“I’m kind of qualified to write this book because I’ve written about musicians and bands all my life,” says Paul Myers.
And that he has, having previously authored three biographies about Todd Rundgren, Long John Baldry and Barenaked Ladies, as while as writing for newspapers and publications such as Mojo Magazine, and, well, having a career as a musician, himself.
So, yes, yes he is eminently qualified to write about bands and musicians.
Even if that “band” is a comedy troupe and those “musicians” are comedic actors, writers and performers, and especially when that “band” and those “musicians” are singularly and collectively The Kids In the Hall: Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson.
The beloved Canadian sketch quintet are the latest subject Myers has given the biographical treatment to, having just released the authorized tome The Kids In the Hall: One Dumb Guy (House of Anansi Press, 344 pages).
And maybe he’s even more qualified to write about them than he is any of the other aforementioned topics, considering he grew up in Toronto, saw the rise of and was friends with The Kids — tight with the artistic community due to his musical ties and the comedic community in part due to his younger brother Mike’s involvement in it.
Perhaps that’s why One Dumb Guy is the remarkably engaging read it is, both a fan and insider’s look at how they came to be one of the most influential North American voices in the sketch comedy world of the past half-century.
With quotes and contributions from all of the members as well as those who were involved in the Kids’ story, it tells about the ups and the downs of the fivesome’s career, while first setting things up beautifully by giving the backstories of how each individual came to be the distinct character and comedic entity they are before setting up the origin story of the group itself.
“That’s what I thought, too,” the now-California-based Myers says. “My idea was that you know The Kids In the Hall and there’s a family dynamic behind them, there are so many similar things about them, but there’s also a lot of specific things to each guy, so what I wanted to do was show you how — like Ocean’s Eleven or any of those heist movies — show you how the crew got together, where do these guys come from.”
He calls it a “forensic examination of how they got to where they were,” which was through a great deal of happenstance and serendipity
So many things had to happen for Foley and McDonald’s story to converge before their involvement in comedy and improv in Ontario, as well as for McCulloch and McKinney to hook up famously when they were earning their funny stripes at legendary Calgary theatre company Loose Moose — the latter two making the move to Toronto, where Thompson’s story had brought him into the lives of the folks of the former.
“I love that,” Myers says. “That’s a good movie.”
Again, it’s only part of a pretty great book. He’ll bring it to the city where some of it began, for a Wordfest event Thursday, Nov. 1 at the Memorial Park Library, where he’ll participate in a Q&A with ringleader Shelley Youngblut.
As for One Dumb Guy’s origin story, the author had pitched telling it during the making of the Kids’ ill-fated Brain Candy film in 1999, but for a number of reasons — how turbulent that filmmaking process was, as you can read in the book, as well as personal troubles each member was going through — it was the wrong time. He pitched it to them again years later, after having written the biography for the Barenaked Ladies and then having interviewed the Kids for a panel discussion, and was once more rebuffed for a number of reasons.
“Two years ago, I finally said to the guys, ‘I think it’s about time I did this,’ ” he says, joking that he sent them all letters as if it was a lawyer’s closing arguments to seal a case.
“Basically at that point I said, ‘Guys, I’ll do you proud, I really want to tell the truth, I really want it to be a story for the fans and for me, and a story about the Toronto comedy scene,’ and then they all said yes.”
That was really only the beginning of a lengthy and involved process that required The Kids to participate throughout the writing, sitting down for interviews, follow-up interviews, and fact-checking calls and emails when each member’s stories didn’t match up.
Myers says when that was the case he usually deferred to McDonald, who possessed the best memory of the five.
“There was a point when I was going to call it Ask Kevin: The Kids In the Hall Story,” he jokes.
He also turned to superfans, as well, those whose knowledge of the trivia and minutia of the troupe was invaluable.
But, still, he mainly relied on the subjects to help tell their story, which, he admits, is not as warts and all as it could have been — by his choice. Myers says he wasn’t interested in digging too far into the dirt for salacious tales and details that some might have pursued, only because that wasn’t the story he wanted to tell, and he wanted to first and foremost serve that.
“There were things that I didn’t talk about and no one told me not to … No one told me not to and I actually don’t believe that it was my job — my job was to write a book about the creative process and the five individuals and how that they shaped each other towards this thing that they are now,” he says.
“And I think I told enough of the story, and I’m being defensive maybe, because I know that some journalists would go after the dirt — and it’s there if you want it, there’s dirt in every story — but to me there’s so much to celebrate. And, again, I am a friend, so I am going to be more interested in the happy stories of my friends, but there’s definitely conflict. You come to this book, it’s not going to be without ugliness, there’s a lot of fighting in the band.”
As to his own discoveries during the book, one of the biggest was an even greater appreciation of what they did, how they did it and, ultimately, The Kids In the Hall’s legacy.
He notes that for a troupe of five white men, they still had such a broad reach for comedy lovers and were surprisingly inclusive. That was, in part, due to the fact Thompson was openly gay and their treatment of women characters that they played, which was “sympathetic, it wasn’t cartoon.”
“I learned to really, really respect their process, I see each of them as a highly tuned comedy professional,” Myers says, acknowledging that they welcomed other comedic minds into that process, including Paul Bellini, The Frantics’ Dan Redican and members of CODCO.
“They have all of these people working on the show besides the five guys and I realized it was a Manhattan Project launching the TV series, they really turned out five years of consistently interesting often inflammatory and groundbreaking comedy.”
And he says that’s only underscored by those willing to contribute and sing The Kids’ praises and acknowledge their influence, including such contemporary comedic giants as Judd Apatow, Bob Odenkirk, Fred Armisen and Seth Meyers, who wrote the foreword, and the lasting effects that can be seen in such other sketch comedy shows as Portlandia, Keye and Peele, Mr. Show With Bob and David and recent Canadian entry Baroness von Sketch Show.
“To me,” Myers says, “that makes me love them and respect them even more as a cultural entity and export.”
Wordfest presents Paul Myers: The Kids In the Hall on Thursday, Nov. 1 at the Memorial Park Library, 2nd Floor. For tickets please click here.