The Kids in the Hall
An interview with Kevin McDonald
by William Ham
Those of us with HBO, Comedy Central, or the stamina to stay up until 4 in the morning on Friday nights to watch CBS, are well aware of the edgy brilliance of The Kids in the Hall. Over the course of five seasons and over a hundred shows, these five Canuck comic crazies brought sketch comedy kicking and screaming into the nineties. Unlike Monty Python (to whom they are most often compared), theirs was less a revolution of form than of content – no other troupe before them dealt with the gay subculture without mincing (Scott Thompson’s gay-barfly Buddy Cole excepted) or put on dresses without lapsing into high-pitched screeches. But let’s not reduce them to mere polymorphous perversity; the plain truth is that the Kids are funny. Fall-down, clutch-your-heart, bang-your-head-on-the-floor-until-the-neighbors-complain-or-you-pass-out funny. So it was a sad day indeed when the quixotic quintet opted to pull the plug on their half-hour show and disperse their talents to venues like NewsRadio, The Larry Sanders Show and the gasping Saturday Night Live. (I myself wore a black armband and a cabbage leaf on my head for weeks in mourning.) But you can’t keep a good troupe down, and, like a five-headed Lazarus with a propensity for schtick, they have returned to save motion picture comedy from the Happy Gilmores and Richard Nixons of the world. (What? You mean Nixon wasn’t a comedy?) The film is Brain Candy (Paramount), a wacky take on pharmaceutically-induced happiness (unlike most comedies, which require you to be doped-up to find them funny), with the Fab Five portraying an array of characters both old and new (nearly 40 in all). It opens in Boston April 12, and you can bet I’ll be at the premiere, soaking up the jocularity and crushing peoples’ heads.
After an intense round of negotiations and a few calls to the State Department, I finally managed to secure a phone chat with the Kids’ Kevin McDonald (the skinny, curly-haired one). Regrettably, his publicist only allotted nine minutes for the interview, mooting my more important questions like “Would you please give me a synopsis of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, but do it to the tune of ‘A Town Without Pity’?,” but I still believe that the necessary ground was covered. Judge for yourself.
So, tell me about Brain Candy.
I like to call it “a comedy about depression.” It’s about a scientist who discovers a cure for depression – kind of like Prozac but much, much stronger – which goes out over-the-counter and becomes enormously successful, but eventually turns out to be so powerful that everyone turns into happy zombies, just living in their happy memories, so the scientist ends up having to fight against his own drug.
Oh, so it’s based on the Edith Wharton novel. How did you adapt to the demands of writing a full-length feature as opposed to the three-minute sketch format?
We had to throw the five of us into one room at the same time for once. In the days of the TV show, we’d write our sketches seperately or in pairs, then get together for a read-through and vote on the material. It was sort of like the Beatles’ White Album, where you have John’s song, then Paul’s, then George’s, but with the movie, we sort of had to do our Sgt. Pepper: Five strong-minded guys working together and agreeing on every page. Like five Lennons and McCartneys fighting it out. That’s why it took us a year and a half to write it.
No Ringos in the group, then?
Except for me. I’m the designated Ringo, except that I have no sense of rhythm.
That’s okay, neither does he. Do you find that you are misunderstood? I ask this because, well, I have an early promo kit here and the synopsis for the movie reads: “David (It’s Pat) Foley…”
“…Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson are members of a five-man Canadian comedy troupe who prefer women’s clothes to men’s. Kelly (National Lampoon’s Senior Trip) Makin helms the cross-dressing antics.” I have two questions regarding this. First, do you often find people tend to reduce you to that?
Yes, either that we’re way too outrageous and do things just to shock people or that all we’re about is dressing in women’s clothing. But that’s just part of the job. Really we’re just comedy obsessed. We love ideas. And because there are no women in the troupe, although there were for a while when we still strictly worked on stage, we had to play the roles. We were writing about mothers and girlfriends and women in general, so it was up to us to do it. But that’s not all we do, by any means.
Oh, no, I know that, but…
No, no, no, I know you do, I’m talking about those other bastards who can’t see beyond that. What was your other question?
Um… do you prefer heels or flats?
Heels. No, flats. Heels is a funnier word, but I’d have to say flats. Heels are just too painful. I don’t know how women do it, honestly. The only advantage is that heels make you walk more obviously like a woman, so it’s better for the character. (pause) I can’t believe I answered that question seriously.
Now what have you been doing recently? The other four have kept a fairly high profile since the show went off the air. I know you were in National Lampoon’s Senior Trip, and I’m sorry, but what other projects do you have in the making?
I’ve written a movie called Officer Bob, which is based on Joseph Conrad’s novel Lord Jim, only I’ve added comedy to it and kinda shoved it into the 1990’s. I hope to shoot it in Toronto this summer. Also, I’ve been busy having my wife leave me. That sort of took a few months away from me. And the Lampoon thing… that was a little fun because Kelly Makin, who directed some of our best stuff for TV and also did Brain Candy, was the director. So it was kinda fun. My two best scenes were cut from that, incidentally. ‘Course any loser would say that.
What is the status of the Kids now? I’ve heard and read certain things that lead me to believe that all is not rosy with the troupe.
As far as I know we’re still very much a troupe. We’ve had something of an unspoken agreement to take some time off to pursue our own projects, but we hope to do like Python and make a movie every few years if the people demand it, and maybe do another tour. But last I heard, it is still the five of us.
Great. Uh… (having run out of questions, the interviewer tries desperately to improvise) So… when the war between the U.S. and Canada finally commences, which side will you be on?
Um, Canada. Well, I’ll work for both sides. I’ll stay down here for a while and then be a turncoat and go back north. I’ll be like Benedict Arnold. Benedict McDonald.
Do you think Canada would ever threaten a comedy embargo? You toque-heads are generally very funny people.
Yeah, they do get very protective when one of us, like Dave [(It’s Pat) Foley], becomes popular in the States, they complain, “Why don’t you do something up here?” But the truth is, well, it’s Canada. There’s nothing to do up here. But I hope to become sort of to Toronto what Woody Allen is to New York and make movies up here – like Hollywood movies but do them up here with a Canadian crew. So I guess I’m aiming to be the Canadian Woody Allen.
Do you look good in tweeds?
Yes, I do. And I’m learning the clarinet and dating seventeen-year-old Korean girls. So I’m well on my way.
Mmm – how much time do we have left?
About a minute. Yes, that’s right, a minute, yes, that’s right, I wouldn’t dream of killing your remaining time but that’s it, one minute, okay, ready, go!
(In a state of sheer panic the interviewer dredges up the most hackneyed question imaginable) So, what are your inspirations in writing comedy?
Sometimes when I’m writing and I’m really stuck, I ask myself “What would Groucho Marx do?”
Not much, lately.
Yeah, lay and rot mostly. I probably should amend that to “What would a young Groucho Marx do?” But I find that, if you have a funny outlook on life, you see the comedy in everything. Even tragedy’s funny.
Okay. Well, I know you have to go, but I just want to say that I’m a big fan and that I watch your shows all the time, and, well, I’m thinking of stalking you in the near future, so if you could give me some information as to your whereabouts in the upcoming months, I would really…
Well, I have to go now. Hope you enjoy the movie! Bye! (Click.)
(Interviewer chuckles maniacally) We’ll meet again, Kevin (National Lampoon’s Senior Trip) McDonald. We’ll meet again.