The Kid’s All Right: Bruce McCulloch Brings Surreal Comedy To SF Sketchfest 2007

From The Wave Magazine

January 10-23, 2007
By Matt Stroud

“Get back to worrrk!” Bruce McCulloch screams at his still-beating heart, which he’s ripped out of his own chest, plopped on his desk, and drenched in coffee to make sure it doesn’t stop beating. This isn’t reality, of course, but a sketch from The Kids in the Hall – the illustrious, Lorne Michaels-produced show (think Monty Python’s Flying Circus, rather than Saturday Night Live) that elevated McCulloch from Toronto-based comedian to full-fledged Hollywood writer and director.

Since Kids, McCulloch has among other things, directed Tom Green in Stealing Harvard, Molly Shannon in Superstar, and played Carl Bernstein to Will Ferrell’s Bob Woodward in Dick, a hilarious send-up of All The President’s Men. This month, he joins SF Sketchfest 2007: The San Francisco Comedy Festival, a week of comedy featuring some of North America’s funniest writers and performers, including David Cross, Stella, Dana Carvey, Paul Reubens, Upright Citizens Brigade, Tony Hale, Rob Corddry, and others.

The Wave: Which have you enjoyed most in your career: writing, directing, or performing?
Bruce McCulloch: Well, I’m not wild about directing. You get into it because you think it’s fun to make and build things, but then a lot of it really is about, you know, Tom Green isn’t available on Thursday, so you have to figure out something else. I have friends who make films, and they love every part of them; they love, say, the sound of a door opening in one frame more than another. I’m not anal in that way. I come up with a ton of ideas, and I like to watch them go. So, without question, I’m a writer. I’ve never really thought of myself as a true performer. I’ve done hardly any performing since Kids in the Hall was over. And, even at that time, I’d write something, and I’d give Mark [McKinney] the best part because he was better. My joy [in hearing] a line that I’d give Kevin [McDonald], say, for an awards show – that’s more enjoyable than doing it myself.
TW: That seems to be what you were doing with Kids in the Hall, where you throw out a ton of sketch ideas and they’re picked up by performers…
BM: Sure. And I believe in coalescence… Is that the right word? It’s like you get [people] together in a room and you go, “Here’s my ideas, what do you guys think? How should that go? Should it go this way or that way?” And they all bring their energy to the table. It becomes its own thing. I think that’s what something like Sketchfest is good for. When they asked me to do it a couple of years ago, I said if this was in any other city, I wouldn’t do it. Because there is something about San Francisco where everyone wants something fresh, and they’ll go with you if it’s real.

TW: You write a lot about relationships. Can you tell us why you’re drawn to that kind of writing?
BM: There are few things you remember more in your life than the visceral times when you held onto, say, a girl in a jean jacket while you were crying. Someone said, “The heart is stupid,” and, you know, all we have is what we want and how we treat each other. There’s a piece about an emotional mistress in the show who becomes obsessed with that notion and that concept in culture. I don’t know. I’m just obsessed with it; only in how people behave with each other do they really become interesting.

TW: I was reading an L.A. Times review of Dog Park, and this reviewer was, frankly, harsh. How do you feel about the negative critiques that you’ve received from many in the mainstream press?
BM: I have no qualms with it. I’ve gotten some unbelievable press reviews. I remember my first one-man show that was reviewed by the two big drama papers, and one was trapped in a theatre seat, and the other said, “Brilliance explodes.” I’m attracted to weird projects, and I’m attracted to stuff with weird tones, and none of the films I’ve done have been a big fastball right across the plate of American cinema. I’m fine with everything. I think people were really out for Tom Green at a certain point, and I think with Stealing Harvard, it was a weird film that got sort of turned into a teen comedy, and [Green] didn’t have a teen audience. So that was a rough film, and I learned a lot about the process of making studio films on that one. I actually feel lucky to have gotten the jobs I have, and to keep getting them. Every time you do something, you go, “I’m not gonna do that again,” or, “I’m gonna do it in a different way,” so I’ve learned a lot. I’m an artist. An artist stands on the horizon, and, if he gets bird s–t on him, then so be it.

