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Bruce McCulloch writes about being a Kid in the Hall

Bruce McCulloch, who wrote a memoir Let’s Start a Riot, hopes people can learn from his youthful ‘stupidity.’

Ameen Belbahri

Bruce McCulloch sees his life as half-success story, half-cautionary tale.

In his new collection of personal essays, Let's Start a Riot, the comedian traces his journey from a young drunk punk in Calgary to a founding member of the Kids in the Hall and finally, to a pyjama-clad dad in the Hollywood Hills.

But he says he chose to focus more on his missteps than his victories – only sharing a handful of stories about the sketch comedy troupe he formed with Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson in 1984.

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"Once success takes over, it's not as interesting as struggle. It's what my great friend Gord Downie says, 'Nothing is uglier than a man hitting his stride,'" the 53-year-old said in a telephone interview.

"I think then it becomes: 'And then we did this, and then we did that.' I suppose I could write a whole book about how [difficult] filming Brain Candy was, but that wasn't the job I set for myself."

McCulloch's trouble-making youth is now widely known. He is currently filming a television series based on his hit stage show Young Drunk Punk, inspired by his upbringing in Alberta, which is set to air on CITY-TV in early 2015.

But recalling some of his embarrassing moments as a teenager – whether hosting a competitive drinking event dubbed "Tequila-Fest" or trying to beat up his father – still made McCulloch cringe at times.

"Revisiting who I was … it seemed like a guy I knew, but it also didn't at the same time."

He believes he is a product of his difficult upbringing. His mother left the family when he was young, preceded by the "slamming of car doors" and "tears in the shepherd's pie," he writes. He also felt rage toward his father and tried to punch him (McCulloch misfired and fell on his back in the snow instead).

"I worked as hard as I could to not have the same kind of family that I came out of," he said.

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"I've had three families: One is the original, one is the one I've created with my wife and the middle one [the Kids in the Hall] is the one where I got to act out in a different way. So you can probably see in the book that there's a lot of, 'Why didn't they kill me? I was an asshole."

McCulloch's anti-authoritarian streak runs through the book. For example, during the early days of the Kids in the Hall, the group did their first run in a theatre. After a positive review and a sold-out box office, a Saturday Night Live scout called and asked for tickets.

"If you really wanted to see it so badly, you would have bought tickets like the other people did," McCulloch replied before hanging up.

His fellow Kids were horrified, and so McCulloch scrambled to fix his mistake and get the scouts to attend. In the end, he and McKinney were hired as writers and moved to New York. But McCulloch reflects on his time at SNL with disappointment in the book, describing it as like "being at a party where all the guests are really interesting, but somehow the party is not so 'off the hook.'"

"I think the machine was too big," he said in the interview. "But also, the more important thing was it made me understand and appreciate my real family, which was the Kids in the Hall. I came out of there 12 pounds heavier and appreciating the guys I had.

"It made me realize that we were a comedic group. They were my gang. They still are, you know?"

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He said he has been approached before to write a book about the Kids in the Hall, and wanted to focus on his own journey in Let's Start a Riot.

"It's our story. It's not necessarily my story. I was trying to tell my little part of it," he said. "They've had to live with me anyway. Why should they have to live with me telling our story now?"

Filming of Young Drunk Punk is now under way in Calgary. The series stars Tim Carlson and Atticus Mitchell as two rebel teens in the 1980s. McCulloch plays a father figure named Lloyd, for which he boasts he grew a "creepy" mustache.

"There's kind of an outsider spirit in the TV series that's the same as the book, in a way," he said, adding that he believes the problems he dealt with in his youth still resonate today.

"Now, if you're 18 or 19 or 20, I think you really don't know where you fit in, in a different way. Well, what are you going to do? Are you going to be a Twitter star, are you going to be on a reality show, in video games and apps?" he asked. "I think it's harder now to figure out where you can go, but I think the hunt never changes."

McCulloch is married with two children, five-year-old Roscoe and seven-year-old Heidi, who speak some of the funniest lines in the book. When he announces he is writing a book, Heidi replies, "Why would anyone want to read that?"

He said fatherhood has made him less selfish – in part because he spends so much time responding to his children's demands.

"It's not like it's given my life more purpose, but it's given me more balance. Also, when my daughter was born I've never worked harder in my life. I think it reminds me of why I'm doing what I'm doing, whatever that is," he said.

While McCulloch hopes readers can learn from his youthful "stupidity," he added that above all he wants like-minded people to connect to his story.

"When I talk about marriage or family, or trying to have kids or whatever it is, if people relate to it, I think that's the strongest emotion I want," he said. "I want them to be moved by it and laugh and all that sort of stuff, but I want them to relate to it."

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