The Kids In The Hall
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As a collective, Canadian sketch troupe The Kids In The Hall seemingly disappeared after some scattered reunion dates and compilation DVDs earlier this decade, but that's about to change: They're embarking on a 30-city, two-month tour. The "Live As We'll Ever Be" outing isn't being billed as a reunion tour, though—Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson are emphasizing that they're performing almost exclusively new material, in hopes of eventually creating a TV-show follow-up to their offbeat, eponymous 1988-1995 sketch show, and a movie follow-up to 1996's Brain Candy. Armed with new sketches about hateful babies, imaginary girlfriends, and drunken superheroes, The Kids In The Hall talked to The A.V. Club backstage after the opening night of the tour. In a chaotic, affable five-man interview (during which Thompson iced a muscle he'd pulled in his calf during the performance), they discussed the new material, the pitfalls of Saturday Night Live, and why they're working together again.
The A.V. Club: How did you think the show went tonight?
Scott Thompson: Great.
Dave Foley: Not great.
ST: No, it was terrible.
Kevin McDonald: I personally thought it went very well. Some bumpy patches, but it could have gone a lot worse. I give it a seven out of 10.
Mark McKinney: The show was funny three days ago, and then people put tape on the floor and started saying "You have to stand in this light, and do this, and don't forget this wig."
DF: Apparently that's how rehearsal works.
Bruce McCulloch: We're like blues musicians who can't play guitar. We're about the spirit, and I thought the spirit was pretty good tonight.
KM: The spirit was willing.
AVC: Scott referred to the rehearsal as a fiasco.
KM: It was a bad rehearsal.
ST: I thought it was one of the worst dresses ever.
BM: You know those lights that just turn and change colors? That's Scott. He goes through a range of emotions from "This is the greatest fucking thing we ever did! Fucking look out, America!" to "Oh my God! I have nothing but a clock radio! Who am I, mommy?" That will be within four seconds, and then he'll be back to "It's the greatest thing ever!" So you just caught him at the color dark purple, not to be confused with Deep Purple.
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MM: No, this is the way Scott likes to end the show. Scott feared the show went well, the crowd was hot, and now he has an injury.
BM: "Ice! Ice! I work so hard!"
MM: "I have an injury! An injury!"
ST: I have an injury fetish. There's no getting around it.
DF: Doesn't this bring back memories of watching Bruce ice his calves in his office all the time?
ST: Mine's real. Mine really hurts. [Laughs.] You were really an icing maniac.
BM: Yeah, I was running a lot in those days, Scott.
MM: Then he switched from doing marathons to writing marathon Gavin scenes. [All laugh.] Ooh, take that. I'm burning you up, I burned you down, I made you into my little clown. Oh yeah!
AVC: How did you put the new material together?
KM: We started two years ago. We got together in Los Angeles. Every six months or a year, we would get a week together.
DF: We gave ourselves three days to write 90 minutes of material, and we put the show up that weekend. And in three days, we actually came up with about three hours of material, and 90 minutes of it wasn't bad.
KM: [Laughs.] It's what we used to do in the old days when we were a club act.
MM: Actually, that was the premise of the whole thing. We said, "Let's get together and write a show like we did."
BM: It was just to go back to the old impulse. If we're going to do it again, there's no reason to do it other than we want to. Now, our careers don't depend on each other, and we're only doing it because we want to. I think other times, it was like, [Adopts dejected tone.] "Okay, we'll go on tour." We really loved it, but it was a simple artistic impulse when we began.
AVC: If the process is similar, is the experience different now?
KM: It's a circle. We've sort of gone back to the old days, before the TV show.
DF: The stuff in this show is much more written, where even scenes you're not in—everybody contributed to everything. More than anything, we were excited about how much fun it was to write together again. We hadn't really written together since Brain Candy.
ST: Writing is a difficult thing. You've really got to be open to the people. We're in a stage now in our lives where we're willing to be open with each other again. That's what obscurity will do to you. It'll open you up.
