The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Kevin McDonald (“Who Gets the Last Laugh”)

Kevin McDonald may not maintain as high a profile as some of his fellow Kids in the Hall, like Scott Thompson, who’s on NBC’s “Hannibal,” or Dave Foley, who’s on everything, but that’s because he spends at least as much time as a writer or in a recording booth for some cartoon or other as he does in front of the camera. Tonight, however, McDonald steps back in front of the camera as a guest prankster on TBS’s “Who Gets the Last Laugh?”, and he spoke to Bullz-Eye about his experience on the show while also discussing guest-writing for “Saturday Night Live,” playing Pastor Dave on “That ’70s Show,” and ongoing attempts to get the Kids back together again.

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Bullz-Eye: So how did you find yourself involved in TBS’s “Who Gets the Last Laugh?” Did they reach out to you?

Kevin McDonald: They reached out to me! Yes! I was in my nice blue house in Winnipeg, and I got the email from them, saying, “Would you like to do this?” And I thought at first that I’d be too Canadian to do this. Like, too polite. I thought I’d be too nice to pull pranks on people. That’s what I thought in my blue house in Winnipeg. But as it turned out, I could do it!

BE: Did you have to fight your every Canadian instinct to do it?

KM: Yes. [Laughs.] At first I did. Because we’re too polite and too nice, and we feel guilty. But then you get into it, and…it’s not even like the cruel part of me kicked in or anything…until it did. But it wasn’t even that. It was just, y’know, “It’s a job.” And once I started getting into it, it sort of became like a sketch, only with one of the people not knowing what the script was. And that was sort of the challenge, but I got really into it. I really enjoyed it.

BE: Are you a fan of the prank-show genre as a rule?

KM: Well, when I was a kid, “Candid Camera” was one of my favorite shows. I guess that was probably the genesis of it. I’d watch “Candid Camera” at home, and I did quite enjoy it. And because we were Canadians, then we’d spend 20 minutes holding hands, feeling guilty. But then we’d watch it again the next week.

BE: The one-liner they use to describe your prank in the press release is that you leave a confusing impression.

KM: [Laughs.] I think that’s right on!

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BE: Did you have a particular way of approaching the prank? Did you plot out the possible reactions you might get?

KM: Well, they sort of just plop you in the middle of it, y’know? Like, I knew what the prank was as I was going there, and, y’know, I’ve seen “Punk’d” and stuff, but I still had no idea what I was going to be doing. Then they plunk you in the middle and all of a sudden say, “Okay, we’ve got to do it now!” And you have to do it, so you just kind of get into it. It’s kind of trial by fire. Everything I’d planned out beforehand just made no sense when it was happening. So it really is like improv. It was so much fun whispering to the actors who were in on the prank, telling them what to say, and they were so good that they could talk and hear and repeat what I was saying. If you’re a control freak, it’s very rewarding.

BE: You’ve done a lot of voice work over the years. Are you still enjoying doing the cartoon voices?

KM: Oh, yeah, I love it. I’m still doing a lot of those, and it’s fun, but it’s very tiring because you scream all day. Well, not all day. It’s actually only about an hour at a time, usally. But you’re screaming for the entire hour. Especially if you’re the kind of guy who I tend to play in cartoons. I end up falling down stairs a lot, so I’m having to make those sounds for an hour.

BE: Do you have a favorite cartoon that you’ve worked on?

KM: Well, I like “Lilo & Stitch,” but I think my favorite one that I’ve done is one for Nickelodeon called “Invader Zim.” I get almost as many compliments for that as I do Kids in the Hall. It was a really smart cartoon, by a young guy who was a comic book guy. I think he was 25 or 26 at the time, but he looked 16. But he was sort of a genius. And it was really fun to do. It was a good comedy, which you don’t always get to do.

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BE: Speaking of Kids in the Hall, the last time I saw you was at the TCA Press Tour, when you were promoting “Death Comes to Town.”

KM: Oh, right! Oh, yeah, that was a lot of fun. I got to bring my new girlfriend at the time. And I saw Yoko Ono in the lobby! What was she promoting?

