Proving it is possible to grow up without selling out, former "Kids In The Hall" star Bruce McCulloch may not be a kid anymore, but he's still playing the same "little silly man" character he made his name on in his new show "Young Drunk Punk," which McCulloch created, executive produces, writes, directs, and stars in, alongside his real-life wife Tracy Ryan.
The idea for the series first came about when McCulloch started turning stories about his days growing up in Calgary as a self-proclaimed young drunk punk into a one-man show, which then grew into a book, and eventually, a TV show. Set in that same 1980 Calgary -- it was even shot in the townhouse community where McCulloch grew up -- the show follows a pair of recent high-school grads, Ian (Tim Carlson) and Shinky (Atticus Mitchell), as they navigate a series of low-paying jobs in an attempt to figure out what to do with their lives.
With "Young Drunk Punk" premiering on City on January 21 at 8:30 p.m., HuffPost Canada TV spoke to McCulloch about adapting his misspent youth for TV, the challenge of recreating 1980 Calgary, and what it's like to go from being a young drunk punk to "management."
HuffPost Canada TV: I'm going to start with my most hard-hitting question, if that's OK. What's it like acting with a moustache for this show?
Bruce McCulloch: Oh my God, it's gross. I would be out in the world and I would forget that I had a moustache and I'd be complaining to a cab driver and then realize I'm a guy with a moustache complaining to a cab driver, how did that happen? I don't look good in a moustache, and once I was done, literally when I left, I just went into the trailer and just wordlessly took off my moustache.
It seems like the moustache is getting good reviews so far. I think I even read that somebody called it "suave."
Well, what else are you going to say? I mean, I'm sure if you trolled around, there would be the words pathetic, impotent, lethargic, frightening. So, suave, I'll take.
I know you did some of them first as a one-man show, but at what point did you start to think that these stories had the makings of a good TV show?
I had done a stage show at Toronto SketchFest, and that same night, book publishers had been invited and a colleague of mine who I knew from television had come and said the slivers of me growing up in Alberta would make a great TV series. And I went, "I don't think so. I don't think that's what I want to do." And then I went away and kept thinking about it and thought, "Aw f**k, she's right."
Did it come together fairly quickly after that point?
It did. I mean, I write a fair amount of things and I always say to myself, "Follow the water." And once I started to like the idea, it happened really fast, I created it fairly quickly. And things seemed to connect and be correct, at least for me, in that, some ideas you're fighting like "Old Man And The Sea," and this one was one where it was just like, "Wow, oh, that works. Oh, and then you've got that! And then the sister's like that." And business-wise, it came together extremely quickly, right through to the greenlight and into the production of it. So it really took a life of its own once we muttered the phrase, "Yes, we should do it."
How'd you decide which stories you were going to use? I'm assuming just because of the medium, it's going to be less autobiographical than your stage show or your book.
Oh, it's much, much less autobiographical. I think it's more emotionally what I remember of the time, of growing up in Calgary in 1980. Because the stars are two young guys trying to find themselves, but there's [also] me, who plays a dad, and a wife, and a sister; it's a family as well. So it's not autobiographical at all, in the way that my other things are. It's more like, oh, this is a really juicy world that I sort of remember. We do an episode when the young guys are obsessed with getting tickets for The Clash, who actually played in Calgary in 1980, and I went to see The Clash, but I didn't have trouble getting tickets. So, you know, using some of that stuff as a springboard, but it's not really autobiographical in that way.
Still, is it odd for you to be playing the dad role if this main character is at least loosely based on you?
No, I kind of liked that I was the young punk, now I'm the old punk. You know, I'm a father in real life and now I sometimes talk to young comedy people about how they found themselves. And it's like, how the f**k did that become me? [Laughs] But it's happened for a while, and I actually like the idea of trying to communicate with another generation, because I'm really intrigued with people other than myself, and certainly this generation. And for me, being kind of an old punk, I think and hope and have heard that this show connects with people who are young themselves, who are trying to find their place. I like being at the vantage point of having lived through it, and I have advice for you, but of course, I have no advice for you, because I'm just as lost as you are.
