Back onstage for the first time in five years, the Kids are more than all right --- the masters of the absurd are in top form. On the first leg of a North American tour that kicked off Jan. 14 in Vancouver, their three L.A. performances provided a much-needed fix for devotees of their singular brand of humor. In the half-decade since their TV show ended, the members of the Toronto troupe have parlayed their comic talents into various film, television and legit projects, but for Kids in the Hall fans --- out in ardent force for Jan. 22's sold-out show --- nothing compares to the explosive chemistry of their five-man magic.

Back onstage for the first time in five years, the Kids are more than all right — the masters of the absurd are in top form. On the first leg of a North American tour that kicked off Jan. 14 in Vancouver, their three L.A. performances provided a much-needed fix for devotees of their singular brand of humor. In the half-decade since their TV show ended, the members of the Toronto troupe have parlayed their comic talents into various film, television and legit projects, but for Kids in the Hall fans — out in ardent force for Jan. 22′s sold-out show — nothing compares to the explosive chemistry of their five-man magic.

Their show is dubbed “Kids in the Hall 2000 Tour: Same Guys … New Dresses,” and they began appropriately in drag, with an opening skit reuniting the typing-pool gals, four decidedly unhip but lovable women in polyester and bad hair (David Foley’s supervisor Mrs. Ferguson, in comparison, made her entrance in a smart gray suit and semi-sensible shoes). The sketch climaxed in an exuberantly choreographed routine to “We Got the Funk,” setting the stage for the ensuing high-energy craziness.

Nearly two hours later, they closed the evening with an encore as five regular guys shooting the breeze, raising their beer bottles to a deceased friend, a bit that moved from the maudlin to the macabre with breathtaking, matter-of-fact ease.

The new show improves upon their last live performances with more new material and smart use of backscreen projections that bear KITH’s signature mix of the ordinary and the surreal. As well as displaying filmed lead-ins for several sketches, the triptych of screens ably created settings for the Kids’ antics, with a varying array of tables, chairs and beds filling in the rest and effective sound work enhancing the shenanigans. Jim Millan’s assured direction kept the hilarity coming at a brisk pace.

The tour reprises time-tested faves from the TV show — the Chicken Lady (Mark McKinney), daughter of a drifter and a hen; the schlock-horror duo Simon and Hecubus (Kevin McDonald and Foley); the ludicrously dim-bulb cops with delusions of crime-fighting grandeur (Bruce McCulloch and McKinney); the disturbed dweeb Headcrusher (McKinney); Foley and Scott Thompson’s hookers (in a bit filmed on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame only weeks before the tour began); and Thompson’s brilliantly outre Buddy Cole, the martini-swilling queen who’s never wanting for an opinion. In spangled vest and silk pants, Buddy held forth on everything from David Crosby to virtual pets to “the Cuban boy who everybody wants.”

Though some of their most familiar bits are grounded in physical shtick, it’s the Kids’ deliriously subversive take on middle-class manners and hypocrisy, and the way they fully inhabit their characters with subtle, laser-sharp acting, that set their comedy above the norm. Exemplifying the troupe’s genius for characterization and genre-bending was their Bad Doctor routine, a skit straight from the series, and one of the stage show’s highlights.

Moseying into the farmhouse kitchen and insisting on sitting down to a slice of fresh-baked pie, Foley’s folksy physician is infuriatingly oblivious to the literal life-and-death struggle going on in the next room between Thompson’s bedridden farmer and McKinney’s scythe-bearing Grim Reaper, decked out in black threads straight from “The Seventh Seal.”

Hints about corpses from the farmer’s young son (McCulloch) go unheeded as the Bad Doctor enjoys his apple pie, and the troupe has added a few startling pedophile touches that weren’t in the small-screen version — at least not in its airings on Comedy Central, which censors some of the Kids’ more outrageous moments. The sketch manages to send up conventions of film and TV as well as small-town mores without taking a heavy-handed satirical stance; it’s KITH comedy at its most inspired.

And in the show’s most extreme skit, and one of the funniest, the Kids’ twisted take on suburbia reached dazzling heights with their portrayal of two couples, longtime neighbors, relaxing after a home-cooked meal. The commonplace setup gets torn to smithereens when Thompson’s husband decides to make himself comfortable among friends, first by unbuttoning his trousers and then by helping himself to his neighbor’s wife (McDonald). While their spouses are panting away at the other end of the dining room table, Foley’s milquetoast husband and McKinney’s embarrassed wife strain to carry on polite conversation.

Altogether, this opportunity to see the Kids live was an unadulterated treat. And it leaves a fan hungering for the bigscreen follow-up to the group’s overlooked 1995 “Brain Candy,” a heady and incisive look at conformity, corporate culture and Prozac. Surely it’s time for the Kids in the Hall to commit more of their brilliant lunacy to film.

The Kids in the Hall

(WILTERN THEATER; 2,326 SEATS; $ 42.50 TOP)

Production

LOS ANGELES A Bill Graham Presents/DelsenerSlater/Avalon Attractions presentation. Directed by Jim Millan. Writers, David Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson.

Crew

Sets, Millan, Gregory Keen; costumes, Wendy Mae Moore; lighting, Errol Reinart. Films directed by McCulloch, Foley. Tour manager, Karen Campbell. Reviewed Jan. 22, 2000. Running time: 1 HOUR, 45 MIN.

With

With: David Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson.
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