Interview: Scott Thompson talks 'Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town'
Friday night at 10 on IFC, The Kids in the Hall reunite on American TV for the first time since the mid-'90s with "Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town," an eight-episode miniseries about a murder in a small Canadian town called Shuckton. As always, the Kids play most of the parts (including the women), including the smug mayor (Bruce McCulloch), his alcoholic wife (Dave Foley), an absent-minded pizza delivery woman (Kevin McDonald), the desperate, aging weather girl (Scott Thompson) and Death himself (Mark McKinney).
I wasn't a huge fan of "Death Comes to Town," but as a long-time fan of the Kids themselves, I was just glad to see them together again after nearly 15 years, when the experience of making their one and only studio film, "Brain Candy," was so unpleasant that several members of the group didn't talk to each other for years. (They reunited for several live tours in the '00s.) So when IFC had a "Death Comes to Town" panel at press tour, I made sure to find time to talk with any available members of the group. I ultimately spoke with Bruce McCulloch (who came up with the idea for the miniseries and was the head writer on it) and Scott Thompson. After the jump is my interview with Thompson; look for McCulloch tomorrow.
After the experience of "Brain Candy," how was it to be able to come back together in this way?
Oh man. This was a world away from that. This was joy. Absolutely a joy. I mean, we had CBC, we made this originally for the CBC, but they were incredible with us. And they really left us quite alone, which is what an artist really wants.
Based on what Kevin said on the stage and what Dave and other of you guys have said publicly in the past, "Brain Candy" does not sound like it was a very good experience.
Was there ever any talk of you all just stepping away from each other for awhile?
We did. We absolutely did. We didn’t speak to each other for 4 or 5 years.
From ’95…the movie came out in ’96 I guess and it was 4-1/2 years. It wasn’t until 2000 that we came together again.
And there was certain members - I mean, like Dave and I can be honest about this now, Dave and I had a very big problem with each other and we all did with each other, but we did not speak until 2000. We decided we would meet and have coffee together, have a drink. It was here in Hollywood and we both wore dark glasses and it was difficult at the beginning and then once the glasses came off and we had a few drinks, we started to tentatively get into it and from then on it went up and up and up and up. That first tour was just so much fun. We thought, "Let’s just keep doing it." And then we kept coming back together again and it’s honestly gotten better and better and this last tour, 2 years ago, was all new material, was so much fun that we thought, "Let’s do some more TV." And that’s how this happened.
Yeah. And now feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, this was always my….
…assumption from having watched the show back in the day, it seemed as if things were written where Mark and Bruce would write their stuff and Kevin and Dave did theirs, and you would sort of mainly do solo pieces.
Well, that’s not true. There’s a million combinations. Yes. Bruce and Mark came from one group. Kevin and Dave came from another and they came together. And those two are writing teams. But I’m more of a swing guy. I don’t just work on my own. I mean certainly I do a lot of monologues. I probably do more monologues than any of the others, but there’s lots of scenes that I wrote or co-wrote where they’re all in it. And I also worked a lot with Paul Bellini. He was very much the guy that I wrote with an awful lot throughout the series. But I was very more my own because they were 2 teams that came together and I’m sort of the bridge. But I do write with all 4 of them.
Well, for instance, Danny Husk - who came up with him?
Danny Husk was born in one of our very first successful group-written scenes in the first season, "Joymakers," about 4 businessmen throwing a surprise party for one of their colleagues but he’s actually there. That’s where Mark’s character Nina was born, his very uptight female character and all of that. That’s where our business personas were born. We did an awful lot of business stuff. We created this whole world of AT&Love, our secretaries, our business people and there’s the boss and there’s really is quite a fully fleshed out little world there. So Danny was just my persona in that world. And then the mustache came after. Then I wrote a sketch called "Anecdote," which was the first film I wrote and that was Danny telling the world’s most boring anecdote. And him just thrilled by it. And the mustache still didn’t happen. The mustache happened next in a scene that Dave and I wrote which was Danny and the sauna scene. And that was when the mustache came about and Danny became a real person. But the name…I actually will never forget how the name happened because Dave and I were just fooling around and I was going, "Look at me. I’m just standing here." And he goes, "I can see that. Can you stand over there?" And I go, "Look at me. Now I’m standing over here. I’m just a husk." And he’s like, "Danny, you’re just a husk. You’re a husk of a man." "There’s nothing to me. I’m Danny Husk." And that’s how the name happened and that was it. It was like, wow. A husk? That became a metaphor in a way for the hollowness of that kind of behavior.