BE: A PBS documentary about John Lennon.

KM: Right! Yeah, that was the most exciting part. [Laughs.] Seeing Yoko Ono was pretty exciting!

BE: So has there been any talk about reuniting for another Kids in the Hall special or miniseries?

KM: Yeah, we’re talking about it now. It’s kind of hard to get us all together. We almost got together last month, and then I had to cancel, so now everyone’s mad at me, including me. But we’re trying to get together to do what we did last time, which is another tour and another miniseries. That’s what the plan is, anyway.

BE: A lot of your fellow Kids tend to pop up on various sitcoms – or, in Scott Thompson’s case, dramas – but you’ve spent a fair amount of time writing for TV as well, including a stint on ABC’s Carpoolers. Would you be agreeable to taking a full-time writing gigs?

KM: Well, yeah, actually, I just did two weeks guest-writing on “Saturday Night Live,” and there’s a chance that I might do it full-time next year if it works out. But I’ve also written a spec TV script that’s getting me offers to be on a staff, so that may happen. I’d never give up performing, but for a year I might write, and my first choice would be “Saturday Night Live.” The pay is less, but who cares? It’s “Saturday Night Live”! [Laughs.]

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BE: Did you get any sketches on the air during your guest-writing stint for “SNL”?

KM: I had one that made it to dress. It was very exciting that they picked it. It was on the Melissa McCarthy show. But it was one of the ones that was cut before the show. But I have the DVD of it, so I see it every now and then and cry. [Laughs.] But it was really fun. Melissa McCarthy was great. She was so great. She made the sketch so much better than it actually was when I wrote it. It was so exciting to watch. That’s another case where they just thrust you into it and assume you know what to do, because the writer of each sketch also produces the sketch, so you have to tell the actors what to do, the set designers what to design, talk to hair, makeup, and wardrobe, make sure the cue cards are right, get the music cues set… It was very exciting.

BE: You also did a stint writing for “The Martin Short Show.”

KM: Yes! I was a writer and a performer on that. But my favorite part was the writing. Even though I loved the performing. But it was very exciting to work with Martin Short. I’d write during the day and sometimes do a sketch at night if I got one in, but I’d be in my writing office and I’d go down to the floor where he was filming a sketch and just watch him work. Just to watch his process. I’ve yet to understand his process, but it was exciting to watch. Like, he’d be certain of the lines, he’d be certain of a character, and he’d do take one, take two, take three. But for takes four through seven, he knew he had it, so that’s when he’d start playing with it and finding things and improvising. That was so exciting to watch a true, bonafied comedy genius work. I got to see all those takes and see him improve it and improve it… That was very exciting. That was the best part of the job.

BE: Do you have a favorite project that you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?

KM: I liked the movie “Sky High.” I thought that was going to be a bigger hit. I did it with Dave Foley and Bruce Campbell. It was a high school for superheroes. Kurt Russell was in it, too, and he was great. I was the smart guy with the giant head. [Laughs.] I wish that’d gotten more love, because that was actually sort of good. Oh, and there’s another one, one that I wish had gotten more love for the Kids in the Hall: “Brain Candy.” It cost eight million and grossed three million. So that’s my big one for wanting more love.

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BE: Lastly, how did you enjoy the experience of working on “That ‘70s Show”?

KM: That was great! That happened because of the Kids in the Hall. Mark Brazill, who’s the creator of the show, and Topher Grace, they came to our reunion show at the Wiltern Theater, and they were about to cast for the part of Pastor Dave. And they thought, “Oh, Kevin McDonald! He looks like a pastor! And he’s Canadian!” If you’re really Canadian, you seem kind of priest-like. I understand that. So they asked me to do it, and that was fun. I think it was for three seasons that I would come do stuff. And those kids, they were so young, but they were all Kids in the Hall fans. And they were all nice. I don’t have any bad stories! They were all nice. Now, I heard bad stories. [Laughs.] From the crew. But I don’t have any bad stories. They were all very nice to me!

  

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