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Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks
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Film

Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks Successfully Bottles the ’90s  

SXSW 2022: Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks Review

The sketch comedy group Kids in the Hall are remembered for a lot of things. Their popular, long-running TV series, their distinctly Canadian sensibility, their occasional cross-dressing, and their movie Brain Candy. 

But to this day, I can’t hear the name of the group or think of them without their famous theme song, “Having an Average Weekend” by Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, instantly coming to mind. 

In the new documentary Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks, we finally hear the song about halfway through the film. And while that song was very much not a punk rock track — it’s more surf rock, if there is such a thing in Canada — the film hinges on the counterintuitive but ultimately persuasive thesis that the Kids’ sensibility was punk-oriented. And not only because they once trashed a New York City hotel room. 

Directed by Reg Harkema, the film goes through the group’s story in a relatively straightforward manner. All five men — Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, Kevin McDonald, and Scott Thompson  — are interviewed together and separately, as are the likes of Lorne Michaels, Mike Myers, Julie Klausner, and Paul “Man in the Towel” Bellini. There’s also plentiful archival footage, from both their sketch TV show and their earlier stage work. 

It’s all hugely entertaining for any fan of the group, or of 1990s nostalgia in general. 

The Kids were five white Canadian dudes who did sketch comedy, and their partnership grew out of the “competitive improv” scene in Calgary, the name coming from the kids who used to wait out in the hall to try to sell jokes to Jack Benny.  All but McKinney, who came from a family of diplomats, were suburban kids. 

Because there were no women in the group… they dressed as women, in a conceit that goes back to Shakespearean times. It didn’t have much in common with more modern-day drag traditions, although Scott Thompson was a loudly out-and-proud gay man at a time when that sort of thing was much rarer in pop culture than it is today. ( “We used homosexuality… to bash squares,” Thompson says at one point.) 

There were other projects, including movies and various reunions. But the Kids are best known, by far, for their TV series, which ran from 1988 through 1995, first on the CBC in Canada, and later in the U.S. on HBO and Comedy Central. 

It was the Comedy Central run when the show really became cemented culturally; I used to mainline marathons of the TV show, back in Comedy Central’s early days, when I was in high school. It gave way to other ’90s sketch shows, like Exit 57, The Vacant Lot, and the Upright Citizens Brigade on Comedy Central, and The State on MTV.  

The show was marked especially by filmmaking techniques, clothes, on-screen graphics, and music that just screamed “1990s,”  part of the Canadian nerd-dude popular culture that rose at the same time as the likes of Barenaked Ladies and Moxy Fruvous. In the later part of the series, the group leaned heavily into auteurist filmmaking. 

And while Lorne Michaels produced the Kids’ show and some of them worked on SNL before and after the run, the Kids in the Hall style was very different. For one thing, there was never a hint of political or topical humor. 

The documentary also dwells on the group’s breakup, as the rest of the cast was angry at Foley during the production of the 1996 movie Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy for joining NewsRadio instead of participating in the writing; the movie was, therefore, a miserable experience for everyone. The film, wisely, does not delve into Foley’s notorious divorce saga. 

The documentary is headed for Amazon Prime, which is also producing a revival series, and one gets the sense both were prepared at the same time. It’s not clear when each will debut. 

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Tavie

    March 21, 2022 at 10:45 am

    It’s Paul Bellini- not Drew. 🙂

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