Why I Love My City: Bruce McCulloch on Calgary
Bruce McCulloch has played a flying pig, a grumpy old man named Gordon, even a cancer patient for laughs. The comedian, director and writer was a longtime member of the Kids in the Hall, a wildly successful and occasionally surreal comedy troupe.
Born in Edmonton, he spent his formative years in Calgary before moving to Toronto to join Kids. Currently based in Los Angeles, McCulloch has remained immersed in writing and directing comedy, working on various projects in Hollywood and with the original Kids in the Hall cast. He is also a contributor to the Calgary Herald's magazine, Swerve Calgary.
How did your years in Calgary form you as a comedian and writer?
It’s a different Calgary from the 1980’s one I grew up in. I was one of the first punks there and back then, wearing a pink t-shirt would get you beat up. It was transitioning from a cowboy and oil city to the one that is now very artistic. Now it has a lot of freaky clubs and art galleries, but back then it was bit of a desert; I’d look at the New Yorker as if it was porn.
Over time, I’ve maintained a lot of friendships including with some who run a really great theater company and I’ve gone back every year. Now it’s a city that, although its growth multiplied out into the suburbs, has a very vibrant cultural scene inside the city.
You also spent a lot of time in Edmonton, is there a palpable rivalry between the two?
Yes there is. Edmonton is smaller but in a lot of ways it's similar. There’s a highway that connects the two cities together and Edmonton got their hockey team first so that drove people in Calgary crazy. In a lot of ways it’s like the rivalry between Cleveland and Pittsburgh - we love them like our brother but we also want to put them in a headlock when we see them.
Historically, smaller Canadian cities, especially out west, seem to have a sort of disdain or resentment towards Toronto. Can you speak to that?
There was, but only a little bit now. With time, Toronto has become a bit more beleaguered. And the oil boom that kept going has really changed things for Calgary - even Edmonton too, which, back in the 80’s, was like the garage sale capital of the world. The boom has brought a lot of money into Western Canada and that has brought in money for cultural things. I live in Los Angeles now but I don’t think I could even trade houses up there, home values in Calgary have become so high.
If the members of Kids in the Hall were in their 20’s today, would it have been possible to be based out of Calgary?
I grew up knowing you were supposed to move to NYC and short of that, Toronto. Calgary has definitely changed and it’s definitely easier to now think of Calgary as a place to do more creative work. I can’t really say, maybe today we would have been an online comedy troupe based out of Calgary instead.
In Death Comes to Town, a fictional town is eagerly attempting to host the Olympics. Is that aspect of the plot influenced by Calgary’s pursuit of the 1988 Olympics?
It definitely does. There’s something about the Canadian spirit like ‘Oh yeah, we’ve got a shot, right?’ It’s not in a braggadocious or in an American way but there’s always this hope that we can do anything. The town in the show is so excited just to get the form letter.
Love and Sausages, a surreal short film set in a dystopian future society, was a particularly unique Kids in the Hall skit you created - was that influenced at all by your time in Calgary?
That was actually inspired by my interest in Eastern European film and actually, it almost broke up our troupe - but Calgary didn’t look like that. But for a young person back then, Calgary felt like that on a Friday night.
Have there been any characters or skits you developed in your work that were based on your time in Calgary?
It has a bit of an impact in all the things I do. Where you’re from and the experiences you’ve had there become more important as you get older. I’m actually working on a project now called Young, Drunk Punk and that heavily revolves around my younger years there. I still have the spirit of that young punk who got his head kicked in, and deservedly so I might add.