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The Kids in the Hall
Excerpt

Introduction to The Kids in the Hall: One Dumb Guy

It was the winter of 1984, and a particularly nasty blizzard was heaping abundant quantities of snow upon the frozen streets of Toronto, Canada. TTC streetcars were backed up on all major routes, cabs were nowhere to be seen and frankly, if you had nothing better to do, you were best to stay home plopped in front of the TV under a blanket and near a space heater.

But some of us did have something better to do on this night. Something that made brave comedy aficionados like ourselves venture out into the fray, trudging through six-foot snow banks, past entombed vehicles that wouldn't be dug out until morning. We were on a mission. Our oasis lay deep within the hipster strip of Queen Street West, in the laugh-filled cabaret bar known as The Rivoli.

On this night, like so many Monday nights of late, The Rivoli's small but functional stage had been commandeered by five young men - Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson – who were going about the hilarious business of fulfilling their weekly residency, performing comedy as The Kids In The Hall. As Carson the bartender took drink orders and kept a snooty eye out for any suburban tourists, the Kids would put up a new show every week, creating characters on the fly until they had developed an original sketch comedy aesthetic that, while clearly informed by Monty Python, Second City, Theatresports, and Saturday Night Live, also reflected the anarchic punk rock spirit of their time and place in mid-1980s Toronto. As a witness to these early days, as a rock musician on the scene, and former classmate of two of the Kids when they were studying at Second City, I can attest to the insurgent atmosphere of these early performances, their comic energy was as youthful as any punk rock band, only this was the spirit of rock and roll manifested as sketch comedy.

Of course, these Kids were already young adults, averaging in their early 20s. Their misleading name had been borrowed from one of the pioneers of TV sketch comedy, Sid Caesar, who would legendarily refer to his writers as "the kids in the hall," if only to blame them when a joke stiffed or gag bombed. But while the name had history, it was also filled with a necessary sense of self-deprecation, an early clue of what would become an outsider ethos. These guys weren't the establishment in the big room; they were the young punks in the corridor, waiting in the wings for their big break, well aware that the only way to get it was to take it.

Here comes the full disclosure part of the book. My name is a clue, Paul Myers, while I am a writer and musician, my brother is famous comic actor/writer Mike Myers. Mike had come out of the Second City school of comedy, and as his brother, I was eager to try my hand at sketch comedy shortly after he had made himself something of a legend at the Second City Workshops. Naturally, I enrolled in the Workshops myself, and it was here that I first met Kevin McDonald and David Foley, who knew of my brother and had struck up a friendship but lost touch after I dropped out, realizing that lightning rarely strikes twice in one household. Concurrently, my girlfriend at the time had recently graduated from York University, and a former theatre student there named Scott Thompson had invited her to see his comedy troupe, The Kids in The Hall. Imagine my surprise to see my friends Dave and Kevin in “Scott’s troupe.” From that point on, I was a regular supporter of Kids in The Hall. And that was why I had braved a Toronto winter’s night not fit for man nor beast to take my place in the Rivoli audience, week after week.

As Toronto thawed, the buzz around The Kids In The Hall likewise heated up, and by the following year they were hot enough to attract the attention of Saturday Night Live impresario Lorne Michaels, who stunned fans of the troupe by hiring away McCulloch and McKinney as writers, effectively disbanding them in the process. It seemed like the end, just as it was starting to take off. We the fans were left scratching our heads. Was all hope lost for our favourite local troupe?

But as it turned out, you couldn’t keep them apart, and Bruce and Mark missed the comfort of their own team, so they reunited, and began putting on shows once more at The Rivoli. Only this time, there was a new solidarity offstage, which was funneled into their hunger to push the envelope onstage. Eventually, Lorne Michaels came to the realization that the entire five-man troupe was worth more than the sum of its parts and, by 1987, his company, Broadway Video, began actively developing an HBO pilot for The Kids In The Hall. The Kids went to New York to toughen up their chops, and when they returned, they had earned their own television series, which debuted on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in 1988, and HBO in the U.S. The series would run until 1995. They were not ours anymore; they belonged to English-speaking comedy fans everywhere.

