“I actually like a lot of my ideas to be quite frank,” Kids in the Hall’s Bruce McCulloch says. “I’m proud of lots of the stuff we’ve done … well maybe Ham of Truth wasn’t so good. But, you know, Kevin is the one who looks back on things and frets over them. I think one of the reasons I fucking did Death Comes To Town was to stop him talking about Brain Candy.”
As you can see, one of McCulloch’s most endearing qualities is his ability to be funny while still adding a bit of truth to what he says. The first time I noticed this was in the early ’90s. It was McCulloch’s “Open Letter to the Guy who Stole his Bike Wheel” monologue. You could tell he was pissed off. It wasn’t a fart joke or a sex reference, he took something from his actual life, didn’t fictionalize it and he made it to the point — mean and amusing. At this moment, I realized that you could have a point and still be funny. Well, it was the first time I saw it coming from a Canadian comedian at least.
McCulloch’s newest project, Death Comes to Town, is KITH’s return to Canadian television. The synopsis is simple. Death (played by Mark McKinney) comes to a small Canadian town, dressed in a codpiece and cape, and exposes some of its dark underbelly. The true angle is that it’s an eight-part miniseries.
Quoted as being “Corner Gas meets Twin Peaks” it’s an inventive style to encapsulate their sketches.
“I came up with the idea and I outlined it in the briefest of fortune-cookie type of ways, basically 12 words, and we had discussed it as a film,” McCulloch says. “When we were on tour it came up that we should do it for TV and somehow the idea of doing it as a miniseries came up and it just seemed natural to everybody. And with the guys, once you get consensus, you just go because they are going to change their minds in a minute.”
“The beautiful thing about Death Comes To Town is we don’t need numbers,” he continues. “When I did a show on ABC called Carpoolers, all you did was get on the air and try to stay on the air as long as you can. With this it’s a machine we built to destroy. We decided to do a thing that was eight episodes. We aren’t going to get yanked off the air if we don’t get good reviews. We did it to do it, and we’ve done it.”
In ye olde days, McCulloch could be found singing (he released two albums), directing (Superstar, Stealing Harvard) and neurotically acting his way into your heart. As a comedian he has created some of KITH’s most memorable characters. I’m sure at some point in your life you’ve heard someone scream “My pen! My pen!” and even though you wanted to stab them to death with a homemade weapon, you knew they were referencing one of McCulloch’s characters. As a comedian, he’s a bit of a legend. Well, maybe he’s not a comedian.
“I always say I’m a writer because that is what I get paid most to do now,” McCulloch says. “Before I did comedy I was always a writer and the KITH stuff I’ve done and subsequent to that are all things that I think of. And I’m a reluctant actor. I only do it if someone finds me and makes me do it. Essentially, I’ve only done KITH. And I’ve directed but even with this it’s more fun to be an executive producer because being a director is being a grunt. It’s a blue collar job and it’s really hard. It’s not just the vision, it’s about getting all the shots and then re-getting all the shots. So if I had to call myself something I’d call myself a writer because it’s the kindest word I’d call myself.”
It’s what McCulloch and the rest of the Kids did for Canadian comedy that makes him still relevant. I will refrain from using the words “trail blazer” or “paved the way” but it’s kind of what McCulloch and KITH did. In most towns everyone wanted to be in a band, or join a sports club. When I watched KITH, I realized that I wanted to be in a sketch comedy troupe. I didn’t know it then, but I would still be referencing McCulloch’s style in some of my own work, with the comedy troupe I work with, Mostly Water Theatre. There is nothing quite like walking out on stage all dejected and having people laugh at you. Of course, you hope they’re laughing with you …
“I do know that when I moved from Alberta to Toronto 20 years ago, there was not really an industry in Toronto,” McCulloch says. “There were three troupes, Second City included. And I realize now that in the modern landscape there are hundreds of sketch comedy troupes. So, I think we are part of the proliferation of sketch troupes, I don’t know if our material influences them. I think people think, ‘Oh, I can be in a sketch troupe, that’s a cool thing to do’ more than previously. But I don’t go and watch young comics and say ‘Oh, that’s a very Bruce McCulloch thing to say,’ because that would make me a prick.”
Prick or not, it’s not how you label him that makes him relevant, it’s what he does. Moving from project to project, McCulloch rarely looks back on his work before he moves onto the next. It’s not that he can’t stand his work; it’s that he just loves what he does. McCulloch loves his art with all of his big glowing nerd heart.
“We were nerds and we are still all nerds,” he says. “Human giant or the Imponderables, whatever comic troupe you like … essentially comics are all nerds anyway. Especially sketch troupes. For example, I like the show So You Think You Can Dance. I like it because it’s not like American Idol, it’s not like they are going to sell a trillion records. They are dancers, for fuck sakes, they are doing it because they love it. And it’s a lot like sketch comedians, they are in it because they love it. They don’t go ‘Wow, there is a good way to make a living,’ because it is a terrible way to make a living. Nobody makes a living doing sketch comedy. When we were at our height, we barely made a living doing it. That is a thing that I take pride in. There are artists that are doing what we did and they are doing it more for the art than to make it.”