The new two-part documentary about Canadian sketch troupe the Kids in the Hall is titled Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks, and that’s a perfectly appropriate description. It’s not that the Kids were decked out in plaid and safety pins (although we’d all like to see that), but rather that their ethos, and in fact their path to infamy, notoriety and ultimately glory, was undeniably “punk.”
First of all, the Kids in the Hall, from the very beginning, didn’t care about what was expected of them from the outside. They clearly had their influences, but they weren’t bound by traditional comedic norms. Like Python, they broke new ground with every performance, every episode of their celebrated series.
Of course, the fact that they were gleefully un-mainstream meant that they were destined to be cult heroes. But that breeds longevity, and legend. Continuing the punk analogy, the show became a word-of-mouth favorite with hip young things in the ‘90s, passed around like a wonderfully dirty little secret and gaining traction all the time, like a Sonic Youth or Pixies album. Being a KITH fan in the ‘90s was like being part of a secret society, and that felt awesome.
And here’s the thing: like the Pixies, or the Stooges, or Bikini Kill, the Kids went away and have come back, but their absence only made the heart grow fonder. Their legend has flourished in the shadows, and the announcement that there was going to be a documentary and a new season of their sketch show on Amazon Prime was met with enthusiastic cheers. The Kids, as Twisted Sister once said, are back.
“None of us are dead yet,” Dave Foley says. “That was imperative. We insisted that none of us be dead. I guess it started because we’re a base 10 culture – we love groupings of tens. In 2019, it was the 30th anniversary of the show going on the air. The thought was that it would be nice to do something to commemorate 30 years of being the Kids in the Hall on television. At the time, we didn’t really know what it would be – whether it would be some sort of a special or live event, but we wanted to do something and wanted to get video involved with it.”
Old friend Lorne Michaels and his Broadway Video company were naturally interested, and the Kids began serious discussion about the possibility of a new show. A relatively recent tour had seen them perform all new sketches live, so they knew that they could still write together. And even though the original run had ended under a cloud, especially after the Brain Candy movie that Foley in particular didn’t want to do, years have passed and they’re all the best of friends. Game on.
“I wish I could say it was intelligent, because it feels like it’s kind of perfect timing right now. I wish we were that smart, I really do,” says Mark McKinney. “I could give you an analysis of the cultural forces that have come together to make this the perfect spring to do it. But it’s fluke and blundering, as it ever was.”
We chatted with Foley and McKinney, separately, via Zoom, and both were charming, hilarious and self-effacing. We also spent the previous day binge-watching the new season and can confirm that it’s fantastic. It’s a glorious combination of what we knew and what we did not expect at all. The Kids retained the ability to shock. Some fan-favorite characters return, some don’t (no spoilers, although it is airing now). Those that do return feel like they naturally work their way in, rather than an attempt to make nostalgia-hounds shriek with joy. Bonus points – shrieking will occur anyway.
“We’ve never felt an external mandate to do anything,” Foley says. “Including ‘hit characters.’ Within the group, it was always the rule that if you wanted to bring a character back, you had to have a good idea. You had to have an idea that we would go with even if this was the first time you’d done it. I think we just stuck with that. There are definitely hit characters that we didn’t bring back, because we didn’t have an idea that we liked enough. Every returning character that you see is because somebody had an idea that they really wanted to do and the rest of us didn’t shoot it down.”
Very early on in the season, in the first episode, we’re treated to full-frontal nudity. Vintage penis courtesy of Foley and Kevin McDonald. McKinney did have a nude scene in the original run but, depending on where you watched it, the privates were often obscured. So are they able to push the boundaries even more this time?
“We better be able to, with all these different ways you can see stuff,” says McKinney. “Almost anything should go.”
“I think briefly, there was some worry that they would alienate the young folk to have to see two old men naked,” adds Foley. “Basically, our attitude is that if you’re gonna do a sketch about being nude, there’s only one part of the male body that can be nude and that is the penis. We’ve only left one part of the male body that we’ve decided is terrifying and evil. So if you’re not going to show the penis, then you’re not naked. That was basically it. It wouldn’t have any edge to it otherwise, it would just be silly. We wanted it to have a little bit of edge to it. Also, we know that when we’re coming back to TV, there’s gonna be people looking at us and commenting on our age, and that was us saying ‘yep, we’re old, fucking deal with it.’ This is about as nakedly old as we can be.”
The Kids are all in the 59-62 age range now, yet they’ve just produced the best sketch comedy show seen in years (at least since the final Key & Peele in 2015). Their shared chemistry is still palpable, despite the rocky road that is detailed in the documentary.
“It’s a very strange experience to be the subject of a documentary,” says Foley. “But I think it’s pretty honest. There are even darker tales that aren’t told, and some fun tales that aren’t told as well. I think Reg (Harkema, director) and the producers did a nice job distilling what the essence of the group is. There are certainly aspects of the group’s history that are abrasive and melancholic. But I think overall, what comes through is, despite how miserable we’re capable of making each other, being a Kid in the Hall has overall been a source of joy for us. It has changed our lives for the better. I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without the other four guys and I think everyone feels that way.”
The new season concludes with the words “The End?” and that question mark is important. So what does the future hold?
“I think we’ll probably do something,” says McKinney. “We’ve never been constrained by not being on TV. We’ve done live shows. We get together and we scheme, and some of them come together and some don’t. I don’t think it will be the end! I think we’d like to do another series. We have more sketches than we used. So I’d like to.”
The new series of The Kids in the Hall is streaming on Amazon Prime now, as of May 13. The documentary Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks will be streaming on Amazon Prime from May 20.