How The Kids In the Hall Launched My Web Career
I often get asked how I got started in web development, especially because I’ve been doing it since 1995, when there were no classes in web development. My answer is The Kids in the Hall.
For those of you who don’t know who they are, they’re a Canadian comedy troupe that had a show produced by Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels in the late 1980s/early 1990s. If you’re a fan of subversive comedy, do yourself a favor and check them out. Some of the era’s floppy hair and flannel shirts might be a little jarring for 21st century viewing, but the sketches pretty much stand the test of time.
People who know of them might tell you, “Oh yeah, they were those gay guys that did drag.” First, only one member of the troupe, Scott Thompson, was gay, and did not shy away from that. Thompson ultimately helped pave the way for Tyler Oakley, Hannah Hart, and other gay entertainers of this generation.
Because there were no women in the troupe, they took on the female characters. But unlike the members of Monty Python, they did not always portray women as batty old biddies. They portrayed them as prostitutes, corporate administrative assistants, and teenagers – and quite accurately. And, yes, they kissed each other on the mouth, quite intensely sometimes. And, no, the straight members of the group didn’t “turn”.
In the early 1990s, I was a freelance writer struggling to get my career started. The problem with wanting to be a writer is that everyone and their mother wants to be a writer, but only a very few and very talented and very persistent will actually make a living at it. I was dumb enough to believe I was one of those select few.
During this period, I became obsessed with The Kids in the Hall. They had their show on HBO starting in 1989, but I started watching them in 1991 when their show’s reruns ran on Comedy Central. I craved to know more about the group. Back then, we didn’t have Google and social media, where with a click of a button, you can find out when your favorite celebrity’s last bowel movement was.
I went to the library to do research on them. Because that’s what we had to do in the olden days before the Internet, kids. Most of what was written about them was from obscure Canadian magazines (at least obscure to Americans) like Chatelaine. Most of what I found was common knowledge to hard-core fans: They started as an improv group, they were discovered by Lorne Michaels, blah blah blah. I wanted to know what really made them tick.
I had two choices: a) go to Canada and stalk them, or b) write an article about them. I decided to pick the less creepy option that would give me more portfolio material. I found a publication that was willing to let me write the article (for free, of course, because writers were a dime a dozen – literally!). I got in touch with their publicist who told me I could interview two of them. That sucked because I really didn’t want to choose. But I made my decision based on what every twentysomething bases decisions: I picked the two I thought were the cutest back then: Dave Foley and Mark McKinney.
I interviewed them by phone. I wish I could tell you that I asked the deep questions that delved into their psyches that got to the core of their creative genius. But instead, I was so nervous, I came off like Chris Farley interviewing Paul McCartney (“Remember when you crushed heads? That was cool. Derp derp derp.”).
Despite my amateurish efforts, the article got published, and the publicist seemed happy with it. But I still wanted to know more. My husband at the time was very into Usenet groups. One day, out of curiosity, I asked him if there was a Kids in the Hall group. Lo and behold, there was. That’s when I discovered The Power of the Internet.
There really wasn’t much action on the alt.tv.kids-in-hall group. Just people saying, “Hi, I’m Joe and I love the Kids in the Hall.” It was like Kids in the Hall-ics Anonymous. After a while, someone announced that they were starting a forum on American Online. Keep in mind that this was 1993, long before AOL became your Grandma’s Internet.
We all flocked to the new forum. AOL was the first glimpse of a GUI for online communication, a very prehistoric version of social media. The weekly forum was a blast. From there, I found a like-minded community of deviants that loved this show. And a few of them had some inside scoop on some of the members – things like, “One time, I was in Toronto, I took a piss next to Kevin McDonald.” Like today’s social media, people were probably full of shit, but it was still interesting.
One day, the forum moderator announced that she would need to shut down our beloved forum because her job and personal life needed more attention…unless someone wanted to volunteer to take it over. As I couldn’t stand the thought of losing the forum and my connections to these crazy people, I volunteered.
I had no clue what to do but I was willing to learn. The moderator talked me through by phone what I needed to do, and I started maintaining the forum. In those days, there really wasn’t much maintenance. I just started the chats at a certain time and ended them an hour later. During the chat and during the week on the bulletin boards, I watched for any behavior that violated AOL’s rules of conduct. The online world was very limited to early adopters who had a 14.4 bps modem, and therefore very civil.
In mid 1994, the day came in which I realized I had to get a real job. I found Maxis, the Sim City folks, had a job opening for a newsletter editor and “online communications specialist” to help edit the newsletters and post promotions in online forums like AOL, CompuServe, Prodigy, etc. I realized what I was doing with the AOL KITH forum was what Maxis was looking for. Because not that many people had done this, I got the job. Soon my enthusiasm for a comedy group transferred itself into web production. I fell in love with the dynamic nature of the web. And I’ve been doing web development ever since.
I’ve come to believe that’s the key to success – find something you’re passionate about and let it take you where you need to be.
Now I work as a UX designer for Bio-Rad Laboratories, whose instruments have been on the forefront of technology in making strides to finding a cure for diseases such as Alzheimers, HIV, and even cancer.
As far as cancer, perhaps they need to look no further than Bruce McCulloch.