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Sketching Things Out: Kids in the Hall’s Kevin McDonald

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By Nikki Hedrick

 

“Comedy is like science, it’s everywhere. But I’m not a scientist. I’ll teach the comedy thing.”

– Kevin McDonald

 

 

In 1988, a TV sketch-comedy series debuted on HBO. The Kids in the Hall was heralded by critics and fans alike as a boundary-breaking series, in part for how it regularly discarded notions of the fourth wall. It only aired for five seasons, but cable syndication created a wider swath of fans like myself.

 

After the series wrapped, the Kids continued on with individual projects and as a troupe with the 1996 movie Brain Candy, comedy tours, and a 2008 miniseries.

 

We all have movies that hold a special place in our hearts. They give us joy and quotable one-liners, often when things didn’t seem so great in our own lives. Brain Candy is at the top of my list, so to say that I was nervous to interview Kevin McDonald (co-founder and member of the Kids) would be an understatement.

 

“There’s not many of people who’ve seen Brain Candy more than once, so you’re in a rare cult. Enjoy it,” McDonald tells me.

 

The newly formed Indie Art Council Pensacola is responsible for bringing McDonald to Vinyl Music Hall in Pensacola Aug. 14 for both a daylong workshop and a performance. The organization dubs it a prelude to their planned 2020 comedy festival, scheduled for January.

 

“The workshop I’ve been doing for a few years. I’m teaching the old Kids In the Hall method,” says McDonald. “Before we had the TV show, we were stage crew—we wrote for improv. We would think of ideas, we would bring the ideas to our meetings. The meetings were half writing meetings and half rehearsal, because when you write for improv they’re the same thing—writing and rehearsal.

 

“So we would take the ideas we liked, and then we would just talk about them, plan an informal structure. Then we’d improvise them a few times until we sort of had the scene. That’s the method that I’m teaching.”

 

When asked about favorite moments from the workshop, McDonald in all his McDonald-ness says, “I’ve been to many, many cities in North America, many towns and cities. I visited Bozeman, Montana for the first time.

 

“Oh! The horrible thing happened in Bozeman. So it’s not the favorite moment, but it’s a moment I’ll always remember. He’s okay, everything’s good.

 

“This nice guy, he was sort of like the most talented guy in the workshop—he was really good. And he was the one driving from the hotel to the theater, for the two days that I was there. And then the second day, we finished the last workshop and we had like an hour before the show. He’d been doing this all weekend, so he said, ‘Do you want me to drive you to the hotel?’ And I said, ‘No, I think I’ll just stay.’

 

“Part of the show was just me doing standup, so I had to figure out what I was going to do. So he drove and he got in a car accident. He broke some ribs and did something to his sternum, and something caved in, in his chest. And apparently the passenger seat was demolished, and that’s where I would’ve been.”

 

McDonald quickly follows that by admitting, “I know you were looking for favorite moments—there’s lots of moments where I don’t think is scene is working, and they somehow figure it out. I help them, and those are amazing moments. And those are the moments that really happen. And here’s another moment…”

 

McDonald then launches into how Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul, Mr. Show) wanted to do an improv show with him while he was in New Mexico. Due to a series of events, mild sleep deprivation, and bad advice from the theater hosting the event (Odenkirk didn’t call and confirm he would be attending), McDonald left the state. He found out some time later that Odenkirk did, in fact, show up at the theater.

 

When it comes to the subject of comedy, McDonald says, “I’ve been convinced over the 30 years I’ve been doing comedy, that comedy is important. And I didn’t think it was, I didn’t think it wasn’t, I didn’t think about it—I just did it. Basically, it’s just the only thing I could do. I realized when I was 13 or 14 that I had this thing called comedy timing, and even though I can’t think of jokes I could certainly think of vaguely funny things to say. And I could say them funny, because I could know the time and when to say it. So I did it, but I didn’t do it because I thought it was important.

 

“Lots of people tell me things, like watching your show gets them through the breakup of their marriage or the loss of someone in their family, or they were in a car accident. I hear this a lot. A lot of our fans are bad drivers, and they were in car accidents. And then I’m doing a new one-man show, which I’m doing a week in New York on 42nd Street in August. But I was doing it in Toronto and it went very well, and some guy came up to me, he was a little drunk, but he said, ‘It’s medicine. What you do is medicine.’”

 

McDonald is quick to quantify the weighty compliment, but I’ll happily agree with the buzzed fellow. It’s medicine.

 

Experience it for yourself Aug. 14. Pensacola’s own improv comedy troupe, Improvable Cause will open the show. McDonald’s performance will include sketches from the workshop students, standup, improv, and more.

 

Keep up with McDonald and the rest of the Kids at www.kidsinthehall.ca. His podcast, Kevin McDonald’s Kevin McDonald Show, will be returning soon and is available on all podcast platforms.

 

 

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