'Laughing all the way to the big time'
The humidity was thick in the crowded back room of the Rivoli restuarant on Toronto's trendy Queen Street West. On a recent
Thursday night, the audience was more varied than usual: students and artists mingled with nationally known comedians from
television and the Second City stage, media peopl and even a few men in business suits. They came to welcome five gangly young
men - the latest comic proteges of "Saturday Night Live" producer Lorne Michaels - back to the tiny, bare Toronto stage where
they first gained a loyal following. And for two hours, the standing-room only crowd laughed at almost everything the Kids
in the Hall did. tand with baseball caps on, holding cans of a much-advertised beer aloft.
"Here's to Reg - may he be playing his guitar in heaven right now."
"I didn't know Reg played the guitar."
"Funny, isn't it. You can threaten a guy's life until he begs for mercy, fold him up like a wallet in his own car trunk,
dump him in the river - and never really get to know him."
"Here's to Reg."
Fledgling comedy acts are constantly forming and disintegrating, but the Kids - who range in age from 25 to 29 - have been
together for almost four years. By 1984, Calgarians Bruce McCulloch and Mark McKinney had teamed up with Torontoians Kevin
McDonald, Dave Foley, and Scott Thompson to form the present Kids in the Hall (McDonald and Foley had been part of an earlier
group with the same name). "Kids in the Hall" refers to Jack Benny's habit of using one-liners tossed at him by young hopefuls
who lined the halls outside his radio studio. Benny would tell the audience, "That one's from the kids in the hall, folks."
It is a long way from backroom comedy to the pages of "Rolling Stone" magazine, which features the Kids in the current
issue. But little has changedd about their performance over the years: they make black, bleak situations out of gentle suburban
family and relationship scenes, using few props. And they play men, women and children with equal aptness and a physical skill
that has grown with practice.
Toronto-born comedy impressario Lorne Michaels had already hired McCulloch and McKinney as writers for "Saturday Night
Live"'s 1985-1986 season when he came up from New York City to audition the Kids in 1986. He said that he waas charmed. "They
have a natural sense of rhythm and timing," Michaels told "Maclean's." He signed the Kids to an open contract with his production
company, Broadway Video, which promised a minimum of one television special and the possibility of movies and a TV series.
Last October, the Kids started to work for their keep in earnest when Michaeels summoned them to New York. The five - known
for inventing material barely hours before going onstage - toiled daily on drafts of a script for the planned hour-long special,
already sold to the U.S pay TV service Home Box Office. And on Thursday and Friday nights, the Kids ventured out to make New
Yorkers laugh at Caroline's, a popular downtown comedy club. Said McDonald: "It was good not to be in front of people who
liked you and laughed at everything." In December The New York Times called them "promising" and praised their "puppyish charm."
Offstage, the Kids' boyish quality is underscored by a guarded canniness and fierce loyalty to each other. But they acknowledge
that without the special - which will likely air in the fall on CBC - they probably would have had to split up to further
their careers. Said Foley: "To make it, you have to go on your own onto Letterman, Carson, maybe a series character. Without
Lorne, we couldn't do it together."
Under their agreement with Michaels, the five men could work together for years to come. Said Michaels: "The more they
do, the better they get." But as McCulloch observed, Michaels's production company is not obligated to do anything with the
Kids beyond the TV special, which is scheduled to be taped in Toronto this summer. All five expressed catious relief that
no one has yet tried to remake them into a standard image. "They haven't called us zany," said Foley, "or spelled comedy with
a 'k' in the press releases." Meanwhile, a possible Canadian tour in the autumn could mean the Kids can get back to their
best working medium: a live audience. "You gotta do live," said McCulloch. "That's the only way you know what you're doing."
For the Kids, it seems to work just fine.
---Julia Bennett, _Maclean's_, May 9, 1988
The New York Times, January 16, 1994
'The Real Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Players' "Boxing"
Last summer, Dave Foley went to what probably should have been a career-enhancing event - his first big Hollywood party.
Buck Henry, one of his idols, was there. So were Justine Bateman, Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell and the film director Barbet
So what di Mr. Foley do? Did he swao comedy-writing tales, try out his suave pickup lines, join in the celebrity-to-celebrity
"I drank a lot," said Mr. Foley, a star of the Canadian comedy-sketch show "The Kids in the Hall," since it seemed no one
much wanted to talk to him. "They looked at me like, 'O.K., go away now.' And I acted very Canadian. It's easy to spot Canadians.
They basically sit in a chair and drink beer and hope not to be noticed."
Americans may not have noticed "The Kids in the Hall" as mmmmmuch as Mr. Foley and his four co-stars might like (although
Conan O'Brien did call their show "very cool" when Mr. Foley appeared on "Late Night" recently). But that doesn't mean the
group has ever been bashful or quiet on the job. Since the Canadian expatriate producer Lorne Michaels discovered their act
in a Toronto comedy club in the mid-1980's and brought them to television, the five Kids - Mark McKinney, Kevin McDonald,
Scott thompson, and Bruce McCulloch are the others - have found a niche in tweking convention asnd worrying their sometimes
nervous television minders by pushing their work beyond the limits of general comfort. The question now is whether they can,
or even want to, broaden their appeal.
Their hourlong show, a collection of short skits closer to "Monty Python's Flying Circus" than to "Saturday Night Live,"
is filmed partly before an audience and partly on closed-set locations around Toronto. It differs from "SNL" mostly in its
comic targets. Rather than repeating the parodies of television, celebrities, and news of the day that are "SNL" staples,
"The Kids in the Hall" tends toward broader social commentary and absurdist satire that appeals to odder,more skewed, tastes.
(In a Pythonesque touch, the troupe's members play most women's parts in drag.)
Examples of Kids bits: A man who says his job is "ax murderer" laments the fact that his work keeps him indoors. A soon-to-be-corpse,
gushing blood and apparently unconscious, upsets and perplexes a group of surgeons by pulling out his I.V., turning off his
heart monitor and ordering a stack of pizzas while their backs are turned. A yuppie daydreams constantly of a tiny oompah
band playing nextt to a radiator and is astonished to discover that other people daydream about different things.
