For my money, the Kids in the Hall are the best comedy troupe of all time. Monty Python’s Flying Circus was always hit-and-miss. The first cast of Saturday Night Live in the mid-70s was brilliant, as was the early ‘90s with Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, David Spade, and Mike Myers. Yet, a lot of people just remember the great bits. They had some skits that were clunkers. Oh, and speaking of Mike Myers, he performed a few times with the KITH at nightclubs before they got big, and he always wanted to be in that cast. It was great seeing him interviewed in the documentary Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks.
Myers isn’t the only celebrity fan we hear from. Jay Baruchel, Mae Martin, and of course, Lorne Michaels, all have a few things to say (I would have liked to have seen Black Crowes singer Chris Robinson, who once said his band would always watch their show on the tour bus, and he even appeared in one of their skits).
Now, these Canadian comedy geniuses aren’t for everyone. I remember my mom hated when my brother, sister, and I would laugh hysterically at bits she thought were gross. And I’ve recently seen comments online about people wondering why the KITH get credit for having positive gay characters and showing women in a good light (as they dressed as women when they needed female characters for a skit). The knock is that they did a few skits in blackface. I only remember two characters – one, an old blues singer being heckled for having the blues, but having expensive clothes and being a very wealthy musician; the other being a black, Harvard-educated character in a “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” skit, in which the white parents actually love the guy. So it wasn’t like an old minstrel show, or an offensive bit. Ten years after KITH did those skits, Jimmy Kimmel wore blackface in a few skits on his Man Show. Those were different times. Today, no comedy troupe would do that.
There were lots of interviews with the KITH, separately and together in The Rivoli in Toronto, the club where they got their start and honed their skills. I got teary eyed finding out a few of the guys had alcoholic fathers that were abusive. Kevin McDonald said he even took an insulting thing his dad said and used it in a bit (“How many women called you today, son? Zero?”). He even mentioned his dad chasing him around the dinner table with a knife. It made me think back to the bit they did where they all sat around making sandwiches, talking about if they could beat up their fathers, and how they’d do it (I wrote them a follow up bit to that about them now, as adults, talking about if they could take their kids in a fight; I doubt they’ll use it or even saw the skit I passed to Mark McKinney after I interviewed him once).
Scott Thompson, the openly gay member of the troupe said, “We were all very much trying to prove to our dads that we were men…by dressing up as women.”
It was fascinating to see how many years it took before they made it. So often we see these movies about singers like Jim Morrison, Ray Charles, Buddy Holly, and – and they seem to make it big right away. We forget that many of these artists spend years and years in small clubs, making little money. The KITH even talked about the times they only had 15 people in the audience, but how one compliment from a fan about how funny they were, would keep them going. Luckily, we got some footage from their early days. Sometimes they were bits we’d see later in the show (the hilarious Dr. Seuss Bible comes to mind). There were other skits that never aired (an X-rated bit where Scott is dressed as a construction worker and talking about gay sex).
Director Reg Harkema did a great job combining archive footage with all of the interviews. And it must have been tough to decide what clips from the interviews to use, since they’re all so funny.
It’s amazing that for a troupe that I think is brilliant, they had so many failures along the way. And I remember seeing Mark McKinney go to Saturday Night Live after KITH ended their run on HBO, but…I didn’t realize he and Bruce McCulloch were actually taken from the troupe by Lorne Michaels before they ever had their show on TV. They spent a miserable season at SNL before getting the band back together. The next time Michaels took them all, and became their executive producer.
They discuss their 1996 movie Brain Candy (which I was a bit disappointed with). I was surprised they didn’t talk about some of their live tours after the show ended (I saw them once downtown, once in Escondido, and once in L.A. – always a great time). Meeting them after one of their shows and spending 45 minutes talking with the group (even with Dave Foley being drunk), still ranks among the best of any celebrity encounters I’ve had (and I’ve met some of the biggest names in Hollywood). I remember telling Foley that when they did a Chicken Lady sketch and he had a pregnant pause after eating an omelet, it was perfect comedic timing. He told me that’s what got him the job on NewsRadio, a producer saw that bit and thought his timing was perfect. But I digress.
The documentary is a must-see for any fan of the troupe.
4 stars out of 5.
