In 1996, the movie Brain Candy by The Kids in the Hall based its comedy on the funniest topic the Kids could think of: depression. In the movie, doctors devise a new antidepressant drug that locks the patient into his or her happiest moment, reliving it over and over. Unfortunately, the drug is rushed to market, and severe side effects become apparent only after the world is hooked on the drug.
While Brain Candy is a cult classic (and a huge favorite of mine), sadly it lost a bunch of money. It marked the beginning of a four-year hiatus (read: breakup) for The Kids in the Hall. Here's some trivia you can enjoy before dunking the drug.
1. It Was Supposed to Be Called "The Drug"
Brain Candy's working title was The Drug, but Paramount executives nixed it. Apparently Paramount doesn't share an ad team with Roritor Pharmaceuticals.
2. Cancer Boy's Marrow is Low
Paramount executives fought hard to have Cancer Boy removed from the film, but lost that battle. The Kids insisted that he remain, and that his song "Whistle When You're Low" remain as well. Maybe there's hope for him after all. Years later, Bruce McCulloch recalled:
Cancer Boy was, arguably, what kind of financially killed Brain Candy. I love Cancer Boy more than anybody. I was tired of the way that little kids with cancer were used by celebrities for photo ops. If the kid goes into remission, does Wayne Gretzky still visit him? It was about how cheery a sick little kid could be, and he was worried about everyone else around him. And, of course, that pissed off a lot of people, even though it was only a cameo.
Mark McKinney commented on the group's thought process:
[Cancer Boy] wasn't an issue for us, but it was for the powers-that-be, the heads of the studio, who wanted it out and then didn't understand why the neophyte comedy troupe from Canada, with only cult appeal, was not listening to them. We thought, "Great, we won the battle, and they're not going to ignore a $7 million movie, are they?" But they kind of can.
Here's the scene:
3. The Queen Approves
Cancer Boy wasn't the only pre-existing Kids in the Hall character to appear in the film. Bigot Cabbie, White Trash Couple, Raj, Lacey, Melanie, Nina Bedford (aka Nina Spudkneeyak), The Queen, and the Police Department cops are all in there.
4. The Movie was Surrounded by Death
For a comedy, the movie is pretty dark, focusing on themes of depression, alienation, suicide, sexual repression, corporate greed, loneliness, you name it. This is partly explained by all the real-life darkness that descended on the troupe before shooting. Scott Thompson explained:
"In the period of a month, Dave’s marriage broke up, one of Kevin’s parents died and my brother committed suicide. I was pretty much in shock. My brother died literally a week before we started shooting. All those things conspired to make it a dark time."
In the film's end credits, the producers note the death of Thompson's brother. The dedication reads, "For Dean Thompson and all the Deans in the world."
5. Dave Foley is No Lady
Dave Foley is the only member of the troupe who didn't play a female character in the movie. He was starting his sitcom NewsRadio; perhaps drag wasn't seen as a wise idea for a primetime star.
6. Dave Foley Was Supposed to Play the Lead Role
Kevin McDonald wasn't originally slated to play the role of Dr. Chris Cooper; that part was supposed to go to Dave Foley. But creative tensions were so high (read: Foley didn't want to do it) that McDonald had to step into the lead. McDonald later recalled (emphasis added):
"I felt great pressure playing the lead. It took away what I do best, which is being silly around the main person. The only time you see me alive in the movie is when I play the dad killing himself."
"Ow, my other foot" indeed.
7. Mark McKinney Played the Most Roles
As is typical for KITH projects, everybody played a lot of roles—but Mark McKinney played nine. Scott Thompson clocked in at eight, Bruce McCulloch at seven, Kevin McDonald played four (one being the lead), and Dave Foley also played four (one being the "Just a guy" guy with three lines).
8. Kevin McDonald Played His Own Father
In the scene where Dr. Chris Cooper's father shoots himself offscreen, Kevin McDonald plays Cooper's father. "Young Chris Cooper" is played by Jason Barr, an Ontario native who went on to work on The Howie Mandel Show and Sailor Moon. Here's the scene:
9. Dave Foley Quit
Dave Foley is the only member of the troupe who didn't receive a writing credit on the film—because he quit the group in the middle of writing to focus on his own TV and film efforts. Longtime KITH TV writer Norm Hiscock is the only non-Kid receive a writing credit, and went on to write for King of the Hill and Parks and Rec, among others.
