It seems like ancient history now, but the 2007-08 Writers Guild of America strike was a treacherous time for many scribes. Kevin McDonald was one of them. The Kids in the Hall comedian had been in Hollywood since 1994 working on sitcoms and movies. Fellow KITH Bruce McCulloch had helped him get a job writing on ABC's Carpoolers in 2007, but the show was canceled and then jobs dried up because of the strike.
A Montreal native, McDonald worked in Canada during the strike. While he was back north of the border, he met a woman at the 2009 Winnipeg Comedy Festival. The comedian moved to Winnipeg permanently in 2010 and says he constantly feels as if he has to remind people where they know him from.
“It’s not like they say, ‘Kevin McDonald who?’” he quips over the phone. “It’s having them remember the name, and having it in front of them. They’re like, ‘Oh yeah, him!’” The 56-year-old recently landed a recurring role on DisneyXD’s Walk the Prank, which is executive produced by Trevor Moore of the comedy troupe The Whitest Kids U'Know. Even though it's a kids show, McDonald’s wit isn’t toned down for the younger crowd.
“Because it’s [Moore], I knew it would be a slightly cool Disney show,” he says, explaining that Moore encourages him to “go to a very dark place” as a teacher named Mr. Dingley. “I know I’m in a happy place when he says that.”
Joking that he’s “not happy enough to be just a writer,” McDonald also has been out on the road touring and teaching sketch writing classes during the day (“The best city, for some reason, is Philadelphia,” he says). One of his former pupils was a young T.J. Miller.
And, like many an enterprising comedian, McDonald decided to start his own podcast. Inspired by Marc Maron’s WTF (on which he was a guest in 2014), he initially wanted to do a show where he would talk to musicians since, he says, “Comedians always want to be musicians and musicians want to be comedians.” Instead, he chose a more unusual format that fit his performing background.
“The podcast is the last refuge of the comic scoundrel,” he says. “But sometimes it works out amazing. Marc Maron, who should have been a superstar in the ’90s, is now because of his podcast. Even though [Maron is] one of the funniest people in the world, he does real interviews without having to try to do a joke. So I stopped being prejudiced against them.”
Unlike the other interview-based podcasts that have flooded the space in recent years, McDonald uses his skills as a sketch comic to create a unique listening experience. Kevin McDonald’s Kevin McDonald Show features new guests each episode and is structured as a variety show.
“I didn’t want to fail at interviewing people in front of a live audience, so the podcast is the audio version of what I’ve been pitching to Comedy Central and TV networks for 20 years,” he explains. “It’s like an old Jack Benny show that has sketches, monologues and interviews, and has backstories and stories within stories about the episode. That’s something I’d always been interested in as a kid.”
The podcast takes place monthly in front of a live audience. The nature of writing the entire episode, McDonald says, is the reason it takes longer than the average comic podcast to be released. Occasionally, he’ll ask an old friend like Mike Myers to appear (“Anyone from the ’90s I ask and book”), but generally he leaves that to his production team. The latest episode features his former student Miller and is the first time he handed over the writing reigns to his producers. His upcoming show at Largo on Saturday, Aug. 5, as of now, features Andy Richter, Aimee Mann and, potentially, a big-name rock star whose identity McDonald won’t divulge. If said rock star does appear, the plan is to have him perform a 10-minute comedic rock opera that draws on one of the comedian’s more awkward moments.
“It was the only time I cheated on anybody, which was in the early ’90s during the Kids in the Hall days,” he says. “It was in New York and I made out with a woman at an AIDS benefit. We were always politically incorrect, but that was something else.”
Despite the slight hiccup in his career, McDonald has once again seen his trajectory as a comedian trend upward. With his never-ending tour, his spot on Walk the Prank, the podcast and tentative plans to release a book all in the works, McDonald’s struggles from the fallout of the writers strike are long gone, and he’s as optimistic as he’s been in years.
“I’ve been so busy writing or being bad, not doing things I’m supposed to do, or else we’d be back in Los Angeles already,” he says. “I do have a feeling that a big thing is around the corner. But I don’t know what it is just yet.”
Kevin McDonald's Kevin McDonald Show, Largo, 366 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Grove; Sat., Aug. 5, 8:30 p.m.; $30. largo-la.com/event/1506617-kevin-mcdonalds-kevin-mcdonald-los-angeles.
CORRECTION: This post has been amended to reflect that “Weird Al” Yankovic is no longer scheduled to appear at McDonald's Largo show on Saturday.