Drawing attention in their 90s heyday with sketches that confronted serious LGBTQ issues with absurdist comedy, The Kids In The Hall remain hilariously relevant today.
Ash Griffith | September 14, 2018
Sketch comedy is a unique art form. More structured than improv, more thoughtful than stand-up, it nevertheless remains a humorous way to comment on current affairs and social issues in concise, immediate fashion. Even when it’s absurd (see Monty Python), it still finds a way to make a strong statement.
The Kids In The Hall have always found a way to perfect the blend of absurdity and immediacy since their beginning in 1980, notably by placing themselves at the forefront of the LGBTQ conversation. Even though troupe member Bruce McCulloch admitted in an interview with Huffington Post that they probably only became consciously and intentionally inclusive because of fellow troupe member Scott Thompson (who has been openly gay since before joining the troupe), the representation and inclusiveness that many other mainstream (and some underground) troupes lacked was clearly present in The Kids In The Hall.
“Because Scott was one of the first openly gay people on TV and was in our troupe, I think it made it richer,” McCulloch told Huffington Post. “I love that here I am, a heterosexual man, dressing up, kissing Scott on the lips in the mid ‘80s, and we’re all doing it, it makes it kind of richer. But no, we [probably] would never have taken some of the sexuality things on if we hadn’t had Scott.”
Unofficially nicknamed “the gay troupe” over the course of time, the Kids never shied away from sketches that either featured Thompson or the LGBTQ community. And it was a difficult time to be openly gay and in the public eye. When the series was first being filmed in New York it was in the late 80s, during the AIDS crisis. Understandably Thompson was scared. He mentioned in an interview on the first season’s DVD set that he didn’t date for awhile because of his concern for his safety.
The fact that Kids In The Hall were unafraid to deal with LGBTQ subject matter in the cultural context of the time definitely marks them as one of the era’s most progressive shows. But do their sketches about our community still hold up thirty years later? This writer will argue a fervent yes.
One of the first recurring characters that comes to mind when you mention the troupe is Buddy Cole. Scott Thompson still occasionally tours around as Buddy Cole to various comedy venues, partially because of how popular his sketches in this character have always been.
“When I’m overseas, and I’m mistaken for an American, I’m as angry as when I’m mistaken for straight,” Thompson says during one of Buddy’s monologues. Buddy Cole is bougie and full of himself, and he does not care about your feelings. He is one of my favorite LGBTQ characters of all time because of how self-assured he is, displaying a confidence I’m still struggling to get a grip on in my own life. And he’s clearly an expression of Thompson’s creativity; while it’s not always clear who wrote which Kids In The Hall sketches, the fact that Thompson wrote most if not all of Buddy’s sketches is obvious. To watch Buddy is to watch Thompson melt entirely into the character, becoming him.
Topics for Buddy’s sketches cover so many things: dating in the LGBTQ community, being Canadian (an already-common trope for the Kids), owning a bar (aptly named Buddy’s), and his infinite list of lovers. Part of the reason why Buddy was so important when he was initially introduced, and remains so today, is how straightforward he is, while still being true to himself. Buddy knows that there is no one right way to be gay — the only right way is what is right for you personally. Buddy dresses how he wants, enjoys his life, and refuses to hide or be ashamed of who he is.
The Kids are skilled sketch writers who are celebrated by comedy writers everywhere for so many reasons, but one of the biggest is how relevant their material remains. That’s demonstrated by another well remembered sketch, “Running Faggot,” featuring all the Kids and focusing on Thompson as the title character.
Originally aired in the first season of the television series, and then performed during both the 2014 and 2015 live tours, “Running Faggot” is performed as a narrative folk song. It tells the story of a man known as the Running Faggot, who runs around saving the day for everyone. And the best/worst part of it is that the tune is embarrassingly catchy.
Of course this is a roundabout way to approach the conversation about taking words back that do harm — in this case of course the F slur. At first glance it might be easy to brush “Running Faggot” off as an insensitive, weird sketch. However, doing so does a massive disservice to the sketch and what it is trying to accomplish. Like a lot of the Kids’ sketches, it’s worth giving more than a surface-level consideration.
When The Kids In The Hall series first started airing on American and Canadian television, they received a lot of comparisons to the most famous sketch troupe of all time, Monty Python. The comparisons make sense; both groups are weird and absurd, but on a deeper level, because of the way they both tackle social commentaries without being in your face about it, they have a lot of substantial content.
Kids in the Hall is comedy you actually have to sit down and think about.
Sketches like “Running Faggot,” which seem so silly and weird, are written that way because dealing with the weighty subjects they tackle is easier said than done. It has to be absurd to make topics like like taking back slurs meant to hurt us and our community, or the idea of backwoods conservatives coming after us to hurt us, less terrifying — so that we can even just sit down and have a conversation about them.
Much of the television series was about the troupe breaking the fourth wall. In the “Scott’s Not Gay Anymore” sketch, the Kids approach Scott about a rumor that he is no longer gay. There are a lot of concepts dealt with in this sketch, including sexual fluidity and tokenism. It could inspire a whole bunch of questions, such as: Why can’t someone be allowed to explore the varying spectrum of sexuality and find their identity? Why is Scott’s sexuality even an issue for the rest of the characters in the sketch? What does it mean to be the token LGBTQ person in the room, and how heavy does that pressure weigh, to be so many things to so many people?
This sketch could inspire you to contemplate all these things and more. Alternately, you could just see it as a funny sketch. But that is the entire point with sketches like this one. You can choose simply to laugh and move on, but there’s a lot to dig through if you choose — which is what makes it stands just as tall today as when it was new.
Anyone who tells you that comedy isn’t inherently based on political and social commentary either is not paying attention or doesn’t know what they are talking about. Comedy has always been about having a conversation. Making a statement, whether large or small, and getting people to think about the way the world around them moves — for better or worse.
The Kids in the Hall was (and is) made up of five incredibly brilliant, self-aware men who knew what they were doing and what they were saying. For better or for worse, what they were saying in 1988 still remains just as relevant in 2018, even something as simple as Buddy Cole hanging out with Queen Elizabeth.