As I sat in the mezzanine of the enormous Orpheum Theater, I realized that I'm more suited to play indie-snob for comedy than I am for music. Stupid riff rock or not, I can more easily grasp the appeal of, say, Aerosmith playing a football stadium more than I can a sketch show in a giant theater. More than any other art form I know or care to understand, comedy works as a communication between the performer(s) and the audience. In every other form, the audience's feelings are delayed. Perhaps drama could elicit an immediate gasp from a few onlookers, but if the gasps don't come, it is rarely seen as a failure of the performance. With comedy, bits are given and if laughs do not result, then communication has broken down. This communication can easily dissipate in large spaces (this is where comedy and music share similarities regarding intimacy issues). However, I am not writing to say comedy cannot survive in a large venue. I am only writing to praise the Kids In the Hall for figuring out how it can be done.
Like I said though, it shouldn't have worked. At the very least, it shouldn't have worked so easily, but then again people, myself included, have often underestimated Canada's semi-favorite sons. While this is not their first time in a giant arena, I was still amazed with how they managed to not only fill the space, but also keep up a quick pace between sketches, seamlessly meshing live-on-stage material with a few pre-taped bits. This mixing of media merits special note, as recent sketch work of the world have all incorporated taped bits into live shows resulting in clunky transitions at best. Either it's a tacked on video, or an attempt at actually interlacing on-stage action with on-screen work, I have never seen it achieve anything beyond reminding the audience that, yes, these performers own a video camera. More wise than anyone will surely give them credit for (and probably making it seem so easy as to accidentally encouraging more sketch groups to tape bits because YouTube videos are just what a paying audience goes to the theater to see), the Kids used the technology as set decorations, special effects, and for audience interaction.
A few puzzling verbatim classics aside, (the Mark McKinney alley monologue, of all the Mark McKinney monologues... really?), the strongest material was entirely new. "Superdrunk," "I Don't Like That Baby," and a terrific 3/4's completed song by Kevin McDonald may not merit a 25-episode deal, but they at least show they're still capable of pulling it off. What was most evident in comedic terms was that the Kids are notable as much for what they don't do as for what they do. They've never relied on direct parody or pop-culture references like SNL, rather building on characters and one-off situations to heighten their delicious madness. But until this live show, I had never noticed how they don't even use the frameworks of pop culture for their scenes. It would have been so easy to make the Buddy Cole Talk Show (and it had been on SNL, it surely would have), but instead it's simply a character monologue. He is less talking to the camera as he is sharing a story, and it is those simple dramatic differences that set the Kids apart from the rest. With so many comedy shows with hooks over the years, Kids in the Hall were the one group who's hook was just "It's funny," plain and simple. It's all it needed to be and it's really all you could ever ask.