BY SCOTT STIFFLER | Like rocking out to the sweet riffs of a Bob Seeger song after years of irony-only listening, writer/performer Bruce McCulloch’s autumnal residency at Soho Playhouse reveals heretofore hidden depths to the stellar ensemble comedian, whose work with The Kids in the Hall is peppered with mission-focused loners and sweet searchers yearning to belong—or, barring that, to just be understood.
In the relentlessly funny, often sober solo show Tales of Bravery and Stupidity, McCulloch’s menagerie of loopy, layered characters made famous during the Canadian sketch comedy troupe’s six-season run—five back in the 90s, one currently on Amazon Prime—are seen on stage only in fleeting moments. (Timid office worker Kathie and hardcore chauvinist Cabbage Head come close to breaching the surface when McCulloch summons his breathy, exasperated phrasing or deploys a Catskill-level sense of timing that knows when to end a wave of laughter and when to ride it all the way to shore.)
But don’t go expecting a sequential account of how the Kids came to be (there’s a documentary on Amazon Prime for that). What you get from 60-plus minutes with McCulloch is the fruits and the pits from a decades-long investment he made in allowing the guy in charge of his interior life safe passage into the world at large. Turns out McCulloch was sheltering in place, so to speak, long before his fellow man embraced social distancing as if their lives depended on it. Whether single, paired with a partner, or running with a gang of fellow “Kids,” McCulloch’s stubborn determination to engage with others is slow, and not always steady.
Whether slinging friendly nonverbals towards the neighbors while taking his dog for a walk or snapping into damage control mode when a romantic getaway with his wife goes off the rails before they make it past the hotel’s front desk, the contemplative Canadian has clearly been keeping mental receipts for decades, giving the show a plentiful supply of short, well-paced Tales that begin as cautionary and expand, quite organically, into a buffet of instructional observations, anecdotes, memorable tunes, and stiff-jointed dance segues that encourage the audience to dine off his triumphs and failures in the a la carte manner that suits them best. Having seen the show during its June 2022 run at Soho Playhouse and interviewed its creator prior to that (click here to access the resulting article), we were nonetheless left with some questions and thusly sprinted without shame or hesitation toward the well for yet another dip. McCulloch kindly consented, yielding the below Q&A.
Scott Stiffler, for Chelsea Community News (CCNews): You’ve been touring extensively with this show. Why New York, for its first return engagement?
Bruce McCulloch (McCulloch): I’ll go to all my favorite cities starting with New York, of course. I had such an epiphanous, wonderful time when I was there [for the June run]. You know, we just looked at each other, the producer and myself and said, “Let’s do this again and just keep trying to grow and groom the show.”
CCNews: What was it about the experience that drew you back?
McCulloch: I’d been through a long work jag where I did Kids in the Hall and Schitt’s Creek but I hadn’t been communicating with people for so long. There’s something about what we’ve all been through, this catastrophe, that makes me want to be with an audience—and the backbone of the show is humanity.
CCNews: The kind that produces laughs.
McCulloch: Oh, and I’m kind of an, um, Truffle Pig to good, new laughs. I have a section that I just started doing called Things That Aren’t in the Show. I give some examples and then I do a couple of them. And I found like every night I would just do different ones. And some wouldn’t work, and some would work great. There’s also ways I can have [be] my own barometer. I’m vastly obsessed with leaving it all on the stage but not ever overstaying my welcome… And this is my fifth one-person show. I feel like I’m better now and I use that [flexibility] more. I feel like I’m more in control of the show.
CCNews: What caused that shift, that determination to take the risks that come with constant tinkering?
McCulloch: When I crossed 50, I stopped getting nervous. And I think part of that was I realized me doing a show isn’t about me. It’s really about the connection with the audience. So once I put that away, I’m just a vessel (laughs). That’s something I’ve really been concentrating on—being alive inside the show, because every audience is different, and every show is different.
CCNews: Was that letting go on stage after turning 50 transferable to other parts of your life?
McCulloch: Only partially, and I’ll tell you why—because you know, when we do Kids in the Hallor or I produce this other show TallBoyz or work on [directing] Schitt’s Creek or Brooklyn Nine-Nine, there’s a lot of money and pressure at stake and the one-person show is the safest place for me. It’s kind of the most personal thing and maybe it’s what I do best and the reason is, I do it not to get rich but to be with an audience… I just did a zombie movie with Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase in Northern Ontario and, like, I’ve been in zombie makeup for seven hours—it’s more fun to be at the Soho Playhouse.
CCNews: There’s an undercurrent of sadness throughout the show that builds to a point that, we spoke about this the last time, moves some people to tears. And it’s there from the get-go.
McCulloch: Yeah, I think I do purposefully foreshadow in my show, I say, “No, no, we’re going somewhere,” which maybe people think is a non-sequitur, but it isn’t. The show is about my quest to let my love leave my body. I’ve had a quiet love for humanity, but I didn’t necessarily like people one at a time [laughs softly, briefly], and this is my kind of coming out. Because often, people would see me in my other work and not know how much I bleed for the world. So that’s been my journey—and yes, the death of my good friend, who I talk about in the show, is part of the reason. It’s like, “No. I gotta keep going, I gotta keep performing. I’m a blues musician.”
