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Kids in the HallHandout

The Canadian sketch troupe that conquered stage and TV (but not film) is nearing its 40th anniversary and remains one of the best-known comedy acts in the world. This past year, the Kids (Bruce McCulloch, Dave Foley, Mark McKinney, Kevin McDonald and Scott Thompson) returned with a new sketch series on Amazon Prime and a new tour. So what’s the secret to their longevity?

You gotta spend money to make money

The Kids’ comedy patron, Canadian comedy mogul Lorne Michaels, brought slick production values and a live audience to their original six-season self-titled show, giving it the same high-quality look as his other, more famous, creation, Saturday Night Live. Other Canadian comedy shows struggled with budgetary constraints that gave them less of a life in reruns than Kids in the Hall.

Be universal

When Queen Elizabeth died, Thompson, who played her on the show, pointed out that was the only time any of them had played a real-life celebrity. The show also generally avoided region-specific or even country-specific humour (Buddy Cole, the CBC-skewering “Screw You, Taxpayer!” and a few others notwithstanding). While many creators remain tied to their time and place, the Kids’ work is accessible to just about anyone, giving their sketches a timeless quality.

Pick your battles

One of the characters in the Kids’ theatrical debut, 1996′s Brain Candy, is a child with cancer. Paramount argued it was too tasteless, even for a dark comedy. The Kids fought for “Cancer Boy” and won, but they ended up alienating the studio, which contributed to the film’s failure. Someone might have reminded them of this old maxim: If you give in on minor things, you’ll have a better shot at preserving your overall vision.

Go big or go home

Thanks to Michaels, the Kids’ original series landed on two major U.S. networks: HBO and CBS. The show never became a huge hit south of the border like it did in Canada, but it did become a cult fave—and considering the size of the U.S. market, that translated into a pretty big audience. If they’d played it safe and stuck to the domestic market, there’s no way they’d be back on the air 33 years after their debut.

Give the people what they want

While the Kids in the Hall revival brought back a few recurring characters (including Cole and our recently departed monarch), Foley described it as having a “very low quotient of nostalgia.” That’s not entirely true: The Kids—whom McCulloch once described as portraying “weird sort of antihero people from the suburbs”—still brandish their unique brand of humour built around the weird and dark urges repressed by their families and friends, which is exactly what fans craved.

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