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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.