Dallas — As a kid growing up in Toronto with a television set and a decent antenna, Kevin McDonald was able to pull in television stations from Buffalo, about 60 miles away. It was that way that he was able to see reruns of The Ernie Kovacs Show. Ernie Kovacs was one of the earliest comedians who crafted comedy specifically for television, and the show had a great impact on McDonald.
The same is true for Dave Foley, who McDonald would meet in a Toronto improv class in the early ’80s. Less than 10 years later they, along with Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson, and Bruce McCulloch, would be far and away the most popular and influential sketch troupe in Canada as Kids in the Hall, with their eponymous TV show running on CBC in Canada, and HBO and (later) CBS in the United States.
Today, thanks to frequent reruns on Comedy Central in the late ’90s and early aughts, they can replace “Canada” with “English-speaking North America.” (No disrespect to Saturday Night Live, which is not a singular troupe.)
So it was only fitting that McDonald and Foley were on hand at the Alamo Drafthouse in Richardson Saturday night to accept the Ernie Kovacs award, bestowed by Dallas VideoFest.
“His [Kovacs] sense of absurdism was way ahead its time,” says McDonald. “It was irreverent, and sort of against-the-man.”
During the awards presentation, which was capped by a screening of their 1996 movie Brain Candy, Foley and McDonald spoke with great honesty about their 35 years of (on-and-off) working together. Among my favorite anecdotes:
• Lorne Michaels wants them to reunite for perhaps a 6-8 episode run on a streaming platform like Netflix or Hulu. McDonald says he will try to get the rest of the group together to gauge interest. Fingers crossed!
• When they would debate the direction of sketches, which was constantly, McKinney and McCulloch would invariably agitate for a more “artsy” direction, while Foley and McDonald were strictly concerned with laughs. Thompson could go either way and would break ties.
• During the writing of Brain Candy, McDonald, jealous of Foley’s success on NBC sitcom NewsRadio, switched camps to the “artsy” side, leaving Foley arguing against the rest of the troupe on his own. Frustrated, he quit. Everyone would kiss, make up, and reunite a few years later, but Foley is the only Kids in the Hall member with no writing credit for Brain Candy.
Perhaps most touching, however, was a story McDonald recalled at Thursday’s presser that emphatically demonstrates this was far more than just another town and just another award for them.
“At one point, we met [Kovacs’ widow and comedy partner] Edie Adams. She said, ‘I love Kids in the Hall and I know Ernie would’ve loved it too.’ Dave and I started crying.”