancer Boy, and who the fuck do you think you are?" I guess people felt we were trying to push it as far as we could, or make fun of Cancer Boy. But in a sense, he's the heart of what our work is all about. Cancer Boy probably has the saddest, noblest, sweetest heart of any character I've ever done.

To me it's all about sports celebrities doing photo-ops with cancer kids. If you have cancer you get to see Wayne Gretsky, but if you're just "sorta sick^?" What, do you get a photo opportunity with a guy on the third line? It was more about the cynicism of the sympathy industry. We understand why we put him in the movie. Sure, it's savage in a way, and it's certainly not politically correct, but hey, bring on the noise!

You guys probably get compared to Monty Python a lot. . .

and R.E.M.

Well, yes. But your work always seems to be more character driven than doing funny walks and saying "Neep!"

We're certainly not averse to stupid ideas. Part of me likes stupid ideas, like "flying pig" or toast fucking. Now,that's a stupid idea! But what really drives us is the characters. The assistant bank manager who's an asshole, so everybody hides food from him, or a guy obsessed with pens. . . it's a character world.

Do you think you guys are good representatives of Canada? You're all obviously nice people, but you're also really disturbingly bent.

Yeah, we're sweet but savage, and I think a lot of Canadians are that way. But it's like looking at the Oriental culture, where everyone says, "Oh those people are so nice^" which they are, but because they're smiling and nice to you doesn't mean they don't think you're a fucking asshole because you're complaining about the room service in your hotel.

Seems you guys deal a lot with facades, or how people hide what they feel and want. . .

That always interests me, people's private and public lives, and that's why I like doing things like getting on the phone when a reporter comes in and screaming, "Where's that fucking coffee I ordered?!" because while I hope this interview is a good representation of me, it's still feels like I'm applying for a job.

[Humphrey, Steven. "Sugar and Malice." The Stranger. April 10-16, 1996. p 10.]



 Trista Lycosky

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