When the kids began working together about eight years ago, when all were in their early 20's, their name made sense. It
had respectable comedy roots, too:When Jack Benny wanted to use a joke from someone other than his staff writers, the story
goes, he went to one of the hopefuls who used to hang around the studio: the kids in the hall. But in their 30's now, they
don't feel much like kids anymore. "We should be called the Pathetic Aging Adults," Mr. McDonald said.
It may well be their perverse sensibilities that have kept the Kids off American prime time. While Canadians watch the
show at 10 P.M. on Fridays on the CBC, CBS affiliates in the United States carry it at 12:30 A.M. or later, usually on Saturdays.
(The show also appears in this country daily on the cable channel Comedy Central.)
Middle of the night or not, the CBS deal has put the kids within reach of most homes in America. Better still, since autumn
David Letterman has been serving as their lead-in in many cities. Even as they yearn for the broader audience that seems poised
to discover them, though, they wonder if they should give up the cult status that allows them to become racier and stranger.
Doing what they like has sometimes meant navigating a narrow path - one whose boundaries changed in the five years since their
show began. The CBC has loosened up considerably, but in the United States, when the Kids moved from HBO to CBS in 1992, they
found a whole new set of standards.
"CBS has a more conservative standards policy," said John Blanchard, the show's director, in a recent interview in a Toronto
restaurant where the caast was filming a sketch. Mr. Blanchard said that sometimes the writers (six of them, along with five
cast members) must come up with two versions of the same skit - the unexpurgated one for Canadian television and a relatively
sanitized one for the American audience.
But Rod Perth, vice president of late-night and non-network programming at CBS, said the network was adjusting, too. "They're
incredibly creative and have a particular point of view," he said. "And frankly our standards are far more liberal than they
were a year and a half ago."
In the best-known quarrel between the show and the network, CBS last year refused to air a sketch about hypocrisy in the
age of AIDS written by Mr. Thompson, who is gay. The skit shows a gay actor, played by Mr. Thompson, who dies after contracting
AIDS from a male prostitute. A stream of mourners speculate about hte cause of death - was it AIDS, or was it "cancer"? The
corpse speaks, still in full denial: "It was cancer," he says from his coffin.
CBS says the issue was too sensitive to be treated so lightly, but Mr. Thompson cried censorship. "It was one of the skits
I was most proud of," he said.
Other members of the group seem to attribute run-ins to inevitable creative tensions. "We expected a few fights and we
got a few fights," said Mr. McDonald in a lunch interview in Toronto for which he showed up wearing the day's costume: a flowing
flower-print dress, a helmet-head wig and a great deal of pancake makeup.
He looked like a fairly passable woman, which is helpful because the Kids have a propensity for slipping into drag. Their
characters include Kathy and Cathy, two unhappily single secretaries of a certain age; a feathery woman with claws for feet,
known as the Chicken Lady, and an assortment of career women and suburban matrons.
They said they try hard not to take cheap shots, any more than they would take cheap shots at male characters. "We call
it femming out - getting in touch with our feminine sides," Mr. McKinney said. Their sensitivity strategy apparently paid
off when they won an award from a Canadian women's group for presenting women in a positive light. In one skit, for instance,
two women executives are having drinks in a bar when a sleazy God's-gift-to-females type sends them a round of drinks and
Woman 1: "Let's deconstruct this, shall we? What did you hope to gain by coming over here?
Man: "I just thought maybe we could get to know each other."
Woman 2: "Oh, you wanted to get to know us?"
Woman 1: "Why us? Why do you find us so interesting?"
Man: "You strike me as being...interesting."
Woman 1: "So you find us interesting because we are interesting. That's a tad tautological, don't you think?"
Man: "I just thought we could have some fun, that's all."
Woman 1: "So you never entertained any thoughts at all of vaginal intercourse?"
In minutes, the women's rhetoric has reduced the man, literally, to a 6-inch-tall figure. He scurries off squeaking, "Lesbians!"
It is obvious where the skit's sympathies lie. "We didn'twant to do it badly and insultingly, all high voices and big breasts,"
said Mr. McDonald.
Or, in the words of Mr. McKinney, "We were a five-man troupe who wanted to write about the social and personal relationships
we had with women." In their improv days, he said, the Kids occasionally included women. But since then, they've preferred
to stick together alone, in the manner of an almost too-close family that coheres even as its members argue, sulk, and threaten
to leave home. While the Kids can seem almost interchangeable in skits, particularly when they wear wigs, and they share the
same self-deprecating, defensive-Canadian outlook, their comic ideas tend to bounce off, and sometimes into, each other.
"Of course there's friction - fights and threats and mostly throwing of food," said McCulloch,
After being all over one another 12 hours a day, 10 or 11 months of the year, the Kids take time off in the summer to pursue
other projects - appearing in (and writing) plays and short films, traveling. Last Summer, Mr. Foley took a role in a movie
based on the androgynous Pat character from "SNL."
None of the Kids expect to be on television indefinitely. "The life span of the troupe is much longer than the life span
of us on television," Mr. McCulloch said.
Mr. McKinney said he looked forward, in a way, to the last season. "It means they'll let us go home for dinner," he said.
"Like true artistically driven intellectuals, we always work better when we can smell food."
---Sarah Lyall, _The New York Times_, January 16, 1994
Newsweek, October 2, 1989
Oh, Those Darn Kids
Black humor from the Great White North
The Kids in the Hall, a Canadian comedy troupe, are approximately half famous at the moment. Example: it's Saturday afternoon
in the Kid's office, a fifth-floor walkup on a Toronto back street. Group member Mark McKinney is on the phone to the box
office at Second City, trying to wangle a visitor into the early show. "Well, how about if we gave you a fashionable 'Kids
in the Hall' T shirt? he says. Negotiations ensue. After a minute McKinney puts his hand over the phone.
