Good news! The Kids in the Hall are back to what made them great — writing and performing sketch comedy and being blisteringly frank with each other.
“It’s still more ruthless than any other (writers’) room I’ve ever been in,” said Dave Foley on a Zoom call last summer, shortly after finishing shooting in Toronto, where the troupe began in the mid-’80s. “We kind of just understand with each other that we don’t take the time to be polite with each other … We’re nice to each other by Kids in the Hall standards.”
It’ll be a sunnier experience for fans of the comedy troupe on May 13, when the sixth season of “The Kids in the Hall” arrives, 27 years after the fifth, on Prime Video. That initial run for the show on CBC and U.S. cable in the 1990s has won them devotees apparently for life and created an audience for periodic reunions since.
In fact, it was a live reunion tour that sparked this project — Foley initially wanted to record the new work created for the tour and release it on TV to mark the Kids’ 30th anniversary, a goalpost long missed due to COVID-19 and more. The new season was announced, in fact, in March 2020, about a week before the world more or less ended.
“I don’t know if you noticed, but the Kids in the Hall have been labouring under a curse. So I apologize to the rest of the world that they got implicated in the Fates trying to stop us.
“We hadn’t done anything in sketch comedy since ’94, I guess?” Foley recalled. So he and his peers in the Kids — Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson — went in with renewed enthusiasm; that tour material has now been mostly superseded by stuff subsequently generated in that blunt and contentious manner that the quintet are accustomed to.
Live shows and longer narratives like the film “Brain Candy” or the 2010 series “Death Comes to Town” have been welcomed by fans since the series’ (apparent) end, but are necessarily a slightly different experience than what gained them admirers in the first place. The new season, to gauge by the green band and red band trailers, feels like the classic formula, with hints of the flavours and themes they’re known for hitting: family, work, sex and bad taste generally.
“By the time we got things going and rolling into production, we were doing what we wanted to do, which is basically have the five Kids in the Hall back together again and generating new material and listening to each other … Other people had lots of ideas about what we should be doing and our goal was to ignore as many of those ideas as possible.
“I’m quite pleasantly encouraged by the work we did. I think it’s almost totally devoid of nostalgia, which we’re very pleased with … We followed our own stupid instincts the way we always do and only brought back characters that we actually had ideas for.”
Fans inspecting those trailers, however, will spot some familiar faces: McKinney’s Headcrusher and Devil; the Eradicator; Francesca Fiore; McCulloch’s digressive annoyance Gavin; the office Kathies and more.
It’s not as though Foley, 59, ever went away; he’s arguably the most familiar face of the group, given his success on U.S. TV including the well-remembered ’90s sitcom “NewsRadio.” There were many other projects and longtime Star readers will recall one reason why: a staggering child-support order owed to ex-wife Tabatha Southey that, a decade ago, amounted to $17,000 a month. As he told the Star at the time, “I’m not exactly picking and choosing my projects, (as) anyone can tell from the number of s–tty movies I’ve been in.”
That problem even had him avoiding entering Canada for a time for fear of arrest — a matter long resolved; Foley said that in “family law in Ontario, there’s a lot of gag orders involved,” but suffice to say “admission was paid.”
He has paid higher prices; he revealed on Joe Rogan’s podcast in 2019 that his habit of, and taste for, drinking vanished after a dreadful-sounding fall five years previous that left him in intensive care for several days.
The dark period long behind him, the Foley of summer 2021 seemed stable, relaxed and funny, embracing the idea that the transformative brain trauma makes him the Phineas Gage of comedy: “I know there are some people who have had head injuries and then they can suddenly speak French or play the piano. I would prefer that, that would be nice.”
He expressed satisfaction in the Kids being name-checked as an influence by the “exponentially more successful” likes of Tina Fey and Key and Peele, “Which makes sense. I mean, if I was, you know, 15 years younger than me, I would have been influenced by us.”
It’s not like the respect only goes one way. Foley identified the stubborn dopes at the heart of Tim Robinson’s “I Think You Should Leave” as the sort of comedy that resonates with him — “it reminds me of the kind of stuff that Kevin and I love to do, which is just people with unhealthy obsessions who won’t let go of them.”
McDonald, Foley and the others drop all eight episodes of the returned “Kids in the Hall” on May 13. (The date might inspire a twinge of jealousy from fans of Canada’s other beloved sketch-comedy troupe, “SCTV.” A Toronto reunion of the surviving cast members was filmed — by Martin Scorsese, no less — on that date in 2018 for a Netflix documentary, but completing and airing the doc seems to be a low priority for the 79-year-old director.)
The new batch joins the five previous seasons, which are already streaming on Prime Video. Fans old and young will have their first new TV sketches from the Kids since Jean Chrétien was prime minister. A tip from Foley about a favourite sketch: “It’s called ‘The Professor’ and I think when we cut it together, it is going to be pretty amazing.”
And if the five people in this troupe think an idea is good, it passed a high bar.
“If someone has a bad idea, we’re pretty quick to say it. And we’re even quicker to say to people outside the group.”
So there was no risk, in this slightly mellower phase of the Kids’ existence, that they might slide into indifference?
“Jesus,” said Foley. “That would be great.”
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