But since they taped The Kids In The Hall in Toronto, they managed to take their Rivoli fanbase with them for the tapings, only now we were in the bleachers at the old CBC Studios on Mutual Street. For the fans, these events were always a party, even if the Kids themselves appeared to be running around the whole time, working like dogs to make last minute changes to scripts or attending to elaborate costume adjustments. And yet, a convivial atmosphere prevailed, and between set ups, you could always spot a few Kids pumping themselves up off the set, and dancing to Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet, who provide live in the studio warm up music for the tapings. This three-man guitar combo not only wrote and performed the troupe’s theme song "Having An Average Weekend," they created the interstitial cues used on the series, and provided the show’s signature sound. That sound would influence the sound of many a comedy show to come, including The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. What we couldn't know, back in that studio before the series had debuted, was whether this party would translate to anyone in the rest of Canada, let alone the rest of the world.

Of course, it turned out that their brand of humour traveled very well indeed, and today, The Kids In The Hall has left a lasting influence on not just the comedy of their peers, but on subsequent generations of sketch comedy, including Mr. Show with Bob & David, The State, Kroll Show, Broad City, Portlandia, Key & Peele, and Inside Amy Schumer. Meanwhile, back home in Canada, many of today's homegrown comedians cite the Kids as a reason to feel good about making regionally specific comedy that doesn't always pander to American export values.

I'll never forget visiting them on the Toronto set of their 1996 feature film debut, Brain Candy. Dave had gone to Hollywood and had been somewhat estranged from the troupe but as he played his scenes with the others, here in the abandoned brewery that served as their soundstage, it was heartening to see the ice melt just as it had back in the blizzard days of The Rivoli club. Scott's brother Dean had committed suicide just weeks beforehand, and I could sense he using his comedy brothers to focus his energies on something more creative. Bruce was pacing, paying attention to the little details and keeping the team moving forward. Marriages were breaking up, and life in general was too out of control for them to handle. The film flopped, and it would be years before they started playing together again. And every time they did, I came out to see them, and it was always memorable. Even on the 2015 tour, older, wiser and with better grown up coping skills, the Kids remain a high wire act, tenuously perched on the edge, where all the best comedy tension lives.

I am thrilled to be able to share their story with you now, as much of it as they can remember, direct from the source, in the first ever authorized biography of the Kids In The Hall. So get yourself a beverage, cue up some records by Shadowy Men on A Shadowy Planet, find a comfortable place to read, and come having eaten; we have a lot of ground to cover.

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Whatever It Takes

Whatever It Takes

Life Lessons from Degrassi and Elsewhere in the World of Music and Television
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Bad Singer

Bad Singer

The Surprising Science of Tone Deafness and How We Hear Music
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover eBook
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Skinheads, Fur Traders, and DJs
Excerpt

