From Page to Stage to Screen: How Bruce McCulloch adapted Young Drunk Punk from initial concept into a national TV show. [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]

Taylor Erwin Comedians, Hall of Fame

Bruce McCulloch
By: Cheryl Meyer

Bruce McCulloch has made a career of adapting sketches, ideas, and stories into stage productions, feature films, and successful TV shows. Deservingly, Bruce is a celebrated cornerstone of the Canadian comedy scene as his contributions have not only helped pioneer exploratory sketch comedy and its derivative styles, but his current projects are on the highest echelon of national programming, both domestically and abroad. TL;DR, we can learn a lot from Bruce!

From his five (5) seasons with The Kids in the Hall to his most recent showYoung Drunk Punk, to his features Dog Park and Kids in the Hall: Brain CandyBrooklyn 99, and has directed several feature films and productions including Superstar, starring SNL’s Molly Shannon, in the past.

His most recent adventure, Young Drunk Punk, is an original comedy about the trials and tragedies of growing up on the fringes of society. It’s a look back at simpler times and a complicated age – and at two young rebels determined to stay true to themselves, and to fight against the scratchy caftan of conformity. Sound familiar?

We chat with Bruce McCulloch about the life-cycle of Young Drunk Punk, the significance of performance, community, and advice for aspiring creators.

Bruce and his TV (and actual) wife Tracy Ryan

Bruce and his TV (and actual) wife Tracy Ryan

What was your original inspiration for Young Drunk Punk?

Young Drunk Punk originally started as these weird, mostly-true stories I wrote about my life, and someone from the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival approached me about putting it into a show, which I accepted- even though I didn’t have a title. Back in the days of Kids in the Hall, I used to write titles first then wonder what the sketch would be. I tried to come up with a compelling title to try and get some press, maybe get on Q or something, and hopefully get more people coming out to the show. I mean, that’s where I was with it- I just wanted to put on a good live show.

Once Young Drunk Punk hit me, it helped me find direction and bring the show together. Luckily, a TV exec came and saw my show at the Sketch Fest, and said ‘you know, that part of your teenage years would be a great series.’ I thought it might be a stupid idea, but after I thought about it a while, I was like “Yeah, let’s just do it.”

From concept to completion, how long did you work on developing your pilot?

In TV Land, it was really quite fast, like a year and a half! It got picked up in June last year, and we started shooting in September which is- as they say down East- “wicked fast”. Sometimes things just work like that, while other times things don’t go anywhere.

It seems like Young Drunk Punk comes from a very personal and real place. How much of the show is autobiographical?

Well, they’re all idealized versions of yourself which help make a story go a little further. Like my story about the bad sex weekend with my wife…that’s true, it’s just amped up a bit for comedy. Or like the story from when I was 10 and my Dad was drunk and simply had to drive; that’s one of the times you just unleash in your recollection and writing.
One of the episodes which hits closest to home is S01E05, ‘The Clash is Coming”, which is about me trying to get tickets to the Clash. It’s a story that deals with the loneliness of waiting for something to come through your town, and about fighting with my dad to make us feel closer. I just really feel like that was what I was going through at the time.
Episode 102

Having created the show, did you have yourself in mind for the role of Ian’s father, Loyd, (or really, your father)?

No actually, I had someone else in mind. I was the last person I thought would be playing the role. But the more we talked to people interested in the series, the more people were saying “you’re going to play Lloyd, aren’t you?” I just wasn’t seeking out acting, and certainly wasn’t looking to star in a show. I hadn’t done anything like that since Kids in the Hall. I was more focused on being a good writer, and a good director.

But once we started and I played Lloyd, I had this epiphany about the series and I really enjoyed performing. I got to play a role based on my Dad, and I got to play it from a truthful place. Once I did, it all made perfect sense; it’s just weird that sometimes things are right in front of you and you don’t even see them.

As the creator, writer, actor and director, do you ever struggle with certain challenges because you’re so close to the show?

Definitely. During my time with Kids in the Hall, people would tell us, “No, I don’t like that” or “that’s not funny”. But as the boss, it’s harder for people to say that they don’t like an idea, which sometimes mean you can obsess over an idea, which is good because someone has to steer the ship! But honestly, I try to be as open to everyone as you can be throughout the whole process.

How did you pick your writers for the Young Drunk Punk writer’s room?

My right hand man was Gary Campbell. He’s been around forever and I started with him in comedy all the way back in Calgary. Then of course there’s Kayla Lorette, who is so funny and so cool…I just had to bring her in. Finding all of our writers is actually kind of like finding a romantic partner in a way; there’s always an appeal because they just click, or they’re weird and make you laugh. There are tons of talented people around, but I find it’s always the people that you’d want to go on a road trip with.

The Kids in the Hall (from left): Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Dave Foley, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson.

The Kids in the Hall (from left): Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Dave Foley, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson.

How important is it to have a background in stand-up, sketch or improvisation?

I don’t think I know of anyone who hasn’t done sketch or improv…they simply wouldn’t come into my view. I find some writers create things to simply put on their feed, whole others go out to actually perform it. I think getting in the shoes of the character makes you a better writer, and actually allows you to see what the actor would go through. It’s like ‘what are the actors seeing in this scene verses what is the comedic idea or intention’? Even Gary jumps into performing occasionally to help understand what characters are going to be doing in every scene.

Over your lifelong career, you’ve helped create or been a part of projects in the comedy zeitgeist; from your start with Kids in the Hall, to SNL, to becoming a prolific comedic director and creator of two sitcoms, what advice do you have for performers who are in the early stages of their careers?

Sure, we all want to get somewhere…but we should enjoy what we’re doing now. Everyone wants to get an agent or do a show.

Also, there’s strength in numbers…the community is your strength. It allows some people to develop personas which can help market themselves, while others pair up and join troupes to obtain a wider reach and allow people to find you. When you look around the scene, sure you’ll see them as competitors, but you’ll also see them as your friends. In that sense, look to each other for help and inspiration, because those people will always be around. To be fans of each other is great.

There’s something also that happens with age; relaxation. When people are younger, they’re always asking, ‘what should I do, write a spec script? Get in a room? What’? No one talks about “fun”. You have to have fun. I still think my journey is to just enjoy what I’m doing.

Young Drunk Punk is on Tuesdays at 9:00pm, on CBC. Updates HERE!

About Cheryl Meyer

Cheryl Meyer is a screenwriter currently based out of Toronto. In film and television, Cheryl currently has a half-hour drama series “Downbeat” in development with Fifth Ground Entertainment, while her series pilot for “Mock Band” premieres on Bell FibeTV in January 2016. She has written, produced and directed several of her own award-winning short films, “Downsize Games”, “Spatula Breakthrough” and “Old Friends”, among other projects. Cheryl’s first feature film is in development with Gearshift Films and SevMar Films. Notably, Cheryl is also a two-time published literary author, and her books “Making it in High Heels”, an anthology for women in business, and “The Red Flag Rulebook” with Burman Books, are available in Chapters Indigo. She also likes tea…a lot.