Depending on when you grew up, you probably heard of The Kids in the Hall in one of two ways: During its original run on HBO from 1989 to 1995, or on Comedy Central during its famed late 90s/early 2000s syndication. Though the show lasted only five seasons, it schooled millions of viewers and plenty of next-generation comics in Monty Python-esque surrealism and absurdist antics. The show also tackled touchy but important subjects (especially in its sketches that featured gay characters) and ever-so-carefully walked the line between highly intelligent and downright crude.
Since the show went off the air, the Kids have gone through a lot: breakups, makeups, a film, a television miniseries, and a handful of live tours. Now, they’re back at it again with a five-stop mini tour called Rusty and Ready. We spoke with Kids in the Hall veterans Kevin McDonald and Bruce McCulloch to hear what they had in store for the troupe’s upcoming appearance at DAR Constitution Hall this Saturday, June 7.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
WCP: Let’s start by talking about the Rusty and Ready tour, I think your first collective appearance in D.C. since 2008. What do you have planned for us this time around?
Kevin McDonald: It’s going to be 75 percent new stuff, and 25 percent old stuff, maybe less. It’ll be some old characters doing new stuff, and old characters doing old stuff.
Is a D.C. audience any different than those you see in other cities? Do cities even differ very much in terms of audience reaction?
Bruce McCulloch: Washington’s the smartest.
KM: And the best-dressed.
And the most attractive?
BM: Well, they’re the flirtiest. We’ve always had a great time in Washington. I think Kids in the Hall fans are Kids in the Hall fans. They’re weird people who see the world askew, like we do. It feels like there’s general differences from city to city, but we do really well in the East with the complicated liberals.
KM: Every city has a different personality for some reason. The 25 percent of the people that know The Kids in the Hall, they’re all the same. Although we go to the Deep South and I think they get more excited, because it’s like, ‘We’re liberals and we’re in the Deep South! Only we get The Kids in the Hall!’ so they make more noise. But Washington makes for a lot of great, smart faces.
BM: Kevin, if only 25 percent of the people there are Kids in the Hall fans, the rest thought we were, what, George Carlin?
KM: No, 25 percent of the city, not 25 percent of our audience.
BM: Oh, okay.
KM: Hey George Carlin! Do the baseball routine!
I remember reading that, a lot of the time, your audience is split between the older guys who saw the original run, and then the younger people they’ve dragged along. I think, Kevin, I read in an interview—-
KM: Uh oh.
—-that you make light of that fact in a song that introduces the troupe, something about older guys bringing along their younger girlfriends.
KM: Yeah, that’s near the top of the show. In the introduction to the song, I say, ‘A lot of you were dragged here by your 41-year-old boyfriend who watched us too much in college while getting high.’
Do you ever encounter people nowadays who just flat-out haven’t heard of you?
KM: Oh yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean, there was a lot of opportunity in the past 20 years to see us, so I think they’ve heard of the name at least. I think there’s a large group of people who had the possibility to see us, because people watched Comedy Central. We were on all the time. But there’s a lot of people who haven’t seen Comedy Central, or Netflix, or YouTube, that haven’t seen us.
BM: I’m also surprised when anyone knows us. We did an excellent miniseries on IFC called Death Comes to Town, but in general, we haven’t really been in the public eye for a long, long time, with the exception of the tour.
Speaking of the tour, I wanted to ask you about the title. It’s a little bit contradictory: Rusty and Ready. Are you saying you’re a little out of practice, but eager and ready to please?
KM: Exactly! Our spirits are there, and we’re a little bit rusty. I don’t know how much we’re joking about whether we’re rusty or not. We’re certainly not rusty by now. We’ve been performing a lot. But the most important thing is that we’re ready.
BM: And for me, the most important thing is that we’re rusty.
BM: It’s a contradiction, and that’s why it’s interesting. And it’s Kevin’s title, by the way.
KM: My first thought was Rusty but Ready, but that sounded more serious than funny because it makes it more contradictory. Rusty but Ready sounds more like a mission statement.
You mentioned earlier you’ll have some older material in the show. I know characters like Chicken Lady, Buddy Cole, Headcrusher, and Gavin are fan favorites and always help fill the seats, but do you still enjoy doing them, even after almost 26 years?
KM: Oh yes, yes, yeah. That’s the only way we can do them. During the TV show years, we had—-I wanna say unspoken, but maybe it was kind of a spoken [rule], we didn’t put running characters in just to have running characters in. They had to be as good a scene as the other scenes where they didn’t have any running characters.
BM: I think they also come and go. We’re doing our “Salty Ham” characters, which is really fun, but there was a tour where I didn’t feel like doing that. It’s like, maybe next tour will be “Cabbage Head” time. I think people only do these scenes if they really want to do them. Like, we’re not doing Cathy this tour; we did her last tour. And it’s so fun to do Cathy, it’s like, ‘Oh, too bad Cathy didn’t write a scene for herself this time.’ But no one makes us do our hit characters. Scott [Thompson] has a love-hate relationship with Buddy Cole. He’s always going, ‘I’m not doing Buddy Cole, I know you guys expect me to do it and I’m not going to do it just because you expect me to, ’ and then you go, ‘Okay, Scott,’ and then he goes, ‘Okay, fine, I’ll do Buddy Cole.’