I brought in a whole bunch of scenes I thought I wasn't even going to read. I mean, it changes tremendously with these geniuses. We wrote a ton of shit that didn't get done. But Dave was right, because it's not exactly like the TV show. As the show grew, we had other writers to use to hide from each other, and as it went along, we kind of got more uncomfortable with each other.
BM: It did become more about the cult of the read-through as the show progressed, and I think we tried to go back, too. The easiest thing to do as you go on is to not deal with each other, and the reason to do this is to deal with each other.
KM: But also, the cult of the read-through was about surprising you guys. I didn't want to write with you guys, I wanted to surprise you and make you laugh on Friday.
DF: 'Cause then you'd have a better chance of getting it in the show.
KM: Yes. But also I enjoyed that as a performance thing.
ST: The other thing about the read-through is that no matter what you bring in, you know it's going to improve with the other group members. As you get along, you want to do it on your own, but with these guys, you can't really hide from the truth.
AVC: What is that truth?
ST: That not everything I write is gold. That, or it's fool's gold.
AVC: Are there characters you'll no longer attempt to play?
ST: I won't play a teenager.
DF: Or anyone in their 20s. [Laughs.] It used to be, we weren't believable as the old businessmen, and now we're not believable as teenagers.
AVC: It's that circle again.
DF: Yeah, and soon we won't be believable as people that are alive.
AVC: Is there material you're glad to be rid of?
BM: Well, there's shit we'd never do again. We had thought about doing "Salty Ham," and then we didn't do "Salty Ham."
ST: Even the old ones we do are very obscure scenes, and they're not remotely—it's not that they're not good, they're not classics. They're not ones people can recite word for word.
AVC: How do you differentiate between an obscure scene in the show and one that isn't as obscure?
DF: I guess you know what's not obscure because people tell you.
ST: We just assume that the original "Chicken Lady" is a classic. We assume the first "Simon And Hecubus" is a classic. Maybe we're wrong.
KM: Aren't they all obscure?
MM: We're The Kids In The Hall.
DF: Pretty much our most popular sketch is still obscure. [Laughs.]
ST: Basically, we're an obscure group.
AVC: Has your sense of humor changed since you started?
ST: I would say not a bit.
DF: No, no, you've improved quite a bit.
ST: Oh. I'm much funnier.
KM: Our point of reference has changed, but it comes from the same place. There's baby scenes in the show, because some of us have babies. But it's still the same dark way—me and the gay one don't have any babies.
ST: We keep trying. But together, it's not working.
KM: Tonight, on the bus, we'll try again.
ST: You're ovulating, right?
KM: Yes, it's my ovulation.
DF: Actually, the weird thing is that the dynamic within the group is almost identical to what it was 20 years ago.
MM: [Mimes pulling out a gun.] Well, it's about to change.
AVC: Speaking of which, some of you have said you haven't all quite gotten along in the past, because you're so opinionated. Do you think that conflict is necessary to create anything worthwhile?
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DF: I don't know if it's necessary.
KM: But it's inevitable.
MM: I don't know. I think there's a certain mythology to—when you're unsocialized 20-year-olds—I think you were even a teenager, Dave, when you started in the troupe—and you're guys without women, and you have no internal censor at all—it's like five computer geeks, only you're comedy geeks, and so we were really, really hard on each other. I think part of the reason we've been able to get back together is, we've sort of managed to put some Band-Aids over some of the things that were said in the club days and early TV days.
KM: When Camper Van Beethoven got back together, and—
MM: And I don't think—
KM: Sorry, sorry, sorry.
ST: See the conflict there?
MM: Hey, fuck you, you fucking talking fucking prick.
KM: You talky talk talk.
ST: You octoroon.
DF: You blue head.
KM: Sorry Mark. Go ahead.
MM: Now I don't fucking want to talk now. [Laughs.] I think there's a lot of myths about creativity, like, "Oh man, I was always great at writing when I was high," or something like that, and I don't think it's true. I think you're either funny or you're not.
ST: Well, that's true.
MM: I think you're either funny or you're not. I think the conflict maybe spurred us for a little while, but its value got spent pretty quick and pretty early.
ST: We went over the edge.
MM: We went over the edge, yeah.