"This is actually a prettyu good indication of how much influence we have," he says. "We can't get you in free. But they
have agreed to let you in on a student discount."
Moral: the Kids aren't yet the toast of the town. But with a weekly series on HBO and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.,
and friends in high places, that may be subject to change. Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels is the executive producer
and comedy overlord on the HBO/CBC series, offering advice and connections. CBC director of television programming Ivan Fecan
is also a fan, prowling the studio in an expensively baggy black suit that makes him look, group member Dave Foley says, "like
a hip Johnny Cash." "They're original, and original is impossible to find," Fecan says. "Something like this may take a little
longer to find its audience. But it's worth it when it happens."
Individually the Kids are not kids at all, but five writer/actors between the relatively advanced ages of 26 and 30: Mc
Kinney, Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald and Scott Thompson. They connected in Toronto in 1984 and built a loyal following
in cabaret performances at the Rivoli on Queen Street. (Their name comes from show-business history: Jack Benny would occasinoally
buy a joke from the struggling writers who gathered in the corridor outside his radio studio. "That's one from the kids in
the hall," he'd tell the audience if it went over.) As a group they seem to share one subconscious, creating in carefully
crafted sketches a sort of parallel earth. It's a place that's similar in shape to the world we know but not identical - more
desperate but also more bleakly funny. It has a certain internal logic. It makes sense to them. "There are no rules," Dave
Foley says. "We don't really have any criteria for anything. Just if it makes us laugh."
In a sketch called "Bored Robbers," a thief and his victim are so deeply alienated that they can barely rouse themselves
to walk through the robbery. "Okay, homeowner, you're being robbed. Where's all your valuables?" Scott asks listlessly. "Everything's
over there on the shelves," Dave replies from his easy chair, eyes glued to the TV. Scott, disconsolately: "It's so far."
In a piece called "Reg," five friends sit around a fire drinking to the memory of a childhood friend. It's clear that they
miss him terribly. Bit by bit it also becomes clear that they've murdered him. Snuck up behind him and strangled him with
piano wire - "Good, strong piano wire." "Remember how he fought back?" Mark says nostalgically. "Easy to beat up, hard to
kill," Dave answers with a smile, and they all chuckle fondly.
Building slowly: Michaels sees in the Kids a style of comedy that's purely Canadian, darker and edgier than American
comedy, and the Kids themselves agree. "In Canada there's no mass audience," Foley says, "so you don't have that mass mentality.
Performers here are a bit more free to please themselves."
We're observers," Thompson adds. "We're not taken seriously in the world so it's very easy for us to watch and judge. America's
the culture everybody seems to flock to and listen to, but not Canada. So we bus the tables and make jokes."
For now the Kids' reputation is building slowly, being passed from person to person, or at least from person who has HBO
to person. A friend called Lorne Michaels recently to say that she'd overheard two people talking about the Kids in a Santa
Monica health club. "And I thought - yeah. That's exactly right," Michaels says. "That's the audience." The CBC shows started
two weeks ago; the HBO series runs until December, when it comes up for renewal. ("Next year we gotta get some money in the
budget for women," Mark McKinney mutters darkly, walking onto the set in a blond wig, red skirt and black flats for a sketch
called "Secretaries.") Right now the members of the group are writing frantically to keep up with the demand for new material.
They write in groups of five, four, three, two, and one. McKinney is trying to kick start a piece for which he's had just
a title since 1983: "Sex Girl Patrol." "It's about a group of superwomen who have..." he says, and stops. "Uh, never mind."
SNL producer Jim Downey, a thoughtful theorist of comedy, is asked about the Kids. "They're very much alike," he says slowly.
"And I think it's fortunate that they found each other, because..." Long pause. "Because they're not like anybody else."
"He's calling us freaks!" Scott Thompson says indignantly.
"No, I know Jim," Mark McKinney says. "I'm pretty sure that's a compliment."
"He makes comedy sound so classy," Bruce McCulloch says admiringly.
"When it's really so sleazy," Dave Foley says. As one, The Kids in the Hall crack up.
---Bill Barol, _Newsweek_, October 2, 1989
Details, March 1993
The text will be here too, as soon as we have a chance to type it in.
Us, March 1994
Text will be here soon.
(also included - a short note about The Vacant Lot.)
Source not available
Close-UP - The Kids in the Hall
In a sketch set in a steam room, a man shows off his newly sprouted breasts. A farmer in a gimme cap tells how Mickey Ronney
came to dinner - and wouldn't leave. And a lacy old matron complains, "Why did they have to take the word gay?...What
was wrong with pervert?" Welcome to the new season of HBO's The Kids in the Hall, airing at midnight on Fridays
and starring the Canadian comedy troupe that has won an avid cult following since Saturday Night Live producer Lorne
Michaels put their half-hour, skit-filled show on the air in 1989.
The kids - from left, Kevin McDonald, Scott Thompson, Bruce McCulloch, Dave Foley, and Mark McKinney - came together in
Toronto's comedy clubs seven years ago; the name is an homage to the writers who used to hang outside Jack Benny's radio studio,
peddling their jokes to him. Their favorite targets are middle-class values and sexism, and they aren't afraid to "treat homosexuality
like it's part of the mainstream," says Thompson. Much of their material, though, focuses on hilariously warped bourgeois
couples (their straight-faced impersonations of women could fool even Warren Beatty).
The Kids write most sketches separately, then fine-tune them (with three other writers) in their Toronto studio. With plans
to do more TV and feature films, they'll keep it up a while longer. "It's like an old marriage - the skits are our kids, so
we stay together."
The Kids aren't kids anymore: They're in their late 20s or early 30s. This year, the establishment embraced them with an
International Emmy nomination. Can they keep their edge? Foley says yes: "As writers, we're more skillful than we were a year
ago, or two years ago." McKinney, though, has doubts: "Following that logic, Paul McCartney has never been better."
