Sketch comedy has been a staple of television since its inception, initially serving as an extension of vaudeville and burlesque theater. Then Ernie Kovaks came along and used the medium as part of his shtick, creating a new language for TV comedy. The revolution continued with Monty Python and Saturday Night Live in the ’60s and ’70s. But in the last two decades, SCTV and The Kids in the Hall raised the bar for television comedy. Now two DVD box sets remind us how these shows, with their distinctive approaches, built on what had come before, while expanding the idiom of broadcast comedy.
The legacy of SCTV is particularly interesting considering how the show struggled during its lifetime. But after a run in syndication, somehow the show landed on NBC, expanding its half-hour format to a whopping 90 minutes. The overarching focus of the show was a satire of broadcasting itself. From the crooked network owner, Guy Caballero (who appeared in a wheelchair for sympathy) to the chat-show-shredding Sammy Maudlin Show (an unabashed mutual appreciation society of third-rate talents such as “funnyman” Bobby Bitman), the SCTV crew savaged the phoniness and seediness of small screen show biz.
The Kids in the Hall, on the other hand, took a different approach. Rather than satirize television, they focused entirely on infecting ordinary life with an element of the bizarre, such as the down-on-their-luck beaver hunters who resort to hunting business suits (which itself was a jab at the ruthlessness of business, with one businessman gnawing off his own leg to get out of a trap). Their specialty was unforgettable outsider characters, such as the ponytailed would-be-Romeo, Daryl (“That’s Dah-ril!”), the crass guy with the Cabbage for a head, and the fabulous gay raconteur, Buddy Cole. Show after show, the Kids created smart comedy with rich human detail. So it’s safe to say that, with fun extras and some of the funniest moments ever aired on TV, both sets are essential purchases.