By G. Michael Dobbs
It’s not the easiest thing to laugh and take notes and that was the primary challenge in speaking with Kevin McDonald and Scott Thompson, two of the members of the legendary comedy troupe, The Kids in the Hall.
This reporter recently conducted two separate telephone interviews with the comedians and actors and that was a blessing. If they had been on the line at the same time, I would have been unable to take clear notes.
At the same time both men were refreshingly candid about a career in show business.
McDonald and Thompson will be appearing together in a stand-up act with new material at the Hu Ke Lau in Chicopee on Oct. 7.
On the show, McDonald played a number of either crazy or naïve women as well as his unforgettable role as “King of Empty Promises,” while Thompson broke new comedy ground with his monologues as Buddy Cole.
“The Kids in the Hall” television series ran from 1988 to 1995 and has been re-run since as well as collected recently on DVD. Since then, both men have been busy with a variety of projects and appearances as well as taking part in several reunion projects with fellow “Kids” Mark McKinney, Bruce McCullough and Dave Foley, the most recent being “Death Comes to Town” in 2008.
McDonald, for instance, has made a mark as a voice actor in animated productions that include “Invader Zim,” “Lilo and Stitch” and “Catscratch.” He likes it, even though he has no creative power.
“It’s tiring,” he explained. “I scream all day because my characters always fall a lot.”
He noted with a little apprehension that he met a voice actor who “did me better than me.”
McDonald recently made the move from Los Angeles to Winnipeg, Canada, because of a new relationship. He explained he initially made the move from Canada because “I have to go out and keep reminding people about me; reminding them about the Kids in the Hall and ask them for money.”
Performing in the reunion tours with the rest of the group “seemed like old times,” he said.
The Kids in the Hall were often noted for their performance in female roles and the steps they took to look like women. Playing in drag today, means “certainly a lot more makeup,” McDonald said.
One of the aspects of “The Kids in the Hall” television show that continues to impress is the edgy innovative quality of the writing. McDonald said the members used to write the television shows by bringing ideas together to McCullough’s apartment and acting them out over and over. Since then with the advent of the personal computer, the team has broken up into smaller writing groups.
He said that the “hardest thing” the group ever wrote was their feature film “Brain Candy.”
“We couldn’t turn a page [in the script] until everyone agreed,” McDonald remembered.
He said each of the tours featured new material and that while in the writing process it seemed like “no time had passed.”
McCullough was in charge of the most recent “Kids” production, the mini-series “Death Comes to Town” and McDonald said the problem the “Kids” has always had is writing longer pieces than skits.
McDonald is new to stand-up but enjoys it and is happy to be on the road with his friend.
“Kevin and I are such good friends,” Thompson said. Neither man wanted to tour alone and the two decided to make a two-year commitment to a stand-up gig.
McDonald said that although part of his stand-up show is scripted, there is also room for improvisation. Thompson explained the two men do a separate set and then come together for a set.
If you’re hoping to see a reprise of well-known characters or skits, you won’t find them at this show, Thompson said.
He said at the beginning of the tour, they tried to do some of their well-known characters, but “we dumped them.”
“It’s easier [to do the tour] without a bag of wigs,” he said.
Thompson was one of the first openly gay performers on television and his signature character was Buddy Cole, the acerbic barfly always holding a martini and ready with a piercing remark.
Cole was Thompson’s stand-up voice for years and Thompson envisioned bringing Cole back as the star of a new show in which Buddy is undertaking a tour of Africa and the Middle East.
Thompson, along with “Kids” writer Paul Bellini, even wrote a Buddy Cole book titled “Buddy Babylon: The Autobiography of Buddy Cole.”
One can tell there is more than a little of Cole in Thompson. When I opened the interview with the admission I’m a big fan of the “Kids,” he said that would make things easier.
“The last [interviewer] was a petulant a*****e and he stayed one through the interview,” he said.
Thompson has also been busy since the “Kids” left the airwaves. He’s had prominent roles in television series such as “The Larry Sanders Show” and “Providence,” as well as other shows.
He said he is “thrilled” to be on stage and performing stand-up, nothing that much of the material is about his life.
“Stand-up is so pure,” he said. “It’s just you and a mic. You’re like a gunslinger.”
Although he improvises on stage, he sticks to the material he developed and said with a hearty laugh, “The show is filthy really, really dirty.”
Thompson is also honest about the tour and about the nature of show business and in a moment of candor, he said he needs the money from the stand-up tour.
“I’ve not had the most illustrious post-“Kids” career,” he said. He views himself as a comic actor and writer who would be “very, very happy with different character roles.”
He noted, that unlike shows such as ”Saturday Night Live,” there was no “break-out” member of the troupe, with the possible exception of Foley, who landed the starring role on “News Radio.”
He said that McKinney and McCullough gravitated to “behind the camera.”
Thompson had been vocal in the past about the depiction of gays on television and in film and the straight actors who get the parts. He said things have “come a million miles” since he raged against how Tom Hanks played a gay man dieing of AIDS in the film “Philadelphia.”
He said he watched the sitcom “Glee” and was amazed by the gay character on it.
“I’m more philosophical about that now,” he said. “I kind of forgive.”
He said one observer wrote of “The Kids” that watching them performing one could tell that they loved one another.
“That’s the secret,” he said. “The Kids in the Hall, that’s our secret a ‘bromance.’”
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