When you sit down to interview members of Kids in the Hall, the Canadian sketch comedy troupe known for its inventive, subversive oeuvre, you can’t expect the usual focused question and answer session.
So a chat in the atrium of CBC headquarters with Bruce McCulloch and Scott Thompson starts off with them musing that fellow troupe member Dave Foley now looks like “a hockey dad” with his whitish-blond hair, an assertion that they’re all wearing wigs, an assessment of the merits of the iPhone voice recorder the reporter is using, a query about whether OMNI TV, Johnny Lombardi and the CHIN Picnic are still around (yes; no, he died in 2002 and yes, but not its bikini contest) and a mention of Ed the Sock … until their biographer, Paul Myers, reins them in.
“Let her do her job,” urges Myers, a musician, journalist, author and brother to another Canadian comedy legend, Mike Myers.
“Can I say, I’ve only been with these guys 30 minutes and I’m already exhausted?” jokes McCulloch.
The trio were in Toronto to promote Paul’s new book, The Kids in the Hall: One Dumb Guy, which explores how the five Kids — including Mark McKinney and Kevin McDonald — got their individual starts in comedy before joining up in Toronto; and their sometimes rocky tenure as the Kids, from their early days playing the Rivoli through their CBC TV series (both the eponymous sketch comedy show and Death Comes to Town), to their film Brain Candy and their latter-day touring.
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It was the Kids’ 2015 North American tour that inspired Myers to pitch the biography to them.
“I’ve always wanted to write their story,” said Myers, a self-described “comedy nerd” who has also written biographies of the Barenaked Ladies, Todd Rundgren and Long John Baldry. Seeing the audience’s enthusiastic response to their San Francisco tour stop made him feel the timing was right. And so began the process “of trying to wrangle these guys” into interviews, all of whom had individual projects on the go, and reconciling their sometimes opposing recollections.
“We’ve been great friends with Paul for many years,” said McCulloch, explaining why he and the other Kids said yes to the biography. “He has been there forever, which is something that we like. And … he’s exhaustive in his work process, which is a great thing.”
“And he promised he would make me look good. That’s actually not even a joke,” added Thompson. “I asked for the other four to look much worse, but that didn’t happen.”
That quip reminds one of a topic explored in the book: the infighting that went on behind the scenes among the Kids, which hit its worst point when they were making Brain Candy and Foley, who joined the cast of NBC comedy NewsRadio as work began on the film, essentially quit the troupe.
The book touches on other painful aspects of the Kids’ history: McCulloch’s, Foley’s and McDonald’s alcoholic, sometimes violent fathers; McKinney’s rootless childhood as the son of a diplomat; Thompson hiding his homosexuality and the 1975 Brampton school shooting he lived through; the deaths by suicide of McDonald’s brother-in-law and Thompson’s brother; the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma Thompson battled during the making of Death Comes to Town.
Recalling that last ordeal, Thompson said to McCulloch: “I know when I got cancer, what did you say to me? ‘I can’t believe you didn’t get AIDS.’ I started crying because someone loved me enough to say that to me.”
“Well, I said it as a joke and it worked and you laughed,” said McCulloch.
“Hilarious, it’s still to me the funniest, meanest thing that’s ever been said to me,” Thompson replied.
“And it’s the most Kids in the Hall,” added Myers, “because what is their comedy but confronting truth with the most horrible joke that makes you feel better about the horrible thing?”
About that Kids brand of comedy: a who’s who of the comedy world contributed interviews or blurbs for the book, all of them effusive in their praise of the Kids as groundbreaking, influential, brilliant and just about any other superlative you can think of.
But all that praise doesn’t seem to have gone to the Kids’ heads.
“I never don’t feel like an outsider, like, I feel like a punk still,” said McCulloch.
“All five of us, none of us have ever become big stars and I used to hate that because I wanted that so much,” added Thompson. “But now I think it might be the thing that’s kept us vital.”
A question about what’s next for the Kids veers off into another impromptu comedy bit.
“Large format photography, which is what Mark wanted us to do at our last futures meeting,” deadpanned McCulloch.
“He wanted us to stage, like, large dioramas and then take photographs of them,” added Thompson.
“These would be nine feet tall,” said McCulloch.
Or, he added, they might just do another tour or TV series.