What's the difference between being a young punk and an old punk?
Well, you can take a punch better when you're young .. you know, there isn't one. And of course, the punk is more figurative than it is literal. I think, being over 50 now, I feel like I'm a punk. Which means I don't necessarily fit in wherever I go, and I'm questioning myself and things around me. So it's more that spirit of punk that the title earns than it is the literal [one] ... we're not going to be the punk rock show every week.
And yet, as the creator and writer and executive producer and director on this show, you've sort of become The Man almost. Or at least management...
Oh yeah! And it's funny, I am The Man. And have been for a long time, whether we realize it or not. I remember, we were doing "Kids In The Hall," and between I think it was Season 1 and Season 2, Scott [Thompson] shaved his head. Because he wanted to show that he wasn't owned by "The Kids In The Hall" show. And it was like, dude, you're the boss. So now all they have to do is go out and buy you a bunch of wigs. Like, what are we fighting against? [Laughs] So I think I've been management for quite some time.
Was it always part of your plan to star in this as well?
You know, it wasn't. I'd actually written it for another actor who I never offered it to, but was in my brain. And then it felt like people thought me being in it would be a good idea. I'm a reluctant actor, for sure. I've been in the odd thing, but I've not been in any series since "Kids In The Hall." But once I decided I was going to do it, the writing of my character became really fun. And I actually loved performing in it, which is not what I would have said at any other time in my life, that I loved doing film or TV acting. So it was epiphanal to me that I enjoyed performing a character as much as I did.
How much did the character change when you decided to start writing it for yourself?
I do play the little silly man, so I think there's a little silly man in it. [Laughs] And my son is taller than me, so there's just these little angles in it. And of course, any role changes whenever you give it to the person who's going to get it. It actually becomes theirs and it doesn't belong to the writers anymore. And when we all knew it was going to be me, all meaning me and the other writers, it became fun for us, because we knew what I could do. And what I couldn't do.
What was it that you knew you couldn't do?
Well, perhaps act? No, I think all casting is about finding the essence of a person and letting that out. And I think once we cast me, my essence was a bit sillier. We let that shine.
How much of a challenge was it turning the clock back to 1980 in Calgary?
It's logistical, which is the most challenging thing. Due to the many booms that Calgary's had, a lot of 1980 Calgary doesn't actually exist anymore. Luckily, there's still Chicken on the Way and Nick's Steakhouse. But the venerable Calgary Hotel doesn't exist and a lot of the streets don't feel like that. One of the saving graces was that I'm shooting in the actual townhouse community that I grew up in. It's like a gigantic backlot of Brae Glen; I used to walk those streets. So that was really helpful, to be in my old townhouse community.
Did anyone ever try to convince you to set the show today as opposed to 1980?
I think someone asked at one point, "Oh, could it be mid-'80s?" And I just felt like 1980 was the time that it had to be set in. It's kind of an underrated time, where the '70s are gone, we're a few years away from "Flashdance," the punk sensibility is still moving, Calgary is still a wild city run by oilmen and cowboys. It just felt right, and I think there was a little ... not resistance, but [I had to] just really explain why it was going to be different. But I think we all like that I'm not doing a clichéd 1980, where the biggest hit of the year is in the opening credits. It's an interesting, emotional time for me, and in Canada, it was just kind of an interesting time. So people got on board, they just wanted an explanation.
It seems like the more specific you get, it somehow becomes more universal than if you actively set out trying to make the show feel universal.
Yeah, I agree. And I've grown tired of shows that are set in "the city." What city? I don't know. He works for "an agency" and he's got "a business meeting." [Laughs] Or they're in Seattle, so they have to go see the Seattle Mariners play. I felt that I knew a lot about this time period and what these guys were going through and what they ate and what should be in their rooms, so it was natural. And I think I've done it myself, where I've tried to just set something "somewhere," but we don't know where it is, and I feel like there's a lack of connection with the audience. And I don't think people have to know what it felt like to be in Calgary in the 1980s to connect with this, they're going to connect with it hopefully because it's real.
"Young Drunk Punk" premieres on City on January 21 at 8:30 p.m. ET.