Back in the Hall with the Original Kids of Comedy
In anticipation of Wednesday night’s Kids In the Hall As Live As We’ll Ever Be performance at Nokia in Grand Prairie (tickets for the show are still available here), I chatted with Kid Kevin McDonald. Surely, you’ll remember him as Sir Simon of the Pit of Ultimate Darkness, The King of Empty Promises and Darcy Pennell, as well as one half of the Anal-Probing Aliens, “Nobody Likes Us” guys and the Sizzler Sisters.
During our conversation, he proved himself not only gracious, but incredibly entertaining even off the stage and screen. Thanks to the limitless capacity of Unfair Park, I’m able to share with you our discussion in full after the jump, wherein we tackle heated topics such as asthma, wig styling, relationships, fake breasts and child stars. --Merritt Martin
So where you guys are where now? In New York?
We’re in New York, yes. We’re spending our last hours here in New York before we fly to -- close to you, I guess -- Houston.
Well, get ready for humidity.
Really? The humidity’s not so good for my asthma, but I’ll have my inhaler ready, so thank you very much.
What leg of the tour -- how far in are you?
I counted today. We have 40 shows, and we’ve done nine. It’s still the beginning.
So how long has it really been since you all have performed together?
Well, the last time we did a real tour together was 2002, BUT -- sorry, I said “but” really loud - in 2006 we started to getting together once a year to write the new material, where we get together for a week, and then we perform it in these sneak shows in a small theater in Los Angeles. I guess over two years, we did it three or four times, and that’s how we got the new material for this show. It’s 90 percent new.
Do you still have some of the recurring skits and beloved characters?
We have some of the characters that people liked and some new material. And there’s a Chicken Lady sketch and another sketch nobody will remember that we’ve tarted up a bit.
Do you have a favorite character that you like to do? Or even someone else’s that was your favorite?
I guess I still like the Head Crusher that Mark does. That’s my favorite character from the show, I guess. It makes me laugh, and I like silly stuff. And I guess my favorite character I did was the guy called The King of Empty Promises. I kept making promises to people that I would do things, and I would say, “I will do,” and when I wouldn’t come through with the promise, I would say, “Slipped my mind.” That was my favorite character. Benignly evil. I like benignly evil characters.
Me too. Now, when you’ve been working together now, do you feel like you haven’t lost any time, or is there an inherent difference in the performances?
I’m sorry, what did you say? I tripped, and I missed the first part of your question. You’ll have to start again. It’s my fault! I tripped; I made a noise!
Do you feel like you guys haven’t lost time in between?
It feels like we’ve lost no time at all. The first time we got together two years ago, in 2006, we were kinda nervous -- not that we were getting together, ’cause we’d done a few other tours in the 2000s -- but that we were gonna do it the way that we used to do it before we had a TV show, when we were just a club act. That’s: Write the sketches Saturday and Sunday, and rehearse it Monday, and then do the show Monday night. And we did that every week. There was some unspoken nervousness, like, do we still have it to do that? And then we were so excited when the first shows went over so well. We got together Monday afternoon at 4 o’clock, and it was just like the old days, and it was like no time was lost at all. Except for our grayer hair and some bigger bellies.
But that’s character, right there.
A comedy troupe really needs character.
You were one of the first two original members, I guess you could call it. And you and Dave [Foley] were performing together before the other three really became the Kids in the Hall, as it’s known now … in 1984. So it’s been almost 25 years.
Yeah, and at the same time, Mark [McKinney] and Bruce [McCulloch] were also in a troupe together in Calgary.
I just mean as far as the title and the idea ... that’s 25 years. Do you kinda feel like you’ve raised a child?
Yeah, it’s true. We have raised an invisible child. It seems that way. I guess we could raise a few children. And Dave and I are so … it still seems like it’s new with him, when I’m onstage with him or I’m hanging out with him, it doesn’t seem like we’re an old couple. It would have been a very successful marriage. It would have been amazing. And I can sorta read his mind, especially on stage. He gets a look in his eye, and I sorta know what he wants, and I set him up, and he says the joke. It may even be like that with the other Kids in the Hall, but with Dave, it’s quite strong.
How much of it is improv vs. rehearsed material for the tour?
The tour’s all rehearsed, but of course, every night, things change. Mistakes happen. We’re more like amateur actors, so things change sometimes. But the plan is to do the same show every night.
But, in a sense, you have a new city, new audience, new energy, so it’s a different show no matter what you do.
Yeah, every city has a different personality. Every city is one big different fat guy, and the fat guy that is Houston will laugh at slightly different things than the big fat guy that was New York.
That would throw me, I think, if I wasn’t used to expecting the different reactions.
And it’s subtle. The guys in our crew, they may not notice. But when you’re on stage, even the subtlest thing is a strong difference, and you can notice. If I heard the tape back later, I wouldn’t think there was some difference, but there definitely is, between like Austin and Boston and Dallas and other places.
So it’s really nuance, I guess?
Do you tape every show?
No, I don’t think we do. We should. We should film every show, or at least one show.
Hopefully you’ll do a DVD of this, right?
The vague plan is to maybe do a TV special, but that’s really vague, and I think maybe only a couple of us are thinking that, but I think that would be a good idea. It’s all new stuff, and it shouldn’t just die when the tour ends. And also, the bigger, more specific plan is we may do a new movie.
Do you think that as far as a TV special -- do you think you’re able to have the energy that you do when you do it for a live audience?
