The long lost musical project of ‘The Kids in the Hall’ alums Scott Thompson and Paul Bellini finally gets its due

Their 1980s art punk band Mouth Congress is making up for lost time

Before The Kids in the Hall, the cult Canadian comedy TV series that ran from 1989 to 1995, there was Mouth Congress. Formed in the mid-1980s by Kids cast member Scott Thompson and series writer Paul Bellini, the outrageously gay performance art punk band began on the same Toronto stages as the beloved sketch comedy troupe. Even if their songs were delivered like jokes, there were deadly serious messages and immensely catchy melodies to be found among their sizeable back catalogue.

Looking back at those years of rampant homophobia, Thompson believes that the live performances from Mouth Congress may have been too queer, too confrontational and too naked for the band to develop a following, but they’re now making up for decades of lost time. Throughout their brief but prolific existence, the group amassed hundreds of songs, despite the fact that they never released a proper album and often performed to half-empty rooms. Thanks to Bellini’s tireless efforts at documentation, Mouth Congress have become the subject of both a documentary that is currently touring the film festival circuit, and a double-album compilation from New York label Captured Tracks

Early on in the documentary, which premiered at the 2021 Kingston Canadian Film Festival, a young Thompson appears onstage, scowling at the audience, glistening with sweat and sticking out his Gene Simmons-sized tongue. He aggressively removes layers of clothing as the musicians behind him make an unholy racket. After stripping down to his tighty whities, Thompson comically reveals a colourful jock strap, then another under that one, eventually peeling off an entire stack of banana hammocks.

“That footage was my first inspiration to make the film,” says Bellini on a three-way Zoom call with Thompson and Xtra. “I remember thinking that if Martin Short or another major comedian did something like that in his early 20s, a lot of people would want to see it. The song isn’t very good because we were just screaming, but it’s an astonishing exhibition.”

“I should be mortified,” laughs Thompson, “but I look at that footage and think ‘I was really something back then!’ We wanted people to see us when we were in our prime.”

The Kids in the Hall have five regular members; Thompson is the only openly gay one, but two of his straight colleagues pop up in the Mouth Congress documentary. Following a brief introduction from fellow member Bruce McCulloch, the film introduces a narrative structure inspired by The Princess Bride. Fellow Kid Kevin McDonald tells a bedtime story to his niece Melancholy (played by Abigail Nadeau) about the band’s early days, which frequently found him joining their spontaneous jam sessions. “They believed it was possible to love Barbra Streisand and Johnny Rotten,” says McDonald. “I was always up for Mouth Congress because those queens knew how to party.”

 

“The idea that openly gay men could front a band in the 1980s was completely ridiculous, but we didn’t care!”

The band’s founders first met at Toronto’s York University in 1978, bonding as writers for the student newspaper. Bellini is introduced in the film as “a soft, round child” who “almost failed grade nine phys ed because he was psychologically incapable of doing a somersault.” Meanwhile, Thompson is described as “an accident-prone asthmatic from a rambunctious family of five boys.” Early projects from the duo included their Woody Allen parody, Posteriors, that featured Thompson in drag—naturally. As he and Bellini worked on Mouth Congress and their other creative efforts, Thompson would also join the Kids at weekly theatre sports events. 

While living together in the co-ed residence of Vanier College, Mouth Congress’s core duo was introduced to a rotating cast of musical collaborators. They included 17-year-old rocker Brian Hiltz from Halifax, future film director Rob Rowatt (who was dating Bellini’s sister) and actor/writer Gord Disley, a straight-edge goth from Bellini’s hometown of Timmins. After renting a beatbox with mambo and samba rhythms from a Toronto music equipment store, they began making up ridiculous songs with whoever was available for a stoned basement jam, always with a VHS camcorder and cassette recorder running.

“Growing up, my parents encouraged me to become a lawyer or a hockey player,” says Thompson. “But once Paul and I discovered this, no one was going to stop us. Nothing else mattered because of the joy we found from being creative. Of course, we were also wildly naive about the world. The idea that openly gay men could front a band in the 1980s was completely ridiculous, but we didn’t care!”

