Kids in the Hall (Amazon Prime)
Written by Garry Campbell & Dave Foley & Bruce McCulloch & Kevin McDonald & Mark McKinney & Scott Thompson & Jennifer Goodhue & Matt Watts, and Julie Klausner
Directed by Aleysa Young & Kelly Makin
I was a nerdy kid. I’m sure that really surprises you. Because I was living in the middle of nowhere in the middle of a two adults’ very dysfunctional marriage, I found solace in odd things. The TV Guide Fall Preview issue was always a highlight, teasing all the fantastic things I’d be able to watch soon. In 1993, when I was 12 years old, I remember coming across a description of a show that was going to air late night on Fridays on CBS. It was called Kids in the Hall, and the description said Lorne Michaels, the producer of Saturday Night Live, was making it. 1993 was around the time I started watching SNL religiously, so I was excited. Unfortunately, I grew up in the Southeastern United States, and I genuinely think our local CBS affiliate chose not to air KITH because it was a very transgressive show that didn’t hide its countercultural take. It wouldn’t be until 1999, during my freshman year of college, that I finally got to see the Kids for the first time as they were rerun constantly on Comedy Central.
It may seem like this revival came out of nowhere, but it’s just a natural progression of KITH. That revival through Comedy Central reruns caused the group to reunite in the early 2000s, and they have been doing touring live performances ever since. They were just stepping in front of the camera for this new run of episodes. You can feel that old chemistry is still there, and they have not missed a beat. Even better is that they haven’t let their comedy stagnate. Old age is a part of the material; they allow their experiences to shape their work’s content while still digging for truth and absurdity. KITH was always deeply critical of suburban living, first as the children of functioning alcoholic dads and repressed mothers and now as the parents & grandparents themselves. They have not softened their views which is excellent.
In episode four of the 2022 run, there is a sketch titled The Patrol. In this short film, Mark McKinney plays a middle-aged man who watches his neighbor in an apartment complex throw away his old flatscreen television. McKinney asks if there’s something wrong with the tv; the neighbor responds maybe and says he bought a new one. This haunts McKinney, who starts noticing dissonant things in his neighborhood and becomes agitated by modernity. This agitation leads him to suit up and go on “patrol.” He doesn’t know what he is looking for, but he’s determined to “save his community.” Unfortunately, he runs across two other men on patrol but is spooked and dies from a heart attack at the sketch’s conclusion.
This one comedy piece perfectly represents what I saw the Kids becoming. They are reflecting on the reactionary leanings not just of their parents but of those in their own generation. They were always doing this, gazing into the void and finding ways to laugh about what they saw. This wasn’t done to ridicule or demean but to point to the absurdity of how we choose to live. Finding the comedy in our lives takes power away from those who feed on misery. When people notice problems in their communities, like McKinney’s character in the sketch mentioned above, they often lean into reactionary thinking because it’s the most basic way of analyzing a situation without much thought.
Another sketch that has gone viral is Dave Foley’s Doomsday DJ one. In this piece, Foley plays a radio DJ holed up in a bunker. It can be inferred that some apocalyptic event has driven him down here. He occasionally plays the only record he has left that works, a copy of Melanie’s “Brand New Key.” The DJ will go into the cliche-affected DJ talk and then play the song. In the moments between, he sits staring off into the middle distance, a look of complete spiritual defeat on his face. He is all-encompassed by an air of defeated horror. The comedy here is in the performance because the concept is some pretty heavy shit.
I think the sketch has connected with so many because it captures the emotions that COVID-19 has brought up in people, deep anxiety, and a sense of profound isolation. Foley’s facial and vocal transformations seem to mirror how we keep our depression and sadness contained in private while forcing a facade of engagement and easy-going emotions on those outside of our homes. However, the pain cannot help but begin to seep its way into the DJ’s monologues as we learn more details about the horror of what is happening outside the bunker. He’s lost everything that gave his life meaning, and now he’s stuck inside doing his job while everything lies in ruins outside. How many of us have asked ourselves in the last couple of years why we will work when it’s clear that society and the planet are in the process of collapse.
The Kids are arguably my generation’s most essential comedic minds, much more relevant than anything Saturday Night Live has ever produced. The comedy of KITH isn’t concerned with whatever is being pushed in the continuous news cycle. Instead, they find humor in the human condition, in moments and experiences that transcend a headline. These are the horrors of modernity analyzed by some of the most clever comedic minds ever seen. Yet, they have always been ahead of us, especially regarding queer identity as “normal.” I hope these beautiful people continue sharing their gifts with us. It’s vital that comedy not just be another escape from our current conditions but a shared way to process trauma so we can find levity somewhere in the middle of it all.