Because every time I ever have car trouble I immediately start thinking back to the one with Danny where his car won’t start.
"Try it now!" Yeah, and it’s funny because now I have a Danny Husk graphic novel that’s coming out November 1st.
IDW is publishing it, and it's called "Danny Husk: The Hollow Planet." I was just at Comic-Con doing 3 days there as Danny, so I’m thrilled.
Wait, you were in character at Comic-Con?
Yes. I got in trouble because I did a whole afternoon as Danny and it’s long story but I did a lot of my interviews in underwear.
But I find that it makes people - it relaxes them. Because you know in that famous "Brady Bunch" episode when Jan’s taking her test and she’s nervous and she has to imagine him in his underwear and it makes her calm? I thought, "Let’s eliminate that step and just go around in my underwear." But I ended up crashing Stan Lee’s big interview and I kept yelling at him from behind, "Hey Stan Lee! I love your Hong Kong action pictures!" And they were like, "What the hell?"... That was fun. So I was real excited about being Danny there. It was my own graphic novel like, wow, I’m grass roots again and Danny is the giant killer, you know? And I like that.
So how, over time, between the show and "Brain Candy" and now this and the stage shows, has the writing process for the group evolved? Is there more fluidity to it now?
People listen to each other a little more. We’re not as adamant that we’re right. I’m willing to accept that the other 4 have a modicum of talent as well. We've never really written as a group. This was a different history. It was Bruce’s idea, then Kevin and I and Bruce beat out the story with Gary Campbell, who was one of our writers from the show, and then the others came aboard to help with the individual characters, and then Kevin and Bruce went away to write the rough drafts, and then we all came back and worked on that. And then there was a whole period in the summer before we started shooting where we were all together in the writer’s room, also with the addition of Gary Campbell and Paul Bellini to help us with it. And then once we got onto the set as well, then things change again because nothing is ever set in stone.
From the experience of having watched the (original) show, it seem like there were a bunch of different comic sensibilities sort of all going at each other.
That’s right, yeah. And that’s still the case. For example, there’s a scene in this with Mark and Bruce as the cops. And that’s a standalone sketch that would be in our series. There’s pieces like. There’s so much of what Dave does as Marilyn that is completely him. There’s some scenes that like I do, Dusty Diamond is bagging the evidence, that was born at the beginning of the whole project. Some scenes were written like—bang—like that, and then the series was kind of wrapped around the need to have certain scenes in. There’s just no question about it.
What would you say is your sensibility and how that differs from the other 4 guys?
I’m probably more character driven than some of the others. I’m not as idea-driven. Let's say Bruce is very idea driven. Kevin is more goofy driven. Dave is a mixture of both. Mark is very character driven—almost completely. And I’m too but I do have ideas, too. Like I do have conceptual ideas, but I think number 1 for me is character, character, character.
I take it since you’re doing the Danny comic, do you guys own the characters you’ve created?
Yes. That’s the difference between us and almost everybody else who’s come before us. Unlike everybody on "SCTV" or "Mad TV" or "Saturday Night Live" or all those series, we own our characters. That’s why we were paid so pitifully and why we are still hungry, because we never really made the big bucks and we never really, to be blunt, none of us really took off and became household names, which happened with lots of people in "SCTV" or "SNL" or whatever. And I think in a strange way, now that we’ve come to grips with it and accepted that, it’s been the best thing for us because the troupe has stayed together. And we’re still hungry. And I think too much success can be very difficult for people and we’re lucky to have just had enough.
We were adamant. And I don’t think we realized how radical that was. We just thought it was natural like well, "Of course I’m going to own Buddy and Kathy. I’m not giving that up." And if it meant that we had to lose other things for creative control, it was definitely worth it. But that was what we were all about. We were very, very bad businessmen and very good artists.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org