Bruce McCulloch talks new Kids in the Hall show 'Death Comes to Town'
The Kids in the Hall have reunited for the eight-part murder mystery series Death Comes to Town, currently shooting in Canada and scheduled to premiere on the CBC in January (and, if there is a comedy god, on a US cable station shortly thereafter). We phoned Bruce McCulloch, who also serves as exec producer, for the scoop on who’ll be in drag (Dave Foley, Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson, and Kevin McDonald), who’ll be wearing a codpiece (McKinney), and who’ll be donning a fat suit (McCulloch)…
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You came up with the original concept: Death steps off a Greyhound bus. What was the inspiration?
BRUCE McCULLOCH: Anyone who’s ever watched Mark mistreat a sommelier sees him as Death. No. All the things I’ve done, I’ve started with an image. Carpoolers started with an image of someone having a breakdown in the carpool lane, and this was literally the image of Death getting off a Greyhound bus in a little hicky Canadian town. It just stayed with me. Initially, it was conceived of as a movie. When we went on tour [last year], we really enjoyed writing all-new material. People were really hungry to do something. I suggested this, and everybody jumped on it.
How was it determined that Mark would play Death?
The kernel of Death actually came from a sketch we did [“Country Doctor,” in the first season of The Kids in the Hall] where he played Death as an animal who was interested in pie, so that was clear. He plays Death in the traditional sense in that he kills people and snorts their souls, but he also plays a character named The Drifter, who’s like a Long Beach skate punk that you see on the street. We personify that song “What if God was one of us/ Just a stranger on a bus,” which is the concept that Death could be the person you just sort of notice out of the corner of your eye. He’s a guy who hangs out, has a thing for redheads and chubby chicks. But when you need to see Death, which won’t be for many years for you, then you see him as Death in the codpiece.
Death is much more complicated now. He has several different hoods and codpieces, and he rides through town in a bone bike, which is a Mustang bike covered in bones.
You’re telling me there was a codpiece fitting?
Of course there was. And there’s conversations, and people sent us sketches, and we discussed it. We discuss everything to death, and then we change it all when we get there.
You’re all playing about three characters. Is it obvious to you guys after 20+ plus years together who plays who or are there fights?
There are… gentleman’s fights, where we just bitchslap each other. It’s a balancing act. There are some characters that seem like they’d fit people, and then there are some that are just really natural for people, and then it’s sorta like the boring NHL draft: “I’ll take that.” “Well, you got that. Why don’t I get that?” “Well, that’s a third-round choice. Nobody wants to play that guy.” And, of course, because we write our stuff, people have impulses: Scott goes, “Oh, I’d like to play a weird, crazy coroner,” and we start writing for that and it becomes his.
Tell us about some of the other characters.
I play the town mayor. Dave plays the mayor’s wife, who “shakes the martini shaker like she hates it.” Scott plays the person who’s considered to be the murderer. Mark plays Corrinda the newscaster, a woman who’s told she she’s down to her last egg. Her story is about whether or not she should keep her baby… It’s funnier than it sounds.
Everyone always says that Dave makes the prettiest woman. Is that still the case?
He plays a fairly boozy broad in this, so I don’t think we tried to make him pretty… but yes, of course he’s the prettiest.
Because he’ll read this?
Was there a character that was particularly sought after in Death Comes to Town?
Well, quite the opposite. We’ve been calling me “Short Straw” in the troupe lately as my nickname because I only get to do all the work. Whenever anything comes up, I’ll do it. “Oh, we have to figure out our bank account and take all our Chicken Lady stuff out to a storage space in Irvine, Calif.? I guess I’ll do it.” There’s a character, Ricky, who’s a 600 lb. shamed ex-hockey star who has been in his house since he lost the big game — so I play him. I get to be in fat suit Tuesday morning. I think my call time is 3:50 a.m. So I get to play Ricky, and Kevin gets the fun of being my only friend, an old woman who’s the local pizza delivery person and has Alzheimer’s.
Yeah, it’s pretty sweet.
I’ve heard something about a child named Rampop?
It’s standard ABC 8 o’clock fare. The mayor and his wife have an adopted son who has a special sort of gift [he only sees people as butterflies]. He’s actually played by a child actor. We won’t tell him what anything’s about — we just make him do stuff, like lie in the rain and do snow angels in the back of a scene or something. Rampop has a friendship with Death. That’s all I can say about that.
Are there any guest stars?
Well, all the extras are really guest stars in their own non-verbal way.
Yes, I’ve heard you’re looking for 1,000 unpaid extras for a showdown scene you’re shooting on Wednesday between Ricky and Death. [If you’re in North Bay, Ontario, email email@example.com for details.] What does this scene entail that it will take 12 hours to film?
I wish it’ll take 12 hours. What we’re not telling them is that it’ll take 72 hours, and we’re gonna lock the doors. We’re not gonna let them out. We’re gonna spray them with Mountain Dew every 15 hours, because all we care about is getting our f—ing TV show made. I can’t say more, because then it will give it away for people who want to watch it.
Let’s address that: Will we get to see it in the US?
We will, absolutely. I’m quite happy with my television work in America, but the great thing here is, I went to the head of CBC and he said “yes” and they haven’t really bothered us. We’ve got a good budget. We’re shooting it like a film. Kelly Makin, who had done our seminal one-star wonder Brain Candy, is directing it. It’s TV, but it’s quite cinematic as well. I think for us, at this time in our life, our goal was to make something unencumbered, and then we sort of own it. Of course, we’re gonna sell it in America, we just don’t where yet. We’re actually just getting into that now. It’s not a network show, based on the scripts I’ve written. I think it will end up being a cable thing, which is where we should live anyway.
The release announcing the series mentioned a couple of familiar characters may make an appearance. Which ones?
There’s a couple, but I don’t think they’re very important characters and they’re certainly not fan favorites. And I’m saying that truthfully. We wanted to write a new thing, so it wasn’t like, “Oh, yes, and then so-and-so will come in and do their schtick.” Our sense of humor’s the same but… we’re not as into our characters as other people are. [Laughs] We’re more into our sense of humor, if you know I mean.
So you won’t tell me which ones?
I play one, a very boring character. It’s not exciting. You’re clearly a fan of comedy, I don’t want to insult you.
Is there anything else you’re working on that you’d like to tell us about?
Okay, I’m doing a one man show called An Evening with Baby Nixon. It’s three hours long right now. I’m tryin’ to cut some scenes, but it’s really hard ’cause it’s all so good. It’s me in a Jolly Jumper for the entire evening. But you can put in brackets that I’m kidding.
More Kids in the Hall: