10 Fun Facts About The Kids In The Hall
It’s a fact! Ten of them, in fact. All about the comedians from Canada who created the strangest sketch show since that famous flying circus. Scott Thompson, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, Dave Foley, and Bruce McCulloch.
After launching the pilot episode on both CBC and HBO in 1988, The Kids in the Hall—which made its series debut a year later—brought an irreverent, chaotic brand of comedy to the airwaves as a kind of antidote to Saturday Night Live's pop culture-heavy format. The series contorted and skewered real life, stretching satire to its furthest limits with recurring characters like the chauvinistic Cabbage Head, the explosive Chicken Lady, and others that weren’t human-animal/vegetable hybrids.
Let’s crush our heads together for some facts about the purveyors of brain candy.
1. THEY ADOPTED THEIR NAME FROM A SID CAESAR GAG.
Whenever Sid Caesar bombed a joke, he’d say that it had been written by “the kids in the hall,” referring to the young upstarts working for him in the NBC studio of Your Show of Shows. Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald were big Caesar fans, but they didn’t choose the name solely because of that admiration. The “kids” Caesar was goofing on in the 1950s included Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, and others who the new “Kids” also loved.
2. THEY AVOIDED CONVERSATIONS ABOUT THE NATURE OF COMEDY.
There’s a cottage industry of comedians waxing comically about being funny (think Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee), and it makes sense to assume funny people are always discussing what makes things funny. Yet The Kids in the Hall shied away from navel gazing. “There was always a pooh-poohing of theoretical discussions,” Mark McKinney told Vulture. McCulloch added that “whenever we’d have a theoretical conversation about comedy, we’d stop because we knew if we kept at it, we’d break up."
3. THE "HEAD CRUSHER" MADE HIS DEBUT MUCH EARLIER THAN THE SERIES.
One of The Kids in the Hall's most famous characters was the Head Crusher, in which McKinney played a delusional (or was he?) man who tried to crush people’s heads by squinting through his thumb and forefinger. It turns out that he’s been a champion against yuppiedom since the beginning.
“It was something that I created back in our club days,” McKinney told Esquire. “Kevin and I were having lunch, and we were broke. I think we were splitting a sandwich. We were feeling really poor, and we were having lunch in an area of Toronto called Bay Street which is kind of like Wall Street, so there were a lot of people in very expensive suits all around us talking loud, and I just started crushing their heads, like, ‘You think you so good? I crush your head!’ And we immediately thought it was funny."
4. A FAN GAVE THEM COW EYES.
The Kids in the Hall attracted a curious fanbase, including one fan in Vancouver who gave them a jar of cow eyes. But it wasn’t just a gift: He put them out on a plate and asked the Kids to chow down. “We didn’t eat that,” McDonald told The A.V. Club.
5. SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE ALMOST BROKE THEM UP BEFORE THEY EVEN GOT GOING.
McDonald and Dave Foley were performing as The Kids in the Hall before the group formed into the Voltron of cross-dressing comedy we know. Likewise, McCulloch and McKinney were working together in the improv world. They met and started doing comedy together as The Kids in the Hall, eventually pulling in Thompson in 1985, but that was around the same time that Saturday Night Live came calling for McCulloch and McKinney. They wrote for the iconic show for only a season, necessitating a brief hiatus from the Kids, and when they got back together, it was SNL guru Lorne Michaels who saw their act and set the gears in motion for The Kids in the Hall TV show.
6. THEY MADE ONLY ONE (SUPER DIVISIVE) MOVIE TOGETHER.
Many TV comedies have tried to make the jump to feature films by trying to make their humor appeal to an even larger audience. That’s not what The Kids in the Hall did. They actually went even weirder when they made 1996’s Brain Candy, a film about a struggling pharmaceutical company that hits on a potent antidepressant which becomes a massive success (except when it drives people into comas where they relive their favorite memories on loop). It featured several characters from their show alongside many new ones, and was so divisive that Siskel and Ebert all but yelled at each other while reviewing it (Siskel loved it; Ebert ... not so much).
7. BRAIN CANDY WAS MADE UNDER INCREDIBLY DEPRESSING CIRCUMSTANCES.
A cult film through and through (read: a box office flop), Brain Candy also represented the end of the road for The Kids in the Hall. It came after their TV show was over, and when the group's members were forging their own paths. Foley, who’d found mainstream success with NewsRadio, left the group over creative differences, and lost his writing credit and his main role in Brain Candy. It was a strain on a group that was already buckling, but they were also dealing with a lot of personal problems.
“In the period of a month, Dave’s marriage broke up, one of Kevin’s parents died, and my brother committed suicide,” Thompson later explained. “I was pretty much in shock. My brother died literally a week before we started shooting. All those things conspired to make it a dark time.” Not to mention they were making a comedy about depression.
8. THEY STAND BY THEIR MOST CONTROVERSIAL GAG.
One Kids in the Hall character who made the leap to their movie also ruffled a lot of feathers for those who couldn’t tell where the satirical line had been drawn. Cancer Boy was meant to mock celebrities who sought the spotlight with sick children, but a lot of people thought it was a bad taste jab aimed at the kids. The studio desperately wanted the character cut, and Janet Maslin of The New York Times called it the film’s “worst idea,” but the Kids defend it to this day.
“I love Cancer Boy more than anybody,” McCulloch, who portrayed the character, told The A.V. Club. “I was tired of the way that little kids with cancer were used by celebrities for photo ops. If the kid goes into remission, does Wayne Gretzky still visit him?” The other cast members echoed that support for the controversial joke.
9. “GIRL DRINK DRUNK” HAD AN UNHAPPY ORIGIN, TOO.
In another famous sketch, Foley plays a “grown man” corporate climber peer pressured into having alcohol for the first time. Eventually, the drinks that “taste like candy” ruin his life, hilariously. For McDonald, the idea for the gag came from a ruinous performance when McCulloch bombed throughout a show and then scolded the group, which depressed McDonald to hit a bar with McKinney. The winos at the bar depressed him more, and McKinney convinced him to have his very first drink, a margarita, because “it takes just like candy."
10. THEY REFORMED TO MAKE A MURDER MYSTERY.
The dissolution of the group after Brain Candy wasn’t the end for The Kids in the Hall. They’ve reunited a few times in the past two decades for live tours, but The Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town was their first time returning to television, and the result is something tonally similar to their sketch show while structurally divergent.
It follows a single story—the murder of the mayor of a small town vying to host the 2028 Summer Olympics. Oh, and the scythe-wielding personification of Death has checked into a local motel. Far from Sharp Objects, it’s still profoundly goofy and seriously silly.