Only the humor of the renowned Canadian comedy troupe The Kids In The Hall could create a mini-series called "Death Comes To Town" and, among the many quirky, hilarious characters, also literally have the Grim Reaper appear as a character on the show. In true off-center humor that the guys are known for, this Grim Reaper (played by KITH member Mark McKinney) has a lot of time to fill between his victims so he is a bored Messenger of Death who is annoyed that the newspaper isn't more interesting, seen flossing his single tooth and taking photos of himself with his digital camera. Along with McKinney, Dave Foley, Scott Thompson, Kevin McDonald and Bruce McCulloch are all back playing a plethora of new characters (both men and female, of course) that could be culprits or victims in the murderous new IFC mini-series.
Earlier this week, Thompson and McDonald told our Jim Halterman about the unique way in which the actors were assigned to their respective roles in "Death Comes To Town," if they ever thought that they'd spend so much of their successful careers in women's clothing and how they think comedy has (or hasn't) changed over the years.
Jim Halterman: How did "Death Comes To Town" come together for all of you?
Kevin McDonald: This series grew out of the last Kids In The Hall tour we did and it was all new material and it went over well - or we like to think it went over well - and we were so excited on the tour bus. One day, Bruce said "Wouldn't it be great if we took a lot of this new stuff and wrote a new movie?" So many ideas were exploding on the tour bus - [screams] EXPLODING ON THE TOUR BUS - so we kept writing.
Scott Thompson: Bruce came to us with an idea that he had for a mini-series or a film about the Grim Reaper coming to a small town and being really bored and he kills time while he waits to kill the people he has to kill. We thought "That's a great idea!" We said "Bruce, why not make this into a television series rather than a cult movie that nobody is going to see?" We decided that we would do it and it was one of the first times we've all agreed on anything. We started working on it and then a year and a half ago we started putting the story together and just kept working at it.
JH: When you came up with the characters, did you come up with your own or did you pick the ones in the script that you wanted to do? How did that work?
ST: Our process is a strange thing and it always changes. The story was first and then as we built the story the characters came about. The whole mayor thing came in the beginning with this town that wanted to be chosen for the Olympics. There were certain characters... for example, the coroner. I came in after a trip to Hawaii where I met this person who I thought was very funny. I started imitating this guy and Bruce and Kevin said "That will be great" and I was the coroner. And then Heather Weather... I kind of knew I would be her because I really wanted to work with Mark so we decided to take the rivalry that Mark and I have always had and turn it into comedy. There were times in our history when it was a hair-pulling rivalry and it came down to who had the strongest hair!
KM: Sometimes you come up with a character and it's yours. We came up with an old lady and we assumed Scott was going to play it but then he had a lot of parts and I said "I have this old lady voice that I do in cartoons" so then I got it. I was always going to play the DA because that's pretty much just me and then I picked up the boom operator Shay.
ST: The one character that everyone wanted to play was Marilyn, the Mayor's wife. Bruce maybe not because he was going to be playing Ricky, the 600-pound boy and that was going to be grueling so Bruce made the decision that he wouldn't be doing any female characters. The rest of us were like "Why wouldn't you want to play a girl? That's stupid!" That's the most fun!
JH: Was there ever talk about resurrecting any of the characters from "The Kids of the Hall" show?
ST: We really wanted to have a clean slate but the only characters who are from the series are the cops and they don't even have names. They are the oldest characters in our whole library and yet they've never had a name! Mark, Bruce. Cop 1, Cop 2. It doesn't matter. Those characters have no inner life. They have no backstory so those were the only two that were decided to be in the series.
JH: Have you guys ever been concerned with going too far with some of your comedy? I personally laughed at the Autopsy Field Trip with the kids in one of the episodes but is that ever a concern?
ST: Oh my God, you think that's the furthest? You have no idea! But honestly not really. We're actually quite shocked when people are shocked. "Really? It's all human and there's nothing to be shocked about!"
KM: Anytime someone told us that something we did was shocking we'd be shocked.
JH: Did you ever think you'd be in drag as much as you have in your career?
ST: No! This is how I thought it would go - I thought I would be in drag more in my personal life but it's become the opposite. Now there's absolutely no drag in my personal life! Absolutely zero! I never dreamed that!
KM: [Laughs.] No, I never thought that! We were a stage show before we had the TV show and people fought against it. Because there weren't that many women in comedy - or they'd go to SCTV - we'd be writing scenes about girlfriends and mothers so we started playing women. First Mark did it. Then Mark and Scott did it and then we all did it.
JH: Do you think comedy has changed a lot since you started or is it more that the business has changed?
KM: Comedy has changed the most in the way it shocks. In a weird way we were sort at the beginning of that but then that was taken over by Tom Green and South Park and David Chappelle. Now, I think it's just shocking for shock sake sometime.
ST: I think American comedy has changed, definitely. Canadian comedy hasn't budged. American comedy has changed in that I think Americans have become more in-tune with satire. I think, for example, when we made [the 1996 feature film] "Brain Candy," that's a satire and I don't know who said it - maybe Barnum and Bailey - but "Satire is what closes on Saturday night." They said it would last for one night and that was it. When "Brain Candy" came out ten years ago it was a complete disaster - not as a movie or creatively but financially it was a disaster because it was a satire. Now, I think if it were released today it would be a different story. I think people like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and South Park... all those things took satire to being the smarter, older sister of parody and I think American comedy grew up.
JH: If Death Comes To Town is a hit, are you ready to do more or is this a one-off?
KM: This is a one-off but I think we're open to it. We're never so good at planning. We get together every 3-4 years, then we tour but there's no plan. If this is a hit, that would definitely give us the impetus to get back in there but it would be a completely different idea.
"Kids In The Hall: Death Come To Town" premieres tonight at 10:00/9:00c on IFC.