Kevin McDonald is from the famed Canadian, sketch comedy group Kids in the Hall. He is back again in DC, February 22d at 10:00 am to teach a sold-out sketch writing workshop at The Comedy Spot in Ballston Common Mall-4238 Wilson Boulevard, in Arlington VA.
What makes this event so special is that students will be participating in an organic process that has served many sketch show writers and performers for years. Students will begin by improvising the seeds of their sketch, new and in-the-moment. They will then work those building blocks into a sketch that they will perform in Tiger’s Blood Theater’s show that very same evening headlined by Kevin McDonald. Kevin debuted this concept at the Boston Comedy Festival in September. Kevin kindly shared his thoughts on sketch comedy, his heroes in comedy, and what he is up to next.
Marlene: What makes a great sketch?
Kevin: There are several things that can make a great sketch. Sometimes it’s just an original premise and the execution of that premise. Sometimes it’s a funny and unique character. Or if all else fails it could just be a lot of good jokes in an interesting situation. But what can make it great, is a sketch that represents a different way of looking at the world from the writer of the sketch.
What are your favorite three sketches of all time?
My favorite sketches of all time are the “Dead Parrot” sketch from Monty Python. The “High Q” game show sketch from SCTV and the “Chess” sketch from the The Ernie Kovacs show (from the 50s) where a Russian chess champion plays against a gorilla.
What will you be teaching at your sketch writing class? What advice will you be sharing with your students?
I will be teaching the first basic of sketch writing: How to write a sketch from improvisation. They will be improvising a scene and no matter how bad it is, we will work on it and develop it into a real comedy sketch. Once you learn how to do this, actually sitting down and writing sketch is much easier. My biggest piece of advice is never to panic. No matter how bad things are going, it is through calmness and confidence that you win the audience over and get the scene back on track.
What are three most serious ‘don’ts’ when writing a sketch?
Don’t over worry about the ending. Don’t assume that the audience understands the premise as much as you do. Make sure that you’ve presented the premise as clearly as you can. AND as important as jokes can be in a sketch, don’t just depend on them to make your sketch work. It takes a good premise and characters more than anything.
What were the two most difficult sketches you had to write?
There’s not any sketch that stands out as difficult. There were a few that I had to rewrite a few times like “Things to Do.” Sometimes the hardest thing to write in a sketch is a satisfying ending. There was a sketch I wrote with Scott Thompson called “The Editors” and it took us a long time to come up with the ending. We finally solved the problem when we just decided to keep it simple.
When did you first decide you wanted to be a comedian? Who were some of your influences and favorites?
I first knew I wanted to be a comedian in grade 5 when I discovered I could get a lot of laughs in school. And I realized that it was comedy acting, I would be good at as opposed to stand-up because it seemed I was getting laughs more on how I said things instead of coming up with jokes. I grew up loving Woody Allen, Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor, and Monty Python.
What are some of your fondest memories of your career with Kids in the Hall? Why were they so successful? Do you have regular reunions?
My fondest memories of the Kids in the Hall were when we found out we were getting a TV show. We had shot a pilot and were waiting for word that whether or not HBO would give us a series. We were rehearsing for a show, we were going to do at a club, when the phone rang. Mark answered it and got the good news. He got off the phone, smiled and said, “Wait till you hear.” Another fond memory is when we found out our TV show was cancelled. We went out to a bar, drank and were really funny. My third fondest memory was when we were nominated for an Emmy for best writing. I think we were successful just because we had an original point of view, we were young and seemed fun, but yet still very dark, the great chemistry we had with each other and our writing ability. We really don’t have reunions because we are still together. We are planning a new tour right now.
Who were the best Canadian and American sketch writers and comedians of all time?
Which young comedians do you feel have a chance for a long and successful career and who makes you laugh a lot?
Key and Peele should be around for a long time. Even if they split up.
What advice do you have for aspiring comedians?
Work hard and say yes to every opportunity to perform. This is because the more you perform, the better you get without even knowing it. You have to work hard so when your lucky break comes you will be ready for it.
You have appeared in many films. What are some of your favorite roles?
My two favorite movies that I have done is Lilo and Stitch and Sky High. They’re two Disney films for some reason.
What’s next for you?
I am writing a movie that I will direct and star in called The Last Winter in Winnipeg.
And the Kids in the Hall are working on a tour of all new sketches.
Kevin McDonald’s Sketch Writing Workshop is this Saturday, February 22, 2014 at The Comedy Spot at Ballston Common Mall – 4238 Wilson Blvd – Arlington, VA. Call the box office at (703)-294-LAFF, to see if there are any cancellations, because it is sold out.
LINK Kevin McDonald’s website on imdb.