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
15. Chicken Lady: Strip Club
Of Mark McKinney’s big characters, the Head Crusher may have had a bit more cultural cache (and a ready-made catchphrase), but the Chicken Lady is the one that carries the most weight. Though entirely absurd in appearance and mannerism, her every appearance was centered on a loneliness and a confusion of identity. The Chicken Lady’s trip to the strip club with the Bearded Lady is no exception, and when she finally meets her match in Thompson’s Rooster Boy, the sparks (or feathers) really fly. –Adam Kivel
14. Secretaries – Is the New Guy Gay?
The Kids always played their female roles straight — that is, the joke was never that dudes were wearing dresses. Two of the show’s more endearing recurring female parts were AT&Love secretaries Cathy and Kathy. Here, we see them shirk their secretarial duties in order to probe handsome new guy Howard with questions designed to ID his sexuality. By the way, do you prefer steak or asparagus and pasta salad? No, reason. Just asking. –Matt Melis
13. The Affair
What separated Kids from its many contemporaries (and even their predecessors) was their sharp eyes behind the lens. This unique creative perspective expanded their brand to not only encompass onstage routines but also to lean on more cinematic techniques to amplify each sketch’s scenario. “The Affair” is one such example, using fast cuts and cliche directions to their parodic benefit. It helps that the writing’s just as brilliant — hors d’oeuvres, am I right? –Michael Roffman
12. Open Letter to the Guy Who Stole Bruce’s Bike Wheel
Bruce McCulloch always played himself as the most naive Kid, even though he wrote/directed so many of their great sketches. Here’s McCulloch at his most immature, when after his introduction, he takes a beat, looks to the camera, and whines, “Well, why’d you do it?” No stiff upper lip. No clever transition. Just a guy upset at why someone would steal his tire. “Jerk.” (see also: “Open Letter to the People Who Watched the Guy Steal His Bike Wheel“) –Justin Gerber
11. Love and Sausages
While the Kids were never afraid of absurdity, testing the audience’s patience, or delving into serious emotional issues in the midst of their comedy, Love and Sausages is an entirely unique beast. More Eastern European short film than comedy sketch, the story of Bruce McCulloch’s hard-luck sausage factory employee, his lipsticked love interest, and his sausage-loving father (played by a particularly decrepit-looking Scott Thompson) has very few out-and-out laughs in the course of its nearly seven minutes. The scene’s comfortability in pure absurdity and negative space is unsettling, an amazingly bold move for television. While the scene’s intensely idiosyncratic and complete world echoes the shadowy weirdness of Tarkovsky or Lynch, you don’t need to be a film buff to chuckle at Thompson’s geezery repetitions of the word “sausages.” But it helps. –Adam Kivel