This month, The Comedy Festival in Las Vegas returns to inject a major dose of comedy diversity into Sin City, rising above and beyond the mainstream standards for standup on the Strip. Amongst the biggest gets for the fest is the Vegas debut of Canada's sketch comedy icons, The Kids in the Hall; fresh off last year's North American tour, the cult-hero quintet will bring that show – and, inevitably, plenty of riffing and improvised surprises – to Caesar's Palace on November 21. We spoke to Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald about how the Kids' irreverent brand of humor has developed over the years, what's coming up for them in the new year, and doing their part to help the crusade to make Vegas uber-cool again. (Not that they didn’t excel at the squaresville world of secretaries, long-suffering housewives and working stiffs in their repertoire… but we mustn’t forget the raging queens – both literal and figurative – flying pigs and chicken ladies, either.)
L.A. Weekly: Do you feel ever like you want to strike that balance between doing the old characters that people want to see, or wanting to develop new material and keep it interesting for yourselves?
Dave Foley: Well, I think especially it’s a balance that we strike within the group, you know. Because some of us are more gung-ho for doing all new stuff and sort of throwing everything from the past away. I tend to be in that camp. And other people love their old characters… or worry that the audience won’t accept the new characters, or that they’ll be upset if we don’t do some of the stuff that they expect. There is some stuff that I’m glad not to do for a while. Or maybe forever.
DF: Uh, Simon & Hecubus.
Just because of the leotard, or is it something else?
DF: Yeah, the leotard’s a big part of it. I mean, even if I lost weight… It feels a little too cute and boyish for someone my age. I mean, they were cute characters when I was in my twenties, but now, I don’t know. I’m not cute any more, so it’s much more like just real evil!
Kevin McDonald: I think it’s different for different guys. I think Dave and I are more, like, once we do it it’s sort of dead. But Scott, he’ll always be coming up with new ideas for Buddy Cole, his barfly character. And Mark… it’s just easy for him to always write stuff for the Head-Crusher. Bruce, I think Bruce lives in both worlds; he’ll have lots of ideas that will then sort of live and die for him, but other ones he comes back to like Cabbage-Head. Even though Dave is very good at doing characters he’s not so much interested in them. Even though he can do it really well, after a while he loses interest. I can’t do it really well, so it’s good that I lose interest!
It would seem like you haven’t really written much Canadian-centric material since you did the show. Is that a conscious decision or have you just moved on?
DF: No, not really. [There was] a piece that we closed the live show with, one of Bruce’s pieces called “Super Drunk,” where at the end he says, “It’s one of my freedoms in America!” And then there was this debate about, well when we’re in Canada, do we still say it’s one of my freedoms in America? And then I think in a couple of shows Bruce said “In North America” and everybody just sort of stared at him. (laughs) So then he went back to saying “America.” And a lot of our references really are American references anyway because we grew up on American film and American TV. There’s some Canadian stuff we did of course, like “Screw You, Taxpayer!,” [which is different] because America doesn’t have a government-supported network.
WATCH: Kids In the Hall, “Screw You Taxpayer!”
KM: Well, I think it happens without thinking, but I think we are sort of dumb-smart animals, you can only write where your life is going right now. I think that there are a lot of Los Angeles jokes in the show, a lot of “I had to drive drunk, I live in L.A.!” and that, a lot of showbiz jokes. …If you saw our sketches in ’84, when we first started as a comedy troupe, it was a lot of stuff about girlfriends and moving away from your parents, and nowadays some themes are about having children. I don’t have any but most of the others do, and so we can really only write what we know and a lot of it is about living in Los Angeles for sure. It might not be the hook or the premise, but a lot of it makes its way through the references.
One of the great hallmarks of your live shows is the spontaneity, the sort of fun and unpredictability of live performance… there’s a fearlessness about going off-script if it works.
DF: Yeah, well especially with us, there’s always that feeling that no-one’s really expected to stick too close to the plan, once the show starts. Everyone has the freedom to do whatever pops into their head at any time. No one’s going to be yelling, “That wasn’t your lii-iine!” And I think it makes it a little more worthwhile for the audience too. I don’t think they come out to see exact recreations of seeing the TV show, it’s more about seeing a live event. So I’ve always been one that leans more toward, “I don’t want the show to be perfect, I just want it to be fun.”
KM: That makes us seem cooler, the real truth is that we’re sloppy, we forget things and we ad-lib our way out of it. [Laughs] And people always say after the show, “We love the mistakes you made and the things you added!” which you can tell even if you’re seeing the show for the first time. You can usually tell if it’s something new happening, because one of us is giggling and it’s obviously not part of the sketch. The trouble with Dave and I is when we were kids, we watched too much Tim Conway and Harvey Korman, so we think it’s okay to stop the show and make each other laugh. It’s always the teams: the three teams, me and Dave, Mark and Bruce, and then Scott. Scott’s a team on his own, so he’ll do a monologue, stop the show and make himself laugh.
So, this being the first time for the troupe playing Vegas, is it something you’d like to do again in the future? Help keep alt-comedy going strong?
DF: Yeah, you know it’s something that we actually have all talked about. That it might be a fun thing, because it’s the sort of thing where if we did a semi-regular thing there, we could commute from L.A., you know? Which would be fun, because we all want to keep doing stuff together, but it’s so hard to coordinate. So Vegas might be a real possibility for us, especially from a logistical standpoint. And I kind of like the tradition of it, to be part of that… tap into that.
The festival seems to in part be a deliberate push to get more varied types of comedy there, where for years you’d think of mainstream standups doing it and that’s about it.
KM: Yeah, Don Rickles. Yes, it’s funny because what seems square to us, in ten years maybe as we get older and more square, it seems… less square? I don’t know. And also, the way it was presented to us, was us doing our show, and we’d do it a few times a year so it’d be so close to Los Angeles it would be a great way to stay together. Because also, we’re going to do another TV show, so if we were doing Vegas now and again we could write for the show.
The Kids In the Hall’s currently-in-development new series, an eight-part miniseries called Death Comes to Town (“It’s like a comedy Roots,” says McDonald) is slated to air first on CBC in Canada and then later on U.S. television. You can also catch Foley and McDonald performing with their friends The Barenaked Ladies and loads of other great bands and comics on the Ships and Dip V cruise in February 2009.
More Kids In the Hall Classic Clips:
Recommended by Kevin McDonald!: “Faux Pas”
“Love & Sausages” (Still a controversial sketch: “It kind of put everyone at odds. Bruce & Norm Hiscock wrote it.. Dave didn’t think it was funny enough, [director]John Blanchard didn’t think it ws funny enough. Mark was into that kind of thing, and Scott loved it because he had a good part in it. He’s the one thing that reminds you it’s a comedy!”)
Lastly, our personal favorite Foley & McDonald moment: “Piano”