The Kids in the Hall haven’t regularly appeared together on American airwaves since their cult-favorite sketch show signed off in 1994. But at 10 p.m. tonight on IFC, they return with the first two episodes of a new eight-part miniseries, Death Comes to Town. It’s a comic murder-mystery very much in the classic Kids in the Hall style: Each of the five troupe members plays multiple characters — many of them, of course, female — in the Canadian town of Shuckton, Ontario, where the grim reaper has set up shop. Vulture spoke with three fifths of the troupe — Mark McKinney, Dave Foley, and Scott Thompson — about why they returned to television, how they’ve matured (or not matured) over the years, and about the two members of the troupe not present to defend themselves.
How did the idea for this show come about?
Mark McKinney: It came out organically. We did a tour in 2008, which I think was kind of a long time coming. We had done a couple of shows in Los Angeles at the Steve Allen Theater. And then we sort of reunited for Just for Laughs, I think the year before, in 2007. Just a couple of shows. But we were writing a lot of new material, which we hadn’t done in prepping for a tour before, and the material clicked. We liked it. And we liked the process of writing together. So now we were writing new material, and it just felt like the door had opened to the idea of considering another project. And then I think we had the shortest creative meeting ever, in Las Vegas, when we were there doing a comedy festival in November ‘08. And Bruce offered to quarterback it, because he’s produced some shows. He did Carpoolers for ABC. He’s what we call a work pig.
Do you guys feel like the things you write are different as you get older?
McKinney: Yeah, they absolutely have to be. We were just talking about this. My character Corrinda has a dilemma where she’s down to her last egg. I don’t think that would have occurred to us before we were in the world of marriage and babies. I think we’re as immature as ever, though, when it comes to actual humor.
How did you decide who’d be playing Death in the show?
McKinney: Those roles just kind of seem natural. I kind of assumed I was, and everybody else in the troupe thought so too. When we write, there’s always a sort of organic process. I can’t remember the last time we had a disagreement over who would play what character.
Is there just something about you that’s …
McKinney: Deathlike? [Laughs.] I think it’s because I played the Rock ‘n’ Roll Satan in the TV show and I’ve always been sort of … I guess maybe I am deathlike.
Do you guys have another project lined up already?
McKinney: We’re starting to talk, actually. Promoting this has given us another opportunity to consider what we might do next.
[Dave Foley enters.]
We were just talking about whether you had another project that you started working on.
Dave Foley: [To Mark.] And what did you say?
McKinney: I told him all about my idea, and how you were all going to agree to do my idea.
Foley: [Laughs.] I don’t think we have anything specific …
McKinney: Other than, all of us, I think, the unanimous intentions …
Foley: We intend to keep doing stuff as the Kids in the Hall.
McKinney: Which would not have been true ten, twelve years ago, when we were still working through our profound resentments against each other by not doing stuff together.
What changed that?
Foley: Age. A desire to be nostalgic, to be able to enjoy our memories of our youth. So we figured we’d better be friends.
What went into the decision to do a miniseries with an ongoing plot, as opposed to something sketch-based?
Foley: I think we always thought that we would never go back to TV. It came up over the years, and we always said no, because we didn’t want to go back to do sketches. And I guess this never occurred to us until Bruce and Kevin said, “Well, this idea would make a good miniseries.” And we went oh, okay, yeah, we could do TV that way. We never wanted to go back and revisit doing a sketch show. We felt like we did one of the best sketch shows ever, and it’d be hard to go back and compete with it.
And you still got to play multiple characters.
McKinney: I think we kept a really useful chunk of what Kids in the Hall is about. Which is exactly that: multiple characters.
Foley: Because 90 percent of the time that you work outside of being in the Kids in the Hall, you’re hired to play yourself.
McKinney: It’s so boring.
The cops from the original series appear on the new show. Will other characters from the original series return for this show?
Foley: They’re the only characters. Though there is a Chicken Lady cameo. Other than that, the cops are the only characters from the TV show that are in the series.
Was that a conscious decision to not revisit old characters?
McKinney: I don’t know how you would put the head crusher into our bizarre take on a murder mystery.
[Scott Thompson enters, and Mark McKninney leaves.]
One thing the show doesn’t incorporate is monologues. Did you miss doing those?
Foley: I always hated monologues; I always had to be badgered into doing them. I just like doing sketches more than monologues.
Scott Thompson: That’s funny that you don’t like monologues because you do a lot of talking!
Foley: I love talking.
Thompson: Yeah, and when we would do live shows you were quite often the one that spoke to the audience. You and Bruce were always the ones who did that. I mean me, Mr. Monologue, I always held back.
Foley: Because you have to be in your character.
[To Scott.] You must really like doing monologues.
Thompson: Yes, I do. I think maybe in the beginning I did monologues so much because I felt that I wasn’t part of the original group. They were two teams who joined and then I was in the middle, so maybe that was my way of, you know, sticking my foot in and getting my point of view across. But as things went along and I got more and more accepted, I continued to more monologues just because I’m an egomaniac.
Are you ever hesitant to say that you don’t like an idea that someone else came up with, or have you guys been together long enough to feel comfortable saying that?
Foley: I think at the very beginning we were always pretty open with going “That’s shit” and being pretty mean to each other about stuff. Now we’re all a little nicer than we used to be.
Thompson: But we still don’t let people get away with stuff that we don’t like. But we’re more willing to admit that the other person might be right. There’s definitely lots of scenes that I hated that I really like now.
Do you go back and watch old DVDs?
Thompson: I do. Sometimes late at night I will find myself on YouTube or something, and I know that’s an embarrassing thing, like an old star looking at their movies deep into a glass of gin but, well, I am an old star.
Mark mentioned earlier that Bruce took the lead on this project. What did you think of the new dynamic?
Thompson: The irony is that Bruce and Dave have quite often locked horns and yet they have incredible chemistry together.
Foley: Bruce and I were probably the most directly competitive. We started out as the joke guys. We were the guys that, if a sketch needed jokes, Bruce and I would write the jokes.
Thompson: And Mark and I were very competitive. But no one’s ever been competitive with Kevin.
Foley: No, because he’s so weak.
Thompson: We’ve been carrying him for over twenty years.
Is he around to defend himself?
Thompson: Oh God, it doesn’t matter. He’d be too weak to defend himself. That’s why we don’t bother competing with him.
Lastly, a friend asked that I find out the origin of one of his favorite recurring sketches: “30 Helens Agree.”
Thompson: Totally Bruce’s piece.
Foley: Yeah, it was arbitrary. He’s big on arbitrary comedy
Thompson: Yeah, and he loves the name Helen …
Foley: … and he also likes to write for older ladies.
Thompson: He loves older women. He wanted, I don’t know, I think he really just wanted to put 30 older women together, so that he could have masturbatory images later. And this is sad: One of them was my mother.
Foley: And one of them was Kevin’s mother.
Thompson: That’s right!
Foley: And I tried to get my Mom to do it and she wouldn’t.
Thompson: So we’ll just say that Bruce has been masturbating to Kevin’s mother and my mother for years.