He strolled out onto the stage like a young William Shatner. Or at least that is how Bruce McCulloch wished his entrance would be described, as he told his audience, “in case anyone is live-tweeting.” For his first solo performance in Toronto in more than a decade, the darkly comedic McCulloch presented something he called Young Drunk Punk, which are three things he used to be. “As a young punk, I used to wear pyjamas ironically,” he said, speaking about his wild days in Calgary. “Now, I just wear them.”
At the Randolph Theatre, as part of the ongoing Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival, McCulloch wore loose-fitting jeans, a T-shirt and an unbuttoned shirt over top – he’s an adult now, as the Pursuit of Happiness song goes. But he’s not tame. Over the course of a wild, unpolished 60 minutes, McCulloch waxed surrealistically and edgily (and sometimes in song) with bits of sage lucidity mixed with charismatic whimsy. It was autobiographic, and, as such, his story to tell. Young Shatner? If he says so.
McCulloch is identified more often than not as a charter member of the sketch troupe The Kids in the Hall. With fellow Kids Scott Thompson and Mark McKinney in the audience, the show began with glitch – guitarist-accompanist Brian Connelly (a lifetime friend of McCulloch whose atomic-twang riffs were part of The Kids in the Hall television series) wasn’t getting any sound from his amplifier. After an awkward pause, McCulloch said from the behind the curtain, “Scott, come do of some of that cancer material,” which was a reference to Thompson’s cancer scare of 2009. “I would, but I got a bad report today,” Thompson replied.
Cancer humour – they’re not kids any more.
Before the show proper (if there was such a thing), the Hollywood-residing McCulloch told of his stay here, one that involved a night out with Mayor Rob Ford that involved cognac, peyote and petting-zoo emus, and His Eminence asking the comedian if he wished to “drink from a puddle of bus drivers’ tears.”
The tale was imaginative and farcical, and so far not yet denied by the Mayor.
McCulloch revisited his teen years in Calgary, a place where guys tattooed their names on their arms for quick reference. The young-and-punk McCulloch, not wanting to live in his family’s “microwave oven world,” left there for Toronto, a world-class city where futon furniture beckoned in the 1980s.
He often spoke of his current state, that of a man who had children late in life: “We have a game we play. It’s called daddy can’t get out of the bathtub.” However, McCulloch is a relative pup in the Hollywood Hills, where 70-year-olds have “trophy toddlers” who they can stare at but cannot lift.
There was a song about a unicorn with HIV. There was a poem-like monologue about the interminability of marriage. There was the missing of the “old days.” There was an extraneous operatic interlude from a woman in a red dress.
And there was advice: Never date a woman who thinks a dream catcher is birth control device.
McCulloch spoke of his father, a salesman dad who cheated at Yahtzee and who taught him to be strong by being weak. We were told that the father had died recently, and that his ashes were scattered in a Safeway dumpster, and that an unsympathetic Taco Bell refused McCulloch a free burrito for his grief.
After the rambling show, McCulloch was joined by Thompson and McKinney for a quick sketch that involved a pair of homesteading hicks seeking advice from a folk-hero homosexual (Thompson). It revived a character from the first season of The Kids in the Hall, in 1988. Some things never get old.
The Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival continues to March 17. Information at torontosketchfest.com.