When last we spoke to Bruce McCulloch, he and the rest of legendary sketch comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall were in the midst of returning to the CBC with a new mini-series, Death Comes to Town. In the three years since then, McCulloch has written and performed a few solo live shows, including The Pink Dot Diaries at SF Sketchfest last year and, more recently, Young Drunk Punk here at Toronto Sketchfest in March. He has two upcoming performances at Hugh’s Room, on July 22 and 23.
When not appearing in front of audiences, he spends most of his time at his home in Los Angeles working as a writer and producer. We caught up with him on the phone and discussed, among other things, his songwriting process, his literary ambitions, and the pain of developing projects that don’t come to fruition.
Torontoist: A few years removed from it now, how do you look back on the experience of making Death Comes to Town?
Bruce McCulloch: Well, I’m a few years away from the fat suit. That was one of the horror shows of my life. I think we think of it quite fondly. I think it’s one of the most fulfilling things we’ve done, actually. Because we didn’t do it for any other reason than we wanted to. And it was kind of weird in that Kids in the Hall way.
Is there interest in doing another miniseries, possibly?
You know, we’ve talked about a bunch of things. Dave Foley’s doing a show (CTV’s Spun Out), so we’re all doing an episode of that in July. We keep talking about a tour next, but we haven’t been able to pull the trigger yet.
You’ve always described yourself as a reluctant performer, so what keeps luring you back?
Well, I’m in my office now. And I spend a lot of days in my office writing films, writing TV shows. And some of them go, most of them don’t. And the reason I started doing this was to communicate with people. And so, every so often, that sort of forms like the weather. All of a sudden, it’s cloudy and I have to go perform. So starting last March, I came to Toronto and did a show (Young Drunk Punk) at the Bathurst Street Theatre. And out of that, I’ve been doing what I’ve wanted to do for a while, which is write a book.
Is the book autobiographical?
Yes and no. I’ve been writing a few pieces for the Calgary Herald, a couple things for the Globe. They’re sort of stories of my weird life. Some of them are exactly true and some of them are just sort of true. And they’re just my observations of the world and weird things that have happened to me.
At Hugh’s Room, will you be performing some incarnation of Young Drunk Punk?
I’m not sure yet. I did a couple of shows last month, which were different from the show I did in Toronto, and I’m just trying to evolve a different show. I think Hugh’s Room is more of a music venue and I have (Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet’s) Brian Connelly, so I think I’ll do a little bit more music, a little bit of my weird poetry, read a couple stories, that sort of thing.
I think it’s safe to say you’re probably the most musical Kid in the Hall, right?
Yeah, I’m the most obsessed with music and always was. I mean, Kevin [McDonald] tries to play guitar, but it’s hard on the guitar.
When you wrote songs for The Kids in the Hall, like “Daves I Know” or “Terriers,” what was the songwriting process like? Do you usually have a concept first, or do you just start playing and hope one comes to you?
I think it’s a bit of both. I thump things out on my Hofner bass or I get an idea. I have a new song I’m doing, “Angie, the HIV Unicorn,” which I thought, “Oh, what a great title,” and I had no idea what it was. One day I was going to San Francisco to do a show and I was like, “Okay, I’m going to write it.” Often for me, titles come before. Or, like other songwriters, I’m just humming something.
Was there ever resistance from the other Kids to doing musical skits at all?
Well, you know, I think when a guy does something that has a little bit of success, he tends to maybe repeat it a little bit more. And I think they were probably happier when I did “Daves I Know” than when I did “Terriers,” which is probably [laughs] not quite as good as “Daves I Know,” and very similar. But no, I don’t think so. We both love and begrudge each other our successes.
Monologues are such a trademark of The Kids in the Hall. Was that a concept that was there from the beginning?
I used to do them in kind of a beat-poetry way. But I think Scott [Thompson] did the first real monologues, which were, “Here’s a topic that I’m thinking about,” or, “Here’s a story of me in Iraq,” with a conclusion and a big laugh. So he sort of struck the claim on monologues. And then when we went to do the series, I think we needed so much stuff that we all started doing monologues because we needed scenes where the other guys would go change. If you know what I mean. And I had mostly to that point just done weird, weird stuff that wasn’t like storytelling. But now it’s sort of more fun to tell a story about leaving a crucifixion machine at my ex-girlfriend’s house when I broke up with her.
Having created the short-lived ABC sitcom Carpoolers in 2007, what would you say is the biggest difference between making a show in Canada and making one in the US?
I actually did a pilot [in the U.S.] about a year and a half ago with Kevin Hart and Bill Burr. That was just like doing a Kids in the Hall show. I think network TV is hard, because they’re spending—you know, a pilot’s four, five million dollars—so there’s a lot of layers of, “Is she gonna talk like that?” or “Is he really gonna wear that shirt?” And all the stuff I’ve done that’s good probably doesn’t feel like it’s been talked through to death.
Kevin Hart and Bill Burr are two of the biggest names in stand-up right now. How does a show like that not happen?
You tell me. You become my manager and tell me. I think it was expensive, but who knows? That’s the story of show business here, a lot of it’s kind of failure culture. Which is, you write a show for CBS or NBC, which I’ve done. They buy a hundred pilot scripts every year and they only make ten pilot episodes, and only two make it on the air. So when Carpoolers gets on the air, you’ve already won the lottery.
This interview has been edited and condensed.