When Kristina at Speakeasy and Ruth from Silver Screenings announced the O Canada Blogathon, I got excited because those ladies can host a great blogathon. Then I realized, there was very little I knew about the Canadian film industry. So why am I gung ho about this event? Because Canadians are some of the funniest people in the world. It’s true! Anything funny from the 1980s probably starred John Candy, Rick Moranis or Eugene Levy, am I right? And guess what they were all Canadian!
But I think of Canada the first thing I think of is The Kids in the Hall and their self-titled sketch comedy series that aired from 1989-1994. The Kids in the Hall stars Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson and the show had a typical sketch show format: monologues combined with live and pre-recorded performances from memorable recurring characters. But what sets The Kids in the Hall far beyond shows like Saturday Night Live was their ability to work off of one another as performers. Of course, unlike other sketch comedy shows which cast random folks together, The Kids in the Hall were already an established troupe.
Everything I know about Canada, I learned by watching The Kids in the Hall. Apparently Canadians are pretty different than Americans, but don’t take my word for it, let’s let a Canadian speak for the country, watch Dave Foley explain the differences between the USA and Canada!
In 1981, in Calgary, Mark McKinney and Bruce McCulloch met during a Theatre Sports workshop and formed an improv troupe called “The Audience”. A year later, in Toronto Dave Foley took a Second City class.
At my first class I met Kevin McDonald. We were paired up by our teacher to do the mirror exercise, which is lame. But he made me laugh all the way through class, then asked me to join his troupe. – Dave Foley
McCuloch and McKinney would relocate to Toronto, and The Audience and The Kids in the Hall kept hearing about one another, and eventually they joined forces, however:
We only became a truly integrated entity when the ferocious Scott Thompson arrived. – Bruce McCulloch
Scott Thompson was a theatre actor who dabbled in improv, but after being spotted by Mark McKinney in 1985 was invited to see the troupe perform.
I went to a midnight show at the Poor Alex with my friend Darlene and was just blown away. I remember being in the audience, and they had donuts taped under the seats for a sketch later and I found the donuts and started whipping them onstage. I just needed them to know I existed. I wanted to send them a message that I was soon to be in that troupe. – Scott Thompson
However just as the group was picking up a following, McCulloch and McKinney were hired to write for Saturday Night Live and Thompson and McDonald toured with Second City, meanwhile, Foley began working in film. During this break, both Foley and McCulloch starred in the Anne of Green Gables films (delighting female bookworms everywhere).
Though working separately, The Kids discovered that the creative folks they enjoyed working with best were one another, and would meet and perform at Rivoli on Queen St. in Toronto. Rivoli is still an active comedy and music venue featuring acts such as Tegan and Sara, Tori Amos, and Iggy Pop.
It was there that Lorne Michaels caught the act in 1988, and eventually created a pilot for CBC and HBO.
He saw the group as something that was special and didn’t want to break us up. He thought about bringing us down, and thought we’d be assets to Saturday Night Live. But what I’m told is he thought we worked too well as a unit to break us up. -Dave Foley
The show spawned many memorable characters, I can’t hear the word “evil” and not picture Simon & Hecubus (a man and his moderately evil demon played by Kevin McDonald and Dave Foley), here Simon is on a date with Helen (Bruce McCulloch). You’ll notice Helen mentions her ex-boyfriend has “a cabbage for a head”, in the series McCulloch plays a sexist jerk named “Cabbage Head” who has a Cabbage head. Kids in the Hall often referenced other characters or repeated schemes from other episodes.
Probably the most recognized character is Mr. Tyzik, the head crusher. I have a friend who reduces road rage from bad drivers by channeling his inner Mr. Tyzik played by Mark McKinney.
And heaven forbid if someone tells me they just saw Citizen Kane!
But in my opinion, where The Kids in the Hall really excel is making the mundane moments in everyday life hysterical. They play characters, that are so AVERAGE, people you’d encounter in everyday life. For example here is a scene with Scott Thompson as “Cathy” and Bruce McCulloch as “Kathie”, the two women debate whether the new hire is gay or straight.
Scott sort of crystalized the way we do these real, three-dimensional characters. He had a big influence on the way we played women, which is: it’s not a comment. You don’t comment on women. We didn’t have women in the troupe, but we have girlfriends and wives and sisters and moms and stuff, so we’re just going to play it straight as well. It seemed like an interesting ethic. – Mark McKinney
Or when they just played “themselves”, like this sketch: Scott Thompson finds The Perfect Man
What I love about this show is each members’ complete commitment to their characters and to the moment. No matter how ridiculous the sketch was, they went for it, and the craziest character was Chicken Lady. Played by Mark McKinney, Chicken Lady was a sideshow performer, and yes half-chicken half-lady, who could lay eggs. Like a perfect sideshow performance Chicken Lady inspired an eye-covering-screaming-horrified-but I can’t look away sick fascination! Chicken Lady’s adventures included strip clubs, phone sex operators and blind dates, watch at your own risk.
Some sketches like Comfortable would have the viewer cringing with expectation, wondering how far they were taking the sketch.
While the series is off the air, the guys all work on independent projects and occasionally reunite to tour as a group. Bruce McCulloch’s new TV Series Young Drunk Punk is currently airing in Canada and received a Canadian Screen Award nomination. Mark McKinney is currently starring in the NBC series Superstore along with America Ferrera. Scott Thompson is currently touring with a stand-up show. Kevin McDonald is also currently touring with a stand-up show and also offers a master-class in improvisational theater. (Why am I just hearing about this now?) Dave Foley currently stars on the ABC sitcom Dr. Ken with the hysterical Ken Jeong (Chang from Community!).
Finally, since this is a Canadian themed event, I want to close with Buddy Cole (Scott Thompson) who is proud to be a Canadian!
A very special thanks to Ruth and Kristina for allowing a non-movie post in their “Outdoorsy” Blogathon. Make sure you visit their blogs, check out the O Canada Blogathon which runs February 1-5 and learn a little something about our charming neighbors up north!
Ciao for now, Dearies!
Kids in the Hall: An Oral History