Moontower Comedy Festival: Kids in the Hall

The Kids in the Hall, performing in Dallas tonight, dust off the rust with two shows at Austin’s Moontower Comedy Festival.

published Sunday, April 27, 2014

Photo: Courtesy Moontower Comedy Festival
Kids in the Hall at Moontower Comedy Festival

Austin — The Kids in the Hall are rolling through Texas on their Rusty and Ready tour, a public outing of material destined for a longer Northeast tour in June. It’s a follow-up to their series of five reunion shows at their old stomping grounds, The Rivoli, in Toronto last December. (More on that project here.) After a two-night stint at Moontower Comedy & Oddity Festival in Austin, the show comes to the Majestic in Dallas on Sunday.

This was fresh-baked comedy, recently written and rehearsed that week at The New Movement in Austin. The newness was alluded to in an opening musical monologue by Kevin McDonald, which also recapped the Kids’ history for non-insiders, including the ill-fated movie Brain Candy’s five-million dollar loss. It was accompanied by a comically inept soft-shoe dance that provided the first of many references to their advancing ages: “We’re the group your grandpa told you about.”

The kick-off featured the sight gag of the Kids in wedding dresses, putting up front their well-known proclivity for cross-dressing. They waxed on the benefits of wearing them—“It’s easier to hail a cab”—and riffed about gay marriage, with Mark McKinney’s pregnant belly never mentioned. Bruce McCulloch tossed off a bit on a bank teller fantasizing about a wilder life. A bit on couples at a Brokeback Mountain screening, with the women oblivious to the men’s true relationship, went on a bit long.

McKinney and Scott Thompson spun off a sly satire about improv, portraying a pair trying to work-up a scene, parroting the phrases learned in improv class such as “Yes, and,” rather than actually learning from them. The scattered improv fans in the audience found it hilarious, causing others to look at us puzzled.

McCulloch’s surprising skills as an actor came to the fore in a skit on Canadian politeness and rush to apology. He genuinely copped to causing cancer, even Thompson’s near-fatal B-cell nonHodgkin’s gastric lymphoma, an aggressive stomach cancer, as well as the other member’s divorces. McCulloch presented one of his trademark monologues with ruminations on being a super-nerd—“I’m on the spectrum”—and offered the best line of the night: “The conspiracy about government conspiracies is that they don’t exist.”

But it was the updating of classic characters that the fan base came to see, even though Headcrusher and Cabbage Head never showed up. Simply the appearance of Sir Simon Milligan (Kevin McDonald) and his evil sidekick Hecubus (Dave Foley) prompted huge cheers. Hecubus, the “boy toy of Hell,” got confused if he’s serving Santa or Satan in the Pit of Ultimate Darkness.

McKinney’s reprise of the lascivious Chicken Lady was well received. The aging avian femme fatale could no longer afford gigolos and was trying her hand at dating, but intended mate Foley would have none of it. Thompson turned in a polished Buddy Cole monologue on gay kids being bullied—“Trans is so much more chic than sissy”—and slacker teachers—“These days kids get stars for not waking up dead.”

Sketch acts now tend to go for satire, whereas the Kids prefer to tickle while whispering subversive nothings in your ear. They are Canadian warped, genuinely weird and Pythonesque, ever pushing their bits into absurdity. A skit on pretentious foodies went well past insanity. It’s a well-fluffed silliness with pointed messages embedded so deep they don’t kick in until two beats after the joke.

Rusty and Ready is a deeper show than prior reunions. Even if the rust flakes showed in the form of flubbed lines and performers frequently cracking up on stage, it’s good to see the group together again. The Kids fervent fan base was more than happy to laugh along. As McCullough signed off at the end: “Thank you for watching the rust fall off of us.”