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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

All Hail The Bruce

Craig Silliphant
Published Thursday October 30, 06:56 pm
One of the coolest Kids ever looks back on a riotous life


Saturday 1

Broadway Theatre

The first time I saw the sketch comedy show The Kids in the Hall (KITH) beaming out from the TV was around 1989. It was a hilarious show that had more in common with Monty Python’s bizarre, satirical vibe than it did with Saturday Night Live’s safer, network nature. It provided hours of laughs for my young drunk punk friends and me — endlessly quotable, with characters that are burned into our collective brains forever.

Though all five guys in the troupe — Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Scott Thompson, and Mark McKinney — each brought something different to the team, Bruce McCulloch was always my favourite.

Fast-forward 25 years and I’m in my office answering the phone to a familiar voice: “It’s Bruce McCullooooch,” he says in a sing-song tone. Surreal.

McCulloch has always radiated a natural talent for comedy, from his timing and delivery to the wide range of characters he creates and plays. He’s the insufferable Cabbage Head, asking his date for sex in the bathroom, and he’s Gavin, the annoyingly inquisitive child.

So it’s a bit weird to find out that one of the reasons McCulloch counterbalanced the others so well was because he didn’t follow comedy; he was just a funny guy with a rock and roll spirit.

I wasn’t really a fan of comedy,” he says. “I don’t know if I am now. You know, I was more into rock music and Jack Kerouac than I was Saturday Night Live. The other [Kids in the Hall] guys are all — well, not Scott, he’s a punk too — but Kevin and Dave are certainly aficionados of all comedy, from Jack Benny up. And me, I had less respect for anything that came before me,” he laughs.

When I started writing sketches, I’d never seen anybody do sketches — I just sort of started to try to do them. So I sort of made it my own in a certain way. Though of course, you can’t not be influenced by Python, if you exist,” he says.

McCulloch is on the road with a live show called “Young Drunk Punk,” as well as a new book, Let’s Start a Riot. The book is about McCulloch’s life, from his time as a young drunk punk in Alberta, to The Kids in the Hall to his current life, where he lives with his wife and two kids in the Hollywood Hills. Let’s Start a Riot is as heartfelt as it is funny, often mining darker times in McCulloch’s life, using humour as a coping mechanism for a childhood with an alcoholic father and a mother that walked out on them.

It doesn’t feel like rocky times — it feels like my life,” he says. “I’ve never been through anything in my life where humour wasn’t something that helped me get through it… I just think that when we look back on dark things, or silly things that happened to us, I think humour’s good. And it somehow makes it relatable, I think.”

And relatable it is: more than just telling amusing stories, McCulloch does a good job of hitting universal notes.

My bigger hope for the book is that, you know, my first heartbreak feels like their first heartbreak.”

McCulloch’s touring show Young Drunk Punk is a companion piece, with similar themes to the book. Brian Connelly, from the Canadian band Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet (whose surf-guitar riffs you’d recognize as The Kids in the Hall theme song) and an old friend of McCulloch’s, plays live with him.

I do some stories that are from the book,” says McCulloch, “and I do some things that aren’t in the book, but it’s a show that has that kind of theme of growing up in a weird family and finding my own family …And that thing about outsiders.”

Since I have one of my comedy heroes on the line, I bring up the notion of edgy comedy, something that McCulloch is no stranger to, though he doesn’t necessarily see himself that way. However, McCulloch’s punk spirit shines through in characters like Cancer Boy, which caused some problems for the troupe when the KITH movie Brain Candy was made, and Angie the HIV Unicorn, who appears in Let’s Start a Riot. So: if you want to say something controversial, does it need to be clever instead of just shocking?

Oh yeah, I mean, it’s funny that I’ve been pointed out as edgy,” says McCulloch. “Well, I guess Cancer Boy was kind of edgy. But it has to hold its weight. You know, we’ve never done a wife-beating joke. Maybe there’s a funny one, I don’t know. I certainly never wrote one. So I think when the subject matter is more serious, you just have to be more careful.”

After KITH ended, the troupe made Brain Candy — one of my favourite comedies, though not everyone views it as such (screw you, haters!). The venerable Roger Ebert harrumphed it loudly, calling it “Awful, terrible, dreadful, stupid, idiotic, unfunny, labored, forced, painful, bad.” Ouch. But it’s got a cult following now, and McCulloch seems to be in a good place with the movie.

I think the feeling we had for years about that movie wasn’t so much the movie itself, but it was just how hard it was interpersonally. You know, it was sort of the end of a long run on TV. We were exhausted. There was other sort of personal challenges between people in the troupe. I think now, it’s kind of a pretty great, flawed movie.”

They recently did a staged reading of the script in Toronto, with the original composer and The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downey joining them.

I loved it,” says McCulloch. “And only now that we’re at a healthy chapter, being able to look back on our long lives together, can we look back at our darkest chapter. Which is, sort of, somehow, Brain Candy.”

Which leads us back to one of the main themes of Let’s Start a Riot: how we change with age. McCulloch says that as The Kids in the Hall have grown up, their creative relationship isn’t any different, but how they treat each other is.

I think, interpersonally, we’re just kind to each other now. We’re kind of nice to each other now in a way that probably we weren’t… well, certainly we weren’t, in our 20s.”

McCulloch seems to be very grounded at this stage of his career. Let’s Start a Riot doesn’t show a fear of getting older — if anything, it embraces responsibility and family, while still keeping the idea of the young drunk punk alive in there somewhere.

I always say, ‘follow the water,’” says McCulloch of his writing. “You have to follow wherever that idea’s going to take you. And be fearless, whether you’re an imperfect person or you’ve been through something dark. I think everything I’m writing about — you know, I hope it’s interesting. And I don’t think it’s about me in a sense. It’s really about how the people reading it are going to reflect on their own lives.” 

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