Kids In The Hall legend Kevin McDonald spent some time in Windsor in the summer of 2018 filming an independent feature film with fellow comedian Colin Mochrie crafted by local director Mike Stasko. The result is Boys vs Girls, a comedy set in the 1990s that tells of a summer camp during its first summer after going co-ed.
McDonald plays the wacky, but caring caretaker Coffee, giving the film a little Kids In The Hall flash.
We spoke with Kevin during preparations for a new Kids In The Hall TV series to air on Amazon in the future.
How are you making out in the pandemic? I know it’s hit the entertainment business pretty hard.
As it turns out I’m a loner. And right now, I’m with my family. For the first few months, I was by myself because The Kids in the Hall, the comedy troupe I happen to be in, we were in Toronto writing for a new show, and they brought me to Toronto because I live in Winnipeg. They got me an apartment in the same building as the writers’ room. I thought, “Oh, I’ll never leave the building.” Then the pandemic hit three weeks later, and it’s true. I never left the building. And we had to write in our own rooms by ourselves, occasionally Zooming each other. Then it was over, and I couldn’t fly back home for complicated reasons, complicated, but happy reasons. So I had to stay in the Toronto apartment for another four or five weeks.
Then when I came back to Winnipeg, I had to isolate before I went home. This is not what you asked, but I’m rambling. Here I go. I stayed at the Airbnb and right before the two weeks, I broke my elbow, and I had to go to the hospital. Then I had to isolate another two weeks. So it took me forever to get home. And now I’m home. But my whole point is that I’m okay with self isolation, I’m a loner, and I’m writing four or five things at the same time. The Kids in the Hall are going to start shooting. I have something to look forward to because we’re going to start shooting next March for Amazon.
Did the pandemic delay your plans for the newly announced Kids in the Hall series?
Yes, because we were supposed to shoot in July and August, and then people were shooting in Toronto and we could have too except that Bruce just finished shooting, and he’s editing TallBoyz, the CBC sketch show, and Mark McKinney’s doing Superstore until March. So we’re waiting for March.
I’m sure there are tons of COVID jokes and skits that could pop up in the future when things settle a bit. Has COVID fueled your creativity at all?
Well, just generally, yes. I’m forced to sit at the computer, and I made sure when I was isolating with the family, that I walked the dog, or I go out running when it isn’t freezing. So it’s forced me to come up with ideas, but also a lot of the ideas are COVID related in the sense that, well, you’ll see The Kids in the Hall show, there’s going to be a lot of sketches about lonely, aging men forced to stay in their apartments. The stuff I’m writing right now isn’t so COVID based other than I have more writing time. So now that I’m with the family, I’m back to having less writing time, but I’ve already thought of the ideas, so that’s good.
Kids in the Hall is a Canadian treasure and will become the first Canadian Amazon series. Why bring it back now?
Well, we always knew there was life in it. We always thought we’re never going to split up until one of us dies. I’m knocking on wood. I’m looking for wood where I am in the basement. I’m looking for wood. Since 2000, we’ve turned every three or four years and the last two tours were all new ideas. And so we were excited about our ideas. I think we all know we’re right on the verge before the ideas will start getting soft and weak we’re at that age, about to turn 60 one by one. So it’s now or never, we thought, so it’d be a good idea to get it now. We somehow got Lorne Michaels interested in us again and then he somehow, magically, because he’s Lorne Michael’s, got Amazon interested in us. It was just that we know we’re not done yet, but we’d better do it now. That was the inspiration.
Do you have a favorite character from Kids in the Hall?
That I do. Yes. It’s based on my personality. I’m working on it. Years of therapy. It’s King of Instant Promises, where I tell someone I’ll do something, and they say, “Really?” I think the example in the sketch in the 90s was, “I’ll tape that Paul Simon record for you.” And he said, “Really?” And I say, “Will do.” And then later, he said, “Did you bring that Paul Simon tape?” And, “It slipped my mind.” It was Minter catchphrases. And that’s sort of my favorite character.
While the fans wait for the New Kids episodes, you’ve got a Video On Demand release coming up this month – the Windsor-made Boys vs Girls. Tell me about the movie.
Well, first of all, it was very fun to make. There was one thing that wasn’t fun. Whenever I was in the hotel, I’d have the TV on, and Trump was separating families from the border. You don’t have to write this, but I remember being in a heavy mood. First of all, I honestly thought the script was funny. I have a couple of ex-wives, so I would have said yes anyway, but if I didn’t have a couple of ex-wives, I would have said yes anyway, because I liked the script. So flying there, I was happy. At first, you think. “Read this, Kevin. It’s a summer camp movie,” and, “Oh really?” And then I read it. “Oh, it’s good.” And it reminded me how much I liked Meatballs as a kid.
