Mark McKinney’s having problems at work. But as one-fifth of an eccentric sketch-comedy troupe, his are a little unusual. The task at hand: Advance the narrative onstage while “there’s a whole bunch of manic, comic sex going on” in the background. Such is life when you’re a member of Kids in the Hall.
“It’s actually what makes the touring fun, because it’s always just a little bit terrifying,” McKinney said by phone amid KITH’s first major U.S. tour in seven years. “It’s never fully locked down.”
Given their 30-plus years of chemistry, the improv-reared comics should pull it off, one way or another, when they perform Saturday at the State Theatre. Since ending their eponymous TV show in 1995, the quirky cast has reunited for occasional tours, blending new material with sketches from the show’s five-season run.
With a surrealist style of comedy often likened to Monty Python, Kids in the Hall shot to cable fame in the late ’80s after Lorne Michaels’ team discovered them in Toronto. The bigwig producer initially plucked McKinney and pre-KITH accomplice Bruce McCulloch for writing gigs with “Saturday Night Live.” But a year later, Michaels helped develop/produce “The Kids in the Hall” sketch show with the whole group, including Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald and Scott Thompson.
“Lorne wanted us to do whatever we wanted to do creatively,” McKinney said. “He was the perfect producer because he’d done it once before with the original cast of ‘SNL,’ so he knew how to let creative types have their free rein.”
And to flourish, these cross-dressing Canadians required a long leash. Recurring sketches involved asthmatic pimps, cabbage-haired misogynists and, of course, McKinney’s infamously disturbing Chicken Lady — a sex-crazed hen-woman who had exploding-feather orgasms.
In comedy, timing is everything. And while the Kids’ darker, offbeat humor may not have been commercially viable enough for major American networks, HBO and Canada’s CBC latched on during the ’80s cable boom. “We were very lucky in the sense that we were one of the first comedians to catch the cable wave,” McKinney said.
Still, after its first season, “KITH” was canceled. But a flood of CableACE Award nominations — including a win for McKinney’s Headcrusher character, a bitter Eastern European who squashed heads between his fingers — gave Michaels ammo to fight for the show’s reinstatement. By the end of the fifth season, the Kids wanted to broach the big screen (à la Monty Python) and voted on whether to shoot a sixth. “My hand was the only one that shot up,” McKinney recalled.
While their film debut “Brain Candy” received a lukewarm response, the comedy quintet was already cemented as a cult favorite. McKinney briefly returned to “SNL,” though he says he “bombed” because he was still “completely committed to Kids in the Hall’s super-weird style of doing things.”
But now the band is back together and, at least for 26 dates, as weird as they want to be. Which is how it should be for a troupe where there’s seemingly no such thing as too far out there.
“Usually the question is, ‘Have I gone far enough to stand out, to anger or amuse my compadres?’ ” McKinney said.
Kids in the Hall
When: 8 p.m. Sat.
Where: State Theatre, 805 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.
Tickets: 612-339-7007 or www. hennepin theatretrust.org.