Dave Foley On Bringing Back ‘The Kids In The Hall’ And Never Growing Up

It’s been twenty-seven years since the last episode of The Kids In The Hall‘s eponymous TV show and twenty-six since the release of Brain Candy, the movie that almost broke the iconic sketch comedy group up. Since then, there have been lawsuits, an easing of tensions, numerous tours, health scares, and onscreen reunions (Death Comes To Town). Now, the Kids are back with a new season (which drops on Amazon May 13) and a new documentary (Comedy Punks, out on Amazon May 20).

If you loved what the group did before, you’re going to love all of this, but if you’ve never heard of the Kids and you rejoice at the news that I Think You Should Leave got a new season, this might be a new old thing that blows your mind because the Kids are foundational to everything sketch comedy over the last 30+ years. To recycle a line I used when ranking the group as the 3rd best since 1990 (after mainlining a bunch of old and new Kids episodes over the last couple of weeks, I might want to reorder those rankings to put Kids In The Hall on top), they were “silly, rowdy, lawless, smart, absurd, and occasionally surreal.” And in this new iteration, Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson are still bringing the same relatable charm, cutting wit, and bend toward dark comedic absurdity. They’re also creating new characters that stand level with some of their classics (who occasionally pop up in the series).

How did they pull it off? When we spoke with Foley recently about this new season, he explained, tossing cold water on the idea that the group had matured while giving credit to the Kids’ past tours for their embrace of new characters. He also detailed the power of exhaustion in keeping egos in check, the group’s continued aversion to topical comedy and parody, and a reliance on the same creative dynamics and focuses that have served them so well for more than three decades. Including the general idea that, if you think about the audience too much, they might get in the way.

This was tremendous. I laughed pretty much nonstop.

That’s good. That’s the goal.

[Laughs] It is the goal. This didn’t throw me into pensive thoughts about the state of life. It actually made me laugh, which was such a throwback.

[Laughs] Yeah. We’re old school that way.

Yeah, exactly. So, were all the old dynamics still at play [behind the scenes]? You teaming with Kevin [McDonald], etc?

They’re all still pretty much in place. Kevin and I are a very tight team and Mark and Bruce [as well], because we are the two original groups that merged. And Scott’s kind of a floater and Kevin too. Kevin writes with everybody. But pretty much the dynamics of the writing are very similar and mostly in the good ways. Most of the bad ways are faded.

I’m assuming the bad ways were driven by ego and differences of opinion as far as the overall idea of the show. How have those things changed over time?

Well, there isn’t the sort of ruthless scorched earth policy towards getting your own material in. [Laughs] You know, where I will, if necessary, destroy your entire sense of self in order to get my sketch in instead of yours. That’s gone by the wayside.

Is that a symptom of time?

Age! Age, I think. I would like to say maturity, but no, I think it’s just the energy to destroy other people just isn’t there anymore.

Is it a conscious effort to keep that stuff at bay or is it just natural at this point?

No, I think it’s just natural. It’s just a lessening of the intensity. It’s still there. We still are very vehement in our opinions about everything and there’s still a lot of passion in the group, but it’s just not quite as nasty as it used to be. I think it’s also that sense that when we were young and making the show the first go-round, our attitude was everything was life and death. Everything was about creating who we are and what we are and everything was definitive and now we’re old enough to know that almost nothing is. We’re not concerned about creating a legacy anymore. We’re just interested in doing some work that pleases us. But as I said, when you’re young and you’re trying to create something new, then there’s all this, “No, if we do this, it will be the ruination of us! This will destroy us! Your sketch will destroy everything we fought for!” So, you’ve got to battle it out. And also just the jockeying for [position], because there’s only limited turf in a half-hour show. So, there’s always a lot of jockeying for control of the space.

Are there any sketches going back that you remember being strongly against that, through the passage of time, you realized, “Okay? I was really a schmuck then?”

Oh my God! “Love And Sausages” is probably the one that leaps to mind the most because I was so against it. I thought it was pretentious and didn’t think it had any laughs in it. And more than anything, it took up two days of shooting, which was unheard of. We’d never done anything that took two days to shoot. It was taking resources away from other things. So, I was really against it. And then when it was finished, I was very down on it. Although, even then I had to admit that Scott’s performance was pretty fantastic.

