Here’s a tip for young artists: when naming your group, think long-term. You don’t want to be stuck with a mocking moniker decades later. Yes, it’s true that if you reach a certain level of success, the name becomes meaningless: even in their dotage, the Beach Boys still represent youthful abandon, and the Kids in the Hall, all now in their mid 40s, will always signify cutting-edge sketch comedy. But couple a shortsighted name with a hit TV show that airs endlessly in reruns, and it makes for some confused new fans.
“Every so often we go someplace and they go, ”˜We thought you were young guys.’ And I go, ”˜We were,’ ” says 47-year-old Bruce McCulloch, who’s been a Kid since 1984. That was when he and Mark McKinney, who’d both moved to Toronto from Calgary, teamed up with Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald, and a year before Scott Thompson joined the troupe. After their six-year run on television ended in the mid ’90s, they all went off to do separate projects, with varying degrees of success. But no matter what they do—or how old they get—they’ll forever be Kids.
“The name was cruel upon its creation,” McCulloch says, on the phone from his home in Los Angeles. “It seemed sardonic or surreal. I don’t know if it’s just a joke now. We don’t even know what the name is anymore. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything anymore.”
Luckily for them, beyond a few pounds and grey hairs, they’ve held up remarkably well. There’s not a fat, bald guy in the bunch.
“We kind of look over at each other and go, ”˜Hey, you could lose weight.’ ”˜No, you could lose weight!’ ” he says. “But essentially I feel we’re the same guys as we’ve always been. But maybe that’s what everybody who gets old says. We don’t feel old.”
The lads will always have a connection, which is why they’re able to put aside any past differences and get out on the road every few years. The group’s Live As We’ll Ever Be tour comes to the Red Robinson Show Theatre in Coquitlam on Friday (May 16).
“I know in a way things get harder and more complicated as you get older,” McCulloch says, “but I think we’ve gone through a little phase and now it’s kind of simpler for us. And I don’t know why that is. Just because, oh, we don’t have any ego about anybody else, or our infighting of 20 years ago seems kind of superfluous now, and it’s pretty good to look across at each other, who we’ve known for so long, and to fucking make each other laugh. So it’s kind of simple for us right now.”
McCulloch says he guards against the creeping conservatism that often afflicts those over 40. His sense of humour, though, hasn’t changed significantly, except maybe in the details.
“Everybody goes, ”˜What kind of material are the Kids in the Hall doing now?’ ” he says. “Well, it’s what we find funny. And it’s not that different.”¦I have two small children, so our opening sketch is about a couple coming over to meet a baby and on instinct they hate it. And 10 years ago it would be about me breaking up with my girlfriend. So that’s different, but what makes us laugh in terms of darkness or deadpan or whatever it is we do—surrealism—it’s exactly the same.”
Known in the troupe as Work Pig, McCulloch was the impetus for this latest reunion. A few years ago, his interest in sketch comedy resurfaced, so he put out a challenge to his former castmates: “ ”˜Hey, let’s try just writing some new material and do it in a really small way like we used to do many, many years ago. Write it fast and put it up fast and see what it feels like,’ ” he recalls. “And we did that. We did it in a little tiny secret theatre here [in Los Angeles]. And it was really good. We had fun writing together and the stuff was pretty good.”
They could easily take the lazy route and perform their greatest hits. Their devout followers would still flock to see the Chicken Lady, Buddy Cole, Gavin, or Simon and Hecubus up to their old shenanigans. But where’s the challenge in that?
“We’ve always been cognizant that we don’t want to be the Beach Boys, playing the same songs that have no meaning to people that don’t really know us,” he says.
But fret not, fans. Your favourite characters will still be making appearances. It’s not all new material, it turns out.
“That’s kind of a lie, which we can tell the Georgia Straight,” he admits. “We would never tell the New York Times it was a lie. It’s, like, 85 percent new. There were a couple of things we wanted to put in for various balance and tone and political reasons, but it’s essentially all new material.”
“In a couple instances we’ve taken, like, the Secretaries and written an entirely new scene for them,” McCulloch explains. “Or we have a Gavin [sketch] and we’ve taken a premise we kind of liked and totally reworked it. So those are both kind of legally new, or arguably new. But mostly it’s just brand-new stuff.”