--by Jess Cagle, December, 1991
Chicago Tribune, 10 Oct, '95
Another day at the office
'NewsRadio' is tuned in to the workplaceBy Manuel Mendoza, Dallas Morning News
To Paul Simms, workman's compensation is funny.
His hit NBC series "NewsRadio" takes place at a New York radio station, but unlike all those other media-based comedies
set in the Big Apple, it's not about the inner workings of major-market media.
Simms has an older and broader subject in mind: office politics.
Plenty of other shows, including a host of new sitcoms, have used the office setting, dealing with situations that regularly
come up in real workplaces. For instance, in the new shows "Almost Perfect" (whose lead is a TV drama writer) and "Live Shot"
(set at a TV station), office rivalries abound. And office romance has played a role in series ranging from "NYPD Blue" to
"The Drew Carey Show."
What makes "NewsRadio" (7:30 p.m. [Central] Tuesdays, WMAQ-Ch. 5) different is that it focuses exclusively on how people
interact in the workplace and the fallout from the relationships that develop there.
"Most people my age and most Americans spend more time at the office than they do at home," Simms says, "Everything that
happens in your life between the ages of 22 and 40 or 50, it happens in the office. That's where most people's lives play
out on a daily basis. If it's your birthday, if you have a girlfriend problem, you deal with it in the office. It's the setting
where every interesting dramatic aspect of human life comes out: greed and envy and love and cooperation and sloth."
On "NewsRadio," sloth takes the form of Matthew (Andy Dick), an office drone who's both lazy and overly sensitive. When
a fellow worker requests a moment of silence on Ghandi's birthday, Matthew can only think of himself.
"I bet if we lived in India," he says, "we'd get a three-day weekend."
Later this year, Matthew will accidently put his hand through a window and have to be rushed to the hospital. He doesn't
have health insurance, and Simms will make light of whether the injury is covered by workman's comp.
When "NewsRadio" debuted as a midseason replacement series last spring, it immediately established its office-politics
premise. The owner of WNYX (Stephen Root) had hired a new news director (Dave Foley), with one little oversight: He hadn't
fired the old one.
That was left to the new guy, who also had to deal with the assistant news director (Maura Tierney), an overachiever who
thought she was entitled to the job.
The rest of the characters - based on people Simms has known in his various jobs inside and outside the TV business - will
be recognizable to anyone who has done time at a desk, including:
* The cynical suckup. Phil Hartman's manipulative news anchor, Bill McNeal, will give phony compliments or act friendly
to get what he wants. You've never seen anyone pucker up like Bill when the boss was deciding how big a bonus to give out.
* The cutup. Joe Rogan plays the station's electrician, who in the last week's season premiere set an exploding trap in
his gelato to find out who was stealing his special dessert.
* The bored administrative assistant. As Beth, Vicki Lewis knows everything that's going on in the office and uses the
information to push other people's buttons.
Simms created "NewsRadio" after working as writer at Spy magazine, "Late Night with David Letterman" and "The Larry Sanders
Show." Earlier in life, he served ice cream and worked at a Kroger's in Dallas while taking a break from college and living
with his parents.
"Every office is the same, whether it's a late-night TV show or an insurance office - who has the bigger desk, who's [sic]
name goes above who's on the stationary," says the 29-year-old California native.
One episode last season was based on who had the nicer desk. After Matthew ordered himself a new one, everyone else wanted
one, too. "My goal for the first six episodes was never to leave the office," Simms says. Except for a tag with Matthew in
a subway tunnel, he succeeded.
Simms [sic] iconoclastic approach - in recent years, only "Murphy Brown" and "Herman's Head" have had much success confining
themselves to then office - extends to sexual TV tension.
Rather than let the budding romance between the news director and the assistant news director build for a season or two
- a TV cliche - he had the rivals jump in bed in the first episode, a fresher and possibly more realistic approach to office
"More often than a long flirtation, people rush into something and then deal with the consequences," Simms says. "That
'Will they or won't they?' - who cares? How about: "They did it and now what happens?"
Dave Foley, a veteran of "The Kids in the Hall," is a wonderful lead on "NewsRadio," but oftentimes, if Vicki Lewis isn't
stealing the show, Stephen Root is. As Jimmy James, the rich owner of WNYX, he's the hardest character to pin down.
"He's sort of like my fantasy of a great boss," Simms says. "He's very smart, but he has his own weird things that he likes.
The key to that character is he knows exactly what's going on but he acts befuddled."
In another episode, James has bought a toy company, and he brings one of the products to the office: a ball that makes
funny noises. Needless to say, it disrupts the workplace.
Simms has made a similar impact with "NewsRadio," disrupting the sitcom format with some funny new noises.
The Reel Deal
The Kids in the Hall Movie
You'd be forgiven for thinking you were at a taping of the Canadian comedy troupe's hit
HBO series. Scott Thompson and Bruce McCulloch are wearing dresses; Mark McKinney is decked in a psychedelic shirt with a
Hot Wheel hanging from his neck; Kevin McDonald, sporting glasses the size of Coke bottles, begs us not to say that the Kids
The Kids created a bevy of memorable characters - but don't expect to see many in the Kids in the Hall movie, like in those
bad SNL-spawned movies.
"We could have just taken our big hit characters and forced them in, but we set a higher goal," explains Thompson.
Something else will probably surprise Kids fans. When the Kids quit series TV, rumors flew that they hated the sight of
each other, but you wouldn't know that from the relaxed atmosphere on the set.
"We fight ritualistically almost," explains McKinney. "When we stop fighting, we're dead."
Despite a yearlong hiatus, the Kids begin feeling comfortable after a couple of takes.
