The Top Ten Kids in the Hall Sketches: A Dissenting View

If you live long enough, everything comes back in fashion. The most popular street musician in my area is the guy who sings the worst of the post-grunge canon (“Mr. Jones”; “Sex and Candy”; “Push”) in a fuck-me-because-I’m-raspy voice that Adam Duritz himself would envy. My students love him, bless their hearts.

Myself, I wasn’t that enamored of the nineties the first time around. But when I think of things from that era that I was happy to see return, the sketch troupe Kids in the Hall outrank everything. 

The members of the troupe, on the eve of another tour, have offered up a list of their best work to Esquire. I hate to argue with men who helped form my sensibility, but those would not be my choices. With all due respect, these, my friends: these are the Daves I know.

10. “Darrill and the Flying Pig”

Some sketches are like Ravel’s “Bolero” in that fucking to them is overrated they explore a single premise in a linear, logical fashion, moving to an assured climax. A lot of the best sketches are more like good instrumental hip-hop, though: here’s a lovely oddity, and another, and another, all looped together into a kind of gentle surrealism that goes nowhere and never ceases to delight. With this one, you get the idea that Bruce’s silly, eager, desperate-to-please pig voice came first, secreted a personality and mythology, and got stapled to an everyday situation (the long ATM line). Then Mark’s inimitable Darill character got thrown in so that we wouldn’t be bored during the setup. Like bacon-flavored ice cream, it shouldn’t work and does.

9. “Menstruation”

This alliterative ode to the “monthly miracle” points up both the silliness of the trying-too-hard male feminist and the odiousness of being weirded-out by periods: surely a message every junior-high boy could stand to hear. At least, I needed to hear it, because I come from the kinds of people who grunt their disgust whenever Tampax commercials play. I always giggle at this sketch, and when seventh-grade me first saw it, he stopped giggling—or gagging—at its subject.

8. “Boo”

With this one, even more than usual, it’s the timing: Dave takes just long enough to gasp at Boo!, Scott paces just long enough, the brakes squeal just in time. A lot of KITH fan-favorite sketches come from the first season, when the show was partly documenting already-road-tested live material; this sketch shows how quickly and brilliantly they adopted the resources unique to TV. (Scott’s anxiety-ridden writer may also suggest some of the behind-the-scenes anxiety that came with the transition.)

7. “Gavin and the Evangelists”

Bruce has two modes: belligerently insecure and winsomely insecure. He owns them both. Gavin is winsome, and he may well be my favorite recurring character.

6. “Running Faggot”

You don’t get a lot of straightforward political skits on this show. The indirect approach is so much more effective. “Running Faggot” is a parody of folk music and its earnest revivalists; of the wandering-teacher-of-wisdom character who shows up in so much American West folklore dispensing bromides in an oracular tone; of Clint Eastwood movies (“Well, I’ll let you have it straight”); of so many things. But by giving Scott Thompson the central role, and sending him sprinting through Texas as if (rightly) afeared for his life, they got the message through to even the mean little homophobe I was when this show first aired: hating gay people is even crazier than not knowing to feed your puppy puppy food.

5. “Headcrusher Vs. Facepincher”

This isn’t comedy. It’s ballet.

4. “Bass Player”

Someday Kevin’s awkwardness will cover the earth.

3. “Kathy and the Blues Guy”

I wish they hadn’t tinted Mark’s skin for this, but his imitation Delta idioms are so wonderfully zany (“shut my eyes fo’ me, I got the blues”), and when we find out who the “real professional” was who “hoit” him… Well. The Kids are often singled out for the high quality of their drag performances (unlike John Cleese or even Terry Jones, they aren’t afraid of being mistaken for feminine), but Bruce goes above and beyond here. He’s every woman my mom ever talked to at a church supper.

2. “Communism”

This early-90s bit anticipated Glenn Beck with such eerie accuracy that Keith Olbermann once invited Dave Foley on his show to explain how he predicted the future. (KITH fans know the answer already: “E-villll!”)

1. “Preacher Character”

Few things are inherently funnier than the sweaty eighties televangelist. In his very person, he offers the comedian a direct line to greed, sexual repression, Grundyism, and other worthy targets; his hypocrisy makes him incongruous, the quality that Chesterton thought central to humor; and he also offers the late-night, cable-affording audience a guilt-free snicker at the bad, obvious tastes of the lower orders. That we have all laughed so often at half-assed televangelism humor only makes it more astounding to watch Mark set about impersonating his preacher with such almost loving fineness of observation: these kinds of people are so easily stereotyped that they’re hard to see properly at all, but Mark misses nothing (note the way his lip curls when he says Bag-da-hava GI-ta, the resort to unsourced “worldly scholars and scientists” to establish a point that’s meaningless anyway, the scolding repetition of “That old preacher character don’t make me laugh anymore”), and each fugitive detail stands out as the superfluity of genius. That he then makes the whole thing a meta-joke, the preacher calling us back from worldly whoredom to a simpler time when a man could laugh at a preacher character, just makes the whole beautiful assemblage work on two levels. This is the greatest sketch, by the greatest sketch team. This is why we crawled out of the swamps.

One response to “The Top Ten Kids in the Hall Sketches: A Dissenting View

  1. Not sure I could compile a top 10, but these guys have certainly contributed to my mental loop of unbidden absurdities, verbally expressed. When I feel like I’ve gotten away with something, I’ll say, “Screw YOU, Tax-Payer!” Also; “Miiiind if I … swoop?” And: “Lopez.” etc.

    Completely with you on #1, btw.

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