A Whole Lotta Kids in the Hall

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Kevin: ArtVoice Interview Interview

by M. Faust

The line goes from Monty Python's Flying Circus to SCTV to the Kids in the Hall. In terms of consistency, outrageousness (not to be confused with mere grossness) and intelligence, these are the three troupes that define the possibilities of television comedy, and probably will for years to come.

Formed in Toronto in the 1980s, the Kids (who took their name from a running Jack Benny gag about his writers) worked in that city for years before they were spotted by Lorne Michaels.

Though he has often used Toronto's Second City improv troupe for writing and performing talent, the "Saturday Night Live" producer helped get the Kids a show of their own. Running for six years on HBO and the CBC, it picked up a healthy cult following. It was never gimmicky, though it was often surreal. Politics and current events were entirely ignored. And there was a relative lack of self-conscious catch phrases or recurring characters (the mainstay of "Saturday Night Live"). Even the characters that did repeat, did so because the writers simply hadn't yet exhausted them. Simply put, the show just wasn't like anything else on their air.

The Kids stopped doing the show in 1995 to move into films, a la Monty Python. Unfortunately, their first effort - "Brain Candy", a cerebral satire about the marketing of and public obsession with a feel-good drug - flopped in theaters. (Rumor has it that some studio executives, upset at a Bruce McCulloch character called "Cancer Boy," buried the film with a weak promotional campaign. It has done better on video.) The five Kids moved on to other pursuits: Dave Foley starred in the series "NewsRadio"; Bruce McCulloch recorded an album of musicalized musings and directed a few films; Kevin McDonald did guest bits in some indie comedies and on TV shows like "Friends," "Drew Carey," "Ellen," and "The Martin Short Show"; Mark McKinney joined the cast of "Saturday Night Live," while Scott Thompson joined the cast of "The Larry Sanders Show" and published a biography of his fictional character Buddy Cole.

In the meantime, original episodes of the show have continued to gain them new admirers in reruns on Comedy Central. Their "Same Guys, New Dresses" tour, which brings them to Shea's Performing Arts Center this Saturday night, reunites all of the original members. I recently had the pleasure to speak with Kevin McDonald by phone from his home in Los Angeles just prior to beginning the current leg of the tour.

Q: I watched Arsenio once about 10 years ago because I'd heard the Kids in the Hall were going to be on., but it turned out to be New Kids on the Block.

A: We still hear that - it's the New Kids in the Hall.

Q: So how long as it been since the five of you worked together?

A: We stopped working officially four years ago. Well, there really was no official stop. The movie came out, we all had separate things, we kept in touch friend wise, but there was no Kids in the Hall business. So we stopped and people thought we split up, but we never did.

Q: Would that have been different if BRAIN CANDY had done better?

A: Yes. Were the movie a hit, I'm sure that by now we'd be at least working on a second movie. We always thought that we'd go on from the show to have a career in movies. We never thought the first movie would bomb. From this tour, we hope to get the movie thing started again. We're making our own documentary about this tour, offstage and onstage. It'll be like Madonna: Truth or Dare, half and half. Dave Foley's directing it and editing it, so in a few months we'll get together and maybe put some sketch-like things in there as well. and we hope that will do well that we can make another fiction film.

Q: Were you happy with the way BRAIN CANDY turned out?

A: We were pretty happy with it but we weren't perfectly happy with it. None of us are that happy with the ending. The good guy had to win but he lost in the script. Not that I think good guys losing always makes a better movie, but in this particular movie it made more sense. It was our first movie together and we were still married to the plot. We had a much longer script with a lot of funny stuff that we just cut because it didn't help the plot at all. That's the brick wall of what's different between TV sketch comedy and movies. To me the best sketch movie is Monty Python's LIFE OF BRIAN. I think Holy Grail is funnier, but Life of Brian has the best combination because it's a simple enough plot to just string a lot of sketches on it. I think we have to come up with something like that without copying Monty Python. (Pause) Because we already do. No we don't, but we were obviously inspired by them - five white guys, five white guys, one gay guy in their group, one gay guy in our group ...

Q: How did you pick out what material to use in the live show?

A: It was hard because we sat in Dave's house for three days with a list of every sketch we've ever done, and we just kept making it smaller and smaller. We end the show with something that's never been on TV because it was too big for a sketch but we couldn't stretch it out to make a whole episode because it would have been too long, but we always thought it was really good. But we also do stuff like Chicken Lady and Simon and Hecubus, and Buddy Cole, and we wrote a few new sketches. And for some of those characters we wrote new material. Simon and Hecubus is 2/3 new - we couldn't think of a good ending so we borrowed an old one.

Q: You're just starting an extension of the tour after the first batch of shows did really well. Will there be any changes from the earlier shows?