We're nervous creatures," McDonald says. "The more you make us feel at home - the more you cuddle us, put slippers on us
and give us a paper to read, the funnier we'll be."
by Steve Gravestock, U. of Toronto
|Canadian Profile - Kids in the Hall: A
Cure for the Ordinary
Canada's renowned sketch
comedy troupe, Kids in the Hall, maintains a large cult following to this day, even though the series ended almost ten years
ago. Dave, Bruce, Kevin, Mark and Scott were a group of Canadian boys each with their own aspirations to do comedy and have
fun with it. They appeared in 110 episodes of some of Canada's classic, funny sketch comedy. They called themselves Kids in
the Hall taking the name from Jack Benny who often credited a gang of aspiring joke writers who would hang outside his office
calling out gags to him; after using one of their jokes he would state, "I got this one from the kids in the hall". The Kids
in the Hall hold a special place in Canada's history of sketch comedies. It is interesting to examine where they have been
and where they are going. |
Dave Foley was born in
Etobicoke, Ontario (a Toronto suburb) to Michael and Mary on January 4, 1963. He was a middle child between an older brother
and younger sister. When Foley was a kid, the works of Buster Keaton, Frank Zappa, Jerry Lewis, the Marx Brothers, and Minnie
Pearl influenced him in a profound way. By the age of 17, he had dropped out of an "alternative" high school to pursue a career
in comedy; it wasn't until many years later that he realized that many of the problems he was having in school were because
he suffers from dyslexia. It was in high school that Foley discovered his interest in comedy when he began writing stand-up
for a school project. He started to take classes at Second City in Toronto and became instant friends with Kevin McDonald.
They both worked as ushers at a local art-house movie theatre and together they formed the original members of the Kids in
the Hall Comedy Troupe.
Kevin McDonald was born
in Montreal on May 16, 1961 and lived there until the age of 7 when his father, a dental salesman, was transferred to Los
Angeles. The family (McDonald, his Mom, Dad and older sister Sheila) would later move back to Canada to live in Toronto when
McDonald was a teenager. He has often described himself as an asthmatic kid who was overweight and loved to spend his time
in front of the television "studying up on comedy". He had no aspirations to be a lawyer, it was his father's dream, and Kevin
began to focus more of his time on writing jokes. As many kids do in high school, McDonald took theatre classes and went to
Humber College after graduation to major in theatre. McDonald found he really only excelled in comedy and was consequently
kicked out of college. One of his teachers did see his ability to make people laugh and encouraged him to enrol in the Second
City workshops where many famous Canadian comedians are sculpted. On his first day, he met a man with a similar comedic style,
Dave Foley. When they joined forces with Luciano Casimiri at the local art-house where they all worked, the first formation
of the Kids in the Hall took shape. The trio performed in a variety of small clubs throughout the Toronto area.
Out in western Canada,
Bruce McCulloch was born in Edmonton, Alberta on May 12, 1961. He grew up as an only child in Calgary Alberta. McCulloch studied
at Mount Royal College after high school, majoring in journalism and public relations but like so many Canadians, he never
finished his schooling, instead choosing to pursue his comedic dream. He began to perform with TheatreSports and the Loose
Moose Theatre Company. It was here at Loose Moose that McCulloch met Mark McKinney. A bond formed and together with two other
comedians, they formed The Audience comedy troupe.
Mark McKinney was born
in Ottawa, Ontario on June 26, 1959 to Russell and Chole. He was a middle child between older sister Jane and younger brother
Nick. The family spent a lot of time travelling as his father was a Canadian diplomat and consequently McKinney spent his
youth attending a number of schools throughout the world, including places like Paris, Mexico, Trinidad and Washington. He
attended the University of Newfoundland for a short while studying political science. McKinney dropped out and moved to Calgary
where he would later meet McCulloch at Loose Moose. Together they performed comedy, improv and began writing material. They
would later move to Toronto where they joined forces with Foley and McDonald's Kids in the Hall. This was the beginning of
something unique and great.
They all began performing
together in 1984, working in small clubs as the Kids in the Hall. The group had several other members but slowly each member
left to pursue other opportunities. It was at this time that Scott Thompson was attending their performance regularly and
wanted the troupe members to notice him. To get their attention he threw chocolate donuts at them during one show. Thompson
began showing up and never left. He was born on June 12, 1959 in North Bay, Ontario but was raised in Brampton, Ontario. He
was the second oldest of 4 boys. After visiting the Philippines on an education program called Canada World Youth, he enrolled
in York University at the age of 19, but after 3 years, he was dismissed due to "disruptive behaviour". Thompson was not deterred
so he joined an improve troupe called the Love Cats. It was while performing with this troupe that Thompson met McKinney.
It was McKinney who would eventually formally introduce him to the rest of the Kids in the Hall group. Thompson would be a
guest performer in 1984 but soon became an official member of the group in January of 1985 after the boys "took him out back...to
sing him a song."
In the same year, McCulloch and McKinney were hired as writers for Saturday Night Live after a scout
was impressed with a Kids in the Hall performance. During this time, Foley appeared in the film High Stakes as Bo Barker
but this Canadian movie was not a success. Thompson and McDonald decided to tour with Second City. The five reunited in 1986
and this was the first time that Lorne Michaels saw them perform. Michaels saw potential in the comedic troupe and the future
possibility for a television spot. For that reason, in 1987, they moved to New York and each member was paid $150 a week to
perform in comedy clubs, write new and original material, and rehearse their sketches. A national audience had a chance to
see the HBO special Michaels produced in 1988. It was a hit and the regular Kids in the Hall series followed in 1989.
The Kids in the Hall lucked out because the series was produced by a New York based company which meant they did not
have to sacrifice Canadian content, the show could be filmed in Toronto, and they could utilize the company to gain access
to a the more lucrative United States market. The series aired on the CBC in Canada and on HBO in the United States. By being
aired on HBO, the Kids in the Hall could break through the older demographic consistent with the CBC to attract a youthful,
cult following. Consequently, the show received a membership from those in the national Canadian cultural community as well
as a North American audience that could relate on a youthful, more complex, evolved, comedic level. They were allowed expressive
freedom with HBO and the CBC because public broadcasting has always been more open to a range of social, political and cultural
attitudes as well as experimental and less censorious; this gave Kids in the Hall the space for their "shock" humour. When
picked up by CBS deletions were made as some scenes and situations were deemed inappropriate. Despite the censorship, the
CBS network gave the series the opportunity to attract an even bigger following. Today, the Kids in the Hall series
has been added to CBC's list of successful break through sketch comedy series including Wayne and Shuster, SCTV,
The Frantics, S&M Comic Book, Codco, The Vacant Lot, and This Hour Has 22 Minutes.
