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The Kids in the Hall’s Kevin McDonald Returns to National Comedy Theater in Mesa

Kevin McDonald Sketch/Improv Workshop coming to Mesa
Kevin McDonald Sketch/Improv Workshop coming to MesaNCT Phoenix

Comedy fans who grew up in the 80s and 90s may remember an irreverent comedy team from Canada known as “The Kids in the Hall.” The five-piece ensemble impressed Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels with their live Toronto based sketch shows, which lead to a four year TV series on HBO. The group earned themselves a cult following, carrying their success to film, more television, and periodic sold-out North American tours. Troupe veteran Kevin McDonald has expanded his comedy career into teaching. He has brought his sketch and improvisation lessons to comedy theaters all over the continent, including Mesa’s National Comedy Theater. McDonald spent Labor Day weekend of 2013 with NCT, and he will be returning for July 19th and 20th with a screening of Kids in the Hall’s 1996 film Brain Candy and a day long sketch-to-improv workshop (which will be followed by a show where the students can perform their sketches with McDonald).

I had been a fan of KitH since their HBO debut in 1989. When Brain Candy was released, I won a sketch-writing contest, earning me a poster from the movie signed by all five members of the troupe. In 2000, I eagerly bought tickets to their first tour appearance at Celebrity Theater. What I didn’t know at the time was some 13 years later, I would get to share the stage with one of them.

I had the pleasure of attending the Labor Day workshop last fall, so I can give you an insight on what to expect. McDonald is humble about his past work. Many of his students are fans, so anecdotes are frequently solicited, usually prefaced with, “Here’s another boring story.” That being said, McDonald is a strong instructor. He does not flaunt his experience to get the admiration of the room. He instead draws from his experience to share applicable techniques to the skills that the students are there to learn. He may be the celebrity in the room, but the people paying for the privilege of being there are the true focus. As he dismisses groups to work on their scenes, he signs off the conversation with, “I’m Kevin McDonald, I had a TV show in the 90s.” This is delivered in a tone that says, “Thanks for being here. I’m really not that big of a deal.”

The workshop last year was a two-day experience with a handful of us invited to perform in an improvised show the evening of the second day. Representing The Torch Theatre, I had the honor of playing in the show with Kevin McDonald, NCT owners Dorian and Krissy Lenz, and a few other performers from LA and San Diego. This was a genuine thrill, one I wouldn’t mind repeating. McDonald is a generous player. He allows the people he plays with to have their space on the stage and get their due rather than hogging all the big moments because he “…had a TV show in the 90s.” I believe the upcoming class in July is a little more streamlined that what was presented in September since it will only be one day (July 20) instead of two. Here is a description of the workshop as described by NCT’s Facebook Event:

“During the workshop legendary sketch comic Kevin McDonald will help you to create 4 to 8 sketches from scratch - completely written through improv, the same way Kids in the Hall created sketches!

Sunday night, we put on a show (in front of a real, paying audience) where work shoppers will perform their sketches. That’s right, YOU get to be in a Sketch Show… with Kevin McDonald! Kevin will teach the students how to quickly put sketches together through improv and then get them show ready in the time that we have.”

I do recommend the experience for anyone genuinely interested in learning about sketch writing. Space is limited. For more information of to reserve your spot, please e-mail workshops@nctphoenix.com or call 602-374-5638.