This feature was originally published in July 2013 and is being re-run for Brain Candy’s 20th anniversary. Still holds up.
That familiar bassline, those black-and-white shots of Toronto’s city streets, the blurry faces of daily locals doing their daily tasks, and then pops up Dave Foley or Bruce McCulloch or Scott Thompson or Kevin McDonald or Mark McKinney — The Kids in the Hall. It was such a simple program with so many far-out ideas, the cultish stepchild to the accessible behemoth that was late ’80s/early ’90s Saturday Night Live.
Yet, despite its close proximity with the NBC dynasty, the Canadian sketch comedy series broke far more ground at the time, relying less on pop culture or topical impersonations and more on social anxieties revolving around subjects like sexuality, gender, faith, the workplace, and family. Sometimes it was flat-out stupid (McKinney’s Chicken Lady), often it was scandalous (Thompson’s Buddy Cole), and every now and then it cracked into the nonsensical (30 Helens).
Most of the time, the five disguised themselves in drag, poking fun at stereotypes and disassembling anyone’s expectations of where they were going and how they’d get there. This was the allure of the Kids, never knowing what they’d tackle next, but always feeling like you’d understand — it was rewarding. They weren’t as hyper-intellectual as, say, Monty Python, but they kept a safe distance ahead of Lorne Michaels’ flagship program by tackling taboos most only leave to pillow talk.
Over the weekend, it was announced the troupe reunited to tape an episode of Spun Out, a new television program starring Foley, with talk of further, unspecified activities. Does this mean another special a la 2010’s Death Comes to Town, or can this be a follow-up to 2008’s nationwide tour? We don’t know yet, but whatever the case, we got super excited … and nostalgic. So, we did what any eager fan would: We put together a list of our favorite sketches. Twenty in all.
Start laughing, or I’ll crush your head.
20. Stay Down
A trailer park Napoleon complex and a Big Gulp-sipping, overly supportive buddy land Bruce McCulloch’s character in a painful, one-sided bar fight. “Stay down” is good advice, but who wouldn’t be tempted to get up when defending the honor of a woman as fetching as Mark McKinney? Watch this video, “ya frig.” –Matt Melis
19. Becoming a Man
Bruce McCulloch’s inebriated rants capture a special moment of boyhood: watching older male role models get horribly tanked. It’s a rite of passage passed down through the generations and a real lesson in the flaws of masculinity. –Dan Pfleegor
18. Clothes Make the Man
The plot is simple: Scott Thompson leaves his house only to go back in to change clothes, because no matter what he wears, he gets called a “fag” by the same passing bicyclist. He has the last laugh as he unleashes his “grizzly” revenge. No sketch group before The Kids dealt in homosexual topics as much as they did (Thompson, for the uninitiated, is gay). They were trailblazers in that regard and still are the best at it. –Justin Gerber
17. The Beard
Kevin McDonald knew how to take a simple idea to the strangest end, and stroking and calming his beard in this one is just that. What starts out as McDonald growing a vacation beard on a whim ends with the whiskers overpowering him, to tragic results. The bearded McDonald has some fun first, his trademark gangly physicality expressed in some shirtless dancing through the office. While my personal lack of facial hair is largely due to patchy growth, there’s some subconscious fear lingering from this sketch as well. Plus, “No, the beard stays. You go” is near the top of the quotable lines list. –Adam Kivel
16. On the Run
If you’re an escaped convict, you don’t want to be spotted at a diner by Ontario’s finest, McKinney and McColloch. Let’s just say it would be an inconvenience. After this highly civilized high-speed chase, maybe it’s for the best that KITH’s Cops were regulated to standing beside their squad car for the next several seasons. Sleep well, citizens. –Matt Melis