When we finished making the show, I didn’t watch the show for a long time. I watched it a little bit when my kids were old enough. I watched a little bit of it with my 19-year-old daughter, but I don’t think any of us have gone through and watched all the old shows since we made them. But having seen “Love And Sausages” in recent years I go, “Oh yeah. You know what? It’s pretty great.”

Were there any sketches you had to champion that the rest of the crew was against?

“Girl Drink Drunk” took two seasons to get in. I wrote it in the first season and I couldn’t get it in the show until the second season. Mostly, because no one else in the troop understood what a montage was. Except for Kevin, they couldn’t because it had this old Lost Weekend montage in the middle of it and it was a reference that no one else liked or got into.

Kids In The Hall

Who is this new version for? I know first and foremost, it’s for you guys and it should be. But is it for classic fans? Is it in courtship of new fans, a mix? What’s the target audience here?

To be honest with you, the target audience is always the other four guys and nobody else. And it’s been that way since our shows at the Rivoli and on Queen Street (in Toronto). We used to title our Rivoli shows every week and one of the posters that we put out said, “Don’t come, you’ll only get in the way.” And that was kind of the attitude of the group from the start.
Were there any specific anxieties going into this?

The anxiety of just when we show up in the writer’s room, is anything going to happen? I think that was the main thing because it’s a product of a very dysfunctional and unusual chemistry between us. So, it’s like, “Is something going to get done?” And it was a real relief when we all got in a room and started pitching ideas to each other. We had some sense that we could still do it because we’d done a lot of touring over the years and we’d always write a little bit of new stuff for each tour. And then at one point, we decided we didn’t want to do any best of sketches. And we did one entire tour that was all-new sketches. And then the next tour we did was about half and half. So, when we are writing those new sketches, we realized, “Oh, we actually still like writing together and we still are coming up with ideas that are interesting to us and that we thought compared favorably with the best stuff we wrote in the old show.”

What are some of the new sketches that you’re most excited for people to see?

I do love the Shakespeare sketch. There’s a sketch called The Professor that I don’t think you would’ve seen yet I think the Money Mart sketch is pretty damn funny.

I would put at least three or four of the things that I’ve seen so far with the classics that you guys have done. Shakespeare, the Slippery Baby sketch. What is the ambition beyond these episodes?

Well, the ambition is entirely predicated on what people think of these eight. And if enough people seem to like them, and if Amazon is pleased with how they perform for them. Whatever their algorithm says. I’m not sure what an algorithm is by the way.

Black magic.

I see it as some sort of semi-simian beast in a cage. So if it’s pleased, then it’s a possibility that we’ll be back in studio this summer producing another eight.

This isn’t so different [from the classic series] that I would say, “Well, this is definitely written by guys who are in their 50s and 60s now.” This doesn’t feel like that. Is that just a lack of maturity? [Laughs]

It is a lack of maturity and certainly a lack of complacency. [Laughs] And also arrogance, we still have more than our fair share of the arrogance that we started with. And within the group, just a supremely unfounded confidence that whatever decisions we make are going to be the right ones in terms of comedy. I think we all doubt ourselves individually a lot of the time, but I don’t think any of us doubt what the Kids In The Hall is as a collective.

Is it overblown this notion that we change over time when it comes to our tastes? I still like this stuff that I thought was funny when I was 15, 20, 25. Obviously, there are changes, but it’s not that significant.

I’ve never actually, in my lifetime, met a person who has changed unless it was the result of severe head trauma. That’s the only time I’ve ever heard of any human being ever changing significantly. And that’s true. You give a good blow, a really good blow to the head. Your entire personality can be replaced by a new one.

No, I tried. It still doesn’t work. I may have to try harder.

I had a pretty good head trauma myself about seven years ago that actually was quite beneficial. But it’s true, other than severe damage to the brain, I’ve never met any who has ever changed. Change only happens in novels and in movies. People don’t have a journey and they don’t have realizations and growth. It’s always like the question of fiction is, “Well, how does this character grow? What does this character learn?” And the truth about life is nothing. Nothing of significance is ever learned; no growth is ever made. It’s tiny changes in opinions and skills in moderating behavior. That’s all anyone ever does. People learn to moderate their behavior, but they don’t fundamentally change in any real way.

It’s just an effort to not get stabbed.

You learn to avoid being kicked out of the community. That’s all. Certainly, myself, I don’t detect any fundamental growth since puberty.

‘Kids In The Hall’ and the documentary ‘Kids In The Hall: Comedy Punks’ hit Amazon on May 13