'​The Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks' Is the Tribute These Legends Deserve Directed by Reg Harkema

Published: May 20, 2022
As originally published by Rachel Ho on Exclaim!

With a new season of The Kids in the Hall hitting Amazon Prime next month, it's a good time to reintroduce the Kids to Canada and the world. In Reg Harkema's latest documentary, he explores the history of Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson — collectively known as the Kids in the Hall. Detailing the formation of the famed sketch comedy troupe, uncovering some behind-the-scenes drama and paying tribute to their legacy, The Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks is a wonderful and thoughtful film about five Canadian kids who left an indelible mark on comedy and pop culture.

The year is 1984: the Toronto Blue Jays are 5 years away from playing at the SkyDome, Cyndi Lauper is singing about girls wanting to have fun, and Canada's own Ivan Reitman's Ghostbusters will become the highest grossing film of the year. The gnarly '80s are in full swing, and in the back room of a small restaurant on Toronto's Queen Street, five suburban kids are performing sketch comedy to a small but enthusiastic crowd. Unbeknownst to these crowds, they're witnessing lightning in a bottle. 

Almost 40 years after their club days at Rivoli, the Kids are now Toronto icons and cemented comedy legends. The cool alternative to mainstream Saturday Night Live, the Kids in the Hall subverted the typical comedy of the day and drew laughs from audiences while offering poignant commentary on alcoholism, gender, and sexuality (which, given the AIDS crisis at the time, was seen as particularly edgy). 

Comedy Punks intersperses archival footage from Rivoli, the making of their hit TV show and videos from their personal collections with talking heads. Harkema interviews the group collectively and separately, giving each Kid the space to share his own memories. It's clear from their group interview that their chemistry hasn't grown stale in the slightest. They trade stories like army buddies, and any past resentments appear to have long since washed away.

For those familiar with the Kids' story, Thompson's battle with leukemia, McKinney and McCulloch leaving for a shiny SNL writing gig, and Foley and McDonald's falling out won't be new territory. But to hear these moments rehashed among them is endearing, raw, and adds a great depth of appreciation to the group as performers, men and friends. Harkema doesn't shy away from asking tough questions about their challenges, but he's careful not to take a tabloid-like leer.

Some famous fans also lend their perspectives and memories of the group, including Mike Myers, Mae Martin, Eric McCormack and Reggie Watts. The mix of old guard and new emphasizes the impact that the Kids had during their heyday and continue to have today. And of course, the SNL bigwig himself, Lorne Michaels, is on hand to recall his history with the Kids. Michaels' insights are very interesting and, given his stature in comedy, the respect and admiration he has for the Kids only confirms what those crowds at Rivoli knew: the Kids in the Hall are special.

Harkema makes a film for new fans and old. It's a great introduction for the uninitiated who will head straight to YouTube to find clips from The Kids in the Hall (which is highly encouraged). It also offers new insights, never before seen footage, and an extra dimension for fans who grew up with the Kids to chew on. Comedy Punks is a deserving tribute to a homegrown act that, even if they didn't achieve the same recognition as SNL, MADtv or their Canadian colleagues at SCTV, have an ardent fan base and have long been a fixture in comedy circles, inspiring some of our greatest funny people. As the kids of today would say: if you know, you know.
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