A: It'll be pretty much the same show. There may be a different. We of course had big plans to change everything because we wanted to be like a rock band, like the Black Crows, do a different set every night. But it's too hard because of the technical cues because we have video screens and stuff. But, they'll be different mistakes every night. Sorry, we're not the Black Crows. But we will have a Legalize Marijuana banner up!

Q: How would you characterize what it is that makes the Kids unique? Were there ever ideas that someone would propose but got rejected as not being Kids material?

A: Sometimes but usually they'd be Scott's ideas, but because they were about an individual, not for a troupe. That was a compliment, Scott, in case you read this. We never had a comedy philosophy. Whatever made us laugh because we all came from the same ballpark. Anything that was perverse and silly would be Kids in the Hall. But we never spoke what our theme was. What I always say is that we're the illegitimate children of Andy Kaufman and Jerry Lewis.

Q: You were born in Montreal, moved with your family to Burbank for a few years, then returned to live in Toronto. What part?

A: Mississauga. Of course Toronto might as well be Buffalo, because we get each other's TV. I know the name Irv Weinstein.

Q: I interviewed Scott Thompson a few years ago, and he told me a story about having a crush on one of our local sportscasters but I can't remember his name - Not Rick Azar—it was the guy on the NBC station - Ed Kilgore, that's it But only when he started losing his hair, I remember Scott saying. Right, He was describing this erotic daydream about Kilgore and someone else, playing hockey wearing only jockstraps -

A: That would have been Mark Massier. Yeah, he didn't make that up for you. That was Scott's fantasy.

Q: You were a TV junkie as a kid. What shows did you like best?

A: "Get Smart" was a favorite, because it was what I call subtle big - it had big, over the top stuff, but it was done in a deadpan way. But my all time favorite show was one I watched it every night religiously "Fernwood 2Nite". It struck a chord with me because I figured, I could do that, take a loose theme and then improvise in character. And that's what we ended up doing, at least in our stage show. It was funny and it was smart Oh, and "Buffalo Bill". That struck another chord because all comics love to play mean people. It's great to see a show that centered around a mean person. Of course that was one of the proofs to TV executives that people won't tune in to shows about mean persons, but I still like them.

Q: Unfortunately there weren't enough episodes of it for it to go into perpetual syndication, like your show has on cable. There's probably a lot more Kids in the Hall fans now than there were when you ended the show.

A: You're absolutely right. To our surprise. We're playing theaters three times the size of ones we did when the show was on. It's grown not quite to Beatlemania proportions, but its grown. We're doing 3000 seaters before that we never played anything more than 1000. And we're playing some of these theaters 2 or 3 times in a town sometimes. It's weird. So thank you Comedy Central.

Q: Hopefully you still get residuals from those?

A: Uhhm, sometimes it's hard to track it down. A lot of us have moved and we didn't give them the proper addresses....

Q: One of the Kids' most popular skits features you as Simon Milligan, a sort of dinner-theater Satanist, with Dave Foley in black tights as your adorably evil servant Hecubus. You were originally going to play Hecubus yourself. Looking at Dave now on stage at the age of 40 wearing black tights, do you still regret that?

A: (Laughs) No, no no I can only see Dave as Hecubus now. When I first wrote it, in 86 or 87, it was as a monologue for Simon. Then I gave it to Mark, and he got really excited about the idea and added Hecubus. Then he said that he would play Simon and I was left out of it. We tried it in rehearsal a few times, and this is legendary in the troupe's history as one of the few times I spoke up I said (quavering voice), "I think I should play Simon." And Mark said, OK, I'll play Hecubus, and I said, well, now that I've seen it done, I think Dave makes a better Hecubus. So even though Mark wrote the best Hecubus jokes, he was written out of it. I just knew Dave could do cuter better, and he's not taller than me.

Q: The Kids are also famed for the female characters they play, which is how the stage show opens. Is it liberating to play a woman?

A: Oh, completely liberating because even if you don't do a woman right, you just have to put on high heels a wig, a bra and a dress, and I feel liberated. I feel that I'm sort of playing me but more feminine, and to me more feminine means smarter. We always had a rule that we were never going to play women just to get cheap laughs. We did it because we were writing sketches about women:our girlfriends, our mothers, women we knew. So the laughs had to come from the character, not because we had balloons in our shirts or were speaking in high voices. That was very important to us.

A: Paul Bellini, the Kids writer who would pop up in sketches clad only in a towel, made a guest appearance when I saw your show in Toronto a few months back. Will we get a Bellini cameo here?

Q: Gee, that's a good idea; I never thought of that. It was my idea to have him on in Toronto [where he lives]. I'll call him right away - if it happens it's cause of you.



•  Kara Czarnecki

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