TW: Nothing really seems off limits for you. Would you say that’s a fair assessment?
BM: Yeah, you know, but I love people. I’m not cruel, and that’s the thing. Sometimes with the tone of what I do, sometimes people are inside it, and sometimes people aren’t. When I did “Cancer Boy,” I got a lot of flack about that, but I was like, “I love Cancer Boy.” Those poor kids, you know, waiting for Barry Bonds to come autograph their baseball. So, no, I don’t think anything’s off limits.

The organizers of the San Francisco Sketchfest are guilty of false advertising.

The sixth annual comedy festival is touting a lineup that includes Paul ”Pee-wee Herman” Reubens, cast members of the late great ”Mystery Science Theatre 3000” and an opening-night presentation by Stella, the comedy troika that features VH1 regular Michael Ian Black.
Though they’re all part of a festival with the name that screams sketch comedy, none of these highly regarded acts will perform the kind of brief comic scenes popularized by the likes of such troupes as Monty Python or Second City.

No matter, explains Janet Varney, one of the festival’s three founding directors. Sketchfest has enlarged its tent to include all manner of artists — so long as they share the same passion for inventive, offbeat, alternative comedy. Seventy-four acts will perform at 10 Bay Area venues over the next two weeks, starting with Stella at 8 p.m. today at the Mezzanine in San Francisco.

”The lines between a lot of these comedy genres are really blurred,” says Varney, host of TBS’ ”Dinner and a Movie” and a member of the improvisational comedy group Pretty, Pretty Pony. ”What’s number one for us is that it’s funny and that many of the acts have the same sensibilities across the board, from sketch to improv to stand-up comedy to solo shows.”

Plenty of sketch comedy groups are in the lineup, such as the new group led by former Kid in the Hall Bruce McCulloch, but SF Sketchfest 2007 offers a varied jumble of indie comedy performers. Among the shows worth sampling:

(box) Rob Corddry in Naked Babies, 8 and 10:30 p.m. Friday at the Eureka Theatre; 8 p.m. Saturday at Throckmorton Theatre — The sketch ensemble featuring former ”Daily Show” correspondent Corddry also includes John Ross Bowie (”What the Bleep Do We Know?!”) and Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre vets Brian Huskey and Seth Morris.

(box) Comedy Death-Ray Show: David Cross, Maria Bamford, Paul F. Tompkins, Doug Benson, Todd Glass, Hard ‘n Phirm, Jimmy Pardo, 8 p.m. Monday, Cobb’s Comedy Club — This comedic variety show out of Los Angeles features an inspiring hodgepodge of performers, including ”Mr. Show” alumni Cross and Tompkins. It’s ”billed as the world’s greatest comedy night with some justification,” according to the Onion. Pardo emcees.

(box) RiffTrax Live with Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Smith Rafael Film Center; 8 p.m. Wednesday at Cobb’s — Like three smart, very funny old friends, the stars and writers of ”Mystery Science Theatre 3000” provide live, improvised commentary to spectacularly dreadful excuses for movies.

(box) Will Franken, 8 p.m. Friday, Purple Onion; 10:30 p.m. Jan. 19 and 8 p.m. Jan. 20, Eureka Theatre; 8 p.m. Jan. 23, Throckmorton Theatre — Sketchfest began in 2001 with the purpose of highlighting local talent. The Bay Area-based Franken, whose breathless comedy veers between a stand-up, sketch and solo show, is part of the latest crop.

(box) The SF Sketchfest Tribute: Paul Reubens, 8 p.m. Jan. 22, Palace of Fine Arts — Ben Fong-Torres interviews the versatile character actor best known for his Pee-wee Herman character as part of a retrospective of his varied work in film, TV and the stage.

(box) Bruce McCulloch Project, 8 and 10:30 p.m. Jan. 27, Eureka; closing night gala at 8 p.m. Jan. 28 at Mighty — The former Kid in the Hall presents his brilliantly absurd take on interpersonal relationships in a new, handpicked band of sketch comedians.

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