My first year of graduate school I was pretty miserable; this has less to do with the coursework and more to do with the fact that the school just wasn’t a very good fit for me. I had been having far too good of a time as an undergraduate to put the proper thought and research into where I was going to continue my studies. My two main criteria were (a) a school that had a good men’s basketball program and (b) a school with a late application deadline because I simply didn’t have it together enough to send in applications earlier in the semester. In retrospect, things like the primary focus of the political science department and the culture of the department should have been more of a consideration, but live and learn. The end result is that I ended up the University of Connecticut, which met my primary two criteria, but was ultimately not the place for me. My colleagues in my department were more focused on international relations and comparative politics, so my concentration on the American presidency and the courts didn’t really jibe. Personally, we didn’t really fit either – in the student lounge they would be debating the Middle East and how to achieve peace and I’d want to discuss last night’s episode of The Simpsons. They were more interested in publications while I was more interested in teaching. We just didn’t have a lot in common. I am sure that it is a fabulous institution of learning, but it wasn’t where I was supposed to be.
Because of my questionable decision making, I was pretty lonely that academic year. I didn’t really have any friends and I lived in a tiny little dorm among a lot of foreign students that didn’t really speak English, so even though I was at a large university I felt very isolated. I suffered from terrible insomnia and wound up watching a lot of television and movies during that year to fill the void. It was during one of these bouts of sleeplessness that I stumbled upon Kids in the Hall re-runs on Comedy Central.
I was aware of Kids in the Hall prior to this, but it was during this period that I really got familiar with their comedy. Their sketch show was more absurdist that I had been exposed to at that point and at first I honestly didn’t know what to make of the show; many of their sketches were really weird and more than a few were pretty dark. Unlike most sketch shows that I was familiar with, Kids in the Hall didn’t rely on current events and celebrity impressions for the bulk of their humor; they were more likely to find laughs in a chickenlady, a guy with cabbage for a head and a flamboyant gay philosopher.. But I was desperate to have something to fill my time and take my mind off my unhappiness, so I stuck with the show and learned to adapt to their style. I don’t know if it was the lack of sleep or just evolving comedy tastes, but soon I considered myself a fan of Kids in the Hall and looked forward to the episodes; it wasn’t long before I was quoting lines from the show and had my favorite recurring characters. I was already a fan of Dave Foley from his time on NewsRadio, but Kevin McDonald, Scott Thompson, Mark McKinney and Bruce McCulloch were all new discoveries for me. I liked that I liked a show that wasn’t necessarily mainstream; finding someone else that enjoyed Kids in the Hall was like finding another member of a secret society. The Kids went their separate ways for a while, pursuing their own projects, but came together again for the eight-part miniseries Death Comes to Town in 2010. I generally enjoyed it, but it served as a reminder that the comedic stylings of Kids in the Hall are definitely something of an acquired taste.
When I heard that Kids in the Hall were touring again – something that they hadn’t done since 2008 – and were making a stop at The Wilbur in Boston, I knew that I had to go check them out. The “Rusty and Ready Tour” was only going to stop in six cities and I wanted to take advantage of their semi-close proximity. Who knows how many more times that they’ll go out on tour? So I snatched up a ticket for the 10 pm show and was curious as to what kind of material that I was going to get.
When I arrived at the Wilbur, I realized that I had bought a ticket for “the Lincoln seats” – the balcony off to the side of the theater. I’d always wanted to sit there, so whether it was a happy accident that is where I got tickets or if I realized it at the point of purchase and simply forgot, I was pretty excited as the usher escorted me to my seat. I was decidedly less excited when I sat in said seat and realized that this was my view of the stage:
Now, I will admit that I am definitely on the shrimpy side, but unless I was well over 6 ft. tall I don’t know how I was expected to have a clear view of the stage. I was disappointed that I had paid a fair amount of cash and driven three hours one way to look at the back of these people’s heads. The guy who was seated behind me couldn’t see either and he went to speak with management on both of our accounts. It was nice of him to take up the good fight on my account as well, but it didn’t do much good – the manager seemed surprised that we have any problem seeing and said that no one had ever complained before. He did apparently offer to move us to the top tier, but by the time my advocate returned I had figured out a way that I could position myself so that I had a better sight line to the stage. It wasn’t a particularly comfortable position, but I made it work. The guy behind me and his friends just stood for the whole show, so we all wound up being able to see in the end. But I will never get those seats again. I love the slate of programming that they have at The Wilbur, so I’ll continue to go back, but I have yet to find a seating arrangement at the place that has been without issue. The downside of an old theater, I suppose.
