Hall of fame: The Kids return to TV

In honour of The Kids in the Hall’s return to TV, Halifax writers and performers discuss the quintet’s contribution to Canada’s comedic tradition.

From their early days on Toronto stages and then nationally, via a CBC show running from 1988-94, Kids in the Hall innovated and helped build Canadian comic tradition. The quintet returns to TV this Tuesday with a miniseries, Death Comes to Town, a murder-mystery send-up set in a small Ontario town. For the occasion, three Halifax comedic writers/performers share what they see as the Kids' contribution to the canon.

"They always make the characters believable even when they are totally outrageous," writes Gavin Crawford (22 Minutes), comparing them to SCTV. "I also like the way they portray both male and female characters with the same level of commitment."

Crawford mentions Dave Foley's gentle, soft-spoken French prostitute, a recurring character often appearing with Scott Thompson's hard-assed sex worker and Kevin McDonald's boneheaded pimp. "A female Kids character is never funny just because of the clothing," he writes. "They just play the character and let the comedy flow out of that."

Crawford's work on 22 Minutes, which starts taping again next week, shows similar devotion to character, whether an awkward adolescent boy-correspondent or a twitchy but sincere middle-aged female TV host.

Michael Best wrote and acted in Gay White Trash, a 2005 Atlantic Fringe Festival hit that started as a sketch. He credits the Kids for inspiring him to do sketches back in Toronto, where he recalls regularly attending the troupe's early performances at a Kensington Market club: "There would be no one at the shows." But they stuck it out and "exploded" on TV shortly after.

Best has lived the past six months in Lunenburg, where he'll perform next month for "Nova Scotia's first Gaycation weekend getaway" with excerpts from his one-man show, Audible Minority, and some new material. Best calls Scott Thompson's Buddy Cole, who turns up in varying regalia and situations (bar owner, women's softball coach, owner of a pet sex slave) "pretty influential."

"And they all played a lot of gay characters at a time when no one was doing that live---no stand-ups in Toronto, nothing."

"For me personally," writes Crawford, "Scott Thompson being out and not making any bones about it was really great. He wasn't afraid to do comedy that came from him, his perspective. It was genius and completely groundbreaking....They were really the first troupe to go after the white, middle-class suburban ideals."

Best believes that viewpoint keeps the Kids relevant today. "Their takes on corporate culture, rampant suburbia and even their just plain loony characters like the Chicken Lady: they just don't die."

Picnicface's Cheryl Hann wasn't even 10 when Kids in the Hall wrapped. At 16, she became a fan, after her stepfather introduced her to them. Once, Picnicface developed a sketch "where Mark [Little] played a guy whose every sentence was accented with suspenseful music, making everything he said sound menacing." It reminded them of a Kids sketch where Dave Foley played a guy with a speech impediment. Whenever he spoke he sounded sarcastic. In the end, Picnicface went with it. "But for a while, we were furious at the Kids in the Hall for being so GD clever. And older," writes Hann.

Now, Picnicface has a Kid helping them with material for their development deal with the Comedy Network. Last month, Mark McKinney caught one of their Sunday night shows "and stuck around to brainstorm some ideas. He was criminally nice, and he still had it. So, hopefully that will bode well for the new show."

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