I was happy with the script and knew that I could do something with it unless I was off and failed miserably. But I knew that I had potential to do something good with it. And then, Mike, the director, a writer was the nicest guy in the world, and that made it more fun. And Colin Mochrie, I’ve known since the early ‘80s. So that was super fun. We shared a trailer. We were like an old, married couple being polite to each other all the time. “No, you take the chair.” “You take the chair.” “No, you have that sandwich first. I’ll wait for one.” So it was all fun. I’m not even being phony.
Mike gave me room, as well as Colin, to ad-lib a bit and have fun. And I remember I came up with an idea, because they were about to change location. I said, “Oh, can I… “ It sounds not funny. It probably isn’t. It’s probably cut from the movie because I had some shtick idea with a mop because I played the janitor guy, the maintenance guy, and he said, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Don’t move the camera guy. Kevin’s going to do something funny with a mop.” And I forget what it was. And I’m sure it’s cut from the movie. But that’s fun to have a director that lets you do that. But also I want to tell all future directors, if you said, “Well, we just don’t have the time,” I’ll say, “Yes, of course,” and move on because I’m polite and Canadian.
Were you selected for the role or did you have to go through the typical audition process?
I think I was just asked. No, I know I was asked. Most of the parts I’ve got, I’m asked. If I audition, I don’t do well at auditions. It’s a specific part of acting that I’m not very good at because this is not just acting. If you act, you meet the director, you rehearse for a day, and then you start filming the next day. Bit by bit, you get what he wants. And then I have confidence enough that it will be good, but an audition, I always joke this. When I was a young guy, and I’d just bought a house, it was get the job or lose the house. And that kind of pressure sort of makes you act. You have to let go with an air of confidence, and it sort of takes away your confidence a bit. So I don’t know if you asked me this, but I don’t like auditioning. No, you asked me. So yeah, they asked. Thank God, they just asked me to do it.
You’re widely known for TV roles. You must enjoy them, but you also must enjoy diving into a movie character for a film or two.
Well, when I was a kid, I guess I was 14. 14 is the age you’re just old enough to be snobby if you want to be. And back then in the ‘70s, movie actors didn’t do TV, and TV didn’t do movies. Now there’s no difference, but back then, it was like a big thing. And I always thought, “Well, it’s movies.” I’m a movie buff. I love movies. I always wanted to be like Gene Wilder and also write and direct my own movies and Albert Brooks. And so I never saw TV.
Well, this is what I had planned. When I was 19, I wrote on a piece of paper, I’ll go to Second City in Toronto. I’ll be hired right away, which, of course, never happened. I kept auditioning and they didn’t take me. All The Kids in the Hall auditioned for Second City. And we had to join our own troupe. And then my plan was to get discovered by Saturday Night Live, do that for three or four years, then do a few Hollywood movies, and then start writing and directing my own. That was my plan. So it was always movies to me. And now that I’ve remembered my plan, I admit that I’m a complete failure. No, just an utter failure. What’s less worse, utter or complete? Maybe complete is less worse.
In the movie, Boys vs Girls, your character is Coffee. Tell me about Coffee. He seems to be the heart of the camp in the movie.
Yeah. You know what? I missed all the screenings. I was busy doing the live shows, so I sort of forget the base of the character. I remember thinking, because I always have a line to get into it. And my line is, “It’s your version of Bill Murray. It’s your version of Bill Murray.” And yeah. Oh, I remember another thing that even though it was all comedy, I thought deep down he was sad. He had a thing about his father. And so I dug that way deep, the sadness. And then I layered a shtick on top of that. But hopefully it gives something to it, some thickness and some soul to it because anyone who sees it will, but I remember thinking that he’s sad and accidentally funny.
Is there a bit of real Kevin McDonald in Coffee?
Yeah, I think that there should be a little bit. Even if you’re playing the most different character from you in the world, I think there’s got to be a little something you can relate to. Even if you’re playing a bad guy, a killer. I think you got to find some reason, “Well, I did have a bad childhood and even though I’m a good person, I could see how that can make me… “ I think you have to find something to identify with the person a little bit. I’m talking like a real actor. I’m just a shticky vaudevillian. I’m a method vaudevillian.
How did you prepare for the role of Coffee?
Well, I got the sadness thing. I don’t want to be like Spencer Tracy saying, “Just learn your lines,” but I memorized it so much because then I had lots of time between getting the part and shooting it. Then I was lucky enough that I started having fun with it in my office up on the fourth floor. I’m pointing at it right now because I’m in the basement of the house. And so then once I started, once I was totally memorized and felt really comfortable, I started having fun with it. And I sort of had improv sessions with myself. If I have time, I like to do that. And so you find something, and you sort of ad-lib something, and you write it down in the script. And then I guess they’re not ad-libs by the time it’s four weeks later and you’re shooting whatever the word is, and Mike let me put some of those in, and I get more comfortable with the shtick of the character and the character. It’s always great to have lots of time between getting the script and shooting.