CCNews: Does that stay with you on the way home, until you’re back at the theater the next night?
McCulloch: I think it just adds to the resonance of the show. For the month I’m doing the show, I’m a different person than when I’m not doing the show.
CCNews: How so?
McCulloch: I carry the show with me the entire time. I’m a multitasker but I try to do nothing else when I’m doing the show. Because it’s personal, it’s important to me. It’s athletic… And I get fed by the audience. If they gasp, then I feel that. It’s like, “Wow.” And the first time I started doing this very personal material, it was just like I had to slow down and take some breaths—because the last thing you ever want to see is a performer cry. But it’s deep for me. It’s also important to point out that the show is a conversation about how gallows humor gets us through—and how it always has and it always will. I just lost another dog, a beautiful, 13-year-old poodle, which I’m putting a little story in the show about; and it’s like, how quickly did my family go to gallows humor to get through that thing?
CCNews: Let’s switch gears and talk soundtrack. There are new, original songs throughout and then some, just, out there audio moments.
McCulloch: Sometimes they’re counterpoint. I play Bob Seeger ironically and then I actually love it. Which is part of me getting rid of my cynicism. Some of it’s kinda funny, some for rhythm changes, some of it is actually traditional scoring, I think, and of course I play Pressure Drop by Toots and the Maytals as my exit music because it is the most joyful song I can ever hear. If I ever get sad, I put on that song.
CCNews: Are The Kids in the Hall doing a second season on Amazon?
McCulloch: We’re still discussing it. We may, but I’m taking the sweet joy from the success of the “first season” and putting it on stage in New York… So we’re talking about it, but I don’t know. It’s a lot…But we were all surprised [at the reaction].
CCNews: What were you expecting?
McCulloch: It’s shocking, you know? Everything’s complicated with Kids in the Hall. Brain Candybombed, and even when the show was successful it was begrudging success. But now—this was at dinner after the opening, we were going, “This is an unqualified success. That’s not what Kids in the Hall are supposed to do.”
CCNews: You have a lot of partnership bits in this new season, different configurations than we’re used to. How did that come about?
McCulloch: I thought because sometimes in the traditional show, I probably didn’t work that much with Dave and I did a lot of stuff with Scott and a lot of stuff with Mark. So this time I wanted to make sure I did some stuff with Dave and some stuff with Kevin, because I’m doing this to perform with them. We have fun together. And to do Super Drunk with Dave at four in the morning was, believe it or not, fun and we all approached it like, “Hey, we’re probably never going to do this again, or let’s imagine we’re never going to do this again. What do we want out of this? Well, we want to do a couple of our favorite things and we want to play with each other. So that was part of my consciousness as we picked our own material, or cast our own material.
CCNews: Your directing resume is pretty beefy—and varied. What did you learn from directing, or being directed?
McCulloch: Visual jokes are generally better than verbal jokes… And Lorne Michaels said to us [early on], “Don’t get caught trying to be funny.”
CCNews: What’s next from here?
McCulloch: I do a lot of things. I’m always producing and pitching TV shows, but I’m gonna dedicate myself to this show. I think I’ve worked really hard, and I owe it to myself and the fans who would like the show. But I also, I think this show really resonates with people who don’t know me. And the show is evolving. So if anybody saw it before in New York, it’s changed. I’ve changed.
Bruce McCulloch: Tales of Bravery and Stupidity plays October 14-29 at Soho Playhouse (15 Vandam St. btw. Varick St. & Sixth Ave.). Fri./Sat. Oct. 14/15 at 7pm; Sun. Oct. 16 at 5pm; Tues.-Sat. Oct. 18-22 at 7pm; Tues.-Sat. Oct. 25-29 at 7pm. Tickets ($45.75 including fees) available now at SoHo Playhouse. Produced by West Beth Entertainment in association with Barrow Street Theatricals.
Bruce McCulloch is a Canadian actor, writer, and director with a career spanning television, theatre and film. Bruce stars in the new The Kids in the Hall series and in the new documentary, The Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks, both of which premiered in May on Amazon Prime.
Earlier this year, Bruce won a Canadian Screen Award for Best Direction, Variety or Sketch Comedy for directing the CBC sketch series, TallBoyz, which is now available to watch in the U.S. on Fuse. Other TV directing credits include SNL, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Schitt’s Creek, and Trailer Park Boys. Bruce has written and performed in Young Drunk Punk (a series inspired by his own life), Death Comes to Town, and This Blows (web series) all for CBC, and he created Carpoolers for ABC.
Bruce has also written and/or directed several films including Dog Park, Superstar, Stealing Harvard and Comeback Season.
His first book, Let’s Start a Riot was released by Harper Collins and Tales will be the basis for his next book. He released two spoken word/comedy/music CDs: Shame-based Man and The Drunk Baby Project.
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