For a certain variety of high school outsider, comedy could be every bit as life-changing as punk rock, in terms of growing up properly.
In suburban Detroit in the late '80s, I was a huge comedy nerd – that annoying kid that recited Monty Python skits verbatim and ripped off entire Steven Wright routines at the cafeteria lunch table. SNL, Letterman, Eddie Murphy – these guys were my heroes.
Living just across the river from Windsor, we Detroit kids got a lot of our comedy from late-night CBC broadcasts, which regularly aired old Python episodes along with SCTV and, starting around junior year, a rather mind-blowing Canadian comedy show called The Kids in the Hall.
Like Python, Kids was anarchic sketch comedy with often surreal premises and a lot of cross dressing. But Kids had something else for the troubled teenage heart – a defiant attitude entirely resonant with punk rock. The show was clearly conversant with youth subcultures of the day, and even featured – oh, my – an openly gay cast member in comedian Scott Thompson.
Circa 1988, Thompson's funny and flamboyant "Buddy Cole" monologues were pretty revolutionary. He basically stared down middle America (or middle Canada) and dared us to laugh with him, back when gay-bashing was more likely to be literal. Thinking back on it now, those early Kids in the Hall episodes were as important as my Pixies and Replacements records. They represented a larger, cooler world waiting just beyond high school graduation.
I'm still a fairly rabid comedy nerd, so when the newly repackaged Kids in the Hall: Complete Series Megaset came in recently, I lost an entire weekend digging through the 22 discs, 800 sketches and several hours of bonus materials.
It's all there: Buddy Cole. Cabbage Head. Simon and Hecubus. The Head Crusher. Cathy and Kathie. Thirty Helens Agree. The Chicken Lady. Trappers. The Daves I Know.
The bonus materials are spread across five discs, one each appended to the Season 1 – Season 5 collections. The oral history segments are the most fascinating, with each of the Kids holding forth in separate interviews, dishing on backstage intrigues and, often, one another.
As the extras reveal, Kids was a true democracy, albeit a contentious and messy one. All the members wrote material – for themselves and each other – and each filled a critical role in the Kids' comedic attack pattern: David Foley was the comedy scholar. Bruce McCullough, the nervy iconoclast. Mark McKinney, the character specialist. Scott Thompson, the theatrical wit.
It's the goofy Kevin McDonald, though, who comes across as the glue that held the company together. A naturally gifted clown, McDonald consistently elevated the others' material with his collaborative spirit and ace improv skills.
Honestly, there's enough here to talk about for days. Among the DVD set's other bonus material highlights: audio commentaries on selected sketches and episodes; several fan-favorite best-of compilations; outtakes and bloopers; and some amazing footage of the Kids' pre-fame stage show at Toronto's Rivoli Theater.
It should be noted that none of the material in this repackaged megaset is strictly new. A complete series collection was initially issued to DVD in 2006, and you can still buy that package online a little cheaper. You can also get season-specific DVDs in various iterations or even stream individual episodes via Netflix.
But there's no other way to get all the extras in one place, along with the Kids' recent IFC mini-series Death Comes to Town. The new set is also a bit more eco- and shelf-friendly, with packaging reduced about 50 percent.
I highly recommend spending an evening or two catching up with the Kids – it's pretty amazing how fresh this stuff remains. And if you're hip to Marc Maron's comedy podcast WTF, be sure to track down the Dave Foley episode for even more excruciating comedy minutia.