How far would you go to prepare for a specific role?
I don’t know. If it was Martin Scorsese, I’d shave my head. If I was playing a doctor, would I study with doctors? Or would I get in the backseat of a cop car? My fear of gaining 70 pounds for a part is that A, I don’t lose it. And B, would I gained 70 pounds like Robert De Niro did for Raging Bull, only I’m not Robert De Niro. I gain 70 pounds, and I give a mediocre performance. That’s my nightmare. “Wow. He gained so much weight, and I heard he had a stroke, and he’s not very good in it.” “I know. I know. It’s sad.”
Did you ever go to a camp when you were younger? And if you did, what were your fondest memories?
I hated camp. So I only went twice. I went once to the Cub Scouts, and I was 12. And that was the magic week that I found out that I had allergies, asthma, and I needed glasses, but that was a coincidence. Apparently, me and the guys in my Cub Scouts, in my pack, in my group, the five or six of us, we put our tent on top of almost everything that I’m allergic to. I didn’t know I was allergic to anything and then I just had allergy attacks, and I had to leave early. It was a humiliating. I went to the doctor and found out that I had a lot of allergies and that led to asthma.
The day after asthma, I went to optometrists, and found out I needed glasses. It was, “Oh, I’m a weakling. Okay. I get it.” I learned at 12, I’m a weakling. I also learned at 12 that I had curly hair because my dad always brought me to the barbershop, gave me crew cuts. And then he stopped going. My mother took me, so we went a lot less. And I didn’t know, I had curly hair till I was 12. That’s kind of weird.
When I was a few years older, was I in grade nine, grade 10, me and three math geniuses who were friends with me for some reason, I don’t know why. Lorenzo and George, they’re all math geniuses. In the car ride there they were all boring, talking about math. We went to Algonquin Park. That’s what it was. It was Algonquin Park. And the first night, the raccoon ate all our food because I love raccoons.
So we had to hitchhike or something, I think we hitchhiked, to the nearest town, buy more food. And then the math geniuses figured out a hoisting system, how to hoist the food up. For some reason, I had to go home early in that one too. I remember why I had to go early in that one. Oh my God. It’s so ironic. I failed math. I had to start summer school. So my mother had to come and get me early to start summer school. So I had to leave the three math geniuses with their hoist-up system of food, which was protecting, because it was up in the air, and the raccoons couldn’t get to it. I had to leave three math geniuses to go to summer school for math. I forgot about that part.
Boys vs Girls is more than just a camp movie. It really digs into the relationships of opposite sex as kids. Did you ever have a face-off with a girl when you were younger?
It’s funny. In grade 12, I took theater arts, and there was one girl in the class. First of all, I hated theater arts. I know I was chubby, and I had no idea that you had to wear tights. So it was humiliating for me. It was all girls and three boys, me and two potheads who took the class because they wanted an easy class. And it was funny cause they really got into it. They would say things like, “No, no, he wouldn’t do that. He would stand like this.” At the beginning, they were just potheads in tights who wanted to get out of the… And there was one girl who was, she was fine. She was nice. I remember she took an instant dislike to me. I think it was after I did a monologue. I don’t know what I did. I didn’t even write the monologue. It was from an Arthur Miller play, and she hated me and I have no idea why. I don’t know if that answered your question, but that’s something I just remembered.
What do you remember about filming in the Windsor area?
I remember it’s a nice little town. It was a good place for running. Either before or after filming for the day, I would run. It was a great room. I had my own kitchen. The grocery store was a little long, and I was too shy to ask for… Maybe I wasn’t too shy. What else do I remember? I like Windsor. One of my best comedy friends who’s no longer with us, Eric Tunney is from Windsor, so I have warm thoughts of that. Also Gordon from Big Sugar, who I knew through Eric Tunney. He’s from Windsor.
So I think important things of Windsor. And then when I was flying back, when the shoot was over, it was a thunderstorm, and I had to delay my flight a day. And so I stayed in the casino hotel for the night, and I said, “Wow, Windsor has a casino.”
And then, “I liked Windsor. I mean, the downtown, I only saw for a second. I think maybe The Kids in the Hall played there once in the ‘90s and we brought Eric to it. Have you heard of the famous Eric Tunney? Well, maybe he’s only famous comedy circles. He was on TV a little bit, but you know, Big Sugar? Well they were best friends, Gordon and Eric Tunney. Windsor, a lot of great entertainers come from there, I think.