Anyway, once I figured out how to balance myself on my chair like an Olympic gymnast, it was time for the show to start. I was somewhat surprised at how excited I became just from hearing the theme song from their sketch show; though I own the DVD box set of the show, I hadn’t rewatched it prior to this performance in preparation and had kind of forgotten about the song. But as soon as it started, I forgot that I was perilously perched on a chair and was just ready to have a good time. And then – there they were! Foley, McCulloch, Thompson, McDonald and McKinney were there, in the flesh – all wearing wedding dresses. The Kids played most of their female characters and were somewhat famous for dressing up as women and playing it straight (the joke wasn’t just seeing men pretending to be women), so this sight in and of itself wasn’t unusual. But seeing them all together again – regardless of clothing – was enough to put a huge smile on my face before they even said anything.
The show wound up being a mix of old and new material; some recurring characters like the Gavin, Simon and Hecubus, the Geralds, Buddy Cole and Gordon and Fran were brought back in new sketches. It was good to see these familiar characters put in new situations. I don’t know that I’ll ever find Buddy Cole not hilarious and Thompson surely did not disappoint. The gang also unveiled some new material as well, which was just as funny and odd as their older stuff. I really enjoyed a song and dance number that Kevin McDonald performed at the beginning of the show that gave a quick history of the Kids in the Hall for “the girlfriends that were dragged here tonight.” It was very funny and really did give a quick orientation of who the Kids in the Hall are and their different personalities. They did two sketches that were pretty much word for word from their show – one of the first sketches that they did was a recreation of the very first Chickenlady sketch and their encore was the “Running Faggot” sketch that had openly gay Stephen Thompson as a wise Native giving advice to the people that he encountered. The crowd seemed equally happy with both the old and new material and was loudly enthusiastic over the course of the 90 minute show.
The Kids also seemed to be having a really great time; I don’t know if it was because it was the second show of the night, but they seemed very loose and giddy. They made some mistakes during the course of the sketches – McKinney had some trouble eating a worm in the Chickenlady sketch and there were some microphone issues during another bit – but they handled it all like the pros that they are. They did break a few times, which is always funny to watch; everyone pretty much lost it (cast and audience) when Foley accidentally grabbed McDonald private anatomy in the Simon and Hecubus sketch. It didn’t matter that everything wasn’t 100% polished; in fact, it only added to the fun of the night. I’ve had mixed results in going to see sketch comedy live, but unsurprisingly the Kids in the Hall knocked it out of the park.
Some other thoughts:
- After seeing them live, I’ve started rewatching the old episodes of their show on DVD. That’s a sign of a good show – when you seek out more of their material.
- Nerdist has also posted several classic sketches on their YouTube channel, supplemented with commentary from the cast:
- One of my favorite characters was Mr. Tyzik, played by McKinney, who used to “crush” people’s heads with his fingers. I may or may not have spent an entire inning at a Red Sox game at Fenway getting the perfect photo of me “crushing” Curt Schilling’s head. I was disappointed that Mr. Tyzik didn’t make an appearance during the stage show, though I don’t think that bit would really work that well live.
- The Kids have updated their references with the times; modern technology is seamlessly incorporated into their skits.
- I’ve really enjoyed Stephen Thompson’s work on Hannibal; he is doing some work that is against type, but he’s very good. I also really enjoyed his week long stint as Buddy Cole on The Colbert Report.
- I’m curious if the Gordon and Fran sketch, where McCulloch and Thompson portray a middle-aged married couple, was as racy for the early show as it was for the later show. It wasn’t scandalous, but it was definitely more adult in content than most of the other sketches.
- Dave Foley is one of the greatest straight men in the business; he can get so many laughs just from reacting to the insanity that surrounds him. I wish he did more work in the States – lucky Canadians get to see more of him.
- Special shout-out to my friends Laura and Mat, who gave me a place to crash the evening of the show. I was foolishly planning to drive to Boston and back in one night – a feat that I had done before, but for a much earlier show. It was so much nicer to just have to drive to their home instead of all the way back to Albany (and probably a lot safer). Plus visiting with friends was a nice bonus.
Since the show I went to was a Friday night, it was a long day for me but totally worth it; Kids in the Hall put on a great show and feel tremendously fortunate that I was able to catch them on this tour. Seeing them live definitely rekindled my fandom of the group and I’ve been enjoying revisiting their older work as time permits. I don’t know that I’ll ever 100% get some of their stuff – I struggle sometimes with the more absurdist end of the spectrum – but even if some of it doesn’t click for me, I do enjoy the vast majority of their work. Given their busy individual schedules, I don’t know when the Kids in the Hall will be able to tour again, but I would definitely make an effort to check them out again. Hopefully next time they will visit more cities so more people can enjoy them.