They’re older, but the comically dangerous Kids in the Hall haven’t mellowed a bit

[28 May 2008]

By Julie Hinds

Detroit Free Press (MCT)

In a new Web video from Kids in the Hall, the middle-aged lads are trying to figure out what will satisfy audiences on their “Live As We’ll Ever Be” tour.

“You know our fans, they’re going to be hitting the bong in the car before the show, you know, really Cheechin’ it up,” says Bruce McCulloch.

WHAT ARE THE KIDS DOING NOW? Scott Thompson is a frequent guest on TV series and talk shows and has been in films like “The Pacifier” and “Mickey Blue Eyes.” He played Hank Kingsley’s assistant on “The Larry Sanders Show.” Dave Foley was the lead in NBC’s “NewsRadio” and hosted Bravo’s “Celebrity Poker Showdown.” He also had a voice role in “A Bug’s Life.” Recently, he guested on “The New Adventures of Old Christine.” Kevin McDonald has popped up in sitcoms like “Arrested Development” and “That `70s Show.” He played Harry Potter in “Epic Movie.” He also does voice work for animated series like “Lilo & Stitch.” Bruce McCulloch recently wrote and produced the ABC sitcom “Carpoolers.” He guest-starred on “Gilmore Girls” and has written and directed several movies (“Dog Park,” “Stealing Harvard”). Mark McKinney was in the cast of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” and co-created and starred in the acclaimed Canadian series “Slings and Arrows.” He also had a brief stint on “Saturday Night Live.”

“Remember also, a lot of our fans are desperate people, and a lot of them have student loans that are dragging them down,” adds Scott Thompson.

Oh yes, Dave Foley chimes in, “We want to distract them from that crushing mountain of debt.”

Bouncing around suggestions, they hit on a concept everyone likes - except for Kevin McDonald.

“Let’s rape Kevin,” suggests Mark McKinney.

So much for mellowing with age. The five Canadian kings of sketch comedy are still doing the kind of stuff that made them cult favorites 20 years ago - those unsettling, often brilliant excursions into the far reaches of what’s funny.

Although the “Kids in the Hall” TV series ran from 1989 to 1995, the troupe has maintained a devoted following that includes original fans in their 30s and 40s (who are still doing “I’m crushing your head” impressions) and younger people who’ve discovered the Chicken Lady, annoying boy Gavin and obnoxious Cabbage Head from DVDs and the Web.

For their first major tour in six years, the Kids opted not to go the greatest-hits route. Instead of bringing back classic skits and repeating lines the audience can recite along with them, they’ve created an evening of new material.

McCulloch, the self-described “weirdest kid in the hall,” says the inspiration was to work the way they did in the mid-1980s, when they were just getting started. Back then, the guys would gather on a Sunday or Monday, write up a bunch of concepts and do a live show by the weekend.

The new sketches wound up being as odd and unpredictable as ever.

“It’s just kind of a taste that we collectively have, I guess, and that, to our delight, really hasn’t changed that much,” says McKinney, the tall, mild-mannered one who costarred recently in NBC’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.”

The Kids are considered the Monty Python of their generation, and not just because they like to cross-dress. Their innovative style continues to influence comedy, and their TV series (which was aired by the CBC in Canada and CBS and HBO in America) still seems as fresh and daring as anything being offered today.

“I like their whole story, five guys from Canada just doing what they’re doing,” says Billy Zakolski, 36, of Motor City Improv, a troupe that performs at Joey’s Comedy Club in Livonia, Mich., on Tuesdays. “After all these years, and it’s been 20 years of still being friends, that’s something special.”

Former Second City Detroit artistic director Rich Goteri, who teaches improv at Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle in Royal Oak, describes the Kids as fearless.

“They just do what they want to do and hope you’ll go along for the ride,” Goteri says. “They really do it for themselves and really don’t worry too much.”

If a bit leaves audiences wondering what just happened, the Kids have done their job.

“It’s an odd blend of characters and good writing,” says stand-up comedian Bill Bushart, who also works as a comedy coach at Ridley’s and Joey’s. “I was always fascinated the guy would do a character with a cabbage leaf on his head. I’d go, `What’s going on?’ And it was never explained.”

When the Kids were cranking out comedy gold in the late `80s and early `90s, there wasn’t much time for self-congratulations. They were too busy working, and besides, they were based in Toronto, not glittery Manhattan.

“Yes, Sting never came to our show,” says McCulloch, a reference to the star-studded lineups of “Saturday Night Live.”

But having Toronto as a home base helped them focus and kept their egos in check.

“It feels like we worked in a rock quarry,” McCulloch remembers. “We just worked really hard on our stuff, and at the end of many shifts, you look up and go, hey this stuff is pretty good. So I think we didn’t have a self-awareness about stuff we were doing being exceptionally good, other than we were obsessed with making it as good as we could.”

After their TV show wrapped, the Kids released a movie, 1996’s “Brain Candy” and went on to build their own careers. They’ve each found ways to fit into the Hollywood mainstream, guesting on sitcoms, writing and producing their own projects and reuniting for special appearances and tours.

Recently, they’ve been talking about doing another TV project or film as a group. “It feels like we’re kind of getting into business again, but we’ll see,” McCulloch says.

The passion is still there to do comedy together. It’s different now that they have their own jobs and families. But there’s also less competition and more appreciation for the freedom they have as Kids.

“We felt a little bit more like islands before, and now it’s just fun to get on the bus and jaw about the show,” says McKinney.

“When you’re older, you don’t want to just live in a van and do whatever it (expletive) takes to do comedy, the way we were when we started,” McCulloch says. “But something happened for me, I think when I crossed 40, that I became more ferocious about my work again. ... These guys are my band. This is kind of like going back to a really great summer cottage. You know it so well, and it’s sort of refreshing to be here.”

When a group has been together this long, they know each other’s strengths. “Dave and I are the jokes guys or whatever, Mark and Scott are the character guys, and if you just need a funny thing, you ask Kevin,” says McCulloch. “If you have an idea and you don’t know what it is, you tell Kevin, because he’s going to laugh more than Mark, who just stares at you until he gets it.”

With the loyalty they inspire, can the Kids become the Rolling Stones of comedy and keep touring as senior citizens? McCulloch says it’s possible.

“Well, we could. I mean, we’ve talked about it. We certainly don’t want to be the Beach Boys of comedy, and that probably could be the hard part, if we went around and did our classic sketches every four years. The interesting thing for us is there’s no map for us. There’s Monty Python, but who else is there? ... I think we’re kind of committed to doing great shows right now. ... This time, it’s sweeter for us somehow and we’re working harder as a result.”

McKinney feels the same way. “We’ve come back to this with, for lack of a better word, gratitude that we can still do this, and that it still seems relevant and fun.”

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/theyre-older-but-the-comically-dangerous-kids-in-the-hall-havent-mellowed-a/