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 rockish 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. 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 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.
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.
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.