Theatre, TV

The Kids in the Hall Live at Isabel Bader Theatre, Toronto, December 6, 2013

I approached last night with a mixture of over-excitement and trepidation. The Kids in the Hall was the first thing I ever saw that said to me “it’s okay to be weird, in fact you can wear that as a badge.” I was a little young when I first caught glimpses of the show on CBC. I’m not sure whether I was 11 or 12 or even 13, but I do know that there name was innocuous enough that when I told my mom what I was watching, she wouldn’t think twice about it. So I stole the odd episode or segment during their run.

Many of their most famous sketches were more urban legends to me, as people at school with cooler parents than me got to watch them regularly.

But even though I rarely got to watch them and even less frequently got to see a whole episode, they were definitely a presence in my life: those crazy men in dresses and costumes who I didn’t exactly laugh at but who I knew to be doing something unique, worthwhile and, in more ways than I could possibly articulate, familiar. I didn’t understand how interested I was in the concepts behind various forms of artistic expression until many years later, but here was a troupe that didn’t believe in boundaries and it connected with me more than I thought possible.

Over the ensuing years I became a die-hard Monty Python fan due to seeing the movies and catching re-runs of Flying Circus that were inexplicably on TV when I got home from school. And I suspect this only deepened my appreciation for KITH when I finally got my chance to watch it properly.

Around the time I finished high school, Canada got cable TV proper – that is, cable channels with programming independent of networks –  and The Comedy Network began showing KITH like it was the Simpsons, seemingly four times per day, at minimum. I likely saw nearly every single episode, albeit totally out of order. I became a fan all over again and this time I actually got all – ok most – of it. Since then, I have watched the show at least twice all the way through thanks to the entire thing being on DVD.

As I have explored the history of TV sketch comedy more and more through the wonders of DVDs and now Netflix, I feel perhaps as strongly as ever that KITH represent an extremely important milestone in the genre; a North American Monty Pyton 2.0 whose influence appears, to my eyes, to be on pretty much every worthwhile sketch show of the mid and late ’90s and on numerous shows since. They were the next phase in Canadian TV comedy.

SCTV was great, albeit very hit and miss, but it was safe in the way that so much Canadian comedy was; sure it was really really good at skewering Canadian and showbiz stereotypes, but I feel like the only people really offended by SCTV would be the celebrities they made fun of and the producers of bad television. KITH took it up a few notches.

It is with all this weight on me that I saw them workshop their new show last night, with which they plan to tour, because they need the money, apparently. I was actually nervous.

In part I think I felt this way because I never made it through Death Comes to Town and I was worried about a similar misstep. I was also worried because of the importance of KITH to my teenage years and my early 20s, and to my sense of humour in general, as well as my sense of art.

Finally I was worried because, at least as a teen and university student, I hated nostalgia in art and the last thing I wanted to see was Kids in the Hall Live at the Hollywood Bowl.

The results were, thankfully, consistently funny – though a number of times those laughs came from how under-rehearsed they were – and occasionally as offensive as I remembered the show being in its day, though hardly as offensive as solo Scott Thompson.

I did have a vague sense of underwhelming afterward but I think this came from my outlandish expectations.

The skits were nearly all brand new, and though they brought back old characters these characters had aged with them. The one skit they revived was updated enough so that the cringey feeling of “oh know we’re getting their greatest hits” went away pretty quickly.

It was funny, it was off-beat, it was pretty smart, and I guess it was pretty solid. I’m glad I went.

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