The Kids In The Hall were the de facto arbiters of alt-comedy in the 90s. No one came close to them in Canada and the U.S.
They were never hipsters themselves. They were outsiders, freaks, outcasts of suburbia, the weird kid(s) in your circle that no one really understood. And that might have been their fate were it not for almost random serendipity.
Just how those five disparate individuals came together and became The Kids In The Hall is the focus of Paul Myer’s mesmerizing new book The Kids In The Hall: One Dumb Guy.
Although Myers had spent years dropping hints to various Kids that he’d like to write their story, it became clear to them that he was the ideal choice in that both Paul and his brother Mike were part of their start in Toronto.
“Mike decided to take lessons at Second City so I took lessons there too,” he explains. “As a musician, I had stage chops but wanted to make them better. I thought maybe I’d see if I was funny too. I was funny socially but I didn’t know if I had what it took to be improv comic. As it turns out at that age I did not.
“So I took two courses and Kevin MacDonald and Dave Foley were also taking the workshops. They had known Mike Myers because he was so good in the workshops, Kevin McDonald was raving about him and Dave Foley joked to me that people said he was the young Mike Myers. The joke was that he was the same age as Mike and of course, Mike wasn’t famous outside of the workshops. I was very proud of Mike but thought that was hilarious.”
Paul kept in touch with them and when a girlfriend suggested that he go see her friend Scott Thompson at the Rivoli, he realized that McDonald and Foley were also on the same bill. Same troupe, as it turned out.
“So I would go see the Kids in the Hall during their residency at the Rivoli. My brother became super big at the same time. And both got the attention of the Lorne Michaels machine.”
Five tales in one
As Myers began to research the book, he quickly came to realize that the Kids’ origin story was not one, but rather five. Bruce McCulloch and Mark McKinney cut their comedic chops in Calgary before trekking to Toronto to try their hand(s) there. Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald were doing their thing in Toronto by way of Scarborough. And Scott Thompson, born in North Bay came of age in Brampton.
“I learned a little bit more about the Calgary contingent of the Kids In The Hall,” he explains. “I didn’t realize how much how much happened there, how much Bruce and Mark brought a certain aesthetic with them from Calgary and Dave and Kevin brought their thing from the suburbs.”
“Scott Thompson is like the wild card, the catalyst chemical that made the explosion happen.”
Thompson was the last to join the troupe and it was his ‘wild card’ persona that did the trick. The book tells of the time Thompson came to see the four perform and threw donuts at them the entire evening. It riled some of the Kids but they wisely saw his energy as being the missing part that would make them whole.
As Myers’ book makes clear, Thompson was a wild card in other ways. Sure, he was a closeted gay young man but that wasn’t the main factor. He had been a survivor of a high school shooting in Brampton in 1975 that affected him deeply.
“I didn’t know anything about the high school shooting he lived through. I think that shooting becomes a very important piece of the puzzle and you start to notice casual violence in the comedy.”
But Myers explains that it wasn’t just about Scott Thompson. He thinks of the Kids In The Hall as being “born of a certain post-traumatic PTSD comedy”.
‘Four of the five guys had alcoholic parents and then you have Scott who didn’t come out until he met the Kids in the Hall,’ Myers says. “He’d gone all the way through theatre school without coming out. I also found out he grew up with as one of five brothers who were really jockey and aggressive.”
“He came out to the Kids In The Hall and they didn’t bat an eye. In the Kids in The Hall he had four brothers. It’s what I called the hard-fought brotherhood. They love each other even as they hate each other sometimes and that’s what brothers do.”
The Kids In The Hall series was also of very few cutting edge comedies that had suburbia in its creative DNA. Not only the characters but just the matter-of-fact way that suburban life and indeed Canada was part of the creative wallpaper of the show.
“What made it interesting is that they were unapologetically writing about Canadian life without ever calling it Canadian life,” Myers notes. “The Kids in the Hall didn’t say this is a scene that takes place in Canada but you could see Canadian cops and everything you saw on it was Canadian and that exported pretty well as it turns out.”
But ten years of being Kids and then making the ill-fated movie Brain Candy as well as some personal tragedies made the creative centre of the Kids In The Hall hard to sustain.
“They couldn’t even look at each other,” Myers explains. “They never officially broke up, they just walked away.”
But then time played its hand. Four years of syndication on Comedy Central kept their flame burning so when someone suggested a Just for Laughs reunion gig, they decided to give it shot. After that gig, they looked at each other and realized they wanted to work together again.
Myers is pleased the book has been selling well even if the Kids were a little slow in offering their comments as they hadn’t actually read it.
“Part of the problem is no one wants to read a book about themselves,” Myers laughs. “Scott Thompson finally asked me for a copy after we did two live events for the book.”
But, as Myers notes, he heard indirectly that they liked the book. People around them were starting tell the Kids how much they liked One Dumb Guy. He overheard Bruce McCulloch tell someone at an event that he knew Paul was a great writer and would do a good job because “he knows us really well”.
For his part, Paul Myers is hopeful that his book gives them some more career heat. Already people are musing if another tour is in the offing or even a Netflix or HBO series.
“Bob Odenkirk told me that he wishes they would do something like they did with Mr. Show on Netflix,” says Myers.
Then he laughs and adds, “he said maybe they can play five middle-aged hockey coaches or something like that. And I said to him ‘Bob I think you may have just pitched a great idea for them.’ I think Mark McKinney is even talking about it.
“Nothing would make me happier than if my book sort of serves to put them back into the zeitgeist to make that happen.”
Feature photo from CBC Still Photo Collection via Eastern Ontario Network Television