Those who can do, teach – Kevin McDonald shares his comedy secrets

Everyone’s a comedian – that’s one cliche come true in the age of the internet. What will NEVER become a famous saying, according to Canadian comic actor Kevin McDonald, is this: “Everyone’s a GOOD comedian.”

But he’s here to help. The Kids in the Hall member perhaps best known as the “Slipped My Mind” Guy is in Edmonton this week running sketch comedy workshops at the Varscona Theatre, where he will also test his improv skills in a public show Tuesday night at 10 p.m with members of Rapid Fire Theatre (buy tickets here).

“They’ll be way better than me and I’ll try not to get in their way,” McDonald says, humbly. “I’m not a very good improviser.”

Such self-deprecation is not evident when he’s talking about his new-found passion for teaching – something he stumbled on when he did a fill-in spot for a recent workshop in Toronto, found out he loved it, and then got bitten by the touring bug. And here we are.

“If I can be arrogant for a second, it seems like I’m pretty good at it,” McDonald says. He points out that these comedy workshops are usually run by “some guy who was on Cheers once,” and this one is run by a working comedy professional of whom people will exclaim, “My God, I grew up watching this guy. You’re learning directly from the guy who really did it and still does it all the time.”

This is McDonald’s first mentoring tour – Edmonton’s workshops sold out the fastest, he notes – and he’s been thrilled to encounter students excitedly jotting notes “as if they were 12 years old instead of 35.” Well, gifted 12-year-olds, anyway.

The teacher says he’s as excited as his students, that he may have found a lucrative and fulfilling sideline. The money is pretty good for seminar gigs like this, he says, supplementing a still-thriving TV and movie career. Among numerous other projects, McDonald can be seen in the upcoming horror-comedy feature Dead Before Dawn 3D.

Something strange seems to be going on here. Or maybe it’s another damned coincidence. Recently Steve Morse from Deep Purple was at the Yardbird Suite giving a guitar workshop. Ryan Stock – extreme circus guy – offers fire breathing lessons. This is just local. The list goes on. The new cliché is clear: Those who CAN do, teach.

Even celebrities still have to work. Scary thought: As it gets more difficult to make a living as an entertainer because of competition from other entertainers, more and more professional entertainers will be driven to teach others to be better entertainers, thus increasing the competition among entertainers in a never-ending cycle of show business entertainer mentoring where everyone’s a teacher, too – those who can and those who can’t alike. The mind reels.

On the other hand, relax: this is nothing new, and having people like McDonald share the secrets of their magician’s art in apprenticeship programs will help ensure it doesn’t become a lost art. He says that he can definitely help people with their sketch comedy skills, that while he can’t make you funny, “I can make you better.” Techniques include writing scenes through performance and improv games, and just learning by getting on stage as much as possible, which can be lesson enough.

“All the classes in the world couldn’t make you a funny person,” McDonald says. “Dave Foley and I subscribe to the natural theory: You got it or you don’t. But much like hockey, Wayne Gretzky didn’t become the best hockey player in the world just by being a natural. He worked at it every day.”

Sketch comedy is McDonald’s area of expertise, of course. Kids in the Hall routines, part of Canadian pop lore as much as anything from either Saturday Night Live or Monty Python, holds up for several reasons: High production values (can’t teach that, either), sharp writing and a focus on timeless material that had no current resonance whatsoever.

“I think it holds up because we never read newspapers and never did anything current to the times,” McDonald says. “Saturday Night Live is all about being current. Well, it has the word ‘live’ in it, so it all makes sense.”