Bruce McCulloch’s ‘Young Drunk Punk’ looks back to the past for new laughs

By Liam Young
Kid in the Hall Bruce McCulloch brings a new TV series to the air.

Kid in the Hall Bruce McCulloch brings a new TV series to the air.

VANCOUVER — Bruce McCulloch is riding high. Over the last 18 months the Kids In The Hall alum has delivered a memoir (Let’s Start a Riot) and a one-man stage show, Young Drunk Punk, to rave reviews. Now comes a TV series of the same name, also based loosely on his years as a disaffected teenager in suburban Calgary. It has been some time since we’ve seen this much of the Canadian comedic icon; this flurry of activity arose from frustrations he experienced living in Los Angeles working on other people’s projects. “I had been writing a lot of pilots and movies for studios … the odd pilot would get made but it wouldn’t get picked up. I did Carpoolers but it was, you know…” Needing a change, McCulloch looked inward. “I think I turned back to my own life largely out of artistic frustration.”

Young Drunk Punk charts the boredom and alienation he recalls of being a square peg in the round hole of Calgary in 1980. “There’s something kind of heroically lonely in my memory of Calgary,” he says. “In a way this show is a prequel to Kids In The Hall for me—it picks at my brain before I found comedy, in that frustrated place where I knew I was going to do something but I had no idea what it was, and I was restless and stupid and got into fights and thought society was dumb.”

The series’ principal characters are a pair of misfits, Ian McKay (Tim Carlson) and Andrew Shinky (Atticus Mitchell), freshly minted with high school diplomas. They wander aimlessly through Calgary’s basements, alleys and strip malls. They bristle against conformity and scheme about ways to stick it to The Man. To chronicle their shenanigans, Young Drunk Punk blends network comedy tropes with more surreal McCulloch stylings that will please fans of his early career. The show lampoons authority figures (McCulloch himself plays Ian’s father Lloyd in an update of his ‘little angry man’ archetype), Three Dog Night-loving cowboys and various gone-but-not-forgotten late-70s trends (Betamax! Van culture!) The show’s real strength is its cast, which displays remarkable chemistry from the pilot’s first scenes (other principal players are Allie MacDonald and Tracy Ryan as Ian’s sister and mother). The group is skillfully guided by McCulloch’s veteran hand; there is a rhythm and energy to the show that no doubt arises from his stage and sketch comedy background. Episodes zip by and jokes land with precision. Five episodes in and this is a comedic group with real potential.

McCulloch was adamant not just about the show’s setting (shooting in the very Brae Glen townhouse community where he grew up) but also about its year, 1980. “Punk had hit but was almost gone,” he recalls. “It was this dusty weird time.” Mapping punk’s fading reverberations in a peripheral zone like Calgary, he thinks, offers a way into universal themes around youth and alienation, “it feels like ‘the suburbs’—whatever that is—makes you feel trapped … It’s the same kind of restlessness that fosters every rock band in the world … There is something about that frustration—of having nothing to do and waiting for the bus, and no bands are coming to town except Nazareth—which made you want to catapult yourself into the rest of the world.”

Before comedy, McCulloch’s catapult was music, and he dusts off a slate of Canadian punk classics to accompany Ian and Shinky’s antics (e.g. Toronto’s The Diodes and Viletones, London’s The Demics, Edmonton’s The Modern Minds). But it’s not just about the comedian showing off his record collection, “I’ve never seen a show that plays ‘New York City’ by the Demics … where is that song? Why doesn’t it exist anywhere? For me, one of the best parts of the series is to play that music for younger people that maybe don’t know it.” The bands have all been excited to contribute, “everyone we’ve wanted has said yes … They go, ‘wow! We love that we’re in a TV show.’”

Much as these bands are happy to have their music land in new ears, McCulloch will be pleased if Young Drunk Punk connects him with younger audiences, “the Kids [in the Hall] are going to do some shows in the next few months, but we get it. We’re not out there jumping around like Blue Oyster Cult going, ‘where did everybody go?’ We understand it’s been a long time. So it’s really fun to be on the air again.”

Young Drunk Punk airs Wednesdays on CityTV. Watch the pilot episode below.

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