ST: I mean, it's not—believe me, we still fight.
DF: Well, it was a great crucible in the early days. But after 10 or 15 years of it, it got to the point where it was more destructive than instructive.
MM: Everybody stormed out. Bruce spat on me. [Laughs.]
ST: You spat on me, too.
MM: Then I spat on you. [Pointing at Bruce.] Then you spat on me. Funny we didn't turn it into a sketch.
BM: We used to do a thing onstage where we'd spit on each other's faces.
DF: Yeah, yeah, you did. That wasn't right!
ST: [Laughs.] Of course I know it wasn't right.
BM: We used to do a scene where just spit in each other's faces. It was a vaudeville act called The Something Brothers. Ptui, ptui, aahh!
ST: [To Dave, laughing.] Your wife and I tangled!
BM: Guys, guys, you're going to take us back.
ST: We're going back to some horrible days. I kicked his door in.
DF: That's true. You once came over to my house and kicked my door in.
KM: You were that strong? Wow. Not anymore, huh? [Pointing to Scott's leg.]
AVC: It seems like what's contributed to your troupe's longevity is the emphasis on character-driven sketches over pop-culture references. Was that intentional?
DF: We didn't want to do current events. We figured that's Saturday Night Live's thing.
ST: And we'd have to read the paper.
DF: We didn't want to do parody because we were all big fans of SCTV.
BM: And some of us thought parody was a weak art form.
DF: Actually, a lot of people at SCTV thought that, too.
AVC: Considering your opinion of parody, was it difficult for those of you who worked for Saturday Night Live?
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MM: Yeah. But I didn't work on Saturday Night Live, it turns out.
BM: The thing I found discombobulating about Saturday Night Live is—I mean, we're an impulsive troupe, and I remember they would talk about everything forever, all the Harvard guys. It was all so heady, and there wasn't so much performance in it. I think the thing that was nice about having our own show was that we did have to sell to each other, sort of, but if someone said, "I'm just going to go up to a beatbox and I'm going to dance," we'd kind of get to try it. We didn't have to have intellectual conversations about comedy. And in fact, we all hate having intellectual conversations about comedy, yet we'll all do it when we feel we need the floor.
DF: Anytime anybody really wanted to do something, they'd usually get to do it.
BM: Pretty much.
ST: But we're not as educated.
AVC: Are you still in touch with Lorne Michaels?
DF: He calls every day, mostly just to ask advice. "Uh, I'm having trouble with the kids, my kids are really grown up. I don't know if I'm really there for them enough. Maybe I'm not giving them what they need." And we say, "Lorne, you're a good dad."
AVC: That's all he needs to hear?
DF: "It's all about love. You're just giving them the love they need." No, we haven't spoken to Lorne. [Laughs.] I don't know. The last time was, what, probably around Brain Candy days?
MM: He came to our last show in New York.
DF: I used to go over to Saturday Night Live every time I was in New York.
BM: I see him about once a year.
ST: Where'd you see him?
BM: Saturday Night Live.
AVC: That makes sense.
DF: Because that's the only place he ever is.
AVC: Are there any sketches that stand out for you as being especially absurd or fucked-up, or maybe you went too far?
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BM: We always talk about [how] "Love And Sausages" almost broke up the troupe. It was a weird film.
ST: Yeah, and now it's really popular.
KM: Is that on YouTube?
ST: Yeah, and I think I saw it on Wikipedia.
DF: I like it. And I hated it at the time.
BM: Well, it was just too—I know personally, once we started experimenting with films and different style films, then I think that got, if anything, a little indulgent. I probably—I would have liked the show to have gotten more indulgent, if anything. And I think if we probably carried on, we would have probably done that, in a way.
DF: We'd get more and more like Elephant Parts, you mean?
ST: But that wasn't that funny.
KM: There's funny stuff in Elephant Parts.
DF: Yeah, but it's pretty indulgent.
KM: Every now and then, there's funny sketches.
ST: Yeah, I've got regrets for certain things, but I don't know—
MM: Oh, I can think of one half-hour thing you did.
ST: Yeah, I think I went too far.