That’s the question. We’re excited about doing a new movie, and the first idea was to do a sketch movie. Basically this new material. But then we thought it may not seem as funny without a live audience, and nobody really wants to film a sketch movie because there’s never been a sketch movie that’s been a hit. So that would be hard for us to get money. So now we’re thinking if we do film this without [it being] a sketch show, Bruce would wanna film it not in front of a live audience, but single-camera it. And I would think you would need it. So that’s an interesting debate that goes on within the troupe. It’s a good question, and I have no specific answer for you. I’m very sorry.
Oh, no, no. Not at all. Is there a possibility that on the tour, you could ever add in something later on, if someone had an idea, even if the whole thing is rehearsed?
Oh, yeah. For sure. If someone writes something during sound check, we’re always open to it. It doesn’t happen that much, but we’d be open to that. Especially now that our technically minded director is leaving the tour, ’cause he’s like, “No, you can’t add anything! I have all the lighting cues!” But we’re sloppier than that, so we’re certainly open to that. I don’t know if it’ll happen, but we’re certainly open to that.
Then at least you’re not fenced in if you find something that you feel is more lively than something you’re doing.
We could. We could be like The Black Crowes, when they do a completely different song every night. However, with our lighting and sound cues, that would be a nightmare, so we’re sort of married to the same show every night. But that’s how we started. We’d love to be The Black Crowes of comedy.
Do you feel like there’s something out there right now -- an act or a troupe -- that is kind of using your show or your sketches or anything as a footprint, sort of following in your footsteps?
I think so, in subtle ways. It might be pompous of me to think that, but I do think that. I always thought for years, and I really think this -- I don’t know how familiar you are with the alternative rock and roll world, but I thought we were like The Pixies. Everyone loved them in an underground kinda way. They didn’t sell a lot of records, but they paved the way for Nirvana, who did sell a lot of records. And I think in the ’90s, it was like South Park, a little bit, and Tom Green, and in a little bit kind of a way, Jackass, sort of. And now I see it in the other troupes, The Whitest Kids U’Know, who I think is funny, [mumbles], them for sure, even Human Giant a little bit, who I also think is very funny.
Oh, absolutely. That’s who I was kind of thinking of, actually. They’ve definitely given a nod to you guys, and of course, Rob Huebel being from Upright Citizens Brigade. But you definitely see that some of their cues or expressions for the camera are reminiscent of you guys.
I don’t think we influenced a group nearly as much as Monty Python influenced us and other troupes of our time, but it’s definitely there. It’s definitely there a little bit for sure. And maybe a little more so in Whitest Kids U’Know, but I shouldn’t say that. But maybe I just think that ‘cause they have “kids” in their title. If I was their manager, I would have made them change their name before they got a TV show. It’d be like calling ourselves “Monty in the Hall.”
Maybe they desire that sort of link. Maybe that helps out.
I know when I see them play women, I see our influence in them because they’re playing women well. I hate to be boastful, but I think before us, when men played women, it was like a really high voice and super-fake large breasts, and I’m glad we influenced the world of comedy at least in that way.
Oh, yeah. There is a huge difference in your portrayal. How comfortable were you doing that or deciding how you were going to play women?
That was a big debate at first. At the club we played at before we got the TV show, there were women in our troupe, and they actually quit because they got great jobs. So it became us five guys because we couldn’t get work. But we were writing stuff about our mothers, women we knew, our girlfriends ... and we needed people to play women. Scott always wanted to play women, so Scott did it first. And then Mark did it pretty quickly ’cause he’s a character actor. And then bit by bit, it just seemed that we had to do it. I was never against playing women -- only that I didn’t think I could do it well. But we always said, “Do it as realistic as you can. Even though it’s a sketch comedy show, try to be realistic.”
And in those days, we didn’t have any elaborate makeup, and we had the same audience every week, so they understood that whoever was wearing the big red sweater was playing a woman. We had “the woman sweater.” And then when we got the TV show, the big debate was, “Should we do the red sweater thing on TV? Should we do minimal? Should we go all the way?” And, of course, it was TV, and we learned pretty quickly we had to go all the way with women. “Well, how much? Bras? Earrings?” Slowly it became, “As woman as you can get.”
And then you get a makeup department, and that helps immensely.
In the first year, our wigs were pretty bad, so then the second year, we got the wig woman from SCTV, who was like the best in sketch comedy. And at that point, second season on, we started looking -- at least, the makeup and the hair started looking pretty real. As real as you can get it.
The Kids In the Hall name came from a Sid Caesar joke [a too-simple explanation: if a joke went bust, he blamed the group of writers, or “kids in the hall”]. How big of an influence is he to you guys overall? Or is that just a reference?
It is just a reference, except I’d have to say Dave and I, and Mark a little bit, are huge Sid Caesar fans. Dave and I especially. But we didn’t pick the name because we loved Sid Caesar, because there’s so many comics we love. That was just a coincidence. We heard the story, and ’cause the story involves Sid Caesar and also Mel Brooks and Neil Simon because they were the original kids in the hall, who also Dave and I loved, it just made sense to go with that name. We were having sort of a bunch of trouble finding a name. And then we found this wonderful name ’cause we were young at the time, and we never thought we’d be together this long, so we’re stuck with the name “kids.” But we just thought it connected with so many great comedians we liked, it was perfect.
And really, you still are kids.
What’s cool is the humor in it is still very much a young and off-the-wall …
Why don’t you just say “juvenile?!”
No, no. I don’t see it as juvenile, because I think much of it is very intelligent. Now, you, of course, can describe it however you’d like!
[Laughs.] Thank you. That’s very nice. Sometimes I think it’s like the troupe’s mind is a 14-year-old genius who’s already in university, but he’s still a 14-year-old. A genius 14-year-old. A 14-year-old with a backpack that can go to medical school. The Doogie Howser of comedy. --Merritt Martin
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.