“It’s all attitude and feathers”: A Q&A with Mark McKinney on The Kids in the Hall revival

“It’s all attitude and feathers”: A Q&A with Mark McKinney on The Kids in the Hall revival

Mark with other members of the sketch comedy troupe in the sixth season of The Kids in the Hall Prime Video

In the mid-eighties, five comics banded together on the stages of Toronto’s clubs to deliver some of the most unhinged sketches the public had seen at the time. Think, walking onstage completely nude. Their antics caught the attention of Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels who went on to produce the beloved TV show The Kids in the Hall—running on cable and network TV until 1995.

Now, the Kids are at it again with a fresh Prime Video season of twisted absurdist situations, self-deprecating jokes and deranged characters that will renew your faith in reboots. We spoke with OG Kid and Superstore’s devout Christian manager, Mark McKinney, about the future of comedy, the joys of being a chicken and keeping it surreal.

I was a little bit nervous to hear you guys were doing a reboot because they often go so badly, but I loved it. Has your approach to comedy changed?
We never sat down and ground our brains to think of some new attack. One of the reasons we went for a revival was the combination of flavours from a Bruce sketch, Scott sketch, David sketch, Kevin sketch and a me sketch that gets packed into a half hour, and gives it its essential brio. I was utterly surprised to find how much I enjoyed writing sketches. I wasn’t a fan of doing it the first go around, but this time it felt very fluid—I’d had a breakthrough in my sleep sometime when we started working on this last year.

Is there anything that’s changed in joke writing since the ’80s and ’90s?
Well, you’d have to ask one of the other guys. Parse my pieces, you’ll see there’s not a lot of jokes. It’s all attitude and feathers.

Prime Video

How’d the troupe get back together?
Our 2015 tour was instrumental. We’ve done a number of tours that were a lot of fun, but we got bored and decided we wanted to write new material. It was really interesting because we were playing concert-sized venues and putting out new material that people weren’t familiar with, and it worked. We thought it would be nice to put the new stuff on somewhere. I’m not sure we were looking for a series, it’s just the way it worked out.

Do you have any favorite characters?
There are ones that still speak to me, for lack of a better word. My Head Crusher character is in there accidentally because Bruce used it as a nexus for a comedy scene, and it actually worked. I thought of doing Chicken Lady again, but the last piece I wrote in the original series called “Chicken Lady Homecoming” was—please don’t take this as ego—chef’s kiss.

A lot of the humor, like the Chicken Lady character, is surreal and disconnected from reality. Could that be why the humour hasn’t aged?
Yeah, I think so. I mean, go back 15 or 20 years and look for what’s still relevant. There’s stuff that feels like, “Well, that’s literally a copy of a newspaper from 15 years ago.” Anything that latches on to current events doesn’t tend to age as well as pure, weird character stuff.

Is there anyone who you really like seeing carry the absurdist torch?
Obviously, I Think You Should Leave. That’s jaw-droppingly good and moves the ball—what great comedy does. It will be an immensely influential show. Big Mouth, too. A lot of the strongest comedy voices are in narrative animation.

There’s full frontal nudity in one of the new episodes, which was a bold choice.
I’m just getting my vision back, so please don’t show me a clip. My eyes were burned.

The Kids are back Prime Video

How did that idea come about?
It’s interesting. This comes up, as you can imagine, a lot on this press tour. We’ve been revisiting our own relationship to nudity. I was lucky enough to be the first person to peel off my clothes in the troupe. At the time, Dave was vehemently opposed to doing nudity in a stage sketch we did called “Naked for Jesus.” This was pre-cellphones. He wanted no part of that and, of course, now he’s leading the charge. It’s not there to shock. It’s totally honest to the premise, where these robbers are so dumb that they think they can change their description by taking off their clothes.

Speaking of Dave, this comes up early on in the new season. Is he really the good-looking one?
He seems to be pretty well-preserved. We gauge this by who can still pull off playing their female characters, and Dave certainly can. Kevin looks miraculous in a couple of sketches and Scott looked amazing, too. I was jealous, as I tried to hold my head at a certain angle.

Do you think you’ll keep resurrecting KITH until the day you die?
It’s been a long time. We’re much older and I have no idea what the market will bear. But I do know that I still have ideas and the Amazon show is an experiment of what happens when you bring back comedians. We’re not trying to pay for our burial plots or make up any deficit, but we’re aware that we’re two or three generations ahead of any of the kids today. So, we’ll see if there’s a place for it.

Prime Video

You all play on your age in the new show, and it works to your advantage.
I think it comes naturally. When we were going back and revisiting characters like the Kathys or Eradicator, they needed an update. The new intro is one of my favorite pieces that shows how we connect ourselves back to the original. There are very few rules to Kids in the Hall, but one of them is a hostility to over self-analysis. I wanted to lean towards embracing themes about being older or playing older characters, because I’ve finally grown into some of them.

What did you miss most about working on the show?
On other shows, things have to move through a committee of decision makers. So, creative freedom. If we ran into a beat in a sketch that wasn’t working—we were all there and we could literally rearrange the furniture if we needed to make something work. Also, working in this surreal area is like, “Let’s use all the colors and let’s paint with our fingers.” That’s not what the business offers all the time for television and film.