No excess of success

Too nice for America, too big for us: the comedic enigma of the Kids in the Hall

Appropriately enough for a comedy troupe that loved probing the weird mysteries of everyday life, the Kids in the Hall seem to embody a mystery themselves: How did Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCullough, Scott Thompson, Dave Foley, and Mark McKinney get to be as good as or better than many American comedians yet, in spite of their excellence, never break through and achieve U.S. success? Their eponymous television show had more opportunities to crack the American market than any of their contemporaries, appearing on two high-profile U.S. networks with the backing of expatriate superproducer Lorne Michaels. But Michaels is the exemplar of the Canadian who made it down south, while the Kids will always be the Canadians who just missed.

Of course, they only missed when it came to fame and money. In influence and staying power, the Kids were huge. They were comedians’ comedians, whose admirers included the likes of Judd...