Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I love the Kids in the Hall and looked forward to speaking with these two guys. I wasn't disappointed.

It’s not the easiest thing to laugh and take notes and that was the primary challenge in speaking with Kevin McDonald and Scott Thompson, two of the members of the legendary comedy troupe, The Kids in the Hall.

This reporter recently conducted two separate telephone interviews with the comedians and actors and that was a blessing. If they had been on the line at the same time, I would have been unable to take clear notes.

At the same time both men were refreshingly candid about a career in show business.

McDonald and Thompson will be appearing together in a stand-up act with new material at the Hu Ke Lau in Chicopee on Oct. 7.

On the show, McDonald played a number of either crazy or na├»ve women as well as his unforgettable role as “King of Empty Promises,” while Thompson broke new comedy ground with his monologues as Buddy Cole.

“The Kids in the Hall” television series ran from 1988 to 1995 and has been re-run since as well as collected recently on DVD. Since then, both men have been busy with a variety of projects and appearances as well as taking part in several reunion projects with fellow “Kids” Mark McKinney, Bruce McCullough and Dave Foley, the most recent being “Death Comes to Town” in 2008.

McDonald, for instance, has made a mark as a voice actor in animated productions that include “Invader Zim,” “Lilo and Stitch” and “Catscratch.” He likes it, even though he has no creative power.

“It’s tiring,” he explained. “I scream all day because my characters always fall a lot.”

He noted with a little apprehension that he met a voice actor who “did me better than me.”

McDonald recently made the move from Los Angeles to Winnipeg, Canada, because of a new relationship. He explained he initially made the move from Canada because “I have to go out and keep reminding people about me; reminding them about the Kids in the Hall and ask them for money.”

Performing in the reunion tours with the rest of the group “seemed like old times,” he said.

The Kids in the Hall were often noted for their performance in female roles and the steps they took to look like women. Playing in drag today, means “certainly a lot more makeup,” McDonald said.

One of the aspects of “The Kids in the Hall” television show that continues to impress is the edgy innovative quality of the writing. McDonald said the members used to write the television shows by bringing ideas together to McCullough’s apartment and acting them out over and over. Since then with the advent of the personal computer, the team has broken up into smaller writing groups.

He said that the “hardest thing” the group ever wrote was their feature film “Brain Candy.”

“We couldn’t turn a page [in the script] until everyone agreed,” McDonald remembered.

He said each of the tours featured new material and that while in the writing process it seemed like “no time had passed.”

McCullough was in charge of the most recent “Kids” production, the mini-series “Death Comes to Town” and McDonald said the problem the “Kids” has always had is writing longer pieces than skits.

McDonald is new to stand-up but enjoys it and is happy to be on the road with his friend.

“Kevin and I are such good friends,” Thompson said. Neither man wanted to tour alone and the two decided to make a two-year commitment to a stand-up gig.

McDonald said that although part of his stand-up show is scripted, there is also room for improvisation. Thompson explained the two men do a separate set and then come together for a set.

If you’re hoping to see a reprise of well-known characters or skits, you won’t find them at this show, Thompson said.

He said at the beginning of the tour, they tried to do some of their well-known characters, but “we dumped them.”

“It’s easier [to do the tour] without a bag of wigs,” he said.

Thompson was one of the first openly gay performers on television and his signature character was Buddy Cole, the acerbic barfly always holding a martini and ready with a piercing remark.

Cole was Thompson’s stand-up voice for years and Thompson envisioned bringing Cole back as the star of a new show in which Buddy is undertaking a tour of Africa and the Middle East.

Thompson, along with “Kids” writer Paul Bellini, even wrote a Buddy Cole book titled “Buddy Babylon: The Autobiography of Buddy Cole.”

One can tell there is more than a little of Cole in Thompson. When I opened the interview with the admission I’m a big fan of the “Kids,” he said that would make things easier.

“The last [interviewer] was a petulant a*****e and he stayed one through the interview,” he said.

Thompson has also been busy since the “Kids” left the airwaves. He’s had prominent roles in television series such as “The Larry Sanders Show” and “Providence,” as well as other shows.

He said he is “thrilled” to be on stage and performing stand-up, nothing that much of the material is about his life.

“Stand-up is so pure,” he said. “It’s just you and a mic. You’re like a gunslinger.”

Although he improvises on stage, he sticks to the material he developed and said with a hearty laugh, “The show is filthy — really, really dirty.”

Thompson is also honest about the tour and about the nature of show business and in a moment of candor, he said he needs the money from the stand-up tour.

“I’ve not had the most illustrious post-“Kids” career,” he said. He views himself as a comic actor and writer who would be “very, very happy with different character roles.”

He noted, that unlike shows such as ”Saturday Night Live,” there was no “break-out” member of the troupe, with the possible exception of Foley, who landed the starring role on “News Radio.”

He said that McKinney and McCullough gravitated to “behind the camera.”

Thompson had been vocal in the past about the depiction of gays on television and in film and the straight actors who get the parts. He said things have “come a million miles” since he raged against how Tom Hanks played a gay man dieing of AIDS in the film “Philadelphia.”

