"I'm as Canadian as they come. There's nothing like being a Canadian abroad and saying, 'I'm Canadian. No, I'm not English or American.' That is my proud flag."
– Mark McKinney
Guy MacPherson: So you're going to be living in Vancouver for about a month coming up, aren't you?
Mark McKinney: Yeah, just about three feet from Stanley Park, which I'm really looking forward to.
GM: That's gotta be terribly exciting for you. Have you spent any time here in the past?
MM: Well, you know, I've been to Vancouver on tour a few times. And I used to fly to Asia a lot on vacation and I've spent some time... Somehow, I've always been in Vancouver in a hotel in Gastown in the rain until last spring, when I was there for four beautiful sunny days while we were shooting a pay-per-view, and I discovered the city – like, really explored it – and loved it. It's a beautiful, beautiful place.
GM: And it's a sunny day today. So I think you're coming at the right time.
MM: I hope so. It's so gorgeous and natural. The mountains and the city and the ocean, and I'm thinking, 'I hope I can get people inside.' In a city of natural treasures.
GM: I think you'll be able to. We've seen it all. We've seen all the natural treasures. Those are for tourists. I know you've spent time in Calgary and Newfoundland...
MM: Calgary, Newfoundland, Toronto. At least, those were my big stops.
GM: I read that you grew up around the world. Where's the longest place you've ever lived?
MM: Well, let's see. I was in Denmark for two years. That was the first place I went when I was a baby. [unintelligible] three years. Paris three years. Then we moved to Washington and my dad was there for five years because he was the number two in the embassy and straddled two ambassadors, one leaving and one coming in, so we wound up staying a long time. But I was in boarding school outside of Toronto for that, but going back home on vacations and stuff. Washington was the longest I had an address.
GM: So you're American is what you're telling me. All this time I thought you were Canadian.
MM: No, I'm as Canadian as they come. There's nothing like being a Canadian abroad and saying, "I'm Canadian. No, I'm not English or American." That is my proud flag.
GM: Especially now? Or are we the enemy now?
MM: I don't know. I don't think we're the enemy. Diseased northerners is what we are; we're not the enemy (laughs). They don't wash their hands enough!
GM: Don't be bringing anything here, by the way, when you come.
MM: Ah, there's nothing to bring.
GM: You live in New York now, or have you moved from there?
MM: I sort of temporarily relocated to Toronto because I wound up shooting consecutive projects in a row. I guess I moved up here last November. I don't know if it's permanent, but I do kinda like the slightly dialled-down urban life here compared to New York. But I miss New York a lot.
GM: So you do feel pretty Canadian.
MM: I DO feel Canadian. I don't think how you can't. I have a different passport. They inspect me closely at the border.
GM: So you're forced to. Because, you know, our favourite pastime is claiming celebrities. But we'll drop you in a second if you forsake us. Because we're a small people... I didn't know that you had a brother who's also in comedy.
MM: Yeah, he sort of followed along. He did TheatreSports in Ottawa. Then he had a comedy troupe in Toronto that followed us on to the CBC briefly, called The Vacant Lot – a really funny group. And they kind of all migrated to New York and then most of them filtered out to L.A. And he sort of morphed into a comedy producer and developed and directed this ongoing series with this comic named Dave Attell, called Insomniac. They've done now four or five seasons. They've run out of cities in the United States so they're now going to Ireland and Amsterdam and hanging out till all hours. He's got a production company in New York.
GM: Why don't they come up here?
MM: They did Montreal, they did Toronto...
GM: I guess that's about it... Now, coming from such an intelligent family such as yours is, it must make them terribly proud – two kids in comedy.
MM: I think it's odder.
GM: At first were they going, "What are you DOING?!"
MM: I don't think it was quite like that. I mean, my dad, who was a fairly salty man of few words, I asked him once. I said, "What do you think about me being in comedy?" He said, "You know, I worried a lot when you were in the clubs making no money..." – and at this point I was at Saturday Night Live as a writer back in the late '80s – and he said, "but now that it's turned into a career, great." That was it.