KM: He did a half-hour thing that had a whole story, it was a Buddy Cole Christmas special.
ST: Maybe he shouldn't have flown. Did you see those men that I was flying with? My God!
MM: I remember that week in the studio, all of us, like, checking in, meeting in dark corners—"He's out on the floor with Rip Taylor."
BM: He'd come in with 40 pages, and he'd change everything. And he'd give you a new line reading and stuff—it's like, I was the beaver, and he kept yelling at me because I wasn't being the beaver very well.
DF: "You're not even trying!"
BM: The beaver was supposed to have to want to fuck the queen. And it was like "Oh, I'm so mad at you! You're fucking not even trying!" "I'm trying! Fucking beaver! What am I supposed to do?" And the brown makeup is melting on my fucking head [All laughing.] Beautiful boys with fur for fucking 14 hours
ST: What they're trying to say is that they regret their behavior.
MM: It was like a slow-moving-but-burning freight train coming at you slowly, because he kept bringing this fat half-hour script in and read it in its entirety, and there'd be these crickets.
DF: Fat three-hour script.
MM: And we'd be like, "Yeah, yeah, go work on that one." And we'd be like, "Whew! Dodged that one." And eventually, after a particularly spectacular tantrum, we green-lit it. I don't think that's the way we do business now.
DF: Yes it is.
KM: And Rip Taylor was in it, and he kept complaining that the confetti wasn't big enough.
ST: He stayed a week.
DF: That's when Buddy Cole was this character who seemed so real and so true, and then suddenly he kept flying.
KM: You know what was funny, was Santa Claus: "Buddy, we have to talk."
ST: So really what they're saying is, I'm the only one who went too far.
KM: No, no, that's just the one thing we remembered.
DF: We probably all had at least one thing we did.
ST: Oh, we did. "Pickle!?"
DF: Yeah, I admit that.
ST: We did. I know you do.
MM: Mine is "Standing In The New Style."
DF: "Standing In The New Style"? Ah, yeah. Well, now that's become the thing: pirate talk.
MM: Has it?
ST: I refuse to believe that.
DF: Ever since Pirates Of The Caribbean.
AVC: Do you still feel confident in dresses?
MM: Less and less.
DF: I don't feel sexy in them anymore. I used to feel sexy.
MM: No, I think that's a hard one. You really have to pick the moment and really, really like your character.
MM: I feel somewhat confident. I still think we can do specific characters, but not everything we used to do.
DF: I still like it. We used to do that thing for your short film.
ST: Yeah, Dave and I did a short film where we played women, but like Anjelica Huston. But she's a handsome woman.
DF: "She is," he said politely.
AVC: Is there a common thread you see among sketch troupes who claim you as an influence?
MM: What I like about them is they behave, or their comedy seems to be inflected with—like they're rock bands. They're not people who are gunning for a slot of the network pie. You get a sense that they came together voluntarily—no one put them together.
KM: Like an indie band.
MM: They have that ethic.
KM: And there's superficial things, like they play women, but that's like you copy Led Zeppelin just by taking your shirt off.
DF: But even when we were doing our show, there was an influence that started the show off in Saturday Night Live.
ST: And they mocked us, with the "Gap Girls."
KM: With the strippers. But they all started playing women.
DF: They started doing sketches that were more like what we were doing.
ST: Did they really?
AVC: Did you talk to Lorne Michaels about that?
KM: "Good job, Lorne!"
ST: "Good job, Daddy."
DF: But obviously, there's a ton of stuff that influences what we do.
AVC: Was it difficult to get your collaborative muscles working together again?
DF: Oddly, it wasn't at all.
AVC: Did that surprise you?
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KM: Yes. We talked about it.
DF: We were fairly nervous coming in. I think everyone was a little nervous the first time we did that. I know I was. When we did the first writers' meeting at the Steve Allen Theater, I really thought, "All right, if this doesn't go well, this is the last time we're going to work together." And it went really well.
ST: And then you took your dark glasses off and things were better. Yeah, we were scared, but it worked out.
DF: Yeah, especially when I saw the pile of scripts Scott had. It was this tall.