Much of their success
can be attributed to the youthful cult following that tracked the show regularly. The series provided the audience with a
different kind of humour - a quirky, shock humour that worked so well because the Kids in the Hall knew how to perform. Their
performances portrayed genuineness and a spirit that asked the audience to question the social, cultural and political assumptions
we often make - but mostly they were just funny. The comedy was not merely mocking those at the brunt of the joke. The Kids
in the Hall comedy broke in the new ground that they had created because they continually pushed the envelope. Kids in the
Hall became characteristic in their ability to show a variety of characters (such as homosexuals, business executives, prostitutes,
and druggies - just to name a few) that they had created as each one interacted within society and not the judgement of society
upon them. Kids in the Hall were not afraid to portray the character if a funny skit required it. This was how they began
dressing as women, a stereotype often associated with the group. Before the Kids in the Hall were formed as we know today,
there were women in the group but they had all moved on to pursue other opportunities. Many of their sketches deal with relationships
and there was a need for someone to play feminine characters. At this time, they would just dawn a big read sweater that McDonald
had acquired from his girlfriend because they were on a tight budget. The Kids in the Hall always aimed for an accurate portrayal
of all their characters and the joke was never about them being "in drag". Once they got the series, they had costume, hair
and make-up designers and characters they had been portraying for years came to life. Such memorable characters like Foley's
The Axe Murderer, The Bad Driver, Heccubus, and Jocelyn the Whore or McCulloch's Chauvinist, Cabbage Head, Flying Pig, and
the White Trash Man or McDonald's the Apathetic Cop, Sir Simon Milligan, and the Bearded Lady or McKinney's Tanya the temp,
Chicken Lady, The Head Crusher, Mississippi Gary, and Leslie the Vampire Fag or Thompson's Fran Maudre the Whore, Queen Elizabeth,
and Danny Husk.
The series ended in 1994
because they felt it was time to branch away from the sketch comedy that had made them famous to pursue other dreams like
acting, writing, and directing. Riding on the success of the series, their feature film debut, Brain Candy was released
in 1995. It was a huge flop. Although the movie brought back more than 40 memorable characters from the series (and some new
ones), the plot tired quickly. A drug company and its employees develop a happiness pill called GleeMonex. People can't get
enough of the pill but there is a serious side-effect that no one considered. People become comatose from ecstasy. The story
becomes little more than an excuse to tie in all the crazy characters. For those unfamiliar with this "shock" humour or unfamiliar
with the notable characters than the movie was not worth ones' time.
Despite the rejection received from the film,
the Kids in the Hall did branch out and move forward in their lives. Foley played Dave Nelson, a haggled news director, in
the popular television series NewsRadio (1995-1999) a sitcom that examines office politics, relationships, and crises
in the lives of a group of co-workers at WNYX NewsRadio (New York's #2 news radio station). Foley started a media circus when
he claimed to drink over 30 cups of coffee a day which was also illustrated on the show as they made fun of his addiction.
He has also had several small parts in some B grade films like It's Pat (1994), the voice of Flik in A Bug's Life
(1998), Blast from the Past (1999), and MonkeyBone (2000).
McClulloch has gone on to some success as
a director for such films as Dog Park (1998) which he also wrote and starred in, Superstar (1999), and Stealing
Harvard (2002) which he starred in as Fidio the Lawyer.
McDonald has made many television appearances for popular
sitcoms That 70's Show as Pastor Dave, Denim Vest in Seinfeld, Guru Saj in Friends, and was the host
of Mad TV for an episode in 1995. McDonald can also be seen in films such as Galaxy Quest (1999) as the Announcer,
the mailman in the Ladies Man (2000), the voice of Agent Pleakley in Lilo & Stitch (2002), Fred in Dinner
at Fred's (1999), Travis Lindsey in National Lampoon's Senior Trip (1995).
The Kids Aren't All Right
Conflicts Among Kids in the Hall Actors
by Andrew Clark
Kevin McDonald sits cross-legged on the floor and asks his host, Toronto Sun reporter Zorianna
Kit, if she has Alanis Morisette's new C.D. Kit tosses him the disc and begin harping on knowing Alanis from her Ottawa days.
Alanis, however, is not the object of her attentions tonight. McDonald is. It is a loate Saturday evening in August, 1995.
For the past month the thirty-fou-year-old McDonald, one of the Kids in the Hall, has been working on the comedy troupe's
first motion picture. Kit is hungry for an inside bit of information on the movie, which is enetering its last week of filming.
The lithe, twehty-something former model appears willing to use whatever mean are necessary, ranging from some playful flirtation
to the bag of marajauna she has procured, in order to get McDonald to open up. There's only one problem: Kit doesn't know
how to roll a joint. Neither does McDonald. Neither does the unhip Saturday Night journalist who's tagged along for the ride.
So, like any other intrepid reporter, Kit gets on the phone and chases her leads.
"Hi, it's Zorianna. Do you know
how to roll. (Pause) Oh, okay. Do you know anyone who knows how to roll?"
"Hi, do you know how to roll?"
me. Can you roll?"
"Can you roll?"
While Kit flips through her filofax looking for a dexterous aquaintence,
McDonald tries to get comfortable in her small Toronto apartment. He wants to talk about Morisette's hit track "You Oughta
Know". The song is a revenge anthem for jilted lovers. McDonald can relate. Three months ago his wife left him, taking half
the furniture and the dogs. According to McDonald, it was the pressure he was under while writing the Kids' $7.5 million dollar
movie that drove her away. He became obsessed. She couldn't handle it.
