First off, they were all the “cute ones.” Dave Foley, Mark McKinney, Bruce McCulloch, Scott Thompson and even goofball Kevin McDonald were absolutely adorable. Secondly, they were deadly hilarious and adventurous. When you combine boundless hilarity with youthful energy and good looks, you’re bound to strike gold, and that’s exactly what the The Kids in the Hall mined; pure fun, laugh-until-your-body-aches comedy gold. They also opened doors that almost a decade of Saturday Night Live couldn’t. It wasn’t long after KITH debuted when various half-hour sketch-comedy shows started cropping up - Almost Live, The State, Upright Citizens Brigade, Mr. Show, etc. Yes sir, KITH was a breath of fresh air that closed out a stale decade of “that’s the ticket!” and ill-suited stand-up comedians wearing out their welcome in front of brick walls.
After doing time in various comedy troupes across their native Canada, the Kids as we know them formed and solidified in 1985. A short hiatus occurred not long after when McKinney and McCulloch joined the writers ranks at SNL, a chance opportunity that attracted the eyes and ears of make-’em-or-break-’em producer Lorne Michaels. After seeing the Kids perform as a unit, Michaels made a wise choice by giving them their own television show. They had a few spots on Canadian television in 1988, and in 1989 they debuted in America on HBO.
I remember that night well. I was 10 or 11, and at the time I fancied myself a junior Henny Youngman. I was a little jokester; quick with wit and corny with the quips. If anything on TV seemed to have a drip of humor, I was going to tune in. I had seen the promos for KITH all week, and the young fresh faces combined with the show’s trademark surf music by Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet showed great promise. It was a Saturday night, and Saturdaynights on HBO meant Premiere Night. First up was the premiere of the chuckle-a-minute film Real Men, starring Jim Belushi and John Ritter. It was pretty good; it’s humor really did aim for the 10-year-old set. The Kids in the Hall were up next.
The cold opening set the stage. Pug-nosed McCulloch grabs some juice from the fridge and hears some clattering outside his upstairs-apartment window. When he looks down he sees the rest of the Kids dressed as yacht captains and Thurston Howell III, scavenging through dumpsters. McCulloch yells “Hey you millionaires! Get out of the garbage!” They look up and scatter like rats. Cue the credits. As surf-trio Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet’s “Having an Average Weekend” played over Super-8mm footage of the cast goofin’ off and otherwise being adorable, I was already sold. By the time McKinney’s trademark character Mr. Tyzik showed up, hidden behind hedges in front of business plazas, constantly crushing heads with his thumb and index finger, I had sacrificed my Robin Williams, Heywood Banks, Paul Rodriguez and Franklin Ajaye bits for these new Young Gods of Comedy.
The Kids brand of humor was entirely their own. Sure, there were glaring influences. They often performed in drag, one of the mainstays of Monty Python’s territory. However, the Kid’s take on it was was far more convincing. Whereas the Python lads had an air of “Ha, aren’t we clever, ‘aving a laff dressed as old birds, nudge nudge, wink wink,” the Kid’s take on drag was almost too convincing. Especially Foley. They had female actors occasionally, but they never relied on them. They weren’t afraid to play female characters both young and old, and unlike Monty Python, they played it straight.
Speaking of straight, one cast member is not. Scott Thompson, who basked as one of the show’s most infamous staples, the gay socialite gossip-monger Buddy Cole. KITH often had monologue sketches from all the cast, but none were as magical as Thompson’s as Cole. Cole was often seated in “Buddy’s,” the gay bar he owned. Sipping a cocktail, dressed in a smoking jacket, hair neatly coiffed, Buddy would go off on rants about everything from his love life to the happenings in the gay community to what celebrity was secretly (but not so secretly) closeted. Throughout the show’s run, Cole left the bar frequently and showed up in extended sketches. Few can forget the sketch when Cole coaches a lesbian softball team. Once you’ve seen Cole run all the bases with sparklers and gymnastic techniques, you’ll never forget it.
Other favorite characters are Cabbage Head (McCulloch); a misogynistic, drunken lout with a cabbage for a head who unsuccessfully attempts to get women to sleep with him (“I’M THE KING OF THE MERCY FUCK!”), Mississippi Gary (McKinney in blackface); the often incoherent bluesman who rambled on and on about his bad luck with women, mostly “Kathy with a K,” Simon and his man-servant Hecubus (McDonald and Foley); the pathetic horror-movie hosts who are unconvincingly “evil”, and Gavin (McCulloch); the wide-eyed child who talks too much about nothing and annoys everyone around him. The one character that was always too much for me was the Chicken Lady (McKinney). If you’re familiar with the show, you know exactly what I mean. If you haven’t seen it, I don’t want to spoil it. You won’t eat eggs for a while.
KITH lasted over six years and a few different networks. Their last home was on CBS, and network TV might have neutered them a bit too much. There’s been one movie (the awesome Brain Candy), a few reunion tours, and a short return to TV with the courageous Death Comes to Town. The cast has found success working in a wide variety of television and movies, but nothing holds a candle to the chemistry they had working together. If you’ve never seen the KITH, or haven’t checked it out in while, there’s still a lot of fun and joy to have with what seems like old friends. It’s a Fact!