The fan-favorite sketches in Kids in the Hall‘s Season Three DVD package opens with a drunk man (Kevin McDonald) stumbling out of a bar. Leering at the women who pass him by, he sees a sign promising “Live Nude Girls,” with an arrow to lead the way. He follows a series of similar signs until he ends up climbing a ladder in a half-built skyscraper, thumping with bass and blinding him with whirling lights.
Once he’s climbed the ladder, the man realizes he’s been duped. “The Headcrusher” (Mark McKinney)—a recurring KITH character fond of steering noggins between his thumb and forefinger and mashing them into “flatheads”—sits on a folding chair near the ladder. A chalkboard next to him keeps count of how many people have been fooled, and how many heads have been “crushed.” The audience goes spastic at the sight of McKinney and the sound of his catchphrase: “I’m crushing your head!”
“I hated this,” intones troupe member Scott Thompson in the audio commentary. “And you know why?” The other members—McKinney, McDonald, Dave Foley, and Bruce McCulloch—suddenly hush. “Because this was included only because [executive producer] Lorne [Michaels] forced us to… We had a long discussion about running characters, and Lorne wanted this in.”
Season Three of Kids in the Hall aired from 1991 to 1992 in Canada (and on HBO in America), shortly after SNL went through its second renaissance, 15 years after its inception. After a mind-numbing slump in the early to mid-1980s (sans Michaels), SNL suddenly found itself relevant in the early 1990s. Not only did it have a talented cast—including Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey, Mike Meyers, and Chris Farley—but the new recurring characters were generating high ratings, national catchphrases (remember Hanz and Franz?), and feature films (Wayne’s World , It’s Pat! ).
It’s not hard to see why Michaels would have pushed a similar agenda on his other project. The Head Crusher might have achieved success in the U.S., where Kids in the Hall had so far remained a fierce cult phenomenon. While the shows were plainly different—SNL was shamelessly mainstream and the Kids nurtured surreal, Monty Python-esque tendencies—they were directly related from the get-go. Michaels had the Kids cut their professional teeth writing for his American show, according to featurettes on the DVD for Seasons One and Two. And even after KITH ended in 1994, Michaels wanted to sign the whole troupe for SNL, but only got McCulloch (for writing) and McKinney (acting and writing).
However opposed some troupe members were to Michaels’ influence, it definitely exists; in fact, one might call Season Three “the SNL year” of Kids in the Hall. Over the course of 20 episodes, this author counted at least 20 characters and scenarios that were recurring or became recurring in later seasons. The reigning champs were the incompetent cops of the “Police Department” segments, with five episode appearances. Other fan-favorite characters—the Chicken Lady (McKinney), Simon (McDonald) and Man-servant Hecubus (Foley), the lamely evil hosts of “The Pit of Ultimate Darkness,” and of course, the flaming bar owner Buddy Cole (Thompson)—all return more than once during the season. However, given that Saturday Night Live‘s reliance on recurring characters over its 25-year run ranks high on TV critics’ bitch lists, it’s understandable that the Kids would resist the practice.
The first season was almost entirely written by a troupe that was used to writing for the stage (demonstrated on the DVD with videotaped performances from the Rivoli Theater, before the Kids had a TV show). But by 1991, the show had hired Norm Hiscock and Paul Bellini to write. They clipped the number of awkwardly paced sketches, fleshed out unrealized sketch premises, and toned down the weirdness-without-the-comedy aspects that prevailed in the first two series. One such casualty was the “30 Helens Agree” segments, in which, yes, 30 different women standing in a field—all named Helen—agreed on some topic or another. The Helens, thankfully, didn’t make it to Season Three.
While the quality of the series improved with Season Three, the series’ DVD packages are always good. The features, standards from the previous DVD sets, include two of the aforementioned best-of compilations, which feature new commentary by all five Kids. The material that was videotaped at the Rivoli Theater—roughly a half-hour of never-before-seen sketches and others that eventually found their way to the TV show, including McDonald’s monologue as a volatile Buddy Holly—is ragged in form and content, but still shows the promise the Kids later made good on.
Extras aside, Season Three could very well be a revelation for American fans used to watching reruns on Comedy Central. Because of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s leniency with subject material, the episodes on CBS and in syndication were slightly different from the CBC shows. In the U.S. airings, some sketches were edited for content, some were completely re-shot. Sometimes, entire sketches were replaced because of material that might have been found offensive. (Season One’s “The Doctor Seuss Bible” springs instantly to mind.) The DVD episodes, thankfully, are the original, unedited Canadian versions, some risqué for American audiences, feature terms like “cocksucker” and “faggot,” and the pro-homosexual overtones of Thompson’s comedy, alongside the cast’s usual cross-dressing.
Once you’ve seen a few of those uncensored sketches, it’s clear why Kids in the Hall was never so pleasing to mainstream viewers as SNL. And brother, it ain’t because the Chicken Lady was too cutting edge for America.