GM: I know all this information about you because of these fan sites on the internet. That's gotta be a weird feeling.
MM: I haven't checked them out in a while. What's new? What am I up to?
GM: The biographical information doesn't change. Have you ever met any of these webmasters who devote their lives to following you?
MM: They show up on tour a lot. One of them is a woman named Tavie, who writes a lot of stuff and kept a couple of the message boards going. She must have shown up to fully a third of the shows on the last couple of tours we did.
GM: And? Is she all there?
MM: She was probably singularly not impressed with us.
GM: Why's that?
MM: Well, I guess she really likes our comedy and is just okay about us.
GM: They say you should never meet the people you worship.
MM: I think that is true. To some extent. It's not universally true.
GM: Has it ever happened to you? Who do you really look up to, or did you, and you got to meet?
MM: I was in a movie with John Cleese. He was neat. At this point I had been in the business a few years, so I didn't expect him to be 'on' or do the Ministry of Funny Walks for me or anything like that. He was just kind of shy and quiet and concerned about the scenes we had together.
GM: What film was that?
MM: It was kind of a dismal remake of The Out of Towners, with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn.
GM: "A dismal remake."
MM: Don't quote me on that. Oh, go ahead.
GM: Do people come up to you and say, "Hey, do the Headcrusher, do Chicken Lady."
MM: That happens, but I stopped going to those bars.
GM: It must get tiresome.
MM: No, most of the time it's someone saying something like, "I really appreciate your work" or "I grew up watching your show" or in more extreme cases, it's "You show really helped me out, made me feel okay." And that's all good.
GM: You've won six Geminis. What's a Gemini?
MM: Geminis are for Canadian television.
GM: I know. I'm Canadian after all... Are the Kids going to tour again?
MM: Never say never. I mean, I'm amazed we managed to get two together, that there were gaps in everyone's schedule to accommodate it.
GM: Do you regret choosing that name? Being Kids when you're on tour at 60?
MM: Oh, it waxes and wanes, you know. I think I was something like 200 pounds on the first reunion tour that we did in 2000. I think that was one of the bad times to be called that name. But no, it's our name.
GM: I don't like to play favourites, but you were my favourite Kid.
MM: That's because you're so bright.
GM: You're also the third one that I've interviewed. That being said, I hated the Chicken Lady.
MM: Did you really?
GM: However, recently in my neighbourhood, there's been this woman who it must have been based on.
MM: There's about five of them around the city. Someone said, "You gotta go to this post office station in Toronto and see this woman. She's the Chicken Lady." And I went down, and she kinda was.
GM: You're going to be living in the West End, and that's where I live. So you're going to see this woman. It's unbelievable. So I do have a new appreciation for her. Before I just didn't get it.
MM: Well, it was a happy accident. It was a really fun character to do. It was one of those characters where I got the voice – which is how I develop a lot of characters – and then the writing comes. I liked what I was writing when I was babbling to myself in this idiotic screechy voice.
GM: Is she based on someone?
MM: No, not really. It really happened as an accident. Kevin had written a scene, because he started going to therapy – he came from kind of a rough family – and in therapy they teach you that you not think that you have to perform, you know what I mean? To respect your boundaries and stuff. So of course he turned it into a sketch and it was basically a guy at a circus who could make his nose bleed at will. Part of the freak show. And he's sort of accosted on his lunch hour, his precious lunch hour, by these bratty kids saying, "Come on, do it! Make your nose bleed!" And he says, "I don't have to do this anymore. I don't have to prove anything to you. I'm dealing with my issues in therapy. This is my lunch hour and I want you to respect that. You want to see an emotional dependant, go see the Chicken Lady." And so as we read through these sketches, as we would do, someone said, "You should show the Chicken Lady." And I had taught Browning's Freaks. Do you know that movie?
MM: Oh, you don't? It's a 1930-something movie.
GM: Oh! I've heard about it, yes.
MM: Yeah, yeah, and it began, there's this bitch who sort of like causes all this trouble among the freaks of a circus show. She's this beauty and seduces this strong man, I can't remember exactly the plot. But at the end, all the freaks grab her and they turn her into this chicken lady by chopping off various parts and stuff.