London

“That bloke’s screwing me. There’s gonna be bovver,” said Mick, with a worried voice. It was Saturday night at the Hammersmith Palais, one of the premier discos in London, a huge old ballroom that attracted the toughest lads and the cutest girls. Mick was shouting over the DJ’s music, ironically, “Love Train” by the O’Jays. I wasn’t paying attention, as I was standing by the music booth watching the DJ skilfully cue the next single on the turntable, hoping I might learn something. This was 1972 — a period in the United Kingdom when “screwing” meant someone was staring you down. The “screw” usually happened just before the bovver boy walked over and cracked you with a Glasgow kiss. With the victim on the floor, Jack the Lad would then stick the boot in, usually Doc Martens, aiming for the goolies, leaving the victim writhing in agony with his future fatherhood in question. No Love Train for these hooligans.
I knew what was coming next. It wasn’t that Mick had done anything wrong, in particular; it was just that the bloke in question wanted to fight. This was an era of recreational violence. It was A Clockwork Orange for real. As fun-loving eighteen-year-olds, we were used to trouble. Not that we ever went looking for it, but on our tours around the discotheques of southwest England in search of the best nightclubs, we would usually be involved in a fight, witness one, or be running away from one. It just went with the action. And if you were walking home at night, you had to stay clear of certain street corners where the skinhead gangs congregated, particularly outside fish and chip shops; or if you caught the last bus home, you didn’t sit on the upper deck of the red Routemasters but found a seat downstairs close to the conductor, who offered a hint of security.
Mick was always getting into trouble. He used to say he had all the bad luck and I had all the good luck. I used to tell him you made your own luck. But bad luck was true of Mick. Maybe it was his confidence or sly smile; whatever the reason, bad luck always seemed to dog him. He would pull some bird, and then the next minute some unknown bloke would jump him. So we left the Palais, its soul music and its packed dance floor, and hurried out into the cold December night air of Hammersmith Broadway, thankful we had given Trouble the slip.
As we were walking up to the heart of the Broadway, one of the busiest intersections in all of London, with a multitude of roads all converging in one central area, and a hub for the London tube, a half a dozen guys turned the corner, headed toward us. They were older, in their mid-twenties, and looked like dockers from the east end. We braced ourselves for certain trouble, so we kept our heads down, hoping to avoid eye contact. But as they drew near, we could see they had already been in a fight. Two of them had blood running down their faces. They were holding their heads, trying to ease the pain, and it looked like one had been stabbed. They walked right by us. “Wow. I wonder who did that,” I said. We soon found out.  As we rounded the corner, there was a gang of black lads about six to eight strong. They were bragging to each other with thick Jamaican accents about the fight. Two of them were holding steel rat tail combs, with the sharp ends deliberately pointed out like switchblades. These combs were popular among some skinheads at the time. They could plead innocence if the cops stopped and searched them for weapons. Unfortunately, this time we made eye contact. They took one look at us and sensed our fear. The chase was on. We ran for our lives — literally.
Hammersmith Broadway has a labyrinth of pedestrian under¬passes. Not only do they allow people to get to the other side of the street by going under the continually busy roads, but they also link with the various entrances to the London Underground subway system. Mick and I dashed down the steps of one of these tunnels to make our escape. But when we got to the end, the gang was charging down the stairs to meet us head-on, shouting obscenities: “Get the fuckers!” They had jumped over the roadside railings and dodged through the busy traffic in an attempt to cut us off. Frightened, we immediately doubled back as fast as we could and took another tunnel, and then another one, and then another one.
Now this wasn’t the first time I had been chased around Hammersmith Broadway. The football team I supported, Fulham FC, was just a mile or so away, so on game days, having caught the 267 bus to the Broadway, I would walk to and from the ground along Fulham Palace Road, proudly wearing my black-and-white club scarf. The problem was that there were also two other football grounds close by: Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers. Sometimes after a game, the warring factions of supporters — the Shed from Chelsea and the Loftus Road Boys from QPR — would meet at Hammersmith and there would be a rumble. And it wouldn’t be just large packs causing trouble. Groups of threes and fours would pick on a lone supporter of the opposing team and steal his football scarf as a trophy. The leader would then knot the scarf in the belt loop of his Levi’s jeans and let it dangle like a scalp claimed in a Wild West massacre. It was not unusual to see individuals with three or four scarves of various colours hanging from their waists, proudly claiming how hard they were as they strut¬ted down the street in their Doc Martens and turned-up Levi’s.
Knowing the various entrances to Hammersmith tube station allowed Mick and me to dodge the gang and make it back to my dad’s Triumph 2000 that we had borrowed for the night. We were scared and out of breath, our hearts beating fast, but we were safe. We quickly drove off, full of false bravado, talking excitedly about how we had managed, once again, to give Trouble the slip.
We headed to our base of operations, and relative safety, the Bird’s Nest in Twickenham. This is where I had originally met Mick. Two teenagers, both under legal age, who, in their love for music and nightlife, had ventured into this local discotheque of dubious reputation by themselves. We had met at the bar, both visibly young, both visibly out of our depth in this “adult” club, and both on our own. We became a team. Within a year, we had become not only legal but also known to all the other regulars in the club. We could drink, dance, meet girls, expand our group of friends, and revel in the delight of walking into the club and having the bouncers, the bartenders, and the DJs know us by name. It was teenage heaven. On one particular night, Mick had lost his stylish tam-o’-shanter cap while dancing. The DJ, with whom we had become friends, particularly me, as I hung out in his booth trying to learn his skills, took to the microphone and, over the James Brown tune “Sex Machine,” had the crowd chanting, “Where’s Mick’s hat? Where’s Mick’s hat?” It was Saturday Night Fever five years before that movie became a cultural reference point. That night after our scare at the Palais, we danced and flirted with the girls and forgot about our daytime realities.

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