Published Jan 23, 2015Things are very busy for Bruce McCulloch. The iconic comedic writer, performer, and director, best known for his role in the Kids in the Hall, is in a Toronto editing room, fine-tuning the seventh episode of his new series, Young Drunk Punk, which debuted on January 21 on CityTV.
The show is partially adapted from his acclaimed new memoir, Let's Start A Riot, which found McCulloch pondering his upbringing in Alberta, his escape to Toronto, loving punk and rock subcultures, starting a family, living in the Hollywood Hills, and finding himself in Kids in the Hall.
"I think I got a little tired of a kind of machinery in Hollywood, which I'd fallen into a little bit, which was, 'Oh, maybe I'll do a show about a chef in a kitchen. Ok, that sounds funny,'" McCulloch says when asked about his motivation to write a book. "I think something about the work I'd been doing turned me back to the impulse of why I started doing what I did, which is writing crazy little things that the people who like me can connect to.
"As writers, we always convince ourselves whatever we're working on is amazing," he adds. "Sometimes, maybe it isn't as connected to yourself as you think it is. But with this work, it's pretty exciting to go through the archaeology of my life."
In the book, McCulloch writes that he had long held a secret, vaguely egomaniacal desire to one day write a book. After discussing the possibility with different publishers, he began to grow wary of what some might expect of such a project, particularly given his long, storied history as a TV "star" in KITH.
"What HarperCollins had responded to was my stage show, which was really personal stories about me, where the Kids in the Hall were in the background. So, if there was any pressure when I was writing my book, it was 'Oh, we should have more crazy stories about the Kids in the Hall going to jail in Atlanta,' and that didn't feel like the emotional core of the book I was writing, so I didn't do that."
McCulloch, who has released two music-based comedy albums to date (1995's Shame-Based Man and 2002's Drunk Baby Project) writes lovingly of punk and the underground rock scene in Toronto in Let's Start a Riot. Yet, when he was a kid in Calgary, he says he never gave pursuing music serious consideration.
"Maybe I was just instinctively smart enough to know that that wasn't what I was special at," he says. "I walked the streets and sat in the bars of Calgary as a young man, knowing there was something special about me. I never thought my way out was going to be rock music. When I finally encountered comedy, I felt like a gay man coming out of the closet. I found my thing."
In his book's thank-yous though, McCulloch writes: "I'd like to acknowledge the contribution, not just to my record collection, but to my creative life, of decades-long collaborators Brian Connelly and Craig Northey. And my first mentor, Reid Diamond." Northey plays in Odds and worked with McCulloch on both solo and KITH musical projects, while Connelly and the late Diamond played together in Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, the band responsible for virtually all of the music associated with the troupe's TV show.
As it happens, Connelly, Diamond, and Shadowy Men drummer Don Pyle had a tremendous influence on McCulloch and his cronies.
"We all moved out to Toronto on the back of Don Pyle," he explains. "He was the guy who had a place — we didn't realize it was in Mississauga, we thought he was in downtown Toronto — and he helped set us up. He was the guy who said, 'You get this apartment for $40,' 'Here's a sandwich because you haven't eaten,' and 'Go see this band tonight and say my name and you'll get in.' So he's the one who fast-tracked all of our musical experiences when we moved here."
"Reid, Don, and Brian, who were two or three years my senior, they were these rock daddies who came out to this weird place that I always wanted to be," McCulloch recalls. "Everything's a beautiful accident; I don't know if there'd be a Kids in the Hall if there hadn't been those guys, because they coalesced my feelings. I mean, I wanted to move to Toronto for the music but it became very convenient that I should come to Toronto for comedy. And I muscled — the little animal that I am — my troupe. I said 'We're moving to Toronto immediately' and they were grumbly a bit — 'No, let's stay here.' But it really is the lineage of Shadowy Men that made me muscle them to come in the way they did."
McCulloch says the Kids in the Hall are on great terms and plan to do more shows this May in some of "the great and lesser cities of North America." As for Young Drunk Punk, he sounds elated and hopeful about the show.
"It's based, emotionally, on the sliver of the book, which is what it's like to be 18 years old and lost. It's set in Calgary in 1980 and circles around two guys, Ian and Shinky, who have a lot of questions about the world and how effed up society is with no real plan to fix it and it's about them finding themselves and their families.
"I haven't performed in a television series since Kids in the Hall so it's been nice to do that," he adds. "When you're young, you don't realize how amazing it is to get a show on the air. If we only do 13 [episodes], that's fine but it'd be nice to do more and I'm putting all of my energy into the show."
Listen to this entire interview with Bruce McCulloch on the Kreative Kontrol with Vish Khanna podcast.