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Five lessons that taught Bruce McCulloch how to keep them laughing

Rachel Idzerda/The Globe and Mail

Thirty years after they first scorched the Canadian comedy landscape with classic bits like The Chicken Lady and Cabbage Head, The Kids in the Hall have reconvened for a North American comeback tour. Since those early days, Bruce McCulloch has found success as a writer, actor, and director (his TV show Young Drunk Punk returns to City this fall). Here, the multi-talented funny guy shares some of the secrets to his success including why good comedy is a lot like doing the nasty.

Don't think, just do

It's easy to get mired in the theory of something and forget to focus on "the idea." The conversation of theory can be a killer to momentum and even to the final product. Creativity is when something falls into your brain from the heavens or from your inner muck. I remember a few times we would talk to journalists and they would say, "So what you guys do is pervert suburbia." And we would say, "Okay, I guess so." And then when you sit down to write, it's like, "Okay, time to pervert suburbia" and it just doesn't tend to work. Thinking about comedy is like thinking about sex – "Do you like it when I do this with my hand? Should I do something else in three minutes?" It's not the kind of thing that benefits from discussion.

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The wisdom of the skeptic

Everyone is part who they are inside and part what they've constructed for the world to see. If someone has to tell you they're cool, that's a good indication that they're probably not. I have a lot of "never trusts." Never trust anyone who is older just because you're younger, never trust anyone younger when you're older. I think there's a healthy cynicism that comes with questioning everything. Why does this have to be that way? Why do we have to do shows only on Saturday? Why can't we do them on Sunday? Often you find that there is no good answer.

It ain't over until it's on stage

With the tour, we are doing a lot of new material and also some of the classic old stuff, although even with those bits that everybody knows, we are still trying to improve them, tweak them. I think a lot of the success that I have had in my career comes down to the fact that I really do love the process. For me, a joke is always evolving, always in flow right up until it's time to go on. Yes, we've done "Salty Ham" hundreds of times, but maybe there's a way to make it better – add a better line, change the ending. A joke is never complete.

It's okay to laugh at a funeral

It does seem to be that there's a relationship between comedy and darkness. I've met a couple of comedians who come from nice places and nice families, but generally there is a more complicated story. My own comedy has always come from processing my experiences and sometimes that gets into dark territory. I was just at a good friend's funeral and humour is what got us through. As Freud said, nothing human is alien to me. I love the human experience and how weird we all are. That, to me, is what comedy is – trying to explain my own disconnection or connection.

There's no alpha in group

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I have always been an alpha. My natural instinct is to ask, "What do you guys think we should do? Okay, here's what we should do." As I've gotten older, though, I've learned that I can be a lot more effective when I'm not the last word on everything. In your 20s, you want to get your way; in your 40s, you start to seek harmony. Kevin (McDonald) is a great guy to work with in that he is as willing or more willing to laugh at your joke than to fight for his own. He adds energy more than he takes away. And Dave (Foley) is quiet and he'll say, "I think this is a pretty good idea," but he won't jump up and down about it. He is almost always right, so it's in our best interest to pay attention. Working in a group and balancing those personalities can be tough, but it is also this amazing chemical thing where the room has a bigger spirit.

This interview has been condensed and edited by Courtney Shea.

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