I can’t have you for an interview and not ask you about Lilo & Stitch movies. What do you remember about that experience?
Well, Disney is so nice to the talent. Even though the studio was close to my house, they pick you up in a limousine. It’s the limousine that has Disney written on it, so your neighbors are saying, “That’s kind of cool.” And then you get there. There was two directors for Lilo & Stitch. They were nice guys. Chris and Dean. Dean was a Canadian, and that’s why he fought for me. I think it was between me and someone else, and it took him a long time to convince Disney to hire me. Thank you, Dean. They were fun to work with. Not so much, I like the system or I don’t like it, but I love why they do it. They follow Walt Disney. They want to honor the way that Walt Disney worked.
So they do it exactly the way that Walt did it. And they’ll never change, I don’t think, in that when you do a cartoon for Nickelodeon, which wasn’t far from Disney. I still do a lot of cartoons for Nickelodeon. I still do a lot of cartoons for Disney. It’s crazy. Nickelodeon makes you do it now the traditional way, where they bring all the actors in, and you just read it all at the same time and record at the same time. Walt Disney liked it bringing one actor at a time, and then you’d work like three or four hours. But from a half hour to an hour, you would do the same line over and over and over. It’s just you and the directors in the studio and the engineer. And you’re just doing the same line a hundred different ways.
And then they stop you for a second, and they figure out even more of a different way to say it. Then you do it again. It’s very exhausting. It’s more exhausting almost than filming a movie. You’re sort of putting your whole body into it, in a way, more than you do in a movie. And also Disney, the food was amazing. Every day I went, there was a different food from a different country, and it was almost a classroom full of food, a giant room. So I remember looking forward to it because you get really exhausted doing one line over and over for a couple of hours. And then you’d have a break where you could eat. And I always looked forward to that.
Also it was fun for the opening, they brought us to Florida Disney World, and the park. The hotel was where the animals are outside your window, like a giraffe will look through your window and stuff. For Lilo & Stitch 2, they brought us to Hawaii, which was the original plan for the Lilo & Stitch one, but they couldn’t because of 9/11. That’s what I think about working with Disney.
I’m not 100% sure, but I bet that was the first time you’ve ever been nearly eaten on screen.
Let me see. Yeah, probably, because it was early on in my cartoon career. I’ve never thought of it that way.
Is it harder to create a character like Pleakley, or Coffee? Each one would have its own challenges.
When I do a character, I either I hit off, I sound so pretentious. I’m really just a vaudevillian, but this is what I really think. When I read a script and I know I’m going to play this part, I either hit it off with the character right away. “Oh yeah, I can do it. I’ll do it this way.” I have 17 versions of Kevin McDonald. Oh, for Pleakley, I’ll do version three. For Coffee. I’ll do version six B. I think I’ll do six B. And sometimes, yeah, it’s something new. You hit off of the character. You do.
But sometimes I don’t, and even though any other actor will say, “Well just do it like this,” sometimes I see a character, and I panic taking the plane to the movie set where they’re going to film the movie. Sometimes I just have a block or for no reason. Sometimes it’s not a complicated character. I just don’t know how to. When I read it, 75% of the time, I know what to do right away. But in that 25% of the time where don’t know what to do right away, then I have to think and plan and think and plan. That’s less enjoyable for me.
What’s ahead for you in 2021?
The most exciting thing is The Kids in the Hall. We do our TV show, and we’re going to shoot in Toronto. The eight-episode sketch comedy show that I was talking about is the most exciting thing and the thing I know the most, the most sure thing. The second-most exciting thing is that I’m writing three or four things. I forget because some things I give up on, I’m going to count them in my head in a second. I’m writing a movie, a play, I have a TV show ready. And a new one-man show. So I’ll be excited to try to sell the movie and sell the TV show, maybe put the play up here in Winnipeg, and if it’s any good, bring it to somewhere like Toronto, God forbid, off Broadway in New York. And then, and just assuming the world is normal post-vaccine world. And then maybe touring with my one-man show. I’ve also written lots of comedy songs. I’d also like to tour with… They’re from the ’90s. You’re probably too young. Do you remember the Vancouver group The Odds? Well, they’re good friends. They don’t know this yet, but we’re still talking about, but I’d like to tour with them and do my sort of comedy pop songs with them.
If one happens, I’ll be lucky. I’ll be happy, but at least I’m in the potential stage. I’m in the stage, “Oh, this might happen.” And that’s exciting. Usually what happens is “Oh, it didn’t happen.” Then you get the disappointment stage. So right now, I’m enjoying the, “Oh, this could happen,” stage.