The film, The Kids in the Hall Brain Candy,
is about the discovery of a pill that cures depression. The Kids (McDonald, along with Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson, Bruce
McCullouch and Dave Foley) played a total of fifty different characters over the course of thirty-seven shooting days. Not
since Monty Python has a comedy troupe been given the blessing of a major studio (Paramount) to write and star in their own
In the best of circumstances, making a movie is an exhausting exercise. Brain Candy has been no exception,
particularly for McDonald, who plays the film's lead cjaracter, Chris Cooper, the scientist who discovers the drug Gleemonex.
Compounding these pressures have been legal wrangling and on-set conflicts.
"The Kids are mercurial and talented,"
says the film's line producer, Martin Walters, "And that's as far as I'll go."
Never a particularly imposing person,
McDonald now has a complexion bordering on translucent. He seems to crave contemplative solitude but does every thing in his
power not to be alone. Things must be tough--McDonald's sunk so low he's hanging out with journalists.
Kit has solved her rolling dilemma. She has decided to melt her weed on chocolate digestive biscuits. She throws the cookies
into a frying pan and begins to yammer. McDonald looks accross the room, draws a deep breath, and then exhales, a hint of
the vodka and orange juice he'd been drinking earlier wafting outwards.
Then he offers a confession that appears to
be more for himself than for anyone else in the room. It's as if Kevin McDonald is reminding Kevin McDonald of a former life,
a happier time before the Kids in the Hall decided to make their first feature movie. "I don't usually do this sort of thing,"
he says as Kit hands him one of her cookies, "I really don't."
The Kids' foray into feature film-making began in July,
1994, two weeks after they had taped their final TV show. In the course of ten years they had gone from out-law comics to
cult TV stardom. Television had grwon stale. Film beckoned. The Kids, along with their serie's head writer, Norm Hiscock,
spent two weeks at an Ontario spa to brainstorm. By summer of 1995, the script, which had gone through six drafts, had been
approved by Paramount. It was to be produced by Lorne Michaels, the creator of "Saturday Night Live" and his production company,
Braodway Video. The Kids lobbied for Kelly Makin(who had directed their series for two years) and got him. Michaels appointed
Barnaby Thompson as the film's co-producer. Thompson, a Brit who had worked on Wayne's World (with Canadian comic Mike Myers),
had a reputation for being literate and adept at guiding "artistic" comedians through their first feature films.
Brain Candy the drug Gleemonex is supposed to cure depression by allowing the takers to relive their fondest memories. Dazzeled
by the drug's profit-making possabilities, the scientist's employer decides to try it out on the public before it's been properly
tested. The city gets hooked, but Gleemonex users find that their "best memories" warp. For example, a war veteran finds his
recollections of combat transformed into memories of his sargeant ordering him to fornicate with the enemy. In this respect,
the Kids were sticking with the themes they had explored since their days as upstart comedians.
The Kids in the Hall,
as now constituted, came together in 1984, when the original Kids in the Hall (Foley and McDonald) merged with a comedy troupe
from Alberta called the Audience (McKinney and McCulloch). Scott Thompson joined a few months later. The Kids had little in
common, other than a contempt for popular comedy forms of the day--stand-up comedy and Second City-style comedy revues--which
they considered stale. "We didn't know so much what we wanted," says McDonald, "We just knew what we hated." Their revolt
against the comedic status quo resulted in an approach that was neither political, nor topical. Rather, they played with the
illicit desires (sex, violence, obsession) they saw running beneath the surface of middle class life.
In 1989, after
years of working in small comedy clubs, the Kids landed a TV series, thanks mostly to Lorne Michaels (who signed them to Broadway
Video) and Ivan Fecan, head of entertainment programming at the CBC. The Kids played off their innocuous boy-next-door looks,
creating dark sketches, such as "Naked for Jesus", which featured nude religious testimonials, and Mark McKinney's "Chicken
Lady" a half-woman/half-chicken with a strong sex drive. The show was critically acclaimed; the NewYork Times dubbed them
"Canada's version of Monty Python". The show also garnered Emmy nominations. By 1994, however, the Kids had had their fill.
Foley went to start in the hit NBC sitcom "Newsradio". McKinney joined Saturday Night Live. McCulloch focused on feature-film
writing and directing. Thompson landed a role on "The Larry Sanders Show". McDonald appeared in National Lampoon's Senior
Trip and devoted his energy to pitching scripts in Los Angeles, none of which were picked up. Through out the period, Brain
Candy remained a priority. "We had to do the movie now," Thompson says, "Or else everyone would have drifted apart.
by August of 1995, midway through the production of Brain Candy, the question had become: Would the Kids in the Hall survive
Many in Toronto's comedy community have compared the Kids' decision to quit television to an old married
couple deciding to divorce after a long, tumultuous relationship. The comparison doesn't bear analysis. "The Kids in the Hall,"
says Scott Thompson, "Are more like brothers, or a sinister brotherhood that you can never leave. Like the Mafia. We're like
five friends who ten years ago killed somebody and kept it a secret."
Like brothers, the Kids were constantly vying
for power. Most sketch groups have a leader, a dominant personality who drives the artistic direction. Not the Kids in the
Hall. Writing the TV series the Kids would often pair off: Foley and McDonald, McKinney and McCulloch, with Thompson oscillating
between the two. This dynamic, in which no one either seeks creative supperiority or surrenders artistic autonomy, kept the
Kids' work edgy. "I sensed a constant tension," says a former member of their TV production team. "But as a group they had
a bigger ego than any one of them."
In 1993, as the Kids launched what was to be the final season of the show, the
group was reported to be plagued by bickering and in-fighting. Animosity between Foley and McCulloch was said to be particularly
fierce. At one press launch, Foley told me: "I hate Bruce." It was hard to tell how much of his statement was a joke.
always struck me as operating in a different milieu anyway," says the same producion source, " He'd be the guy with the shirt
and tie, while the rest of them, especially Bruce, cultivated that sort of beat image."
