Room for Rent — An Interview with Mark McKinney

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There were so many filmmakers I had the opportunity to talk with or interview at the San Diego International Film Festival. I’m so bummed there were a few I just didn’t have the time to fit into my schedule, but the last one I wanted to post was for the movie Room for Rent. Writer/director Matthew Atkinson gave us a terrific dark comedy about a high school student that wins the lottery, and a few years later, he’s completely broke and living back with his parents. After the dad is let go, money is tight. That leads to them renting out a room, and it’s to a guy who might have an agenda nobody knows about.

I wrote a review on the movie previously, but was ecstatic that I got to talk to the comedic actor that played the father — Mark McKinney, one of the founding members of The Kids in the Hall, which I think is best comedy troupe ever. Better than any Saturday Night Live cast (McKinney was also an SNL cast member for a few years). Better than Monty Python, Second City, or any of them.

Here’s my conversation with McKinney:


JOSH BOARD: I thought you were perfect for this part, because you had to be believable as a tough disciplinarian, but also make us laugh when you throw out a financial plan. Did playing those fathers on Kids in the Hall help with that?

MARK McKINNEY: It must have, probably even more than being a real dad, ‘cause this dad is so disappointed in his kid.

JOSH BOARD: On the subject of dads…did any of the Kids in the Hall dads get mad at the bit where you guys all talked about how you’d kill your dad?

MARK McKINNEY: I’m pretty sure mine wasn’t and kind of wonder if Kevin and Bruce’s was. Hard to ask those two though because…we killed ‘em.

(you can see the skit I’m referring to here:

JOSH BOARD: You’re obviously a talented writer. Kids in the Hall is proof of that. I’m obviously not the best interviewer, because I keep mentioning KITH in every question instead of this new, terrific movie Room for Rent. But…because you have a comedic mind, do you read a script like this and think of things to add or make suggestions? Or do you just go with what they got on the page?

MARK McKINNEY: Largely you go with what’s on the page by the time you’re shooting, though I met with Matt and we went over the broader story before we left to shoot. TV sitcoms are a bit different. On ‘Superstore’ we always do a few takes as written and then they usually let us ‘play’ for another where we can run with our ideas. It’s always sweet when a good improv turns up in the episode.

JOSH BOARD: One of the pleasant surprises was that you weren’t the funniest part of this movie. Your wife in the movie (Stephnie Weir) had some good lines. Obviously, the kid (Mark Little) cracked us up with his laziness and cluelessness. But Carl…played by Brett Gelman. What can you tell me about him? This is the type of guy that makes you laugh just looking at his face. And the way he delivers lines. His comedic timing is perfect. Did you know him before this movie, and if not … how much did he crack you up on the set?

MARK McKINNEY: He is a very interesting guy and was a good hang off camera. I did not know him but, of course, when I got back to LA after the shoot I found out everybody else did and knows what a special talent he is.

JOSH BOARD: This is a good dark comedy, that I fear won’t get the attention it deserves. I’m glad we have avenues like the San Diego International Film Festival in which we get to see movies like this. Does it bother you that the latest Adam Sandler movie might make $100 million and this might be a film hardly anybody sees?

MARK McKINNEY: Not a bit. To each their own. The great thing about the recent fracturing of the audience is that ‘special’ stuff can find its audience and, almost more importantly, endure in some online library for a good long time. So while it might be true that an 80’s classic like Spinal Tap might not get made as a feature, it would definitely have its day on Netflix or somewhere.

JOSH BOARD: Okay, more Kids in the Hall questions now. Is there any character or skit you did that you thought would’ve been more popular than it was?

MARK McKINNEY: Not anymore. Maybe Darill because I loved playing him so much. But I can’t think of a sketch where I am still going “Why!? WHY NOT THIS ONE!?”

JOSH BOARD: How annoying is it when somebody comes up to you and says “I’m crushing your head”? Or, is it flattering each time. Comedians often say they hate when people come up and ask you to be funny, or expect you to say something witty off the top of your head. In this day and age where everybody wants selfies…is that more annoying?

MARK McKINNEY: Recognition – particularly positive recognition – is always a good sign. It doesn’t get annoying because KITH fans are fans in the way I remember being a comedy fan. I can relate. Also phone selfies are 10 times faster than the old camera shots where you had to find a stranger and explain all the buttons.

JOSH BOARD: Was there ever a time you started laughing during a skit? The only time I can remember seeing somebody start to crack up, was when Bruce played the old guy that held up his poo. One of you guys is trying hard not to laugh. Any skits you can think of where that happened?

MARK McKINNEY: I think I was very serious about not breaking back then. Too serious. It was a point of pride so I fought it hard!

JOSH BOARD: Lastly, regarding KITH….the last time I saw anybody live…it was Scott Thompson and Kevin McDonald doing stand-up together. It was fun, but…I’m wondering if another tour or movie is possible in the future.

MARK McKINNEY: We talk about it all the time. It’s hard to co-ordinate with 5 but I would bet we get something going sooner rather than later.

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