The Way We Get By: The Kids in the Hall’s Kevin McDonald on The Stories of John Cheever (and Classic Gangster Movies)

Quarantined in Toronto writing the rebooted Kids in the Hall TV show, Kevin shares what he's doing to stop climbing the walls.

Most of us are sequestered in our homes, doing our part to slow the spread of COVID-19. That includes some of our favorite artists, so we’re asking them to tell us about one thing — a book, a movie, a record, whatever — that’s helping them get through this difficult time.

Right now, I’m alone in an apartment in Toronto, because the Kids in the Hall are working on a new TV show and the network put us all in one apartment complex. One of the apartments was our writing room, and for three weeks we’d meet in the writing room and then go to our separate apartments to write. It was wonderful. Now, though, almost everyone’s gone home and the only other guy who’s still here is Norm Hiscock, who’s a Kids in the Hall writer who was an original member of the group before we got our first TV show. He’s my best friend in the world apart from Dave Foley, and right now he’s saving my life. I’m still a little stir crazy, but all I do is write sketches eight hours a day. Production on the show hasn’t been suspended yet because we’re just writing, so we’re going to have lots of stuff by the time we do shoot.

I just finished reading The Stories of John Cheever, which made me very happy. Cheever has great story ideas, and that keeps you excited when you’re locked in a house during a coronavirus epidemic! But sometimes his stories stop and don’t go anywhere you want, and he just ends with beautiful prose. He’s an amazing prose writer. He wrote some good novels too, but the short story was his main medium. One of his stories was made into one of my and Dave Foley’s favorite movies, The Swimmer. When we were coming up with the ideas for what would eventually become Brain Candy, one of them was actually a comedy version of The Swimmer. Maybe that film is not the best during a zombie apocalypse lockdown, but it makes me happy.

Norm and I are also watching a lot of gangster movies that I’ve recorded off TCM, so we’re having fun watching those. We’ve seen Godard’s Breathless, Bonnie and Clyde, They Live By Night. That’s escapism, but good escapism. Because Godard was obsessed with Humphrey Bogart gangster movies, he took a noir plot and made it something completely different, about the difference between France and America. Breathless is full of jump cuts, which people really hadn’t seen before apart from in documentaries. He has so much fun moving the camera and he has so many ideas; it was before he became pretentious and started hating cinema. It’s a guy having fun making his first movie. Norm’s apartment is next to mine, so he comes over to my apartment every night at 7:30. We actually made it 7:39, because that’s funnier. We’re trying to mix things up over the remaining time we’re here, so sometimes we’ll eat together as well, or go for a walk around the ghost town that is downtown Toronto.

At first, I was in heaven living in this apartment, because it’s just down the street from where the Raptors and the Maple Leafs play; I’m a sports guy, so that was going to be my escape. But, of course, now there’s no sports. Every night recently they’ve been showing the Raptors playoff games from last year on TV, but I can’t watch them because I’ve already seen them. I love every sport, including soccer, and Norm and I had been going to pubs every Saturday and Sunday to watch English Premier League games. Because I have DAZN, I can see any game I haven’t already seen from the past year or two, but it doesn’t interest me. It has to be live and happening now! Anybody else who loves sports will understand exactly what I mean.

Kevin McDonald’s Off-Broadway show Kevin McDonald ALIVE on 42nd Street plays at Theatre Row NYC’s Studio Theatre from August 25 to 31. Kevin co-founded the iconic comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall with Dave Foley after they met at Toronto’s Second City; joined by Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson, the television iteration of the troupe ran from 1988 to 1995. In addition, Kevin has appeared on such TV shows as Seinfeld, NewsRadio, and Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show, as well as performed voice work on Lilo & Stitch, Invader Zim, and The Angry Beavers, to name a few. Kevin frequently stages his podcast, Kevin McDonald’s Kevin McDonald Show in NYC (and throughout the country), with recent guests including Tim Heidecker, Sasheer Zamata, Weird Al Yankovic, Paul F. Tompkins, and many others. (Photo by Leif Norman.)