Nearly 30 Years Later, The Kids in the Hall Are Ready to Offend You Again

Scott Thompson, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, and Dave Foley talk about The Kids in the Hall's comeback, comedy in the PC era, and feeling "dangerous again."

The cast of Kids in the Hall in a grave

Image via Publicist

The cast of Kids in the Hall in a grave

Almost everything about The Kids in the Hall feels like a miracle. It’s a miracle that a defiantly weird sketch comedy troupe from various small towns across Canada could land a prime-time series under the aegis of HBO and Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels. It’s a miracle that the series in question could smuggle some of the darkest, edgiest humour imaginable not only onto network television, but onto the state-sponsored airwaves of the CBC. And it’s a miracle that more than 30 years after the show’s 1989 debut, The Kids in the Hall could have long ago been assured immortality as one of the most beloved and acclaimed shows in Canadian comedy history. These guys didn’t just beat the odds. They obliterated them.

Since its original 100-episode run concluded in 1995, The Kids in the Hall has only grown in esteem, especially among nostalgic millennials who had their entire sense of humour shaped by watching the series growing up. So it feels only right that the show should be making a comeback in 2022—after all this time, the world is very much ready for more of the Kids. As the all-new Kids in the Hall reboot is set to launch around the world on Prime Video this Friday, Complex Canada caught up with cast members Scott Thompson, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, and Dave Foley—all except Kevin McDonald, who was at home under the weather—to talk about the legendary series, the evolution of comedy, and Michael Cunningham’s novel The Hours, which this reporter happened to be carrying as the interview began. 

Scott Thompson: Oh, you’re reading The Hours?

Bruce McCulloch: Is that sort of about Virginia Woolf?

Thompson: It’s the one where she kills herself. You know, Nicole Kidman with the nose? She dies very beautifully, right?

Mark McKinney: But it’s one of those things where it feels inevitable, right, so you’re not that surprised when it ends with a suicide?

It actually opens with the suicide.
Oh great! So does our show!

Dave Foley: Yes. Kevin takes his life. 

Thompson: That’s why he’s not here. He said if I kill myself for real for the show it will be very successful.

McKinney: And he was wrong.

The Kids in the Hall standing onstage dancing

I’m sure I’m not the only person to tell you this, but the original show was very important to me growing up.
Thompson: Where did you grow up?

Belleville, Ontario.
Oh, of course. [Laughs.] That makes a lot of sense.

Foley: Ah, Belleville, that would do it.

I feel like, at that time, the show was the first thing I’d ever seen that made being gay seem not just acceptable but cool.
McCulloch: I think one of the most gratifying things about making the show for us was when gay kids, or trans kids, would tell us they felt seen by it.

McKinney: Yeah, because it wasn’t just like, I accept you! 

Foley: We were men in drag kissing each other.

Cathy and Kathy contemplating the inexplicable survival of the fax.

— Scott Thompson (@ScottThompson_) May 5, 2022

There was something about it that almost seemed dangerous to me as a kid.
Thompson: Well it was dangerous! And I think now it is again. We’re dangerous again. Everything changes and there’s always something to push against. In the time that we’ve left sketch comedy there’s a different wall to push against. That’s exciting. I think it’s interesting at this stage of our life that we still feel dangerous.

McKinney: I don’t know if I feel dangerous right now, but back in the day, it was like, of course we came out a club. It wasn’t manufactured. We found each other before anyone in the business was remotely interested in us.

Foley: We developed our style in isolation.

McKinney: Isolated from an audience that hasn’t shown up yet. 

“In the time that we’ve left sketch comedy there’s a different wall to push against. That’s exciting. I think it’s interesting at this stage of our life that we still feel dangerous.”

How much of that dangerousness did you have to fight for?
Thompson: Everything was fought for.

Foley: I don’t know… We did have Lorne Michaels behind us. We had the head of the CBC and Lorne Michaels in our corner. You gotta remember, when we were on the air, it was when Thirtysomething, the number one show in America, lost all of its sponsors because they showed two men lying in bed together. They didn’t even touch.

McKinney: That’s disgusting.

Foley: And while that was happening, we were showing a lot more than just two men touching.

You make some jokes at Amazon’s expense in the new series, as you used to about the CBC, like with the segment “Screw You Taxpayer”—you mock the institutions that you’re using.
McKinney: Yeah, we’re using them.

At the same time, they approved the jokes, right?
Thompson: Well they approved that. There was lots they didn’t approve. 