Now, for the new season of shows – after a 30 year “hiatus” – I was lucky enough to preview the first five episodes. For fans of the show, you won’t be disappointed. For those that aren’t familiar with the troupe, they might take some getting used to. For me to see new material from them, would be like telling a Beatles fan in 1977, the band was getting back together. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say this is bigger for us fans. I mean, a Beatles fan in the ‘70s still had Paul McCartney and the Wings releasing new music. George Harrison gave us All Things Must Pass, Lennon gave us Imagine (no idea what Ringo was doing), so we still got good songs from our musical heroes. Other than Foley, who I loved in Blast From the Past, A Bug’s Life, and NewsRadio, the rest of the guys didn’t do much that I got to see.
As a critic who hates critics that include spoilers in their reviews, I’m going to tread lightly when I talk about the episodes I watched. In the first one, Mark and Bruce, playing the inept cops, show up. It’s hysterical (and make sure your kids aren’t watching – there’s nudity). The Kathy secretaries are there. I felt their bit could have been stronger, but it was a joy to see them. There’s a skit with older strippers, that made me think of the bit on SNL where Chris Farley competes against Patrick Swayze for a job as a Chippendale dancer.
The best bit was Foley who once played the world’s worst doctor, is perhaps showing us what that doctor is doing now, as he smokes while delivering a baby. And I love the KITH so much, that even small things crack me up. For example: just how Scott squints his eyes to show concern about this doctor and his “drop rate” when delivering babies. Speaking of Scott, I never cared for his Buddy Cole monologues, but the bit he does with it in the second episode works (and don’t blink, or you’ll miss Bellini in a sauna).
There was a skit where the f-bomb is dropped at least 80 times, and it felt like overkill.
There’s a crazy zoom meeting bit that Jeffrey Toobin will love. Again, make sure your kids aren’t in the room.
In the third episode, there’s a skit so funny I was laughing about it for days. William Shakespeare comes back to life. Now, as a movie critic who has watched too many movies where someone has come back to life (or in some cases, like in Ted – a teddy bear), this was a terrific take on that. Foley plays the Bard; and also plays a DJ in a skit where in a post-apocalyptic world, he’s a DJ that only has one record to play – Brand New Key by Melanie. As a former DJ, this appealed to me on a few levels. And the way they kept coming back to it in the episode, reminded me of the times in the old show they did that with certain skits.
Seeing Mark and Bruce play the fast-talking salesmen was a treat. In the old days, just watching Bruce twist his head, pause, and inquire about something he feigned interest in – was hysterical. It’s a shame their “gut spigot” isn’t a real thing. I was ready to order one.
Scott squinting his eyes again, as a businessman buying shoes, is terrific. It started strong, and just as the bit was getting weaker in the middle, there’s a punchline that knocks it out of the park. It reminded me of the old skit where a businessman is squirted in the face by a clown during a meeting.
One thing bothering me about these new episodes is how much I loved in the old days, they always started with a bit that would be really short, before going into the opening credits (and that great Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet song). WIth these new episodes, they were regular length bits.
The 4th episode gives us a great superhero bit, which is perfect, considering how popular Marvel movies are now. Bruce plays “Super Drunk.” There’s a great villain that everyone will love, and a quick scene with him being drunk in a bar and singing “These are the Dave’s I know.”
There was a Hotel La Rut bit, which I always felt was a mixed bag.
There’s some meta-madness going on with Dave talking to Kevin in a skit at a pawn shop, where he quickly starts talking about this being another “Kevin McDonald bit.” It had me rolling. Kevin’s huge smile was great, and it made you wonder if they really have conversations like this when talking about which bits they’ll use. We’ve all heard the stories from former SNL cast members and writers talking about the 100 skits pitched that they’re hoping get used, but who would have thought that with only five guys, the same conversations come up (that was touched upon briefly in the Comedy Punks documentary).
The 5th episode surprised me, because…I always thought Bruce’s little kid Gavin was hysterical. It never occurred to me, at this age, he’d be able to pull it off. He still looks just like that annoying little kid (although they make a reference to his age in the bit).
Francesca and Bruno show up. And, a skit involving a murderous cat – amazing! I also loved a bit involving a house purchase.
And as a critic who has seen so many movies involving hit men – the one they did with this hit man was the sh**. Well, doo-doo (you’ll get that line when you see it).
I’m giving these 4 out of 5 stars, and you can watch them on Amazon Prime Video, starting today with two episodes, and two new episodes each Friday after that. My mind is already racing at the many old characters they might bring back in future episodes. I’m wondering if Rod Torfulson’s Armada featuring Herman Menderchuk, are still trying to make it. Did Simon & Hecubus’s horror show get canceled? Did the Chicken Lady lay any eggs? And certainly those 30 Helen’s aren’t still around, are they? I can’t wait to find out.