Kevin McDonald on sketch-writing and the new Kids in the Hall tour
Kevin McDonald is an actor, improv artist and comedian best known for his work with Canada's Kids in the Hall sketch comedy troupe. He'll be at Denver's Voodoo Comedy Playhouse all weekend, a run that kicks off with a special edition of The Couch, Denver's only improvised therapy session, and includes a two-day workshop on sketch writing. In advance of his trip to Denver, Westword caught up with McDonald to discuss getting into standup, the new Kids in the Hall tour and bad sketch writing.
Westword: So you've been teaching these sketch-writing workshops all over the country?
Kevin McDonald: Several cities, several cities. For a couple years now.
What would you say are some of the most frequent bad habits among novice sketch-writers?
I would say that with sketch and improv, some of the bad habits are taught by us workshop teachers. I think that one of the most common mistakes I see is that people think of things they've been taught as absolutes. Things like the magic rule of threes. Or that in improv, you have to do "the game." I see people get stuck in their writing and improvising because they're trying to do the things they've been taught every time. I don't see them as absolutes, I see them as tools. It's more a blend of instinct and using what you've been taught for structure. But there should always be instinct. It's half inspiration -- getting excited about the idea and letting it take over and half work -- which is finishing the sketch after the inspiration runs out. If you keep working, the inspiration comes back.
Do you know the formats of the shows you're on?
They've told me a million times, but I forget.
One of them sounds pretty interesting. It's like an improv comedy therapy session. It's called The Couch.
What happens in The Couch again?
I think you're on the couch.
The couch itself might be, but on it says that you'll working out your issues, which could be spiritually very uncomfortable. You know, with all the prying personal questions.
Spiritual harassment. Do they improvise based on what I say?
Unless you guys work out something before, I believe everybody will be improvising. You can go a lot of different directions with that format, though. Did you start out from an improv background?
When I was nineteen, I knew that I wanted to be in comedy -- but I also knew that I wasn't a standup. I knew that the things I loved the best were sketches. Well, I guess I didn't know that quite at first, I just thought of it as comedy acting. I always wanted to be like Woody Allen; I always wanted to write what I acted. I went to college to study acting, but I was kicked out after three months. I failed three classes -- dance, costume design and something else I forget -- but before I was kicked out, my improv teacher told me that I was really good at improv, and that I should keep that up and study it. He gave me the phone number to Second City workshops and that was one of the best things that ever happened to me. At my very first class, the only two teenagers were me and a guy named Mike Meyers. He was a great right away, so he was discovered within the year. I was just raw potential at that point. The first class after he left, he was replaced with another teenage guy called Dave Foley. That was sort of the beginning.
I heard that you've been rehearsing with the other guys from Kids in the Hall for a tour. How's that been going?
That's been going great. I just flew back yesterday. We were in Texas at the Moontower Comedy Festival, then we were in Dallas. We're going to tour like standups do, where it's just a couple weekends out of the month. One weekend in June, we're doing Boston, Washington, Philadelphia and Chicago all one weekend.
What are the shows like now? Is it a standup/sketch hybrid?
It's all sketches, just like our show. It's mostly new sketches. Right now, we have a couple old ones in there, but we may change that. The old ones don't seem to be doing as well as the new ones.
That's a good problem to have. You don't want to be stuck in that fan-service mode, where you're just there to play the hits.
It's funny. They used to love it. Our first comeback tours in 2000-2002 were all old sketches and people went crazy. Last year we did all new stuff and people went crazy for that. I guess it's the opposite of an old rock band. With an old rock band, you want to hear the old hits. With an old comedy troupe, you're tired of the hits because it's comedy. How many times can you replay Steve Martin's album Let's Get Small, you know?
Yeah, that element of surprise diminishes. I also think that comedy nerdery has become more sophisticated. People want to peer behind the curtain a little more.
They love when we make mistakes. I think that subconsciously that sticks in our minds. Not that we make mistakes intentionally, but we can rest knowing that even if we mess up, we'll still get a laugh. I would love to just do a tight show all the way through though and see how that goes.
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