“Their namesake sketch series helped define Gen Xers, arresting their generational sensibility mid-eyeroll: sarcastic, sneering, derisive of authority and self-importance, yet also progressive, compassionate, wildly intelligent, and maybe more than a little self-indulgent.”
-John Semley (from This is a Book About The Kids in the Hall)
In the Late eighties SCTV was gone and although Saturday Night Live was enjoying its second golden age, it had become increasingly mainstream, losing touch with its radical, rebellious roots. Sketch comedy itself was in danger of becoming corporate. Then along came a quintet of young Canadians who shook the system with a show that was so edgy and cool I was surprised that it aired on the tragically lame and frustratingly inoffensive CBC. Journalist John Semley gives the ground-breaking troupe their long-overdue tribute in his debut effort, This is a Book About The Kids in the Hall.
Author Semley’s well-researched and smoothly paced work traces the personal and professional histories of the five members of The Kids in the Hall (Kevin McDonald, Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson) from their childhood through the formation of their ensemble and their TV show and movie to their numerous break-ups and reunions in a style and feel more reminiscent of rock band biography (which I guess it sort of is…and sort of isn’t…I know this makes little sense but for me The Kids in the Hall were somewhat like The Beatles: None of their solo work could match what they did together, and only that group of guys could have done what they did. The Kids in the Hall TV series did not launch them to even greater heights like the way a minor-league team prepares players for the big leagues; their pinnacle would forever be the show itself).
Semley’s not afraid to put his mark on every sentence; his sardonic humour matches exactly the alternative vibe of The Kids in the Hall without becoming a distraction or over-staying his welcome; I appreciate that he cared enough about the subject matter to make the book witty and smart. With excellent, informative asides and footnotes, keen observations and insights, it has more than enough to satisfy a comedy nerd like myself.
However there are a some times where Semley gets a little off topic and a few points where his facts are somewhat questionable, like when he recounts an SNL sketch where Adam Sandler played a, shall we say, over-friendly waiter at an Italian restaurant (page 207). I saw that bit (that also featured host Kirstie Alley) and the premise the author recalls was rather different from what I remember (i.e. the character Sandler played is never instructed to be “more polite with customers” as well as a few other inaccuracies). But I can’t fault Semley too much for that, he was probably just a young boy when it originally aired, and he must have been pooped from staying up so late. And how can I criticize a fellow Iron Maiden fan who, like yours truly, used to work in a chain record store (he was with HMV, I with Music World)?
Semley’s book is more than the history of “Canada’s Monty Python” (I can only dream that one day some hot-shot troupe from the U.K. will be referred to as “Britain’s The Kids in the Hall”), it is also and loving homage to Toronto’s outsider counterculture scene of the ‘80’s. From the dedication I knew it would be a winner: This is a Book About The Kids in the Hall hits all the right notes in tone and attitude.
Now, would someone please do the same for SCTV?
Two other books I recommend in this genre are Born Standing Up by Steve Martin and So, Anyway… by John Cleese.