A Lesson on ‘Funnier’ with Kevin McDonald
By Jeremy Morrison
Kevin McDonald knew early on he wanted to work in comedy. He instinctively knew where his strengths lay within the genre.
“I realized when I was a kid I was funny through timing,” McDonald said. “I’m not great at thinking of jokes. I can think of sort of funny things to say, but it helps greatly by how I say them, knowing when to pause and stuff.”
More specifically still, McDonald—who would become a founding member of The Kids in the Hall comedy troupe—naturally gravitated to sketch comedy. The format allowed for exactly the type of physical comedy he watched his heroes like Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder perform.
“I could see that that’s how I wanted to be funny, like with a script, talking to someone else, having them say something, pausing, having horror register on my face, cause I’m playing a coward or something, and then saying something funny, and the physical action that goes with that, that just seemed obvious to me that’s the way you were funny,” McDonald recalled, “and how you get there is through sketch comedy.
During a unique event Wednesday, Aug. 14, McDonald will be in Pensacola for both a workshop and performance. During the day, aspiring locals—writers, actors, comedians, sketch artists—will have the opportunity to explore the academics and logistics of sketch comedy with McDonald. That evening, workshop attendees will participate in McDonald’s performance at Vinyl Music Hall in Pensacola.
“For years, I always thought that I had all these millions of theories, and I thought, ‘Oh, you should teach people that,’” McDonald told Inweekly ahead of his Pensacola engagement. “Sometimes people come to me and say, ‘You can’t teach people how to be funny.’ And I say, ‘You’re right, but I can teach people how to be funnier.’”
‘Sort of Important’
McDonald has done a lot of stuff besides sketch comedy.
He’s acted in television and film, been on “Friends” and “Seinfeld,” appeared in an OutKast music video and has long-voiced the character Pleakley in the “Lilo & Stitch” franchise.
But the comedian will forever be associated with The Kids in the Hall, the Canadian comedy troupe he founded with Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson. Formed in Toronto, the group landed a television show courtesy of Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels, which ran on networks including HBO and Comedy Central from 1989 to 1995.
McDonald recognizes The Kids in the Hall’s prominence in the sketch comedy pantheon—“I think we were sort of important”—as well as the troupe’s impact.
“I don’t think we’re with the giants—the giants being Monty Python and ‘Saturday Night Live,’” the comedian said, also listing off “SCTV” and “Chappelle’s Show.” “I don’t think we’re with the giants, but I think we’re close to the giants, and we paved the way for other sketch comics that will become giants.”
Regardless of his other professional pursuits, McDonald has stayed connected to his sketch comedy roots. He works with younger troupes. The Kids in the Hall periodically reconvene for comedy tours and projects like the 2010 Canadian miniseries “Death Comes to Town.”
“It’s just something that I’m good at and that I do and will always be part of me,” McDonald said, explaining that he envisions sketch comedy as a lifetime pursuit. “I will always have a notebook full of new sketch ideas. It just doesn’t leave me.”
Stupid Rules Melt Away
McDonald is being invited to town by the recently-minted Indie Art Council Pensacola (IACP). His workshop-performance engagement is the organization’s first event and is meant as a prelude to a comedy festival being planned for next year.
“Kevin is someone that all of the members of our board regard very highly. Most of us grew up as Kids in the Hall fans, and being able to offer an opportunity for locals to not just see him perform but to learn from him and even perform with him is exactly the kind of opportunity that we are looking to bring to Pensacola,” said IACP’s Julio Diaz.
During the workshop portion of his visit, McDonald said he’ll be imparting knowledge learned during his career in sketch comedy, particularly during the earlier stage days.
“I’ll be teaching the old Kids in the Hall method, how we wrote sketches,” the comedian said, explaining how the pre-television, no-written-script period offered a certain type of freedom. “We wrote through improv, where people would come with ideas, we’d like the ideas, we’d talk about them for a bit and then we’d put them up on the sheet as it were, and we would write it through improvising and rehearsing a few times and then we just remembered it. The freedom of that, that it’s not written down on paper, is that on stage, you would be free to ad-lib jokes that then ruin the plot point you were getting to.”
McDonald has been conducting these type of sketch comedy workshops for a while, about seven years. In addition to enjoying a front-row seat to a comedic landscape, he said the workshop tours also offer him the opportunity to inspire a new generation of sketch comedy artists.
“What my goal is—and I tell them this at the beginning—is that they get so excited about the process,” McDonald said. “And I tell them that the secret is not even going to a stupid workshop learning someone else’s rules. It’s going to a stupid workshop, learning someone else’s stupid rules and then getting so excited by that that you keep writing all the time, you’re always doing it, and then you’re performing all the time because you’re so excited you’ve got a sketch troupe. So you’re writing and performing all the time, and then the rules you learned in my stupid workshop go away. Slowly, they melt away, and you develop your own rules, and that’s sort of when you find your voice and your more interesting work comes.”
WHAT: Workshop and performance with Kevin McDonald of The Kids in the Hall
WHEN: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. workshop; 8 p.m. performance, Wednesday, Aug.14
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox
COST: $125 workshop; $15-45 performance
Click here to read our complete interview with McDonald, in which he further discusses The Kids in the Hall, as well as incorporating his relationship with an alcoholic father into comedy routines, being accidentally socio-politically relevant and the historic trajectory and current state of comedy in general and sketch comedy in particular.