I vividly remember the first time I became aware of the Kids in the Hall was through a blip in the 1992 Fall Preview issue of TV Guide. The minuscule paragraph mentioned their involvement with Lorne Michaels (whom I knew as the guy behind SNL) at the time. I never managed to stay up and watch their run on CBS, but about four years later as a college student I finally saw the series on Comedy Central. I was not disappointed. My first reaction was at how strange the cast was. I’m not sure if it was because of these five gentlemen’s roots as exotic Canadians or at how well they passed for women in many skits, but I was hooked. This is the first time (thank you Netflix) that I have sat down and begun to work my way through the five seasons of KITH from the beginning. Watching on Comedy Central I had no framework in my head of how the show developed.
Some background on the Kids: For those of you unfamiliar the five members of the comedy troupe are Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson. The group formed in 1984, but like most comedy collectives, worked as duos or solo performers for many years before. There are also many behind the scenes players, particularly the infamous Paul Bellini who made a series of notable appearances in relation to a viewer contest the show held.
Though there are inevitable comparisons to Saturday Night Live, due the Lorne Michaels connection, the closest kin would be Monty Python. You have a fixed cast and skits that don’t rely on pop culture references for their humor. The laughs come from the absurdity of characters or situations. There is over the top violence and even skits that work to deconstruct comedy down to its raw nature. Because of the consistency in cast, you have a style of humor that is incredibly strong, the kind of thing that develops when people have organic relationships and aren’t simply cast by a showrunner.
Season One, Episode One
I was impressed with how confident the Kids are out of the box. I think it helps that they had four years to figure out their internal workings (i.e. who wrote well with whom). The first episode introduces a major fixture of the series, Mr. Tyzik (Mark McKinney). Tyzik is a man of vaguely Eastern European origins who inflates his otherwise low self-worth by “crushing the heads” of others using forced perspective. Tyzik is one of those interesting figures who employs a catchphrase, but is developed beyond this first hollow creation. Something that can’t be said for the cavalcade of character comedy employed on SNL.
There’s also the introduction of Missisippi Gary (also McKinney), a pretty daring character for the first episode as he is done in blackface. In the same skit we’re introduced to Kathie (McCulloch), an office worker who would become part of duo with Cathy (Thompson), two of the most beloved recurring characters in the five season run.
Season One, Episode Two
Here we see one of my favorite recurring skits (though it never happened outside of the first season), 30 Helens. The skit is such a strange one and came from the mind of Bruce McCulloch, probably the strangest of the Kids and that’s saying a lot.
There’s also Cabbage Head (McCulloch), a character who was always annoying as hell to me. But this episode also marks the historic first appearance of Buddy Cole (Thompson). I found a lot of Kids fans drew the line at Buddy, a flamboyantly gay barfly, played by the openly gay Thompson. I was in that camp at first, but over time I have warmed up to Buddy. He’s an incredibly endearing character and probably one of the most three dimensional characters ever put on a skit comedy series. There’s something very classic about the character, he hearkens back to an older style of comedy which is why I think most fans might be put off.
Season One, Episode Three
The highlight in this episode for me is the Citizen Kane sketch. It highlights Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald, particularly McDonald’s over the top manic persona. It was always so much fun to see him play character who got so fed up they reached a high pitched frenzy. This skit had myself and friends in college unable to speak with laughter when we first saw it.
Season One, Episode Four
Bruce McCulloch delivers the first of what would be a fair number of music showstoppers in the Kids’ run. Right out of the gates he gives us “The Daves I Know”, a song that should be taught to schoolchildren everywhere. Sadly, YouTube’s stupidly archaic views on copyright only allow me to bring you this crappy version of the skit, still watchable.
Just as absurdly funny are Scott Thompson and Mark McKinney in the “Sick of the Swiss” skit. What I love about this absurdist pieces are the lack of premise. With so much current comedy you are hit over the head with premises. Here is a piece of comedy simply content to be silly, and isn’t that what the best comedy is?
Season One, Episode Five
Mr. Tyzik is back, but what I love deeply about this episode is the cold opener, Indian Drum. Much like Sick of the Swiss, and even more so really, there’s no real premise here, just strangeness. And I love it.
There’s also the wonderfully strange If Elvis Were My Landlord, a skit that references both Charles Schulz’s Peanuts and the aforementioned King. This monologue by Bruce McCulloch is another piece of evidence as to why is one of the strongest performers.
Season One, Episode Six
30 Helens appears again, and we get one of Scott Thompson’s most memorable characters (despite this being its only appearance), Running Faggot. Running is a strange mix of 1950s era Davy Crockett lore and 1980s gay culture.