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Interview: Kevin McDonald on going solo, his fear of stand-up and a possible ‘Kids in the Hall’ reunion

Posted by Arish Singh | Mar 25, 2014 | Arts & Entertainment
Illustration by Ben Mackey
Kevin McDonald

Kevin McDonald headlines the Green Gravel Comedy Festival: March 29 at the Wieting Theatre in Toledo, Iowa. — illustration by Ben Mackey

Kevin McDonald. Comedy fans may not recognize the name, but I bet most of them, especially those with the good fortune to have been raised by television instead of the internet, know him when they see him.

The flailing limbs, the wiry build, the even more wiry hair, the face that seems to function as a volume knob for the audience’s laughter, cranking it up ever higher with each contorted look of confusion, panic or joy. Kids In The Hall Kevin McDonald: Sir Simon Milligan of “Simon and Hecubus;” “The Real Buddy Hall;” “The Bass Player.” So many great sketches! And yes, Denim Vest from Seinfeld. Pastor Dave from That ’70s Show. And, oh yes, the irate school administrator in the Outkast video who will stand for absolutely no speakerboxxxing. That Kevin McDonald.

A good chunk of pop culture’s comedy landscape is dotted with McDonald’s frenetic silliness, and he continues to take it into new territory. In 2010, McDonald turned his troubled relationship with his abusive alcoholic father into a one-man comedy show, Hammy and the Kids, and toured it across the U.S. and Canada, including a stop in Iowa City. McDonald returns to Iowa, this time to Toledo, on March 29 as the headliner of the three-day Green Gravel Comedy Festival.

Little Village: You mentioned that, in addition to improv workshops, you’ll be doing some stand-up performances at the Green Gravel Comedy Festival. I’d actually read you are a little uncomfortable with performing stand-up.

Kevin McDonald: Yes. I get very nervous. I get showbiz diarrhea all day. I long for my four friends [from Kids in the Hall] to be on stage with me. I always assume that’s how it should be, but we’re all living in different cities. We’re still working together. We’re actually working on a new tour. We’re all emailing and writing new sketches. But in between, I have done several stand-up shows. It is not really in my make-up. It does make me nervous. There are pieces of characters in there. I can’t really write jokes, so it sort of becomes a sketch stand-up. Kind of like sketchy stand-up.

LV: It seems like it has gone full circle with sketch comedy and stand-up. In the late ’90s, Kids in the Hall seemed to be at the forefront of all this sketch comedy and stand-up seemed to fade away. And now stand-up has had this huge resurgence. Do you see it this way?

KM: Yeah, stand-up is back in a big way. But I think there is also a sketch comedy boom. Now there is the fact that there’s the internet and YouTube. You can film things and see them right away. I think there may be less stage sketch comedy because of that.

I am not sure how much we have influenced the actual comedy, but I think we did have influence on people wanting to become comedians. It is sort of like what they say about the Velvet Underground. Only 5,000 people bought that album, but everyone who bought that album bought a guitar and started a band. I think we are sort of the sketch comedy version of that.

LV: Kids in the Hall, as you said, are putting on this new tour. Do you think you could kill stand-up again?

KM: Well, I don’t think we ever killed stand-up, maybe it was dented a bit with all the sketch comedy. I hate to say this about ourselves, but if there was any “sketch comedy revolution” caused by us … you know, we were young kids in our 20s, and in the show, our early 30s, and I don’t think we can cause another revolution, but I think we are still good enough that we can create great comedy.

Maybe the next revolution will be that as we get older and older and older, we will let people know they can still keep doing it. Maybe a tiny comedian revolution. But I don’t think we will ever change the face of comedy again or something like that.

LV: Older and older … so maybe going from the Velvet Underground to the Rolling Stones of sketch comedy. Just never stop touring.

KM: Yeah, maybe. It’s weird. It makes sense the Rolling Stones are still performing. Their heroes were blues legends in their 70s, and now, that is where they are, rock legends in their ’70s. We only had one bible to follow, though. Monty Python. We always thought we would be like them. Even when we were a stage troupe, we thought, “oh, we’ll get discovered and we’ll just do a TV show for five years,” which we did, “and then we’ll do our first movie when the show is over,” which we did, “and then we’ll do a movie every three or four years.”

And that’s the only thing that didn’t happen. The first movie kind of bombed, but we’re proud of it. But we do get together every three or four years and do a tour. And we did a television mini-series, Death Comes to Town, and we hope to do another one from this tour. So we’re still following the Monty Python bible in a way.

LV: You performed in Iowa City a few years back. I, oddly enough, ran into you when you were here.

KM: Yeah, I did my one-man show there. Was it in one of the bars we went to afterwards?

LV: No, that would probably have been far cooler … Your sleeve had gotten just slightly stuck on the door of this restaurant you were exiting, and you were playing it off as a joke to your friend, saying “I am stuck, start the revolution without me.” And I, way too eagerly … slid that bit of your sleeve off the door. A moment later, I realized just how incredibly lame that was. You weren’t really stuck and I had abruptly cut off your joke. I had actually managed to step on the joke of a comedian I grew up on.

KM: No. That’s nice. Thank you, you saved my life.

LV: As a comedian and a workshop teacher, I’d like to know, how could I have made that situation funnier?

KM: No, it should be left that way. It makes a better story. I hope I said thank you, though.

LV: I can’t recall. By then I think I had scurried inside to stare at my feet and contemplate my unyielding lameness.

KM: I actually had a slightly embarrassing moment that night. I was there walking with my guitarist friend Craig and he asked me,”Whatever happened to your friend Daryl?” Daryl is a poet, but I was drunk, and I forgot the word poet and I said, “Oh, he is a poem-writer now.” If I ever start a rock band, I am going to call it the “Poem-Writers.”

LV: I could see the Poem-Writers easily selling out in Iowa City. Did you enjoy your time out here?

KM: I loved it. The the one-man show went well, and then it was one bar after the other. My friend and I went out and saw a bunch of bands. It was so much fun.

LV: When you perform out in the Midwest, do you feel it’s similar to Canada?

KM: Canada, especially where I live, Winnipeg, reminds of the midwest. The small city. The flatness. And how everybody is nice in a smart way.

Arashdeep Sangha likes to pretend that he is writing a book about the 1979 Comedy Store strike and the tension between the comedians picketing and those crossing the line, entitled Stand Down: Stood Up Stand-Ups Stand up to Fed Up Stand-Ins.

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