Cluck, Cluck: An Oral History of Kids in the Hall's Chicken Lady
CBC Comedy talks to the Kids in the Hall about how they hatched one of their most iconic characters
The Kids in the Hall's iconic Chicken Lady is, naturally, the part human, part chicken offspring of a farmer and a hen. She's a sexually obsessed freak of nature with a large physique and unique voice whose infatuation with men leads her to have explosive, feather bursting orgasms.
So, how did this absurdity come together?
CBC Comedy caught up with four of the original cast — Bruce McCulloch, Scott Thompson, Kevin McDonald and Mark McKinney — to talk about the origins of Chicken Lady and how it quickly became one of the most beloved characters on the show.
Note: All interviews were adjusted for context, clarity and flow.
Cooking up the Chicken Lady
Chicken Lady first appeared on KITH in season two and became such a hit, not only with the cast but the audiences, that it merited a recurring stint.
Bruce McCulloch: Chicken Lady was from another scene that actually goes back to our Rivoli days when we were doing stuff live.
Mark McKinney: Kevin had written a sketch about a circus freak, now in therapy, refusing to perform for some hectoring kids, on his 'me' time.
Scott Thompson: A freak who can make his nose bleed at will. And people came from all over to see this man that can make his nose bleed just by thinking about it.
Kevin McDonald: I was the nose bleeder but I've gone to self-help groups and so the scene is me at the freak show and there's 10-year-old kids complaining that they've paid their 10 cents and I'm not nose bleeding. And I'm saying: 'I'm aware of myself, I don't have to nose bleed, I know who I am now.' And that goes on for a few pages.
In the original script I said, 'Go to the Chicken Lady, she's an emotional dependent, she'll lay you eggs at the drop of a hat.' And all it was is I said, 'chicken lady', and when I read the script, 'cause we had the read through every Friday in those days, Bruce McCulloch said: 'We should cut to the Chicken Lady, the scene should then be the Chicken Lady being an emotional dependent laying tons and tons of eggs to please the kids.'
I thought that was a good note so when I rewrote it, I said, 'Cut to the Chicken Lady' and they said, 'Who should be the Chicken Lady? Oh, Mark would be a funny Chicken Lady.'
ST: It came out of nowhere, it was literally born just like that, instantly. It was Kevin's idea and it was Mark who took the ball and ran with it.
BM: What we were probably pretty good at sometimes is just picking up scraps and making something out of them [says laughingly].
And Mark had to do all the parts like that, that are weird so he said: 'Yeah, I'll do the Chicken Lady' and he just did such a funny cluck, cluck [makes a sound] Chicken Lady thing.
He's a real character actor.
ST: Everybody has their own skillset and one of Mark's skillsets is that he can play anything. He's very capable of playing characters that aren't as remotely like him. He's just skilled that way, he just got that gift.
MM: I was the one who did that type of 'deep dive' character.
And the first CL read through was a smash. After we read the sketch, we discussed whether we should tag the sketch with the Chicken Lady. I was up for it.
ST: Then we all thought, 'Yeah let's see what that's like' and I think Mark just asked Gerry and Judy, who did our hair and makeup, to turn him into a half man, half chicken.
BM: And Mark's very specific to how he's trying to figure stuff out. He actually brought someone in, like an animal expert or a dance person, and they were in a rehearsal hall moving around like chickens. The producers had to bring in and pay someone to do this with him. And, of course, the rest of us were just like looking through the little window saying: 'What an idiot he is'.
ST: I just remember Mark coming onto the floor and he just started talking like her in that voice and immediately it went to how sexual it was. And he just started talking filth and it made everybody laugh.
And I remember watching it all and going, 'This is amazing! This might be the greatest sketch character ever.' I knew it immediately.
MM: We all knew it would be good. That's actually rare for us. We are usually surprised.
BM: It was one of those ones that we rushed into production even though it wasn't kind of written. He wrote it as we were filming, just 'cause we knew it was gonna be a good one.
KM: And then all that week, when we did that scene, Mark stayed in character the whole week which drove us crazy.
MM: When I put on the costume, the voice just arrived — along with a whole bunch of ideas. Norm Hiscock and I wrote up the first full sketch later that season.
KM: And, I guess, the rest is Chicken Lady history.
A disturbingly funny imbecile
KM: The second biggest character [of Kids in the Hall], I would say, is Chicken Lady.
ST: It's the kind of character where I went, 'Oh, I would have loved to have created that.' But it was really, again, Mark and Kevin.
MM: I only realized later that the outrageousness of the character was the main thing.
ST: I think a lot of it is the way they made him look. And it allowed Mark to channel, I don't know, some sort of deep dark 'it'. I think that's what makes it sort of beautiful is that she's such a disturbing character.
A lot of comic characters are disturbing because they talk about our darker impulses. Comic characters are not meant to be imitated. Comic characters usually aren't people you should imitate. They're usually characters who are doing things that are wrong or silly or self destructive.
Comic characters always reflect things about humanity that humanity would rather look away from. I just think that Chicken Lady is just 'it'.- Scott Thompson
I mean, on so many levels it's so wrong, it is just demented actually. Promiscuous imbecile who's half person, half chicken?
Some people get sick over it, it makes them ill. They're very disturbed by her which I think makes her great. It's absurd, it sounds hilarious, it looks hilarious. And that kind of rampant out of control sexuality is just very amusing to people because I think so many people would like to be like that, but they're not stupid enough to be like that.
Chicken Lady has got about three brain cells. If you did that sketch as an actual woman, promiscuous woman, it would not work but because she's a chicken, it works. That's what's so good about that.
BM: You never know how far something can go. You just keep trying to ride it or figure it out or elevate it.
That one felt like a hit. I mean a lot of other ones we do, I'm not even sure they were gonna work and then they end up to be our favourites…. So you have an instinct that one is really gonna hit but you're only right, maybe half the time.
And even to this day, not that we've toured that much recently, but the first Chicken Lady that Mark plays with Dave [Foley] is one of our sort of standards that is just so fun to do and for the audience to watch.