Moontower headliners Mike Birbiglia and Kids in the Hall light Friday
By Dale Roe
Editor’s note: This article was originally published April 26, 2014
The 3rd annual Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival delivered an amazing twin spin of headliners Friday. NPR favorite Mike Birbiglia and legendary Canadian sketch comics The Kids in the Hall took turns on the sold-out Paramount Theatre stage.
I’m not sure what to say about Birbiglia at this point. When people asked me how his show was, I said, “predictably great.” It’s hard to imagine that somebody who’s honed his storytelling craft so well (Birbiglia still calls it joke writing, but it’s more than that) could have an off night.
And here’s the one and only thing that the comic had in common with Dennis Miller, who’d drawn a marginally smaller crowd to the Paramount the previous night: they both had their crowds there cheering them on.
Where as Miller whipped the crowd into a right-wing fervor reminiscent of a religious revival or a tractor pull — fans shouting in agreement, whooping and cheering — Birbiglia’s crowd echoed the headliner’s demeanor: audience members laughed loudly and often, but were more relaxed and, it seemed, paid greater attention to Birbiglia’s expertly crafted routines.
Noting at the top of his show that the two best, front-row seats in the theatre were empty, he went off on a gentle rant between early and late people. While Birbiglia is the former, his wife was “both a lady and a late-y,” he cracked.
His stories included inventive twists on typical stand-up topics including pets, religion, police stops and allergies. Squeaky-clean, he only cursed twice: once during a story about how he dropped the f-bomb on a show with the Muppets; the other when he told how he had read the transcript of director David O. Russell’s infamous swear-laden YouTube meltdown to a room full of celebrities including David O. Russell.
The crowd demanded an encore, so Birbiglia returned to the stage and — at the audience’s suggestion — told the story of how his sleepwalking led him to jump out of a second-story window at a La Quinta Inn.
If Birbiglia’s set was drum-tight, The Kids in the Hall provided a much, much looser performance full of dropped lines, character breaks and false starts covered so brilliantly (but obviously — the group never tried to hide it) by ad-libs that the crowd cheered wildly every time it happened. The show was called “Rusty and Ready,” and the five-man ensemble turned out to be both.
If Scott Thompson, the prime — but not only — offender, had regrets about his performance, he shouldn’t. After all, it wasn’t gratuitous (like Jimmy Fallon ruining “Saturday Night Live’s” classic cowbell sketch) and it gave the audience a rare glimpse into the group’s creative process. It’s clear that even if they don’t perform together much anymore, Kids members are so comfortable with each other and so familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses that they’re able to just go with it, however it happens to be going.
The show opened with a group monologue, as the bright red Paramount curtain parted to reveal all five Kids posed in a tableau, each wearing a wedding gown.
“We are men who wear wedding dresses!” they proclaimed in unison, each tossing out individual reasons why. “I wear a wedding dress to shock society,” Bruce McCulloch said. “And the pumpkin costume I used to wear wasn’t getting it done anymore.”
“I wore my dress to my sister’s wedding,” Kevin McDonald said. “I think she was upset but, frankly, it was hard to tell with all of the shouting.”
The show was filled with new material the group wrote toward the end of last year and packed with nods to their cult TV show, occasionally spotlighting its familiar characters.
Mark McKinney’s Chicken Lady made an appearance, as did McCulloch’s rambling child Gavin (Dave Foley and McDonald, giving the character a verbal AIDS test, were trying to figure out if McCulloch’s character was a young boy or a middle-aged lesbian).
McDonald and Foley brought out their failed horror-show hosts, Sir Simon Milligan and Hecubus, for an episode of “The Pit of Ultimate Darkness,” featuring McKinney as a bemused audience member.
In one sketch, the Two Geralds, fast-talking, hard-nosed wheelers and dealers played by McCulloch and McKinney, negotiated an emotional affair between their male and female clients.
And the troupe updated another Kids classic, revealing McCulloch as the cause of cancer. After McCulloch delivered the line, “I’m sorry I caused all that cancer,” the sketch went on to reveal that Thompson was the cause of three group members’ failed marriages.
Two stand-out sketches revolved around the film “Brokeback Mountain” and a pretentious restaurant.
The first featured Thompson and McCulloch as a pair of men who became secret lovers after seeing the film years ago, unbeknownst to their wives. Immediately after McCulloch’s character left angrily for the men’s room when the women put the film down, Thompson jumped up to join him, saying, “He’s been gone a long time; I’d better go make sure he’s okay.”
The second sketch took place in a pretentious, upscale restaurant where the wait staff, busboys and chef freaked out when a diner referred to a trendy tart dessert as a “little blueberry pie.” When it became clear that the woman planned to photograph the item and tweet it to the public as a pie, the staff decided the only solution was to set McKinney on fire while he was holding the patron’s cell phone. “I’ll clear out the dining room!” one of the employees said.
“No, there’s no time! Just lock the doors!” another shouted.
For a sketch comedy fan, the opportunity to see the group in action (and often, in process) was a dream come true.
A strange, twisted, often dark but always hilarious dream come true.