McKinney: You know, HBO didn’t want “Screw You Taxpayer,” because they didn’t think American audiences would get it. They don’t have state subsidized TV. That was one of the larger censorship fights that we had.

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I have a group chat with some friends who live in New York, and I texted them before this and asked if they knew of The Kids in the Hall.
McCulloch: And they hadn’t, right, your friends?

No they said they had. My friend actually said if you’re into alt culture you would have been into it.
Foley: I actually think at one point we had a bigger audience in the States. Obviously it’s a bigger country. 

McKinney: We didn’t know this at the time but when we came back together to go on tour, we didn’t take into account that we were on Comedy Central three times a day, so suddenly we had this huge audience.

“We were never afraid to let our characters be reprehensible. Human beings make mistakes all the time. That’s what makes them funny.” 

What about now? Is your sense that you have a lot of fans today who grew up watching you then?
McKinney: I think Bruce should answer this question. He’s been quiet.

McCulloch: I just love doing interviews.

I’m sorry.
McCulloch: No it’s OK. I think the sweetest thing is when someone says to us, “My dad and I couldn’t talk to one another, but we watched your show.” I think there’s something in the mission of having people communicate with each other when they otherwise can’t. If you’re a queer kid, or a weirdo who doesn’t trust corporations, you will like our show.

McKinney: Even though our show is now on the biggest corporation in the world, there is a strong anti-commodification element built in.

McCulloch: You know they have their own rockets now? 

Foley: Kevin is on the rocket.

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A sketch that always left a deep impression on me was the one with the birthday ritual of watching your dad get drunk.
Thompson: That was Bruce’s sketch. 

McCulloch: It’s all our childhoods. Watching your dad drink. Actually, Scott, your dad didn’t drink right?

Thompson: No, he beat me sober. He didn’t need to get drunk to beat me. He didn’t need an excuse!

That’s the kind of thing I’d never seen on television. It’s not a taboo for its own sake, but you’re doing something more with it.
Thompson: They’re not just social taboos. They’re taboos that are personal for us. And we discovered with this new show that there are new taboos that need to be crushed.

A sketch from 'The Kids in the Hall'

What kind of things are you broaching now?
McCulloch: Well times have changed. The power of words has changed. The power of subgroups have changed. There’s a movement toward kindness in the world, which I do like. But there’s also a movement toward correctness that we try to ignore, and we try to do stuff that’s important and funny.

Where’s the line for you in offending people without, say, deliberately hurting people?
Thompson: Well, people are going to be hurt. We don’t mind that.

McKinney: You know what it is, you can measure this in volume of laughter. Anyone can be made to laugh at themselves, if you’re an incredibly skilled comedian. You can have dialogues that a lesser comedian cannot have. For me there is a rule: You can never go at a subject directly, because that’s like talking from a platform. 

Foley: We’ve always filtered our political views through character and story. But our comedy was never mean to anybody. It was built on empathy.

McKinney: Bob Odenkirk said the other day that the reason The Kids in the Hall worked is that… wait, no, I shouldn’t be quoting another comic about ourselves. I come off very good in this story. But what we’re doing is very different than just getting up and saying something into a mic.

Thompson: We don’t want it to seem like a lecture. You can always tell when someone’s got an agenda and it’s too close to the surface. We weren’t cruel, but some of the stuff we did could be close to cruel—if the characters were cruel, we let them be. There is, I think, a sense today that if you portray a reprehensible character, you endorse them. We were never afraid to let our characters be reprehensible. Human beings make mistakes all the time. That’s what makes them funny. 

Foley: We write ideas because they make us laugh.

Thompson: We don’t worry too much about whether it’s wrong. If it makes us laugh, it can’t be wrong.

McKinney: It is art, after all. We’re not running for office. Comedy is art; art is art. It should never be judged as a thing meant to have a direct effect on the world.

Thompson: We’re not activists. If our art makes the world better, wonderful. But it should never be a direct attempt.

Foley: The primary goal is to make each other laugh. Like we’re doing now. This is the process. 

You’ve had decades to think about this. How much of this material is stuff you had already been thinking about?
McKinney: A lot of it came from touring, actually. We stopped performing our old skits at some point and started writing new material. 

Thompson: We wrote a lot of stuff. A lot more than we used.

Really? What percentage of the material you wrote made the cut?
Foley: Actually zero percent. There’s no material. There’s an opening credits sequence and then an end credits sequence. 

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