KIDS IN THE HALL

Canadian Sketch Comedy Program

Kids in the Hall (KITH),is a sketch comedy program (1989-94) produced by Lorne Michaels' Broadway Video and co-financed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and the U.S. cable network, Home Box Office (HBO). KITH aired in Canada on the CBC and in the United States on HBO, CBS, and another cable network, Comedy Central. The members of KITH performance group are Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson. The name derives from U.S. comedian Jack Benny's habit of attributing some of his material to aspiring comedians whom he called "the kids in the hall".

KITH was formed in 1984 when McCulloch and McKinney, who had worked together in Calgary as part of a group named the Audience, teamed up with Foley and McDonald's Toronto-based group, KITH. Thompson officially joined in January 1985. That same year, McCulloch and McKinney were hired as writers for NBC's Saturday Night Live (SNL) after a talent scout saw KITH in performance. Significantly, SNL had also been created by Michaels, himself an ex-patriate Canadian living and producing in New York. Still in 1985, Foley appeared in the film High Stakes, and Thompson and McDonald toured with Second City. In 1986, KITH were reunited in Toronto and Michaels finally saw them perform. He immediately envisaged a television project around them. In 1987, he moved KITH to New York and, paying each member $150 per week, had them perform in comedy clubs, write new material, and rehearse sketches. In 1988, Michaels produced their HBO special. The regular series followed.

KITH immediately attracted a cult following and broke new ground by combining shock humour with a finely developed sense of performance and a generosity of spirit which invited audiences to question their presuppositions rather than simply to mock the targets of the humour. Characteristic of KITH's style are well-rounded personifications of both men and women, homosexuals, business executives, prostitutes and drug users, and such creations as the half human/half fowl Chicken Lady, gay barfly Buddy Cole, the angry "head crusher", the annoying child Gavin, and the teenager drawn to older women. These personifications consistently draw upon the inner resources of the characters themselves, showing their encounters with society rather than society's judgment upon them.

KITH also occupies an interesting place within Canadian television. First, although a Canadian show filmed in Toronto, it was produced by a New York-based company best known for turning comedians such as Steve Martin and John Belushi into major stars. KITH could therefore serve as Canadian content while gaining access to the much larger and more lucrative U.S. market. Second, although a CBC program, KITH attracted a youthful cult audience unfamiliar to the CBC and inconsistent with its core demographic. Third, KITH cracked the U.S. market by targeting an audience understood not in terms of its membership in a Canadian national cultural community but a North American audience understood in terms of its relative youth and sophistication with comedy. Fourth, the success of KITH coincided with the moment when the CBC attempted to change its corporate culture by adopting some of the practices of other North American networks and embracing urbanity unreservedly.

However, KITH also extended certain existing aspects of Canadian television. First, KITH adopted the sketch rather than the situation comedy format. Canadian broadcasting has attempted situation comedy only sparingly and unevenly whereas its sketch comedy record reaches back at least to the 1940s with radio's The Happy Gang. On television, sketch comedy appears in the early 1950s with Wayne and Shuster and comes to include Nightcap, SCTV, The Frantics, S&M Comic Book, Codco, The Vacant Lot, Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, and others.

Second, within the North American context, KITH also exemplified the relative openness of Canadian broadcasting. For example, many of KITH's themes and situations were initially deemed inappropriate for U.S. network TV and it therefore debuted on HBO. When CBS did pick it up, KITH underwent certain deletions. Canadian television, however, because of the traditional preponderance of public broadcasting, is more experimental and less censorious, and has long been open to a much broader range of social, political, and cultural attitudes than would be possible on U.S. television. This created a space for KITH's shock humor and extended the CBC's commitment to more challenging material.

Finally, KITH repeated the tradition of exporting Canadian comedy to American television through such notables as Lorne Michaels himself, Dan Aykroyd, Dave Thomas, Martin Short, James Carrey, John Candy, Catherine O'Hara, Rick Moranis, Mike Meyers, and others.

KITH was terminated by the principals themselves who are now pursuing acting, writing, and music careers mainly in the United States. A KITH fanzine and video exist as well as KITH merchandise. A KITH book and movie are anticipated and a KITH newsgroup is maintained on usenet. There may be KITH reunions and concert tours.

-Paul Attallah

 


Kids in the Hall

PERFORMERS

David Foley
Scott Thompson
Kevin McDonald
Bruce McCulloch
Mark McKinney

PRODUCER Lorne Michaels

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

CBC
1989-1995                                           Thursday 9:30

HBO, CBS, Comedy Central, Sky Channel (Europe) Various Times

FURTHER READING

Barol, Bill. "Oh, Those Darn Kids--Black Humour From the Great White North." Newsweek (New York), 2 October 1989.

Barrett, Tom. "5 Angry Kids: Scott Thompson Decries Hypocrisy of CBS Ban on Troupe's AIDS Humour." Vancouver Sun (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1 February 1993.

_______________. "Kids Have 'Overdeveloped Senses of Humour'." Vancouver Sun (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 7 February 1993.

Berton, Pierre, and Sid Adilman. "A Serious Look at Canadian Comedy." Toronto Star (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 15 January 1994.

Handelman, David. "It's 12:30 a.m.--Do You Know Where the Kids Are?" US (New York), March 1994.

Haslett Cuff, John. "Farewell to Those Versatile and Fearless Kids." The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 16 January 1995.

_______________. "Has Too Much Freedom Spoiled the Kids?" The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 31 October 1991.

Mietkiewicz, Henry. "Kids in the Hall Tape Final Show." Toronto Star (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 14 July 1994.

 

See also Canadian Programming in English