AskMen.com: Mark McKinney, a funny Canadian
Interview: Mark McKinney
We sat down with funnyman Mark McKinney to discuss his work on Kids in the Hall, SNL and other hysterical gigs.
By AskMen Editors, Editorial Staff
Why is he famous?
He was one of the creators of the hit Canadian comedy series The Kids in the Hall and moved on to star as a cast member in Lorne Michaels’ Saturday Night Live.
Mark McKinney is the man of a million faces, voices and characters. As a founding member of the Canadian show The Kids in the Hall and cast member of Saturday Night Live, McKinney has been making audiences laugh — both as a writer and a comedian.
His father being a diplomat, the comedian traveled extensively throughout his childhood and attended a number of schools around the world, including Trinidad, Paris and Washington D.C. He met Bruce McCulloch at the Loose Moose Theater Company and formed “The Audience.” Eventually, the two met Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald, and Scott Thompson joined them to form The Kids In the Hall.
On The Kids in the Hall, McKinney’s brilliance spawned the Chicken Lady and Headcrusher — staples of comedy lore. His extensive stage credits range from NY and Toronto to Edinburgh and Glasgow. On the big screen, he has appeared in Spiceworld, Brain Candy and Superstar.
Q: Tell us about Fully Committed and how you got involved with the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal?
I was on Saturday Night Live, and when I left the show, I wanted to stick around NY and do theater because I was interested in plays. One of the plays I did was in the fall season — it was a hit. Another hit of that same season was Fully Committed. My show finished its commercial run, but in NY, the shows run for so long. I was offered to do Fully Committed but I had to do a show in Toronto. But I really liked the show: I was always in a group setting or an ensemble and this was the opposite.
Q: Before Saturday Night Live, you were on The Kids in the Hall; how did you get involved with that?
Sort of another evolutionary thing: I started doing improvisation and met Bruce McCulloch and others who wrote with us. We got hot locally and decided to hit the big time: Toronto (laughs). From there I met Kevin and Dave, people came and left and Scott joined so we became The Kids in the Hall. And we still do shows here and there, but what happened was that we always wanted to do a movie, but because we wrote and edited and directed, doing The Kids in the Hall took 11 months. In LA, you do a show in five months and you make money…
¿ Quick fact ?
Mark currently lives in Manhattan with his wife and two kids, although he still admits to remaining very Canadian, eh?
Q: How did you move onto SNL — was it the Lorne Michaels connection? And how did the guys from Kids take it?
Yeah, Bruce and I got hired as apprentice writers, this was Lorne’s first year back… it was terrible, but I was writing it (laughs). He put us on a development deal. But the shows were two different things. One was my show. I got to do what I wanted to do. And the other one is very much Lorne’s show. It’s competitive for some people though on SNL. So many huge careers come out of there so people want airtime. When I came in as a performer, it was odd for Sandler, Spade and Farley — all of whom had to audition — whereas it was offered to me. I remember they did a sketch in my very first read through, where they had these five strippers in a gay bar and they named the strippers Kevin, Dave, Mark, Scott, and Bruce… they were watching to see if I cared. But I did not.
With regards to the guys in Kids’s reaction: it was very awkward because we all sort of “auditioned” in the club where we usually packed in our fans. Dave Thomas, whom we had never met, showed up to watch us, then Bruce and I got hired. We knew that the Kids were special; we would not break that up. And we wrote some tremendous material afterwards.
Q: But speaking of the gay theme on The Kids in the Hall — what was up with that? I know that you are married and have a child, but do you guys get the gay thing often?
In the United States, yes, in Canada, we have this British tradition of drag that is well-established, with Monty Python… in the States, you were either a drag queen or not. Weirdly, no one thinks about that anymore. There were some hip characters like the Chicken Lady, but I do think that this has come and passed. Do people really care that there are gay characters on Will & Grace? They might, but then they get bored. At first, it’s brave; if it is good, it’s original, and then it’s a copycat. Then it is another “trend.”
The Chicken Lady does Saturday Night Live…
Q: How did American and Canadian audiences differ when it came to reacting to someone like the Chicken Lady?
Oh yeah… but Chicken Lady was a disaster on SNL for me. I did not want to do Kids characters for SNL, but then the day we did the sketch, it was the last sketch we did for the show that night… they came up to me and said, ‘you have to take out a minute and a half of this…’ I took out bits here and there and it made no sense… after that I just did not bother with it. But I never got tired of doing it and always did it on tours afterwards.
Q: Compare SNL with Kids.
It was such a different format. It’s apples and oranges. SNL is great; it’s a good newspaper-style format. You get the star of the day, you get to discuss events of the week and you get the top musician. That’s what it offers us. It’s a great variety show. Kids was not a variety show but it had so many upsides as well. Funny thing, when the guys from Monty Python were down in NY for SNL, they did a sketch… to crickets! These guys from Jersey must have been sitting there thinking ‘I don’t get it, why doesn’t he give him another parrot?’ (laughs) I liked when Madonna was around, Tom Hanks also… or Steve Forbes… that was what made SNL a great show: there you are with your impersonation of him, and weeks later Steve Forbes is sitting there next to you. So not only does the impersonation get you on the show, but you get to meet him…
Q: Do you prefer acting or writing?
Writing is agonizing when you start it, but great when you finish and shoot something. Acting is easier in a sense, but not really…
Q: Why did you leave SNL?
It was a combination of things. I had just started a family; we were writing, shooting and editing Brain Candy. I just could not do all those things so I wanted to try something else. I never thought I would get married — the whole artist thing — ‘No… me? Never!’ I need my alone time; I still say that but never get it. But SNL was lots of fun; I do not terribly miss the lifestyle though. It was fun, you came in, you did your rehearsal, there was this catered dinner. Then you did a live show, there were 10 million people watching. And there was a great party after the show… drinking and crying. The evenings would end at 4:00 or 5:00am… and I just could not keep up. It was exhausting and best-suited for a young person.
¿ Quick fact ?
His creation The Kids in the Hall had a very successful five-year run, and the reruns still air on Comedy Central.
Q: Who are some of the next generation’s big names?
Jimmy Fallon… but his name is already out there quite a bit.
Q: How did you come up with the name The Kids in the Hall?
Two theories: one is that there is a line in a Clash song, ‘the Kids in the Hall…’ and two — and I think this is where it actually comes from — Jack Benny, in the days of radio, used to walk in Rockefeller Center where SNL is now filmed. Young comedy writers would throw out ideas to get hired, and if it worked, then he would say, “I got that one from the kids in the hall…” I would think that Dave or Kevin would know better, they are the real comedy historians.
Q: Final question: do you think people find it hard to take you seriously?
Oh, that’s a really good question. Hmm… No, I think that I have a dad kind of face; my daughter is too young, but my son hates it when I joke, he is like ‘stop it…’
Q: Well, we like it when you joke… Thanks Mark.