The Chicken Lady … Buddy Cole … “Daves That I Know” … “Thirty Helens Agree” … “Love and Sausages”. These are some of the best-known characters, sketches and songs that are mostly associated with the legendary Canadian sketch comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall.
The Kids – Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson – made their mark in the world of comedy by first creating a cult following in the Queen Street West entertainment scene in Toronto during the early and mid-80s, and then through their weekly sketch comedy TV series, which ran on the CBC, HBO and CBS from 1989 to 1995.
For Toronto-based writer John Semley, his fascination with the Kids in the Hall didn’t start when their show was first aired on the CBC. “I came to the Kids on a second-hand basis, when reruns of their show ran on the Comedy Network constantly. I would get home from school and constantly watch their show,” he said. “And the more I watched them, I kept getting more out of it, especially their anarchistic, satirical and cynical sense of humour. I always thought they held the keys to society, for which they had nothing but contempt for, and whoever and whatever they targeted with their comedy was always on point.”
As Semley developed his career as a journalist, he made the Kids in the Hall one subject that he wrote about on a semi-regular basis, which culminated in an oral history of the group that he wrote and was published in an issue of the Toronto alternative weekly “Now Magazine” before the group embarked on a series of live stage shows in 2013, which ended up being one of the most-read stories for the publication that year.
Semley expanded upon this article to produce a book that offers the first – and definitive – history of the Kids in the Hall and what and why they have become such a widely influential part of contemporary comedy, which is called, quite succinctly, This is A Book About the Kids in the Hall. The book was launched in Montreal this past Thursday (September 22), with Semley and comic David Heti, at the Drawn and Quarterly bookstore in Outremont.
The book thoroughly examines every aspect of the Kids in the Hall’s incredible career and legacy in comedy, from their separate origins in Toronto and Calgary, to the origins of some of their most popular characters and sketches (and even their catchy theme song and use of black & white filmed segments that were used to bridge each sketch), to the backstage battles and conflicts that would have permanently broken up any mortal comedy troupe, to their resurrection and attainment of their cult status thanks to their live stage show tours during the 2000s.
What I found interesting about the story of the Kids in the Hall was how there were many parallels to Monty Python, the legendary British comedy group whom the Kids greatly admired, but whom were somewhat adamant they didn’t want to be compared to.
“Although the Kids liked Python a lot and felt they were influenced by them, they never wanted to think that there totally influenced by the Monty Python formula,” he said. “However, one of the major differences between the two was the structure of their sketches. The Kids were conscious of the fact that a sketch had to have a beginning, middle and end, and Python’s sketches were more surreal in nature and sometimes would be interrupted right in the middle of a sketch and go into the next one.”
Semley admits that he finds it a difficult task for him to single out a certain Kids in the Hall sketch or routine as his all-time favorite (he recently had the envious task of choosing a selection of sketches for a video compilation that played at the book’s official launch in Toronto); however, he did manage to choose a first season sketch that he believes is one of the Kids’ all-time classics.
“It’s the one that involves Kevin McDonald visiting a hotel where all the guests have different types of serious wounds, because they were all viciously attacked by ‘Skura’, a shark that lurks around the hotel,” he said. “I like it because it is so silly and goofy because of its surreal premise, of a shark that attacks these people, yet they just can’t hate that shark.”
Semley believes that the Kids in the Hall’s legacy and influence as comedy cult figures will endure thanks to reruns of their TV show, plus their semi-regular live show tours, which he is convinced is their ideal medium and the glue that keeps the five bound together more than 20 years after their TV show went of the air. “They have been a major influence with such sketch comedy groups as Picnicface and Key & Peele because the Kids in the Hall made sketch comedy an alternative and hip type of comedy, and proved that it’s a cool thing to be into comedy,” he said. “They’re like the grunge version of comedy troupes, where they can be relevant, but they’re still not above wearing campy wigs and dresses.”
This is A Book About the Kids in the Hall is a book that fans of the troupe, whether you watched their TV show, caught one of their stage shows – and yes, even saw “Brain Candy” – will find as the authoritative story of how five diverse Canadian comedians joined forces to set the gold standard of what modern sketch comedy should be like.
(ECW Press, $19.95)
By Stuart Nulman – mtltimes.ca