GM: And thus she was born.
MM: And thus she was born.
GM: I saw your tour two or three times.
MM: Oh, were you at the Vogue when we played there?
MM: That was maybe one of my favourite legs.
GM: Why was that?
MM: One, because we opened the Vogue. And it was this great old space. I think it was kind of early enough because we did one tour at the end of our second year, or first year, of Kids in the Hall that was sort of underwritten by HBO. We were playing these 600-1000 seat places. But it was amazing to us that we would pull into a place like Atlanta and people would show up and know the characters and really like the show. And the next tour we did landed us in Vancouver at that place and it was just so great. The audience was so great.
GM: Is that what makes a show good? Because you're doing basically the same material, so is it the audience connecting with it?
MM: I think so. We, I think in the second tour even more than the first tour, try and write more stuff. Just throw out some new stuff. Assuming that half the audience had never seen us live before and would want to see a Headcrusher sketch or something like that. And the rest we actually write and work together again.
GM: And you enjoy that process, I guess.
MM: Yeah. It's fun. And it's fun to do it on stage. Work stuff out. And not necessarily try and be perfect and slick and be like a '50s cover band that's hitting the road again.
GM: You have that freedom in sketch, don't you?
MM: Kind of, yeah.
GM: You have to follow the script, but you also have the freedom to goof off a bit.
MM: Yeah, you do. And if you go off, you're going off with people you're pretty comfortable going off with.
GM: In Fully Committed it's just you. You don't go off on that, do you?
MM: No, but it seems like you are. There are so many characters, there are so many different points to hit that there's always something to chew on, there's always an area to explore. One character, you may not like the way it came off the night before. You think about it or sleep on it over night and go at it on a different take the next day. I mean, the show is set, it tells a certain story, but I'm not running up and down the aisles asking people their names and stuff. But it is a very present show in terms of the theatre. There's a little bit less of a fourth wall than some of the plays that I've done in New York.
GM: You talk about doing all these characters. How would you explain it to somebody who doesn't know?
MM: Well, the main story is the story of Sam, who is the guy in this incredibly popular and prestigious restaurant in New York who's having a day from hell because he's answering the phones in the basement. He's the reservation guy and the two other people haven't shown up for work, so he's having a day from hell. And it's just about him getting through that day and trying to hold onto his dignity.
GM: And the characters are the customers?
MM: The people who call in. The customers, the chef, his agent – he's an actor, he's trying to get out of this basement.
GM: How long have you been performing the play?
MM: I was rehearsing this in New York when 9/11 happened. And I came up to Toronto that fall a couple weeks later and did it for four months here, and then five or six weeks in Montreal last summer at the comedy festival. So it's been an intermittent thing. I haven't been on the road with this. No. God.
GM: So somehow, somebody just lured you out here.
MM: Yeah. I mean, I know the theatre. It's a gorgeous theatre. And it's a great town and it's summer and I hope it'll work. But I left Montreal way happier with the show there. Like, I felt that I made it better, but there were still a couple of things I wanted to come back and try and this just sounded ideal. Five, six, seven weeks, however long it lasts out there. A chance to do it again.
GM: What drew you to it in the first place?
MM: I saw it in New York. I was supposed to go into it in New York. It had become a big hit. It was playing in a 300-seat theatre downtown with the original actor, Mark Setlock. And then he got replaced by Roger Bart who then left to go into The Producers. And when Roger left, there was still a big audience for it. And I couldn't go in, I think it was because I was doing Kids in the Hall. Either that or I was writing the mini-series that I'm filming right now here in Toronto. So I wanted to do it there, and then this opportunity came up to do it up in Toronto and then later in Montreal, so I jumped. Because I like the play. It's kinda good for someone like me, who's a character guy, I guess.
GM: I didn't realize you have done so much theatre until I read your bio. I see that The New York Times called you "one of the top flight comic actors on the New York stage."
MM: They were very nice. That was a good day.
GM: So no doubt you'll be in the top ten on the Vancouver stage... But that wasn't for Fully Committed, was it?
