Sketch troupe gets definitive biographical treatment
THE mysterious title of this book about the legendary Canadian comedy troupe the Kids in the Hall came via member Kevin McDonald, who is quoted thus: “Individually, we’re all smart guys, but collectively, we’re really just one dumb guy.”
Author Paul Myers went with that title presumably because while the five members revolutionized TV sketch comedy with their show, which ran from 1989 to 1995, the journey had more than its share of potentially selfdestructive dumb-guy turns.
Myers, the brother of another Canadian comic legend Mike Myers, has some experience of writing what amounts to a quintuple biography via his book Barenaked Ladies: Public Stunts, Private Stories. But more importantly, he understands the nittygritty of comedy performance, from the risky business of improvisation to the niggling attention to detail attendant to the production of a broadcast TV comedy series.
Myers also understands the Canadian dynamics at play in the Kids’ success story, which flowered simultaneously in Alberta (where Mark McKinney and Bruce McCulloch met and bonded doing improve at Calgary’s Loose Moose Theatre) and Toronto, where McDonald first clicked with Dave Foley at Second City. Scott Thompson was still a student at York University when he went to check out the guys at the Poor Alex Theatre, and instantly knew his destiny was tied to theirs.
Based on extensive interviews with the Kids and the influencers in their orbit — including Mike Myers and Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels — as well as outright fans (Samantha Bee, Judd Apatow and Seth Meyers, who wrote the introduction), the book could serve as a textbook for comedy fans wanting to understand the serious business of inducing laughs.
But the book also scores as a surprisingly resonant glimpse into the personal lives of these vastly different personalities, tied together — with the possible exception of McKinney — by family dysfunction. (Foley, McDonald and McCulloch each had fathers with serious alcohol issues.)
On occasion, the troupe itself suffered its own dysfunctional dynamics, especially surrounding the making of their sole movie, 1996’s Brain Candy. When they returned to the CBC airwaves for the 2010 miniseries Death Comes to Town, they bonded as never before, largely in response to a medical crisis that afflicted Thompson, who was in treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The Kids in the Hall will doubtless The Kids in the Hall: One Dumb Guy
By Paul Myers
Anansi Press, 344 pages, $23
be remembered for the cuttingedge comedy they created against oftfractious personal relationships. How delightful it is that they wrote their own happy ending to that history.
Not dumb at all, actually.