What Would the Kids in the Hall Do?: Dave Foley at Litquake

Dave Foley discusses Paul Myers' new book, Kids in the Hall: One Dumb Guy, and the sketch-comedy troupe’s legacy.

“I have a 15-year-old daughter, and she and her friends informed me the other day that millennials are really into The Kids in the Hall,” says Dave Foley, one fifth of that Canadian sketch-comedy troupe. “And then I realized that, to them, millennials are old people.”

Foley, now 55, is promoting a new book written by Paul Myters (brother of Mike) called Kids in the Hall: One Dumb Guy. The title that refers not to Foley or to any of his colleagues, but to the idea that each one of them might be a smart individual but that the collective troupe is just that: one dumb guy.

The Kids in the Hall’s 1989-95 TV series of the same name remains unique in comedy history, a slightly arty and often outright bizarre agglomeration of short comic sketches, peppered with plenty of unconvincing cross-dressing. There’s also Brain Candy, a comparatively vulgar 1996 film that went kerplunk on its release and could charitably be thought of as a cult film. The leader-less, egalitarian group whose characters — the Chicken Lady, Buddy Cole, the Toronto cops, the Thirty Helens — never quite penetrated into the cultural consciousness, KiTH retain a slightly warped feel, the way walking down a street in Toronto looks largely like anywhere in the U.S. except that it’s also unmistakably foreign. And they’re still touring, with Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson joining Foley for a table read of Brain Candy at San Francisco Sketchfest in 2017.

Of the five, Foley enjoyed the most success after the show wound down, hosting five seasons of Celebrity Poker Showdown and starring on the underrated NewsRadio from 1995 to 1999. He and Paul Myers will appear at Litquake on Friday, Oct. 19, during what’s sure to be a highly civilized discussion.

“As a veteran funnyman, I will of course not be too pompous or somber about anything,” Foley says. “I leave that to McKinney.”

As the years add distance, the show’s legacy seems secure, and Foley admits to coming around on sketches he initially disliked, such as the extremely strange “Love and Sausages” (which was a little dry for his taste, not to mention expensive).

“I think we’ve left a body of work that we’re all really proud of, and we’ve managed to stay alive long enough to be proud of each other’s works as well as our own,” he says. “In terms of legacy, I think all of us are kind of gratified — more than we’d like to show in public — about people telling us they were influenced by us.”

That’s a very Canadian response, but Foley cops to a feeling of pride that Portlandia’s Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen would apparently use “What would The Kids in the Hall do?” as a potential pathway out of a creative dead end. So what would The Kids in the Hall do?

“I’m assuming they have an idealized notion of what The Kids in the Hall would do, because in reality we would fight horribly until we got to a deadline,” Foley says. “We’d tear each other to shreds until it was time to perform, and whatever was left standing is what the decision would be.”

That sounds uncharacteristically aggressive, not to mention a hard way to work. But destructive egotism would melt away once they were on stage or screen.

“Everyone would fall in love again when we were performing,” Foley says. “And everybody really worked incredibly hard to make each other look good. No Kid in the Hall has tried to throw someone off in the performance or undermine the performance.”

Perhaps the most prescient sketch was “Dipping Areas.” In it, a newbie waiter confers with a chef and his colleagues about how best to plate a dessert so that there are sufficient dipping areas for the mousse and sorbet, yet without getting a thumbprint in the chocolate dusting. It’s old enough that people are shown smoking in an upscale restaurant, yet it seems to anticipate the overwrought, pretentious food culture of the Instagram age.

“I think it very much comes out of Mark’s real life as a foodie,” Foley says. “He’s the patrician one; his dad is a diplomat. He’s the only sophisticated Kid in the Hall. That’s one we all grew more and more to like — and I don’t know if Mark will admit it, but I think it’s a veiled critique of the Kids in the Hall, of … our obsession with the minutiae of comedy and things no one else would care about. For us, they could be life-and-death battles. I don’t know if that’s entirely true, but I think a lot of our material was quietly satirizing each other.”

Dave Foley and Paul Myers talk One Dumb GuyFriday, Oct. 19, 7 p.m., at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema at New Mission Theater, 2550 Mission St., $20-$25, kidsinthehall.ca

Read more from SF Weekly‘s Litquake issue:

This Is the Last Literary Death Match at the Elbo Room
Don’t expect authors slamming each other over the back with folding chairs on Oct. 17. Expect literary excellence with a little silliness.

Park Ranger Betty Reid Soskin Has Led a Most Magnificent Life
And she makes a compelling case that Richmond, Calif., saved the world.

(Lit-)Crawling out of This Mess, at Survival of the Queerest
There are dozens of events within the three segments of this year’s Lit Crawl. But only Baruch Porras-Hernandez’s showcase has QTPOCs of this caliber.

Ron Stallworth, Real-Life BlacKkKlansman
As in Spike Lee’s film adaptation, the Black police detective’s memoir of infiltrating the Klan reminds us that the ugliest parts of our country never quite left us.

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