MM: That was for the play that I did before called Fuddy Meers. But he was writing about the other two or three plays I'd done in New York – a production of A Flea in Her Ear that got a lot of attention, and Fuddy Meers was a breakout play that started out as part of the Manhattan Theatre Club season and we did it through the fall of 1999 or 2000 or whatever. And then I did the Kids in the Hall tour and it transferred. Jean Doumanian, Woody Allen's former producing partner, came in and moved it down to [Minetta Lane] (sp?) in Greenwich Village and it ran there for a few more months. And I was able to go back into it.
GM: Was this after your stint on Saturday Night Live?
GM: I would think that you'd also be good at drama. Have you done much of that?
MM: Funny you should ask. This has been the year of drama for me. I did a dramatic role on a Canadian independent feature by a Vancouver guy named Scott Smith called The Falling Angels, the Barbara Goudy book. It'll be at the festival. With Miranda Richardson and Callum Keith Rennie. And I got the lead in the Guy Madden movie in February, which is a very dramatic, Guy Madden-ish film, and Isabella Rossollini was my co-star. But it was serious. Serious acting. And this miniseries, even though it's a dramedy or a come-rama or whatever you want to call it, has also got some very serious aspects to it.
GM: Who is the miniseries produced for? Who's going to air it?
MM: The Movie Channel. And it may have a different partner out west. Because I remember when the financing was coming together, it was someone from the west who kind of rescued it.
GM: Back to "Fully Committed". The restaurants I go to don't take reservations.
MM: Neither do I. The weird thing is I've been to a lot of these restaurants. You kinda go once then go "Fuck! I spent that much money?" But the thing about the restaurant scene in New York is that if you have a hot restaurant of the moment, you are a rock star. And everyone wants to eat there. And there are about 50, 60 restaurants that are of that calibre. And this play is set in sort of like November, in New York, which would be like the absolute Thanksgiving, Christmassy kind of era where it's impossible to get one. The competition becomes ferocious.
GM: It's a good thing you're a celebrity, because you'd never have to wait.
MM: Oh, I don't have that kind of pull. You've gotta be like Perelman or somebody like that to be able to waltz into Bouley any time you want.
GM: I would think, if I went some place where they said, "Oh no, we're fully booked", I'd go, "Okay, well I'll go somewhere else." Or "When can I book a date?"
MM: I'm not that impatient about it, either. But it's a different kind of scene, you know? I'm not sure if a lot of your go-go Vancouver lawyers would take no as an answer from Lumière, you know?
GM: You're an improvisor and a sketch comic. How do you like performing the same material every night?
MM: I really like it because it doesn't... I did this for four months in Toronto and it didn't get stale. It's got a lot to chew on, if that makes any sense. You know what I mean? It's good-boned.
GM: I guess the audience reacts at the places you want them to react, it's that polished.
MM: Well, you hope. I mean, I think if you give them the character as three-dimensionally as possible, and some of them do – you just become the guy or the woman – they recognize it, they recognize the situation, they can ride the comedy in the story with you. And yet there's always one character, and it might be a small one, but you want to get that moment absolutely perfect. So that's what you obsess about when you go to bed.
GM: After your run in Vancouver, are you taking it anywhere else?
MM: No. No plans. No, I was really happy to get a shot at doing it again. But I'm not trying to go across the country with it or anything. I don't want to. I kind of really worked, the gap between the Toronto run and the Montreal run. Part of my brain was working on what I wanted to do different with the play and it just felt like a good show.
GM: Are there aspects of it you want to do different for Vancouver or have you nailed it now?
MM: Well, no, you kind of go work on the characters and figure out which ones you want to do a little bit better. The character Stan has this very passive aggressive friend named Jerry, which I kind of got working better in Montreal but I still think of the right gesture or the right inflection to his accent or something, I'll say the first line and they'll know exactly who he is. It's a great challenge, it really is. It's fantastic. You get in incredible shape doing this show.
GM: So it's a win-win situation for you. Lots of activity, running around?
MM: Running around. You wind up panting at certain points of the show.