10. GLeeMONEX Has a Fake "Real" Name
GLeeMONEX, the drug featured in the movie, has a pseudo-scientific name: Duoroflouriximinimum 602. This is briefly visible when The Queen declares the drug "approved."
11. Don Roritor Was Based on The Kids' Boss
Don Roritor, the head of the pharmaceutical firm in the film, has a characteristic speech pattern. It's based on Lorne Michaels, the group's producer and creator of Saturday Night Live. Michaels has also inspired other film characters, including Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies.
12. Roger Ebert Hated It
Roger Ebert called Brain Candy "awful, dreadful, terrible, stupid, idiotic, unfunny, labored, forced, painful, bad." He claimed he "didn't laugh once," and openly fought Gene Siskel on the air. Here's their video review:
13. ...But Gene Siskel Loved It
And conveniently, marketing for video store owners quoted only Siskel's portion of the review in their bizarre marketing video. Seriously, look at this crazy promo video trying to sell VHS tapes to video stores.
14. The Soundtrack Ruled
The Brain Candy soundtrack is a surprisingly impressive catalogue of 90s indie rock. It includes tracks from Pavement, Liz Phair, They Might Be Giants, Guided By Voices, Yo La Tengo, Matthew Sweet, Cibo Matto, and Stereolab, among others. Tragically, it's missing Cancer Boy's "Whistle When You're Low."
15. It Had a Very Different Ending
The movie had a dramatically different ending in an early cut. Floating around in collectors' circles, this alternate version of the film has entire characters and subplots that were removed from the final version. Here's a look at that ending, in super-crappy quality. Note that there are f-bombs in here:
16. The "Alternate Cut" Was Pretty Rough
As a huge fan of the movie in the '90s, I had (and have) one of those VHS dubs of the original cut. It just doesn't work as a movie, though. While the ending is arguably better, the rest of the film is crammed with goofy extra plot lines (including a major one involving terrorists). Here's a sample of the material that was removed:
17. They Cut Janeane Garofalo's Role
18. The Film's Director Was a TV Guy
Brain Candy director Kelly Makin mostly directed TV shows (including many segments on Kids in the Hall), though he also directed the
films movies National Lampoon's Senior Trip and Mickey Blue Eyes.
19. "The Drug is Ready" is a Song Lyric
As Dr. Cooper takes an elevator to meet with the top brass at Roritor, the elevator music is "Butts Wigglin" by The Tragically Hip. That song features the lyrics "In my opinion, the drug is ready," which is what Cooper ends up telling his boss during the meeting. (Later, Dr. Cooper is asked to "wiggle those hips" on a talk show.) You can hear the whole song here:
20. Brendan Fraser Has a Cameo
Toronto actor Brendan Fraser has a brief cameo as a test subject convinced he's getting sugar pills instead of the drug, due to his severe acne. He's also visible running out of the Depression Project holding a lab rat cage, almost precisely one hour into the film. He does not appear in the film's credits.
21. The Trailer is Full of Deleted Scenes
If you take a careful look at this trailer, you'll notice it includes a bunch of material that wasn't in the final cut of the movie. We see the deleted Dave Foley terrorist character (when Foley is introduced), Don Roritor enjoying extra pepper, and plenty of extra stuff from the White Trash Couple. Watch and spot the differences:
22. Kevin McDonald's Acting is Modeled on Young Frankenstein
In an interview with The A.V. Club in 2004, Kevin McDonald recalled how he prepared to play Dr. Chris Cooper:
[Playing the part] was really hard for me, because I didn't see it as a funny part. As we had time to rewrite it, I sort of found the comedy in it. I rented Young Frankenstein and I saw Gene Wilder playing the straight part, but getting a lot of laughs reacting to everyone else. That's how I decided to play it, as a modern Young Frankenstein. And we have similar hair.
23. "Chris Cooper" Was KITH's Longtime Editor
24. Wally's License Plate Is Revealing
Wally, the repressed gay dad (who's remarkably similar to KITH's TV character Danny Husk) has a license plate reading GAY IAM. It's only visible for an instant as he marches out into his suburban street to lead the "I'm Gay!" musical parade.
25. Tool Actually Covers "Some Days It's Dark"
The fictional ultra-dark song by Grivo's band "Death Lurks" performed in Brain Candy has made its way into the real world of dark music. Tool covers it live, with more or less the same absurd lyrics. Here are the lyrics and an audio recording from a Tool concert in Ontario, 2007:
Some days it's dark. / Some days I work. / I work alone. / I walk alone.... / I know.... Sweetness / bring me / laughter / or not.