Shaped by the profoundly dysfunctional world he grew up in, Bruce McCulloch realizes things could very well have ended badly for him.
“I always had this weird world-view that didn’t go anywhere, and I ended up lucky to have a channel for it,” the iconic Kids in the Hall cast member says, on the line from a hotel in his former hometown of Calgary. “I could easily have been an angry guy working in a warehouse right now who’s the funniest guy there.”
Perhaps because of that world-view, friends were hard to come by during his formative years.
“There was only enough guys to fill a car, ever, in my world,” McCulloch reveals. “There were no girls—it was just sort of punk and drinking and fighting and being antisocietal and trying to be funny in weird ways.”
Looking back, he’s perfectly at peace with all that, mostly because it warped him into the person he is today.
The comedy renegade—famous for Kids characters such as the Flying Pig and Cabbage Head—notes that he’s done a lot of reflecting on his adolescence, and not just for his new touring show, Young Drunk Punk. As a father now raising two kids, he finds himself thinking back to a time marked by a broken home in a world that wasn’t exactly Leave It to Beaver. He wasn’t alone, as the neighbourhood he was raised in was seemingly overrun by lost kids and two kinds of parents: drunk happy ones and drunk mean ones.
“It is terrible,” McCulloch says wryly of his past. “My wife and I always discuss this, because we both came from fairly broken homes, and yet our kids are really happy. My kids are the age that I was when my mom left and the shit hit the fan, even though the shit was already on the fan well before it hit the fan. That made me the weird, complicated dude that I am, that sees the world in this weird way. So I’m happy that it formed me.”
One of the biggest benefits is that he has no shortage of comedic material to draw on, as is proven by Young Drunk Punk, which mixes storytelling, standup, and live music courtesy of Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet guitarist Brian Connelly. Unflinchingly autobiographical in nature, the work grew out of essays McCulloch penned for a Calgary paper. The pieces were partly about raising two young kids as a pyjama-wearing dad who lives in Hollywood, but mostly concerned with growing up a rebel in Cowtown, a city that, as he writes, “was not the forward-leaning city we see before us. Years ago, if you wore a pink T-shirt, you were ‘gay’. You were ‘gay’ if you didn’t have dirt on your face. Or kept change in your wallet. Or used words with more than two syllables.”
“I was writing pieces for the Calgary Herald, and they were stories about my weird family, and my pretty wife, and about living in the Hollywood Hills in my pyjamas,” McCulloch explains. “They were sort of real, and sort of not, like about how my six-year-old son wants to be a sommelier. They started to gain momentum for me, so I sort of thought, ‘I’m going to do a show and I’m going to do a book’—it was all amorphous. Then an offer came to do SketchFest in Toronto last year.”
That gave McCulloch the push he needed to get serious about what would become Young Drunk Punk.
“I started writing out material,” he says. “The Young part is half of it. Being kind of an old guy having had a crappy family, and now having a slightly better one, is the other half of it.”
As good as things are now—McCulloch not only continues to act, but also has projects in development, including a Fox pilot with SNL alum Molly Shannon—his misspent youth sounds like something out of, well, a Kids in the Hall skit.
“I’d see every rock show that would ever come through,” he remembers. “I was the loser who would actually have his hand on the door of the Calgary Corral at noon, so when they opened the doors and you were going to see Nazareth, you’d run to the front of the stage and people would think you were crazy, me and my one friend.”
A lot of people from bad places end up masking the pain with the kind of self-destructive behaviour that leads to either death or rehab. The 52-year-old eventually found solace in comedy, but that wasn’t all that saved him.
“I was poised to go down that road, but I had a couple of things that were lucky,” he says. “First was rock music, which was an outlet for my anger in a way. I would crank Blue Öyster Cult as loud as the stereo would go. I also found athleticism—I was a marathon runner and a competitive weight lifter. Still, when I was 20, 21, I was as lost as anyone could be, framing houses in Canmore, Alberta, with a cruel German. It was like, ‘What the fuck is going to happen to me?’ But I found comedy, and it really was like I found my own religion. It was like someone realizing that they were gay, except that I realized that I was comedy.”
Young Drunk Punk, then, confirms the age-old idea that what doesn’t destroy you only makes you stronger. And, in the case of this former Young Drunk Punk, funnier.
“The great thing is that I do feel like I’ve transformed myself from an angry little asshole that had been the product of my family to a fairly good guy,” McCulloch says with a self-deprecating laugh. “It took until my 40s until I started caring about the world more than I did myself. Of course, being a punk is all ‘Ugh—look at me, I’m not like you. I don’t need your approval—and, yes, I do.’ So I marvel at the young Bruce McCulloch. But, wow, I can’t believe that he didn’t get killed.”