Foley found greater success
after leaving the Kids. The show he went to, "Newsradio", took off. The Kids may have seemed like ancient history. In June
1995, Foley told Paramount that he did not wish to do the movie. According to Dinah Minot, vice president of Creative Affairs
at Broadway Video, it was because of "family reasons". (Foley himself refused to be interviewed). Foley was asked to honor
his contract or face possible legal action. He showed up for shooting in July.
As with the Kids' TV series, which
was the result of comedic Darwinism, in which only the fitist sketches survived, the Kids were constantly re-writing Brain
Candy; no one could agree on what the film was about. Each Kid had his own take. According to McDonald, that was part of Foley's
problem with the film. "He felt the movie should focus on the scientists and the discovery of the pill. The other side felt
it should come at it from the pharmaceutical company and how the buisness works."
Ironically, in most of his scenes,
Foley is either estranged from the other Kids or actually alone on screen (Something McDonald says ocurred by accident). Still,
when stand-up comedian Harry Doupe asked Floey how long the Kids were shooting, he replied: "I finish on July 21." "Really?
You guys are all done on the twenty-first?" Doupe asked. "I finish on the twenty-first," answered Foley, "They're filming
until the end of next month. I've actually left the group." Wheter Foley meant it remains to be seen.
As he sat in
his trailer between takes, McCulloch pondered the rifts that have been a part of the troupe's history. "We all went through
a phase of not appreciating the group. I've never thought that friction would break us up. I always though it would be the
other thing: boredom."
Socially, though, the Kids have always maintained their distance. Brain Cnady's hair and wig
designer, Judi Cooper-Sealy, who for years worked on the "SCTV" television series, says: "In "SCTV", they all knew what eachtother
was doing. These guys are different. They (the Kids) ask us. It's like, 'what's he up to now?' They don't socialize."
to McDonald, everyone with the exception of McKinney contemplated leaving the troupe during the shooting of the movie. "We
were all going through our own hell to get the movie done. The smallest things seemed bigger," he says, "We were all crazy.
Scott came back from 'Larry Sanders' and was unhappy with some cuts we'd made to the script. While he considered quitting,
I went to the bathroom and almost threw up. I thought, it's not worth it, wives are leaving you, friends are yelling at eachother.
I should quit. We should all quit. But I came back in, Scott and I talked, and we wrote a great scene."
life last summer was bleak. In his back yard the grass and weeds stood six feet high. His dinning room, living room, and many
of the bedrooms were without furniture. He spent many evenings "at home sitting by the fireplace, crying." Kit reported in
the Toronto Sun that he'd been tipsy on the set, which led McDonald to retort "I guess that teaches me to drink on the set."
(Kit failed to mention that he wasn't actually working that day.)
McDonald, a self-described manic-depressive, was
apprehensive about Brain Candy. "My worst fear," he said during filming, "is that I'll ruin the movie."
insecurity stems in part from his feeling that he's the 'overlooked Kid'. "I used to get fan mail that said: Dear Kevin, I
like you very much. Tell Bruce I love him." He was also the Kid with the least career success after the TV show ended. While
the others landed TV roles, McDonald elected to work on his own projects. Of all the Kids he stands to gain the most from
the film's success. Or loose the most from its failure. The film's subject, moreover, is close to his heart.
grew up asthmatic and overweight. He lost his fat as a teenager by becoming borderline anorexic. Even so, McDonald maintains,
"You need your dark side as much as you need your good. Being happy all the time is as bad as being depressed all the time.
Killing depression kills creativity. It may be fucked-up, but we believe it."
The summer was saved for McDonald by
Scott Thompson and his boyfriend, Josh, who moved in with McDonald during filming. Though Thompson had his own greif to deal
with. Two weeks before filming began, one of his brothers committed suicide. "It's awful to hate yourself," Thompson remarked
one evening, " Anger is not pleasent." It was hard to tell if he was refering to himself, McDonald, his lost brother, the
film, or the universe. In a bizarre spin, two of the Kids had become choice candidates for the Gleemonex--if it only existed.
At least one thing still drew the Kids together: a total commitment to 'their laughs'. All during the shooting they
fought a war of artistic attrition against the studio, disputing, in an amiable manner, most of the concessions they were
asked to make. McKinney, dressed as talk show host Nina Bedford, fought for his interpretation of the character as a screechy
corporate cheerleader. McDonald pushed to get his version of Cooper--the obsessive who sacrifices relationships for work--on
screen. (The Kids are used to being pressured. The CBC used to urge them to be 'more Canadian'. In America they were pressured
to cut out all Canadian references.)
McCulloch explains the Kids' philosophy: "We're greedy and we don't like to give
up laughs. We create the machine. We own it. We aren't doing an indulgent film."
When the Kids went to Los Angeles
to preview their picture, however, that's exactly what they considered their ending to be--indulgent. The Kids had written
a scene in which Cooper (McDonald) slips into a coma and dreams the end of the movie. They had filmed a sequence featuring
an elaborate parade, complete with Coma Queens, candy-colored floats and a grinning mob. The scene scored poorly with test
audiences. Both the Kids and Paramount felt it lacked dramatic weight. "We had created a film that was two-thirds done," says
McDonald, " I think we just didn't do it right--the ending was too scattered."
In January the Kids met again back
in Toronto, on a set closed to the media, to re-shoot the ending. Maybe the freezing temperatures helped cauterize whatever
wounds that were opened in August; McDonald says the troupe got along so well that they're now discussing a possible tour
More important, the Kids appear to have done right by the film. The buzz from those who've previewed
it is that the movie is strange, intelligent and family. Brain Candy now closes with McDonald furiously trying to create a
pill that cause depression. In the dysfunctional family that is the Kids in the Hall, that's as happy as an ending gets.