Kids In The Hall Darling Bruce McCulloch Is As Cute As Ever But Not So Cuddly At Sketchfest 2005

From The San Francisco Chronicle

January 21, 2005
By Jane Ganahl

No matter his present or future achievements, Bruce McCulloch will forever be known, by legions of Kids in the Hall fans, as the Cute One.

In the decade since the beloved Canadian comedy troupe broke up, he’s released boffo live CDs (“Shame-Based Man,” “Drunk Baby Project”), been nominated for awards for his acting, lent his gift for humor writing to numerous shows (including “Saturday Night Live”) and directed films — both charming indie movies like “Dog Park” and big-studio, star-driven vehicles like “Stealing Harvard” and “Superstar.”

But Kids fans will always know him as the Cute One. By virtue of his cherubic face, McCulloch in drag (which the members of the all-male quintet frequently sported) was second only in convincing looks to Dave Foley, who made an unnaturally pretty woman. He was not pretty but cute and perky — an earnest secretary with Kmart clothes, frosted wig and a penchant for ribald jokes that would set him/her atwitter with embarrassed glee. So cute. So very, very cute.

But this afternoon, McCulloch is known as the Cold Guy.

“These people at Sketchfest didn’t tell us it would be so cold when they lured us up here from L.A.,” he faux-grouses, pacing on the stage at San Francisco’s Eureka Theatre and clasping a thermal mug. “And then we get attitude! I asked for a hot water teapot today, and it was like, ‘What a f — showbiz L.A. hotshot!’ ”

He’s kidding, of course. There are few people in the world of comedy, which is inhabited by the manic and the socially maladapted, as nice as the 43- year-old from Calgary. He thanks a reporter repeatedly for coming, stops rehearsal for his evening show to accommodate a photographer and offers to share his tea.

“Will someone bring out my mike?” he asks aloud, looking around at the techs putting the stage together. Then he cringes. “God, what a selfish question. My mike, my mike.”

McCulloch’s one-man show opened Sketchfest 2005 — San Francisco’s annual festival of mostly ensemble comedy that runs through Jan. 30. This year it boasts a fat lineup of talent, including an evening with Dana Carvey; author-humorist Dave Eggers interviewing writers of the Onion; and Totally Looped, an improv group from Los Angeles that features Dan Castellaneta, better known as the voice of Homer Simpson.

The pressure’s on McCulloch to kick off the festival with a bang. And so he will — despite the fact that he’s not exactly sure what to do and say.

“They totally sold me on the idea of Sketchfest being so seat-of-the- pants,” McCulloch says, chuckling. “And then I hear of all these other companies really working on their stuff. I’ll just do what I would want to hear if I were one of my own fans.”

No Kids in the Halls stuff, alas. But the material promises to be unconventional, perhaps even dark and weird — the flip side of McCulloch’s sunny personality.

“This is not a show for NASCAR people, though I do circle a lot,” he mutters, pacing the stage with a stack of papers in his hand. It’s unclear whether he’s rehearsing the show or musing to the three or four people in attendance. “I like religion,” he adds, “it gives stupid people something to do. Other than scratching lottery tickets, I mean.”

Yes, it’s the dark side of the cute. After all, McCulloch was also the Kids in the Hall character known as Cabbage Head — a sexist man for whom the vegetable served as a head. He would cruise bars and try to get women to go home with him out of pity. “I just don’t want to be alone tonight!” he would say in an off-putting snarl. “But I’d like to be alone when I wake up, if you know what I mean!”

He waxes ironic about his status as Sketch Comedy God. “Tonight I’ll be all drunk at the party and promise all these young comics, ‘Sure, I’ll check out your troupe,’ ” he says to the empty chairs in the audience. Then shrugs his “as if.”

He stops still, flipping through the pages. “And I don’t know … at this point, I’ll talk about how I want to be trapped in a loveless marriage but have not found the right woman yet.”

More irony. McCulloch, long the bachelor among the other members of Kids in the Hall, who married much earlier (except Scott Thompson, who is gay), has finally settled down and is a brand-new dad.

“Yeah, I have a 3-month-old baby girl,” he beams, sitting on the edge of the stage for a breather. “I used to see these guys pushing strollers and think, ‘Sucker!’ And now I won’t allow the wind to blow on her. No wind on the baby!”

He is in frequent contact with his other Hall-sters, especially the outrageous Thompson (who went on to stardom in “The Larry Sanders Show”).

“When I do see the guys these days,” McCulloch adds, smiling, “it’s nice because there are no arguments over how long our hiatus will last.”

He is joined onstage by musicians for what will be the finale of his show. Yes, there is also McCulloch the songwriter. Among the gems he’s written for Kids in the Hall are “Daves I Know” (“these are the Daves I know, I know”), “Daddy’s on the Drink” and the immortal “Running Faggot,” which featured Thompson dressed as an Indian brave and being chased by rednecks.

So it’s only fair that for Sketchfest, McCulloch does a couple of ditties onstage. He is joined in rehearsal by the duo known as Hard ‘n’ Phirm: musicians Chris Hardwick and Mike Phirman, whose card that he passes out identifies him as a “business card owner.”

“Let’s start with ‘Little Gay Waiter,’ shall we?” says McCulloch. It’s a charmer about a young man in Fresno who hopped a bus to San Francisco, where he looked for love but found a crummy waiter job instead. The three-part harmony and acoustic guitar backup makes this feel like a hootenanny.

Then they’re on to the bluesy “Drunk Baby Project,” which contains a plot suitable for an “X-Files” episode and the chorus: “sad babies in Jolly Jumpers. ”

Hard ‘n’ Phirm are spectacular in their musicianship and singing; McCulloch, though, could use some more rehearsing. But time is running out.

“Gawd, maybe I should be home with my wife,” he moans. “Oh, well, it’ll work.”

Two hours later, McCulloch’s performance anxiety proves baseless. All he has to do is set foot onstage and the audience goes completely berserk. He modestly tries to quiet them down with hand gestures; when that fails, he throws up his hands and blushes. So, so cute.

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