What I’ve learned watching comedians’ early work

In Midnight Oil, Becca Benson discusses her love of comedy, shares her creative work, and reflects on various occurrences in her brief existence on this earth.

If you know me, or have talked to me for even five seconds, you know one of my absolute favorite TV shows is The Kids in the Hall.  The sketches are great, and the troupe members are wonderful people.  If you do in fact know me, then you probably know that when I like something, I really like something.  A scary amount, even.  Probably too much for my own good.  This causes me to search the far recesses of the internet for hard-to-find interviews, early videos, and soundbites of my favorite comedians.  In the case of The Kids in the Hall, it is not difficult to find evidence of the early years in their comedy career thanks to Paul Bellini, a writer for the group and best friend of troupe member Scott Thompson.  Besides having a unique comedic flare and a fondness for fish, Bellini is an archivist who, ever since he started hanging around the group, video taped just about everything the Kids, whether it was brainstorming at someone’s apartment or performing at a seedy bar.  Being a wonderful human being, Bellini has started digitizing his many tapes and uploading them to YouTube, shedding light on just how the Kids operated in the early days.

Kids in the Hallpress release photo

As someone who wants to go into the business of sketch comedy, these videos are my holy books.  It is not necessarily that the videos are comedy gold, but it is more the fact that some of the bits they do are simply not that great.  Even though The Kids in the Hall are now often named as one of the best sketch comedy groups of all time, everyone had to start somewhere, and comic has to have their years of struggling to find their voice and what makes people laugh.  The videos Bellini has uploaded as of yet are comprised mostly of extremely hit-or-miss improvisational material, fleshing out characters, and just messing around.  At best, it has an absurdist quality that makes you laugh because you don’t know what else to do.

This period of bad improv and only slightly funny scenes is an unavoidable part of the comedians’ career track.  That is not to say it is all bad, however.  Also revealed in Bellini’s footage is the genesis of one of the Kids in the Hall’s most famous characters, flamboyant alpha queen Buddy Cole.  In the several part series of videos centered around Buddy, the viewing audience is treated to minutes on end of Scott Thompson talking in a thin, lispy voice about exotic adventures to the Middle East and more local adventures around Canada.  The character is not nearly as polished, or funny, as he would later be on the TV show, but seeing the beginnings of Buddy Cole shows just how much a character can develop if they keep being written and rewritten.

What attracts me most to these videos is not how good or bad the content is, but rather how rough around the edges everything is.  As humans, when we have heroes, we have a tendency to put them up on pedestals, convinced they can do no wrong.  While in the world of my comedy heroes greats like Steve Martin and Rodney Dangerfield continue to be absolutely untouchable, comics whose beginnings I can witness become more grounded and attainable.  The Kids in the Hall once improvised a song about five minutes too long that discussed at length free trade and fried chicken, among other things, but they kept working and became an absolutely incredible troupe.  The fact that this messy, ragtag group of friends could go on to create one of the best sketch comedy shows of all-time is, at least to me, inspiring in a way.  No one starts out great.  Some people start out really pretty bad.