Kids In The Hall: Bruce McCulloch Reveals His Top Five Sketches
It’s been a busy year for Bruce McCulloch. Back in May, McCulloch and the other four cast members of The Kids in the Hall debuted the long-delayed sixth season of their acclaimed sketch comedy show. Picking up where they left off with their original series — which ran from 1988 to 1995 — the Kids brought back favorites like Gavin, Buddy Cole and the Head Crusher, and found plenty of fresh material to introduce as well. The return was met with universal acclaim and left fans holding out hope for another season.
Following a whirlwind press junket for the Amazon revival, McCulloch began a tour of his one-man show Tales of Bravery and Stupidity!, which Exclaim has described as “A truly extraordinary and poignant comedic performance." After a successful run in New York in June, McCulloch’s show is returning to the Soho Playhouse from October 14th to the 29th.
While he’s currently preparing for his return to the Big Apple, McCulloch did take a little time to reflect on the classic run of The Kids in the Hall to share five of his very favorite sketches. Choosing one sketch per cast member — and, accidentally, one sketch per each of the five seasons — McCulloch chose some popular characters as well as some more obscure gems. Each of them, though, reflects what he loves and admires about his castmates, who he’s now worked with for nearly 40 years.
Dave Foley in “The Guy with a Good Attitude Toward Menstruation” (Season One)
Appearing in just the fourth episode of the series, “The Guy with a Good Attitude Towards Menstruation” is a monologue performed by Dave Foley. Playing himself in the sketch, Foley talks to the studio audience about his admiration for a women’s menstrual cycle, citing it as the “nesting stuff of humanity” and he vows that the woman he will love “shall be able to menstruate as fully and freely as she desires.” It’s an early, raw, classic sketch from The Kids in the Hall that McCulloch says highlights what he loves most about Foley.
McCulloch: When we were doing the show, Dave would often go on a walk, mostly with Kevin, then he’d start saying something and Kevin would start giggling — I think the “Menstruation” piece was one of those. Dave and Kevin are writing partners, just like Mark and I are, but all their stuff is written very quickly and maybe they rehearse it once. It’s incredible.
I picked “Menstruation” because sometimes we labored on something like “Love and Sausages,” while other times, like this, it was just a little perfect one. There’s such a brevity and quickness to Dave’s mind and this piece is a great example of that. It’s perfect — every line is perfect. He’s talking about his positive view of menstruation, then it turns kind of garish in the middle and he goes a little too far, then he brings it back with a smile. It’s a perfect little one and it’s very Dave.
Scott Thompson in “Buddy Cole: Softball Sluggers” (Season Two)
Scott Thompson’s alter ego, Buddy Cole, was one of the most memorable characters from The Kids in the Hall. The effeminate, flamboyant, gay nightclub owner was known for his monologues about sex and relationships which broke barriers in the still fairly conservative time of the 1980s and early 1990s. In this sketch, Buddy ventures outside of his bar for a piece about him managing a lesbian softball team and features, maybe, Buddy’s boldest costume ever.
McCulloch: Buddy Cole began with Scott riffing in front of his camera for Paul Bellini, who was our Andy Warhol, certainly for Scott. Scott would say outrageous things and the two of them would drink and smoke dope and then Scott started writing Buddy onstage and it was something pretty wild to watch — Scott playing an effeminate gay man in Toronto in 1984 with the AIDS crisis going on. Buddy just burst out of Scott and brought our troupe up to another level in terms of the things we were saying.
For this Buddy Cole sketch, I chose it because it was an example of a sketch that none of us wanted to do but Scott. We don’t refuse each other, but we didn’t understand it tonally. We four were under the illusion that Buddy was about his message and his sexuality, but in this, he was playful. Why can’t can’t this socially hard-working character have fun and be silly? Why can’t he hit a weird home run and be more like Pee-Wee Herman? I think this piece elevated Buddy.
It’s funny, every time we go on tour, Scott says to us “I’m not doing Buddy Cole” and we all shrug and say “Okay.” Then he says “Really, I’m not!” Then, before long, he’s come up with a ten-minute Buddy Cole that we trim it down and it becomes something amazing.
Kevin McDonald in “The King of Empty Promises” (Season Three)
“The King of Empty Promises” was a bit of a turn for Kevin McDonald. So many of his characters were loud and excitable, yet this sketch proved that he could be just as funny with something subtle. “The King of Empty Promises” is about a man who borrows a copy of the film Mahogany, that his coworker — played by Dave Foley — has rented. Day after day, Kevin forgets to return the video to Dave and promises to return it the next day. In addition to that, he compounds the promise with offers of additional items, none of which he delivers on. It’s a deep cut from the series, but no less hilarious than one of McDonald’s more iconic characters.