KM: He loves Buddy Cole, but I guess he’s also afraid of being trapped.
BM: Hopefully, with this show, we’ll have the best of both worlds. There’s a new Buddy Cole monologue, which I actually think is his best, on something really topical, so that’s perfect.
I assume you guys, busy as you are, aren’t always in the same room nowadays to write this new stuff. Is it hard to bounce ideas off of each other? Does writing new sketches feel different than it used to?
BM: Well, it feels different because we don’t do it that often. I mean, before, I would wake up every morning and say, ‘What ideas you got, what ideas you got?’ And I kind of do that now, but in terms of a book I’m writing, or a TV show I’m writing. Sketch-writing isn’t the first thing I think about all the time. So it’s different, but putting it together is never different. Like, if we have an idea, we’ll write over the phone. When we get together, for the time that we put the show together, we beat it up in the same way that we have for 25 years. And that’s the most horrifying and fantastic time. The genesis of this show happened [when] we did [an] all-new material show in Toronto. We wrote some stuff, then we chopped it up and improvised for five days, and then put on five shows. And we moved pretty fast at that time. That never feels different.
KM: It feels scary at first, but then when I meet Bruce in his backyard at 1 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon and we start, all the scariness goes. It’s sort of fun. That makes it feel like home. What’s hard is writing stage sketches, which are like little one-act plays, not like the TV sketches. But the stage sketches are getting harder and harder.
Some of my favorite sketches were the pre-produced TV sketches like “The Beard” and “Girl Drink Drunk.” I know for your 2008 tour you produced a new filmed sketch called “Car Fuckers.” Got anything like that planned for this tour?
BM: Not yet. This came from the impulse of, let’s get on stage and see what we can create in that space without having to get a video screen and pre-produce a ton of stuff. I think for us, it was fun for all of to be on stage in kind of a lower-tech way.
Still, the video sketches were, I think, some of the most memorable and timeless parts of the show. Speaking of which, I saw in a Nerdist interview that the video sketch “Love and Sausages,” I think in your words, Bruce, almost broke up the troupe. What happened?
BM: As the series went, the films became a bigger and bigger treat for people. Treat backslash indulgence. It was long. You start to suck up the resources of the rest of the show. If “Love and Sausages” would take you three days to film, then that would mean that poor Kevin’s sketch has to be filmed in two days, or one day, or whatever. We all can be a bit too much like ourselves when left to our own devices. We all had those, you know?
KM: But thank God we did “Love and Sausages.” You can’t say we’re one-dimensional. It was a comedy in a different kind of way than some of the other things that we did.
Is it hard sometimes to agree upon what’s funny?
KM: Oh yeah. That’s sort of the good thing and the bad thing. Because we disagree, it’s a stumbling block and we can’t go on, [but] it’s also because we disagree that the better ideas come from five of us. It’s a difficult process, but an important one.
BM: We generally know what the funniest thing is when we’re all together judging it. I think the hardest thing for us to do is decide on a narrative that we can all fit into. There’s different kinds of funny. Dave does a different kind of funny than I do.
KM: The second hardest thing is the tone.
Bruce, I read that you proposed Death Comes to Town during your 2008 tour. Should we expect any new Kids in the Hall projects or miniseries to follow this tour?
KM: Ah, that’s the problem with this tour! The last tour was your traditional rock band tour: You’re on a tour bus and together all the time. This is more like a stand-up comedian tour where you fly out Thursday and come back Monday. That’s what we hope for. You never know.
BM: The start of a new thing, like our first tour in 2000, or 2002, or 2008, started with us getting together in a room and putting stuff together on stage. In the case of Death Comes to Town, we decided to do a bigger thing. I think we’re definitely trying to figure out whether we should do a movie, whether we should do another miniseries, [or] do a series of short films, but we’re starting to talk about that. But we’re a dumb guy; we only do one thing at once. Once we get a few shows under our belt, we’ll figure out what we want put onscreen next.
How long do you expect to keep churning out new material? Will there ever be a day when you hang up the dresses and call it quits?
BM: I can’t imagine it. We had a health scare with Scott Thompson when we were doing Death Comes to Town. Scott and I got drunk and talked a few times, like, we gotta do it, we gotta do it. Life’s so complicated for all of us, but—-it’s so great that we can make it to Washington!
BM: But I think none of us want to stop doing it. Now that I’ve crossed into 50, it seems almost sweeter to be able to do this now and then. I think all of us cherish it in a way that we didn’t when we were young. We’ll never quit.
KM: There’s something about the excitement of a reaction that makes you 28. I won’t give it away, but the first scene that Bruce wrote, the reaction of the audience is so amazing that it’s like I’m 28 again. We’re shocking them and making them laugh at the same time again. It’s not a shocking idea, it’s sort of shocking how good it is, if I can say that. And I feel 28 for the rest of the show.
BM: We connect with each other in a way that no one else does. I’d love to have dinner with Kevin, but I’d rather do a show with him.
KM: I’m a pig when I eat.
BM: But I think that’s the way that we all feel. It’s something we can’t believe we still get to do, in a way.
The Kids in the Hall perform at 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 7 at DAR Constitution Hall. Tickets are available via Ticketmaster.