Dave Foley talks returning to stand-up, working with Phil Hartman, reuniting with the Kids in the Hall and more
Early in his career, a young Canadian comedian named Dave Foley started out by doing stand-up.
However, he soon discovered improv and Bruce McCullough, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson. The troupe called itself the Kids in the Hall and created a peculiar, punk rock-ish sketch series that lasted five seasons and paved the way for shows like Mr. Show and The State.
After it stopped airing in 1995, Foley joined NBC sitcom NewsRadio as news director Dave Nelson in a part written for him. The show’s cast also included Maura Tierney, Andy Dick, Joe Rogan and Phil Hartman before his death in 1998.
Now decades later, he’s returned to stand-up, including a special engagement this weekend at Side Splitters Comedy Club in Tampa. (Click here for details.) In an interview, Foley discussed performing stand-up, dressing in drag and returning to the Kids in the Hall and workplace sitcoms. Here are excerpts.
What was the transition like coming back to stand-up, which was something you did much earlier in your career?
It wasn’t too awkward. I was mostly just trying to figure out how to do stand-up as somebody who people already know. I guess you sort of have to deal with the fact that people know you already, they know stuff about you, and just trying to figure out a way to not feel like an actor acting like a stand-up on stage. I got some good advice from my friend Paul F. Tompkins, who basically told me he never writes anything down. That’s how he developed the act, by never fully scripting it.
In an interview, you described your stand-up material as “filthy and left-wing” — is that still accurate?
Pretty much, yeah. It’s still a lot of the same sort of themes that were dealt with in the Kids in the Hall days. It’s a lot of doing stuff about sex and religion with a little bit of a left-wing political slant.
One thing that stands out about The Kids in the Hall from other sketch shows is its transgressiveness — the sexual ambiguity, switching of genders, sketches like the “Womyn” one. Was that intentional on your part?
Not intentionally transgressive, it’s just that was the stuff that we thought was funny. Those were subjects that made us laugh. The cross-dressing was really just because we couldn’t we get any women to stay in the group in the early days. We used to try to get women to join the group, but they would always get hired by somebody that could pay them money. It was mostly just those were the things that made us laugh, so that’s what we did.
You’ve also developed quite a following of people who are attracted to you as a man, as a woman or as both. Do you still get that a lot?
I do, yeah. I mean, I don’t look as good in drag as I used to. Definitely I was the prettiest Kid in the Hall in drag, which is one thing that we never fought about — actually, it was the only thing we never fought about. But especially with a beard, I’m not as good in drag.
On the Kids in the Hall Facebook, there was a post asking people what they would be most interested in the group doing — another film, a tour. Do you guys have an idea creatively of something new you’d like to do?
Yeah, we’ve been trying for the last couple of months to find times for the five of us to get together and do some writing and see where that takes us. Just everyone bringing whatever ideas they have, whether it’s for a stage show or for a film or a TV series. Everybody’s eager to piece something together sometime in the near future.
So far, we’ve had a lot of meetings to discuss discussing things. We haven’t been able to get everybody all in the same city for a while, but we’ve just had some conference calls. Mostly just the will is there and everyone’s separately sort of and in different groups now discussing different ideas. It’s still in the planning to plan stage.
You just got a television series picked up called Spun Out, which brings you back to Canada. Can you talk about what that show’s like?
It’s a multi-camera sitcom, live-audience, which I haven’t produced one in Canada in about 25 years . It’s a workplace comedy — similar in a lot of ways to NewsRadio. It’s set in a public relations firm and I play the owner of the firm and there’s a young, attractive cast to make me look even older.
Does it feel familiar, being on a workplace sitcom with a patriarchal boss character like NewsRadio?
Yeah, I am, absolutely. I’ve the Stephen Root character in this one . It’s familiar in a very nice way. For the pilot, we had a big writing staff put together and much like NewsRadio, it was a very collective endeavor where everyone was encouraged to chime in ideas. It felt very homey in that way.
And on NewsRadio, you worked with one of my favorite people, Phil Hartman…
Yeah, mine too.
What were some of your favorite memories working with him?
It’s hard to think of a specific favorite thing. It was more just that pleasure of every Monday morning going to the table read and sitting across the table from Phil and getting to hear him read that script for the first time because he was just always so perfect. He was also just a nice guy and a silly man who liked to have a good time and laugh. He was just a good guy.
Beyond The Kids in the Hall and NewsRadio, you’ve also made a lot of things that didn’t get much attention at the time but gained a cult following afterwards — The Wrong Guy, Brain Candy. Is there one in particular you feel should’ve gotten more attention?
I guess for me probably The Wrong Guy is the main one that I wish would’ve gotten … well, released, that would have been nice. Because I guess our wing of Disney that was distributing us stopped existing in the middle of our production. Then it was reopened with somebody else running it who didn’t want to release the other guy’s movies. I think it would’ve been nice because I was very proud of that movie and I wished that more people had seen it.
It makes sense that The Simpsons writer Jay Kogen helped write it, as it had kind of a Simpsons feel to it.
Yeah, we were almost doing our version of an early Steve Martin movie or just a movie that was flat-out silly and fun. We had a good experience making it because we had pretty much complete control over what we were doing and got to make exactly the movie we wanted to make. We were very happy with it and everyone seemed to like it when they saw it. Except the Toronto film critics, but that’s Toronto.
Is there anything else you have coming up in the future?
I’ve been doing a lot of guest roles on TV shows lately. I did Marc Maron’s show, I did Julia Louis-Dreyfuss’ show Veep, which was a lot of fun. I’ve been doing a recurring character on The Middle and on Hot on Cleveland.
-- Jimmy Geurts, tbt*