Kids in the Hall, the quirky, often surrealistic sketch comedy troupe, is considered Canadian royalty. Even Canadians who have never watched their classic eponymous TV show are at least aware of them.
In America, the quintet — which includes Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, Kevin McDonald and Scott Thompson — isn’t quite so famous, but they have a sizable hardcore base of fans that can fill 3,000-seat theaters whenever they reunite. And Amazon last year brought them back to do their first “Kids in the Hall” TV series in a quarter century.
But they also embark on solo work. McDonald, for instance, travels the country doing shows at various improv and sketch comedy theaters. He comes to Atlanta this weekend to hang out at Dad’s Garage, teach a few workshops and do four shows Friday and Saturday. (UPDATE: His flight out of Winnipeg was canceled due to bad weather and Dad’s Garage had to postpone all the shows.)
In fact, McDonald has been to Dad’s multiple times over the years since 2010, when Canadian Kevin Gillese took over as executive director of the theater. Gillese has brought four out of the five Kids in the Hall to the theater over the years, with McCulloch the only holdout.
“Kids in the Hall are true trailblazers in the sketch comedy world,” Gillese said. “It’s always an honor to have members pop in on our shows.”
McDonald, 61, in an interview Tuesday from his home in Winnipeg, said two of his Atlanta shows will feature a rock opera he has done a few times based on something that happened to him three decades ago. What makes it extra amusing, he says, is “I’m not a musician. I have the lead singer role but I can’t sing. I have weird rhythm.” Several Dad’s Garage cast members will join him.
“It will be structured like a radio play with everyone reading from scripts,” he said. “I can’t expect everyone to memorize all the lyrics. That would be too hard for them.”
He will also do two improv shows with the Dad’s Garage cast.
As for the workshops, McDonald said he’s not a natural teacher. “I try to give them good information, good advice from my 112 years of sketch comedy, but I always say what works for me may not work for them,” he said.
He said the Kids in the Hall remain close friends who have all mellowed with age. The only time they were truly broken up was after “Kids in the Hall” concluded in 1995 and Foley left to do “NewsRadio.”
“We’ve all gone through our own different life experiences,” McDonald said,” yet the chemistry remains the same. I remember the first time I met Dave Foley when I was 20 and he was 18 at a Second City workshop. It was like falling in love. We knew we had chemistry by the end of the class. I asked him to join my troupe.”
At one point, he said, Kids in the Hall had up to 12 members including a couple of women. But over time, it got pared down until the core group of five remained. “We were the leftover losers,” he joked. “We may not have been the five best sketch comics but we had that chemistry.”
And while they may inevitably disagree on what works and what doesn’t, he said the tenor has shifted. “If I think something is funny but Mark (McKinney) doesn’t think it’s funny, I’ll say that maybe I missed something so let’s work on it. When we were 22, the conversation would be more like ‘(Expletive) you!’ ‘No, (expletive) you!’ Scott (Thompson) though can still be the most emotional.”
McDonald said, as a child of an alcoholic parent, “the slightest criticism used to just kill me. Kids in the Hall made me toughen up in a big way. It’s just an opinion. And now that I’m closer to the end of life than the beginning, it takes more for me to get upset than someone saying they don’t like a sketch.”
Not that he isn’t entirely immune to creative disappointment. He said he’s still bummed about a sketch for the recent Amazon series based on a real-life story of a mailman getting angry at him for a malfunctioning front gate. It worked on paper, he said, but didn’t click once they acted it out. “It was that thin line between square versus funny,” he said. “When I was younger, I would have spent a year obsessing about it and how I gave in to the other guys to avoid a fight. Better to hurt a sketch than fight.”
He said Kids in the Hall will likely get back together yet again for a tour down the road. The reunion shows, he said, do consistently well in almost every major city they visit except Montreal in his home country. He isn’t sure why.
IF YOU GO
Kevin McDonald, 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24 and Saturday, Feb. 25. $24.50-$34.50, Dad’s Garage, 569 Ezzard St. SE, Atlanta, dadsgarage.com.
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