September 23, 2014
The Kids are all right. Or so they insist.
Sure, there’s quibbling and creative discord, but this time around — and for several years now — they take it only so far before pulling back and carrying on. That wasn’t always the case.
The Kids in question are the five members of Canadian comedy troupe the Kids in the Hall, which had an inauspicious start in the Great White North, was discovered and launched a quarter-century ago across the border by “Saturday Night Live” boss Lorne Michaels, and went on to become one of North America’s hottest sketch ensembles — something akin to Monty Python, not coincidentally a chief source of inspiration — before taking a four-year vacation from each other in 1996.
The Kids’ latest tour, which encompasses seven shows in five cities over two long weekends, stops at the Chicago Theatre on Friday.
“Whereas in [making the 1996 film] ‘Brain Candy,’ we argued ourselves into extinction and we thought we were done, on almost every successive tour since we started up again, we’re more and more appreciative of the fact that we’re a comedy troupe that’s been around for 25 years-plus and still writes new stuff,” says founding member Mark McKinney .
He is on the phone from Toronto with Kid cohort Scott Thompson, whom you might also remember as Hank Kingsley’s openly gay assistant Brian on HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show” and, more recently, Stephen Colbert’s flamboyant correspondent Buddy Cole (a famous “Kids” character) at the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. (Thompson, too, has long been openly gay).
“There’s no one better-looking around the corner,” Thompson says metaphorically. “And I just don’t have the energy to burn down the entire village after every fight. I used to.”
Now, though, all’s well — to a degree. McKinney claims that even though they’re getting along swimmingly, “the creative fights are still as vicious. The backstabbing is still as insanely intense. It’s just we know we’re not going to go to the brink with it.”
“For me,” he says, “the comedy and our work has become almost more important. Well, more important than it was recently, because I know that this is as good as it gets. And onstage, I feel young, like nothing can stop me. And when I’m with the group, it’s like we’re invincible. And you can’t get that anywhere else.”
Both express genuine astonishment at the young median age of Kid mavens, many of whom were introduced to the Kids during childhood by parents and other grown-up admirers. Indeed, when Thompson performed in Chicago with fellow Kids Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald a few years back, the crowd was packed with 20- and 30-somethings.
“That allows us not to become a nostalgia act,” Thompson says. “Like, we’re not going to be going out there and doing our greatest hits — although we are doing some greatest hits in this tour. But having such a new, young audience allows us to keep growing.”
McKinney says doing an entire show of brand-new sketches isn’t out of the question, but it would require far more writing and rehearsal time than the members have due to myriad side projects — writing gigs, TV guest shots, films — that keep them individually occupied.
And while their long track record usually affords them an immediately warm reception at live performances, Thompson says, “that only lasts for about five to 10 minutes.” Then they’ve got to bring it, creatively speaking, or the goodwill quickly dissipates.
But kill or die, both Kids know their joint venture offers them unparalleled artistic freedom.
“In most cities in North America, we can get some people to show up to be our audience who will [intuit] our material from the jump,” McKinney says. “And that’s incredible. It’s an amazing outlet. It’s a flavor that a lot of my TV and film friends don’t necessarily have.”