He said he watched the sitcom “Glee” and was amazed by the gay character on it.

“I’m more philosophical about that now,” he said. “I kind of forgive.”

He said one observer wrote of “The Kids” that watching them performing one could tell that they loved one another.

“That’s the secret,” he said. “The Kids in the Hall, that’s our secret — a ‘bromance.’”

© 2011 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, September 19, 2011

With comedians, you never quite know what to expect in an interview. I've conducted conversations with comics that was all about their shtick and some who acted like they never cracked a smile.

I didn't know what to expect from Tom Green, a polarizing talent if there ever was one. I think that either you're a fan of what he is best known for– outrageous, in-your-face confrontational prank humor – or you're not. I admire the guy for staking out a piece of comic turf that relatively few have.

It turns out that Green is an articulate sincere guy, who is serious about his stand-up career.

If you think of outrageous when you think of comedian Tom Green, you would be right. Green came to prominence with a program on MTV that emphasized a willingness to do almost anything to himself or his sidekicks for laughs — or shock.

Talking to Green reveals another side to the guy willing to put live mice in his mouth for an audience’s amusement. He’s a performer who is very serious about developing his stand-up act.

Green spoke to Reminder Publications last week. He will be appearing at the Hu Ke Lau on Oct. 1 in Chicopee.

MTV picked Green up for his first show in 1999, after the performer had starred and produced his own show for the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, which was based on his long-running homemade show seen on cable access.

The success of the first MTV show led to subsequent shows and specials on the network as well as a string of movies, including the infamous “Freddy Got Fingered,” which was Green directed and co-wrote.

Having started performing stand-up at age 15, Green has returned to the comedy format and has been touring for the past two years.

“I always wanted to do it again,” he said of stand-up. Green stopped performing when he started his cable access television show.

He added he enjoys the writing process of developing jokes and stories.

“The real fun I have is crafting a joke with a lot of structure, but make them look unstructured,” he explained.

Green does improvise on stage as well and uses stand-up for the expression of opinions on social issues.

After working on mainstream television and movies, Green appreciates the one-man quality of stand-up.

“What I love about stand-up is the complete freedom. There are no rules there,” he said.

“With the television shows, we were challenging ourselves to smash the rules each week into smithereens,” Green said.

Green was raised in the culture of skateboard and said that was the inspiration for the crazy physical stunts seen on his show. When asked if his show inspired MTV’s “Jackass,” he said, “People ask me that [all the] time. I tell them to drawn their own conclusion.”

While Green doesn’t think MTV copied him, he said he has been told by “Jackass” cast members such as Steve O that they were inspired by him.

Green’s success also led to movie roles in a number of films as well as his star turn in “Freddy Got Fingered,” a film that is now considered a cult film.

He said that acting in someone else’s film “takes a lot on pressure off” him and he “doesn’t necessarily have to always do everything.”

He currently has several film ideas in development, including one he calls “Insane Prank Movie.”

Green has the reputation of pushing boundaries and he did that with his Internet-based talk and variety show that ran from 2006 to this year. Green was a pioneer in using the Internet as a way to broadcast a television show, which he jokingly called “Web-o-Vision.”

He said he enjoyed the show and would do it again, despite the fact that he made just enough money on the show to cover the costs.

“It was a fairly elaborate show,” he noted, which was broadcast weeknights over Livestream and then archived.

“I’ve always been aware of technology and curious how to apply it to make funny comedy,” Green said.

He stopped the production of the show to go on tour and devote himself to stand-up. Green recently did a 12-day appearance as part of the acclaimed Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which was well received.

One unidentified reviewer wrote on www.edinburghspotlight.com, “His insanely genius ‘shock humour’ is what helped Tom shoot to fame and it’s something he fortunately hasn’t let go of. Loosely based on the story of his life, Tom doesn’t hold back. He’s incredibly open and honest about elements of his past making the show much more than just hilarious antics.”

© 2011 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Flea market treasures

One of my true summer and fall pleasures is the Hadley Flea Market, an outdoor collection of dealers located on Route 47. Mary and I have been going there for years and almost always find something either for us or for a friend.

Because of the horrendous summer we've had, we took only the second trip to the flea market of the season today, but it proved to be a great haul for us. We each found books, a couple of things that will be Christmas presents and I discovered the following post cards.

This is an arcade card, a photo printed on card stock the same size as a postcard that was given our as a prize or sold at carnivals and penny arcades. This one features Tom Tyler and Frankie Darro (w) from the silent western "The Desert Pirate."

Okay Springfield residents, this is what the corner of State and Chestnut Streets looked like at the turn of the 20th Century. You see the church where the museum parking lost is now located and the former library building that was moved into the Quadrangle to allow the construction of the present central library.

This next shot is looking down Main Street. The building with the onion dome in the foreground is at the corner of Main and Bridge streets.

This "skyscraper" was the home of "Good Housekeeping" magazine and Phelps Publishing.

© 2011 by Gordon Michael Dobbs