It’s been more than a decade since one of Canada’s most beloved — and controversial — comedy shows left the airwaves, but the Kids in the Hall are back for another crack at television greatness. The new eight-part series Death Comes to Town premieres Tue, Jan 12 on CBC and features a roster of quirky new characters from the comedy quintet of Scott Thompson, Mark McKinney, Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald and Bruce McCulloch.
The story opens with the Grim Reaper’s arrival in fictional Shuckton, Ontario. Everyone in town is anxiously awaiting news of their 2023 Olympics bid, when a prominent citizen is found murdered. The tragic event leaves a long list of suspects that includes TV meteorologist Heather Weather, local ne’er-do-well Crim, and Shuckton’s kindly old abortionist, Doc Porterhouse.
“It’s subversive in a way I haven’t seen before,” says Scott Thompson, the Kids’ resident homo and bon vivant. It’s hard to imagine any subversion was left untouched by these naughty boys in their original 1988 to 1995 broadcast run — but then again, Death Comes to Town is probably the first Canadian comedy to feature an onscreen abortion.
“Oh, you can’t imagine,” laughs Thompson. “It will actually give you an abortion or at least make you spontaneously miscarry. It could easily topple our comeback. It could be our new Cancer Boy.”
For those who missed the Kids’ 1996 film, Brain Candy, Cancer Boy was a completely tasteless and entirely hilarious character played by Bruce McCulloch in a bald cap and wheelchair. Paramount Pictures attempted to cut scenes of the ailing lad singing cheerful songs about cancer, but the troupe stuck to their guns. Predictably, Paramount’s support of the film was a little tepid following the kerfuffle.
“Cancer Boy capsized our careers,” Thompson says, “but I still love him and stand by it.”
Despite the movie’s lacklustre run, Thompson kept busy with featured roles in The Larry Sanders Show, The Simpsons and Another Gay Movie (as well as its sequel). A hugely popular live tour in 2008 reminded the Kids how much they enjoyed working together and sparked the idea for a TV reunion. It was a refreshing change from the emotionally fraught environment of years past.
“Here’s the thing,” says Thompson. “We found out that we didn’t have to hate each other and fight constantly to create something. So we wrote new material and thought, ‘Let’s do it again.’”
It helped that none of the guys had anything terribly pressing to tend to at the time. Show business work is notorious for its floods and droughts of activity, and the Kids are no exception.
“Our careers all tanked at the same time,” says Thompson. “I got stereotyped and all they wanted was Buddy — and, no offense to Buddy, but I blame him completely. That’s why he’s nowhere near this series.”
Buddy is, of course, Thompson’s acerbic queen persona, famous for wickedly funny monologues on everything from lesbian softball to Jesus’ sexual orientation. Thompson does promise a few cameos from classic Kids characters, including the return of McCulloch and Foley as clueless OPP officers on the hunt for a murderer.
“The truth is that the only reason they’re back is that Bruce and Mark’s acting skills are so limited,” says Thompson. “I can play thousands of characters of course, but them, well…”
Thompson revelled in writing and filming the new series with his erstwhile partners, despite some personal setbacks that could have easily derailed the project.
“I had cancer last year.” He drops that bit of news like a bomb, in full deadpan. I wait for the inevitable punch line. There isn’t one. Thompson’s large B-cell non-Hodgkin’s gastric lymphoma was mercifully caught in the early stages, but treatment would wait for no man — or shooting schedule.
Thompson’s chemotherapy began prior to filming for Death Comes to Town, and it was followed by brutal radiation treatments after production wrapped. Luckily, Thompson wasn’t alone on this journey.
“I am now very close to my family, even my extended family,” he says. “I was extremely lucky. Oh, look out, I’m gonna cry!”
But instead he laughs — something Thompson does often and infectiously during the interview. Humour played a big part in his recovery, including some affectionate ribbing from his co-stars. “They said I got cancer on purpose for the attention,” chuckles Thompson. “It was so much better than someone coming to you with big watery eyes and asking how you’re doing.”
Now cancer-free, with the series in the can and a slew of writing projects on the go, Thompson has found a renewed sense of confidence in both his work and his personal life. “One of the things that radiation did to me is that it burned out all of my fear,” he says. “I’m not afraid of anything now.”
Except, perhaps, dating. He says he’s ready for a “mad, passionate love affair,” but confesses to being a little put off by the current dating scene, with its sexting and online profiles and webcam jerk-off sessions.
“You’re certainly not going to see me naked online anytime soon,” Thompson says. “I’m old school. I go to the bar, have drinks and go home with them. If I got going with the sexting, Tiger Woods would look like a three-year-old.”
Death Comes to Town runs on CBC TV on Tuesdays at 9pm beginning Jan 12. Previews are available at cbc.ca/kidsinthehall.