McCulloch: This was a really strong character for Kevin. Kevin’s the guy who’s funny doing nothing — he just picks up the phone and you’re laughing — but he was maybe the most afraid of us to venture into style when we did the show. He and Dave are vaudevillains and “The King of Empty Promises” was very different in that it’s more subtle and more filmic. The sketch moves very well and it captures Toronto in that time, which is cool to see, but for Kevin, he’s doing something he hadn’t done in that way before.
I remember the four of us were really impressed by this one. We all know how talented we each are, but we were like “Look at him mop that floor!” when we saw this one. He was a very calm, brilliant character actor.
Also, part of the reason we love it was that it speaks to the deficiency of Kevin McDonald himself. He talks a good game and he seems like the nicest of us, but he’s actually the biggest motherfucker who will disappoint you. Like me with my aggression, Kevin had the ability to exploit that with this character.
Mark McKinney in “Chicken Lady: Homecoming” (Season Four)
Few characters from The Kids in the Hall were as insane as the Chicken Lady. The half chicken/half woman was a clucking, sputtering creature covered in feathers and with a beak for a nose who went on a variety of bizarre adventures. This particular sketch was probably the most personal to the Chicken Lady, as she visits her childhood home and recalls her origin to the perplexed couple that currently occupies the house.
McCulloch: I still remember where The Chicken Lady first came from. Kevin was doing a scene at The Ridley about a guy in a freak show whose thing was that his nose kept bleeding. That sketch didn’t make too much hay, but he improvised a line, “If you don’t like me, you should go see the Chicken Lady!”
Afterwards, we were talking about, “What if the Chicken Lady was there?” Then Mark did this crazy turn where he was the Chicken Lady and he was squawking. Mark is great at that, you could throw him anything like, “Do a German baby!” and he’ll just do it and it’ll kill you. That was the case with the Chicken Lady, she just burst forth from being asked for it.
What’s funny to me about the Chicken Lady is how horny she is. At first, the Chicken Lady was just saying crazy things, but she became more and more sexual as time went on. She’s not just a half chicken, half lady, she’s also really horny. It was an arbitrary yet great choice.
I picked Chicken Lady’s homecoming for sort of the opposite reason I picked Dave’s “Menstruation” piece. I love this piece because it was when we were getting more filmic. Whereas “Menstruation” might have taken an hour to shoot, this would have taken us a day and a half and that was the beauty of the balance. Mark loves to dig in and we really did on this one. It’s also kind of sweet. When the Chicken Lady is born, they’re going to kill it, but then it squawks and Kevin wants it to be his baby. That’s so sweet!
We had lots of success with the Chicken Lady in the troupe, but when it came to running characters, we all looked at them with the lens of “Be careful.” If one of us brought in a piece about a recurring character to the other guys, they would say “Okay, I hope it’s good.” There was a certain skepticism about these characters and we had to prove it more than we would with something new. The only real exception to that was when Scott would do Buddy Cole, because Buddy Cole was Scott’s muse.
Bruce McCulloch in “Each Day We Work” (Season Five)
“Each Day We Work” is the kind of sketch you could only find on The Kids in the Hall. While the troupe always had a unique voice, this particular sketch stretches the boundaries of what even they would do. It focuses on two men — Bruce and Mark — shoveling coal into a fire as Bruce contemplates the bleak darkness of his life and existence as a whole. Nearly devoid of noticeable “jokes,” the four-minute sketch is hilarious in what it doesn’t do, in that nothing happens and it doesn’t seem to be about anything (while also being about everything). It’s the kind of chance that only this particular comedy troupe would make, particularly in the final season of their show.
McCulloch: I think this one is a bit underappreciated. For me, it would have been easy to choose “My Pen, My Pen” or “The Daves I Know,” but something happened recently that makes me want to talk about this one. A couple of months ago, I was doing my show in New York — Tales of Bravery and Stupidity! — and this guy corners me after the show and begins talking to me about “Each Day We Work.” He starts muttering the lines and then he says to me, “It’s sad that there are even laughs.” I explained to him that we played it in front of a live audience, but he says to me, “But it’s so profound.”
One of the great things the troupe does is Mark and I doing our weird shit. That’s what we used to do when we started — we’d do beat poetry and we’d improvise and say crazy shit. “Each Day We Work” is the most Eastern European thing we ever did, even past “Love and Sausages.” There’s one joke in it and I think what I like about the piece is that it could only come out of my brain — all it is is me talking about “the darkness.” I loved that we were not afraid to take our time with that rhythm and go on and on with this.
I was obsessed with theater and Dostoyevsky and weird filmmaking and “Each Day We Work” is about the human condition, and it’s also making fun of a guy obsessed with the human condition. It also asks, “What are we doing with our lives? Are we just shoveling coal?” Saturday Night Live is great, but they don’t do that on SNL.