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To Hall And Back

Scott Thompson
George Kraychyk

Kid Stuff: Scott Thompson dresses up as German supermodel Clemptor, one of his many characters in "The Kids in the Hall Brain Candy."

Kid in the Hall Scott Thompson serves up some ' Brain Candy'

By Richard von Busack

"Welcom to Hell," croaks the DJ, hooking up Scott Thompson of the Kids in the Hall comedy troupe to headphones. Huge sonic blasts of urban-contemporary-aggro music rock our world as he fumbles to field phone calls. Upon my word, this music is loud. "Kriminally Insane KRAP--66.6FM" plays the kind of earth-shaking big-beat music you always hear pounding out of cars, a signal that 10 years from now, you're going to be shouting when you order your fast food.

"Tell a joke," the DJ orders. "I'm sorry, I don't know how to tell jokes," Thompson says. Miffed and surly, the DJ takes some calls from people who know how to tell jokes, real bad, unfunny jokes. As the DJ teases the listeners with a promise of four days in fabulous Puerta Vallerta, we slip out and head back to the limo.

Thompson is shaken. "He didn't want me there. He knew who I was, and he didn't like me." Maybe he just hated gay people, I suggest. Thompson, as the obviously, you know, well, that way member of the Kids in the Hall, had been mistakenly booked for a movie plug on the music-for-fag-bashers radio. "I'm used to it," he says. "Three weeks ago, I was on a New York call-in [show], and everyone said, 'faggot.' I just feel deflated."

At least Thompson has had his revenge on homophobes through six seasons of The Kids in the Hall show on Comedy Central--revenge through sarcastic gay bar proprietor Buddy, and through Wally. The closeted Wally is the epitome of suburban married men who may not be able to provide moral support for gay folk, may not even be there for political support, but are there for some occasional discreet sexual support in selected public men's rooms.

In The Kids in the Hall Brain Candy, the five Kids in the Hall have been unleased on the big screen; and like the upcoming Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie, the transition from television to film isn't quite a complete one. Both movies, however, provide bigger new episodes of stark-raving hilarious, beloved television shows that have just recently perished. Is Brain Candy the Kids in the Hall's swan song?

"You could say we're on hiatial hernia," Thompson suggests. "We're together, but we're cracked and waiting to see if we'll repair."

Brain Candy, a satire of Prozac, follows, in a loose, sketchy manner, the story of a pill that seizes a depression sufferer's happiest memory and replays it. Insufficiently tested and hastened over the counter complete with troublesome effects, the drug turns out to be all too pacifying.

The movie is rich all the way through but is tastiest and most devastating when it's satirizing corporate sadism. On their TV show, the troupe used sketch after sketch to strip mine management argot, revealing that the infliction of pain and humiliation was not just the side-product of big business but its reason for existence.

Embodying various levels of evil are David Foley's Marv, the smiling jackal; Bruce McCulloch's Cisco, a $75,000-a-year marketing director who dresses and talks like Alan Arkin's psycho in Wait Until Dark; Kevin McDonald's Chris, a beleaguered drip of a scientist; and Mark McKinney's sadistic chairman of the board.

There are some 30 other characters. If I didn't have the photos here, I'd be sunk trying to describe who plays whom; the protean kids are masters of disguises. The work is not really that of five individuals as much as it is the creation of a group mind. I mentioned to Thompson that the Firesign Theater once called its publishing group "4 or 5 Crazy Guys" on the grounds that they were, when together, hosts of an entity.

"You mean there's the individual, and there's a person that's all five?" Thompson asks, as we get snarled in Union Square traffic. "Yeah, that's how it is [with us]. There's the Kids in the Hall, and then there's 'Big Dumb Stupid Guy' always saying the wrong thing and really being rude to people, always putting his foot in the mouth--this big blundering idiot of whom each individual in the show is a part." For the movie, Thompson says, it was "five people alone in a room writing for a year on and off. There were lots of assignment and homework, but everything had to go through the five, the Big Dumb Stupid Guy."

The Kids in the Hall formed in 1984 out of an improv group that used to perform at midnight movies in Toronto. They were discovered by Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels and televised in Canada. The Kids took as their inspiration both Monty Python's Flying Circus and Canada's SCTV, the latter "more important than Monty Python," says Thompson.

"One of the reasons behind our movie," Thompson says, is that "we heard that the people in SCTV were really sorry they'd never made a movie." (The closest SCTV came was Club Paradise in 1986 with Andrea Martin, Eugene Levy and Rick Moranis.)

Thompson is worried about what he calls "the Curse," the sorrowful fact that Hollywood couldn't find any good material for the phenomenally talented actors on SCTV. "We were hyper-aware of the fact of the SCTV members had made a lot of money and done well, but I don't think they've made any great comedies. John Candy made a lot of movies, but he made a lot of crap, too. I don't want to be identified with modern American film comedy. Right now, I'm more interested in doing different roles."

Since The Kids in the Hall show ended, Thompson has kept working; he has a guest-starring part on Gary Shandling's The Larry Sanders Show. And he has a part as a snide production coordinator in the upcoming independent film Hijacking Hollywood. It is a role, he says, "I would never be asked to play before, a real prick, nothing to do with my sexuality."

Thompson continues, "Our movie is kind of a nod to movies in the past that weren't so relentlessly stupid. In the 1970s, there were a lot of films that were on the surface dramatic but were full of a lot of rich comedy; you see a lot less of that now."

In the low-budget humor of Brain Candy, what you see is less pandering, less anxiety. The Kids, seasoned comedians instead of in-season comedians, take to the screen with great confidence and courageously sick humor. On their TV show, the Kids in the Hall always embodied the spirit that an audience doesn't have to be led to a punch line like a horse to water. Compared to that sort of intelligence and confidence, matters like the lack of a strong ending and cohesion mean almost nothing.


Brain Candy (R; 95 min.), directed by Kelly Makin, written by the Kids in the Hall and Norm Hiscock and starring the Kids.

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From the April 11-17, 1996 issue of Metro

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