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Old Kids on the Block

Laura Bombier

Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks (2022)

At first glance you might not realize how revolutionary they were. The Kids in the Hall were five young white middle-class Canadian men from the suburbs, who came together at improvisational comedy clubs in Toronto in the late ’80s and discovered a collective comic genius for depicting the tribulations of aggravating, ridiculous ordinary life. One of the five, Scott Thompson, was gay – loudly so; the other four (Dave Foley, Mark McKinney, Kevin McDonald and Bruce McCulloch) couldn’t have cared less about that, and at the time that was new, strange and startling. Over the years the group has come together and come apart, dined out on the success of their TV show which ran from 1989 to 1995, made one movie (1996’s “Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy”) and managed (mostly) to stay a coherent, functioning group. This is due to their strong punk ethos – that is, for nonconformity, antiauthoritarianism and being true to oneself.

This documentary as shown at SXSW Film Festival breaks no new stylistic ground – camcorder footage from their prefame live stage shows interspersed with old show clips interspersed with talking-head interviews, but this lets the group speak for itself. One of the most attention-grabbing aspects of their shows was that they played all the parts. If a sketch was about a woman, one of them played her in drag, but it’s important to emphasize the drag wasn’t the joke - it was just them acting the parts and being funny on top of that. The difference was not well understood at the time (Martin Lawrence’s Sheneneh has not held up, for example), but the shock of it was acceptable due to the quality of their acting and the fact that Mr. Foley made an incredibly beautiful woman. (His glinting acknowledgement that he was the prettiest is a drily funny moment.) There are also talking-head interviews with famous comic actors, most of whom who also happen to be Canadian – including Mike Myers, Jay Baruchel, Eric McCormack, Lauren Ash, Mae Martin and also Lorne Michaels – who speak in the strongest possible terms about the impact The Kids in the Hall had on Canada generally and the global comic scene specifically.

These moments of lightness help with their reckoning with the past – all of them had alcoholic parents and/or unhappy childhoods full of bullying and violence, but the memories are discussed primarily in the context of the sketches those experiences influenced. (Mr. Thompson witnessing a school shooting in 1975 gets its own separate moment, as it should.) The interplay between the men, which only glances at any aspect of their lives separate from the group, is still defined by a squabbling sense of competition, with affection and resentment in equal parts. Director Reg Harkema knows how to hold the camera back and let their showboating speak for itself, but he also built a good enough rapport with all five of them to let them delve into some darker experiences. The making of “Brain Candy” was a trauma, for upsetting reasons made clear, but their eventual reunion did not come about for the money (or they’re all doing a very good job of pretending). Instead there was a recognition that they are stronger together, like a band of brothers or something – although no one is dorky enough to say that out loud.

The dorks were the weirdos and freaks watching their show in the early ’90s because it was one of the only contemporary shows then that made being a weirdo and a freak look like fun. The residual affection they built from their work in the early ’90s has carried into the present moment, which the movie demonstrates clearly to fans or curious newcomers alike. All five of them have built consistent separate careers, but occasionally bring the group together for new TV specials or a tour of a stage show. So as one of their characters once said, you can coast pretty far on charm. They broke out of the suburban mold, built careers based on their talents and skills and did it primarily on their own terms. They are entitled to a little celebration; and this movie is a clear-eyed appreciation of what they’ve achieved together. Talk about hardcore.


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