Here's the math. Five comedians, one room, and no audience except themselves and me.
It's madness. A cacophony of hoots and cackles. A crazed conversation that zooms, often with no rhyme or logic, to any number of topics - from the allure of pineapple, to small-town traffic jams, and the sad plight of the puppet Rusty (from CBC's long-running children's show, The Friendly Giant ) whose home (apparently) was a codpiece (the Elizabethan-era jockstrap, worn outside rather than inside).
Such are the recent musings of the monomaniacal Canadian comedy troupe, Kids in the Hall, whose kinky new eight-part miniseries, Death Comes to Town (involving an ominous dude clad only in said codpiece, leather vest, and flowing cape), debuts this Tuesday night on the CBC after the group's 15-year hiatus from national TV.
Sprawled on two sofas in an airless room at CBC's Toronto headquarters, the Kids - Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, Dave Foley and Scott Thomson, all nearing 50 - can't help but try to out-one-line each other. The end result is intense. Insane. And exhausting, until one of the lads gamely agrees to a game of "let's try to help this poor woman out by identifying ourselves before we let rip."
Then? Total mayhem.
"Why don't we just take topics?" suggests McCulloch, who executive produced the eight-part narrative series and came up with the idea. "I'll take the Prairies," chimes in McDonald. "I'll take the Great Depression," says Thomson. "I've got the Inquisition," adds McKinney, who is eyeing the pineapple on a pretty fruit tray, but won't bite until goaded by Thomson. "Bloody well stab one with that little wooden toothpick, would you? Trust me, it's succulent."
"Where's our conch shell?" asks Foley. "We usually pass a conch shell. Frankly, I don't think this say-your-name thing is going to work."
It doesn't. And the interview quickly devolves again into a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants dialogue, similar to a vintage Kids in the Hall sketch. (The cult show aired on the CBC from 1989 to 1994, and later for three seasons, on HBO and CBS).
In Death Comes To Town , which involves cross-dressing on each gent's part and a total of more than 15 characters, McKinney plays a grim reaper: He holes up in a seedy motel, has a thing for redheads, and wreaks havoc on the small town of Shuckton (portrayed by North Bay, Ont.), by going on a killing spree.
His death garb, McKinney says, started out with "a traditional look" that, happily, morphed into something sadomasochistic. "We just started pulling it together. The vest was originally worn by The Friendly Giant," he adds, grinning.
"What was? The codpiece?" interrupts Thomson, whose main roles include Heather Weather, Crim the town criminal, and Dusty, the town coroner.
"No. No. The vest," clarifies McKinney. "Rusty used to live in the codpiece. Didn't you recognize it?"
For nine weeks last fall, the Kids decamped to North Bay, quickly endearing themselves to the locals who were reportedly unfazed by a near naked reaper flying around town. "For days we were shooting that shit, and nobody ever went, 'What the hell are you doing?'" says McCulloch. "It was just, 'Oh, you guys are shooting death on a Mustang bike' - or a bone bike as we like to call it.
"Though I have to admit, after about four weeks, people started to politely complain to me about the traffic problems. They'd said, 'You guys were working out there, by the church, and I had to go around the block to get to work.' Clearly, they'd never had to navigate a block to get to work before."
The biggest challenge, McDonald says, of shooting in the northern Ontario town was finding undergarments to cinch the Kids' girth, which has expanded over the 26 years that have passed since they started out. "Girdles! Girdles were a big thing," agrees the still boyish Foley. "There was a lot more girdling involved than there used to be in the old days."
They launch into the perils of being actors nearing the half-century club. "We had face pullers," offers Thomson. "And from the footage I've seen, apparently they didn't work.
"I didn't want to say anything," agrees McCulloch. "But our face pullers involved tugboats.
"A barge," says McDonald.
"Icebreakers," interjects McKinney.
"Sorry guys," chimes in Foley, "but I had a classroom of school children helping me with a block and tackle, pulling my face back."
For one of his roles as Ricky, an 800-pound shut-in and ex-hockey star, McCulloch poured himself into a well-worn fat suit pulled from a costume closet that smelled horrendously and made him itch, not to mention sweat.
"It was pretty grim," he admits.
"Haven't you ever worn one before?" asks McDonald.
"Aren't you wearing one now?" Thomson adds, innocently.
"Not nice," says McCulloch.
Always painfully candid, the Kids are the first to admit their relationship has had its shares of ups and downs (their 1996 movie, Brain Candy , was a miserable experience for all). But they think they've finally reached a stage (and age) where they can collaborate without screaming - they all co-wrote the series after a successful live comedy tour.
McCulloch, who was talked into serving as executive producer by the others, says he only agreed because he was afraid if someone didn't step in, the eight-part narrative would never be made.
"I kind of looked up and thought, 'Well, if somebody doesn't declare themselves and say follow me, boys,' then this won't happen.
"I just think we're in a nice place now where we're really just following our ideas. And if it's something we feel like doing we do it. As long as somebody will pay for it."
Of the five, McKinney was the last one to commit to Death Comes To Town , a pattern that the Kids agree is typical of him.
"Mark is always slower to come in," says McDonald. "But he's always the last guy to leave a project, too. He's always the one hanging with the crew when we're all gone."
"And he'll be the one alone with this goddamn fruit platter, when the rest of us leave the room," jabs Thomson.Report Typo/Error