Thompson is one of five Canadian-born comedians who since 1984 have called themselves The Kids in the Hall. Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, Kevin McDonald, Dave Foley and Thompson are not household names in the United States, but to the die-hard Gen-X fans who grew up with them, they are legends.
The Kids began in Toronto, putting together skits and performing at local clubs. Within a year, they had achieved popularity at clubs throughout Canada, and had attracted the attention of Lorne Michaels, creator of Saturday Night Live. Michaels hired McCulloch and McDonald to come to the U.S. and write for the show. The troupe thought they had come to an end at that point, but after some less than stellar attempts at individual success, they quickly realized that they did their best work together.
Michaels realized it too, and in 1987, he brought them all out to New York City to work on a TV show. The Kids in the Hall was picked up by CBS in 1988, but found its true home on HBO a year later, where the ability to push the envelope gave the show its dark appeal. The show ran for six years; the final episode featured a scene in which a recurring character named Paul Bellini danced on the troupe members’ graves, shouting “Thank God that’s finally over!”
After some moderately successful experiences in entertainment by various members of the group (Foley starred in the TV show NewsRadio, and McDonald is the voice of one of the aliens on the Disney TV cartoon Lilo & Stitch), they got back together to see if they still had any of their original spark left in them. “None of us really set the world on fire on our own,” Thompson said. Fast-forward 13 years, and you have their first reunion tour since 2000, “Live As We’ll Ever Be,” with all the original members reconnecting to “reclaim their crown,” as Thompson says.
They gathered in Los Angeles, and returned to their original formula from when they created their first Kids in the Hall show. According to Thompson, it took more than a year to compile the latest show, writing three days a week and then trying material out at a small L.A.-area club. They performed at the 25th annual Just for Laughs festival in Montreal in 2007 with 90 minutes of new material, and decided, said Thompson, “It’s now or never. So we put this tour together to see if we still had enough of a fan base to try and put some form of the show back on TV or maybe the Internet.”
While several characters in the new tour will be familiar to fans of the original TV show—like Mr Tyzik, the head-crushing businessman; gossiping secretaries Kathy and Cathy; and Buddy Cole, the flamboyantly gay bartender played by Thompson—all of the skits are brand new. “This show is written the way we began our career,” says Thompson. “We built this show out of nothing. Nobody asked us to do it. Nobody was paying for us to do it. Nobody wanted us to do it except for us and, in that way, it’s like it was in the beginning. It could have all fallen apart, but in the end, we were compelled to do it.”
That doesn’t mean they feel a need to live up to their original shows. “I don’t feel a lot of pressure, actually,” says Thomson. “The group’s in a really good state right now. Our comedy chops have really developed.”
Though they have gotten older, Thompson believes the troupe hasn’t lost its edge. “We’re definitely not mainstream,” he says. “When you’re young, you really thrive on trying to spook the horses. I kind of thought that would go away, but it hasn’t. It’s just natural for us to shock people, because there are no taboos for us.”
Their tour’s MySpace page is evidence of that. They have produced two short films: one, called Rape Kevin, which shows the group trying to come up with sketch ideas for the new tour; and the other, with a title that’s too profane to print here, about a group of mechanics with a “love for which there is no name.” The new tour addresses a few topics that are hot-buttons for some people. “There [are] plenty of bits about religion,” Thompson says, “and one that’s damned funny about Kathy the secretary being addicted to crystal meth.”
Perfect for a post-Depository stopover in Salt Lake City.
THE KIDS IN THE HALL @ Kingsbury Hall, U of U 1395 Presidents Circle, Tuesday, May 13 @ 8 p.m. 581-7100, KingsburyHall.org