Published on May 18th, 2011 | by jlschlarmann0
The Kids In The Hall: Irreverence, Unconventiality, and a Skirt or Two
THE KIDS IN THE HALL: THE COMPLETE SERIES MEGASET is available May 24th. The package presents the Kids’ nearly 800 sketches from every single episode of each season in this stunning 22-disc set with 50% less packaging, but 100% of the laughs!
Together they are The Kids in The Hall, a sketch comedy group that has had five seasons on television, a feature length movie and, most recently, a long form sketch “mini-series.” All of which mixed scathing satire with absolute absurdity to bring their audiences a brand of sketch comedy rooted in the classics, but uniquely their own.
The Humble Beginnings
The Kids found each other in the late 1980s in Toronto, Canada. They formed their sketch group and started putting on productions anywhere that had a stage and some lights. It was in these early shows that their decision to dress in drag came about.
They’d had females in the group, but they never could manage to keep them around for more than a show or two. Donning a red sweater became the easiest way for one of the five young men to portray a woman; and,kept the opportunities to write female characters open. It became one of their trademarks but dressing in drag was never about getting laughs simply because one of them was trying to resemble a woman. Drag for The Kids in The Hall is all about fully realized characters, regardless of gender.
An Icon’s Discovery
Soon the group was attracting some attention in and around Toronto. Their audience was growing, and their skill for writing characters that were strange and still full three-dimensional was growing right along with it. Hearing the buzz in New York, comedy mogul Lorne Michael’s traveled to his homeland to scout the Kids.
Though what he saw was still rough around the edges, Michaels was still determined to use these young comedic talents as best he could. He sent them to New York, to write and perform sketch comedy, under the more harsh and intense glow of the Big Apple.
After about a year or so, Michaels started shopping the group around for a half-hour comedy show. The show would be produced in Canada by the CBC and in the United States it would air on HBO.
Crushing Heads and Busting Guts
From its debut in 1989 their show was intensely their own. They made no qualms about being the new-comers on the scene, and attacked their craft with that same hunger. Characters like ‘The Headcrusher” and “Kathy and Cathy” were born. Unafraid to tackle any topic, they joked about sex, religion, politics and business with wit and incendiary humor.
The Kids in the Hall seemed bound and determined to produce the show their way. Now with a real budget to work with, the time spent in drag truly transformed each man into a believable woman. Dave Foley and Scott Thompson were so good at becoming a woman in fact, that many of their fans found them to be truly “beautiful” as females.
With each successive season, more and more signature characters were introduced. “The Chicken Lady,” the annoying small boy played by Bruce known as “Gavin” and Scott Thompson’s campy homosexual savant “Buddy Cole” all started showing up. Because they were on a subscription channel like HBO, The Kids were able to maintain their edge while not quite fully breaking through into the consciousness of mainstream America.
Their show was produced with a mix of live performances and pre-taped bits. As the show progressed the pre-taped bits became longer and better. Bits like “30 Helens Agree” were shelved for longer, more scripted and fully shot pieces like a character trying to start his car, only to find a small child had been in the engine the whole time.
CBS Kills The Buzz and Brain Candy Isn’t Quite Sweet Enough
After four and a half seasons on HBO, the show moved to CBS. Now unable to be nearly as edgy, the tone of the show shifted just enough to where it just didn’t quite have the same feeling. When “The Kids in the Hall” aired its final episode in 1994 an era seemed to come to a close.
Foley went on to star in the critically acclaimed comedy “News Radio” with another sketch comedy icon Phil Hartman. The rest of the Kids took other gigs. Kevin and Bruce started writing and directing more, and Mark actually showed up on a season or two of Saturday Night Live. Scott took a role on the massive HBO hit series “The Larry Sanders Show” as Hank “Hey Now” Kingsley’s assistant Brian.
In 1996 the gang reunited to produce their feature film “Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy.” A brilliant commentary on the big pharmaceutical industry, the film carried virtually no recognizable character over from their TV series. The film is also notable for the very first time Lorne Michaels’ trademark vocal inflection and general attitude was used as the basis for a bad guy.
For whatever reason, the movie wasn’t a commercial success, and the Kids split back up again. Many thought they’d seen the last of the five Canadian comedians. together. In 2000 though, they came back together for a live comedy tour, bringing all their biggest characters along for the ride.
For fans of the TV show that didn’t live in Toronto or New York during their rise to stardom, the live tour gave an opportunity to see the group at perhaps their strongest. Performing live sketch comedy is no easy task, and what The Kids in the Hall always bring to a performance is an indefinable quality that simply has to be seen to be fully appreciated. DVDs of the tours are available on Amazon.
Death Comes and Brings Them Back to TV
In 2010 The Kids in the Hall produced a new TV series for the first time in over 15 years. “Death Comes to Town” tells the story of a small town in Canada that happens to have the Grim Reaper living in it. The show aired on IFC and is now available on DVD.
Eschewing the live element completely, “Death Comes to Town” feels like more episodically driven sketch comedy like the UK’s League of Gentlemen. The five men all still play a variety of characters and still need to slip into drag to play a few of them, but they each have a more refined set of acting skills that are put into play, giving this show even more depth.
The only drawback to the show is that only whets the appetite for more from them. TV is far better off with some form of The Kids in The Hall being on. Sketch comedy is a dying medium, and what these men brought to the table made them part of what is really the Holy Trinity of sketch comedy (Monty Python, Saturday Night Live, and The Kids in the Hall).
There have been a few other great sketch series, but none could quite reach the artistic and comedic high points that these Kids in The Hall did.