Mouth Congress persisted throughout the decade, regularly performing at the Kids’ Toronto homebase, the Rivoli, as well as venues like El Convento Rico and the Silver Dollar. Early footage shows them gyrating onstage in leather jackets, robes, wigs or John Belushi costumes while developing enduring characters such as Buddy Cole, who first appeared in the band’s performances. “Scott was always stripping and attacking the audience, begging for their love,” says McDonald in the doc. “Nowadays, we’d call it assault. Back then we’d just call it punk.”

Mouth Congress’s massive archive of songs range in fidelity from professional studio recordings to fuzzy home tapes that are so DIY they make Hardcore Devo sound like Steely Dan. Off-the-cuff lyrics about gay sex, pro-choice politics and Julie Newmar are equal parts edgy and silly, while the choruses are repeated insistently until they become earworms. Pushing back against homophobia with increasingly elaborate live performances, Mouth Congress might have had the chance to develop a following, but those years developing the band happened at the exact moment when the Kids in the Hall headed to New York to develop a TV show. Sadly, in 1988, Mouth Congress was put on ice.

All memories of the band would have been lost to the sands of time if Bellini hadn’t rediscovered his immense archive of video footage and recordings. When original member Disley suggested uploading Mouth Congress’s music to Bandcamp, Bellini went a step beyond, arranging over 600 songs into 30 “albums” that had never been released in the first place. This led to the band’s 2016 reunion show, returning to the stage of the Rivoli for the hilarious concert documented in the second half of the film. 

“You said your name was Jim / I noticed it rhymed with rim.”

At the time of the reunion show, Mouth Congress’s Bandcamp caught the eye of Captured Tracks label founder Mike Sniper, who offered to release a compilation of the band’s 30 favourite songs. Spread across four sides of tan and pink penis-coloured vinyl, Waiting for Henry not only includes 1980s standouts such as “Young and Alive in 1975” and “I Guess I’ll Just Jerk Off Again,” but also live recordings from the 2016 reunion. Thompson’s tender love ballad “Be My Hole” is a modern Mouth Congress classic, with lyrics like “You said your name was Jim / I noticed it rhymed with rim.”

In the tradition of tumultuous music documentaries like Dig! and Some Kind of Monster, the Mouth Congress film is a warts-and-all glimpse at the duo’s creative process. After arguing with Bellini about how he doesn’t own a cellphone (he’s since changed that), we see Thompson clash with his bandmate about the confusing lyrics he has written for a song performed on his lonesome. By putting their creative heads together, the resultant song “Gerbil” ends up as a peppy character sketch from the POV of a rodent proud to be inserted into a man’s ass. 

“I’m a Kid in the Hall, so I’m used to fighting, as I’m sure you’ve heard,” laughs Thompson. “Just because you’re trying to create something beautiful, it doesn’t mean the steps to get there will be. As we kept editing the documentary over and over to find the best parts, we realized that a fight is something the audience needed to see. I don’t come off all that well, but that’s okay. We didn’t want to hide who we are, though maybe we should have.”

Whatever foot they decide to put forward—or is that in?—Mouth Congress is finally hitting a stride. The band’s inaugural out of town performance will take place on May 21 at the PhilaMOCA gallery in Philadelphia, where they will perform two sets and present the documentary. Thompson remains busy with acting projects including an upcoming Kids in the Hall revival, while Bellini teaches comedy writing at Humber College in Toronto. Nonetheless, Mouth Congress maintains a special place in their hearts. Even if the band’s shows in the 1980s were sparsely attended and barely anyone heard their recordings at the time, they couldn’t help but break new ground.

“Mouth Congress was pretty radical,” concludes Bellini, “but the stakes were so low that we could get away with anything.”

Jesse Locke

Jesse Locke (he/him) is a writer and musician based in the traditional, unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, also known as Vancouver. He currently contributes to outlets including Pitchfork, Bandcamp Daily, The Wire, CBC Music and Xtra. Jesse is the author of the book Heavy Metalloid Music: The Story of Simply Saucer, and co-founder of the We Are Time record label with Chandra Oppenheim. He plays drums with Tough Age, Kerkland Jerks, and more.

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