INTERVIEW: The Kids in the Hall’s Scott Thompson

INTERVIEW: The Kids in the Hall’s Scott Thompson

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Scott Thompson/Photo: J.M.Scott Thompson – actor, writer, stage performer, graphic novelist, singer, and homosexual.  For five years his work was presented for observation and critique on the Canadian sketch comedy program The Kids in the Hall.  A group that started out as an improvisational troupe in Toronto, ON but like all things great—ripe peaches and loose morals—found a home on the CBC thanks to SNL producer Lorne Michaels.

From The Kids in The Hall came, arguably, Thompson’s greatest, most insightful character, the Great Buddy Cole! A role model for gay youths the world-over, as well as, (and this should not be disputed) future Goodwill Ambassador of the LGBT community; a position he would surely accept, as long as his (Buddy’s) close personal friend Queen Elizabeth II presented the award.

Thompson’s work on The Larry Sanders Show further showcased his abundant talent, as did his performance in Brain Candy, the feature-length Kids in the Hall film.  Most recently he brought two new characters, Crim, the 1/16 Ojibwe and petty criminal accused of murder and Dusty Diamond, the coroner who holds a secret flame for the mayor, to The Kids in the Hall miniseries Death Comes to Town.

Scott is currently on tour with fellow Kids in the Hall co-star Kevin McDonald, touring the country as “Two Kids, One Hall.”

Press is press and there’s a lot of information out there on the web about your career and The Kids in the Hall.  Can you share with us why the other comedians from The Kids in the Hall aren’t here with you for the Two Kids One Hall tour?

Oh, well that’s easy. Basically, Kevin and I have the same manager, and he wanted to put us both on the road. And we needed to work. I’ve been dabbling with standup for quite a few years, but I’ve never really given my all to it. So this year I decided that I would. I mean, I got sick for awhile – I had cancer. And I beat it.

Are you doing well now?

Yeah. So when I beat cancer, I decided…I had a lot of time to think, a lot of time lying in….I wasn’t always over the toilet, so I had a lot of time to think about what I wanted to do. I’ve always dabbled with standup ever since the late 90s when Brain Candy collapsed, and I was on Larry Sanders. I used to do Uncabaret with Beth Lapides, and alternative comedy in Los Angeles. There was a whole gang of them [comedians], and they’ve all gone on to have stellar careers, you know: Sarah Silverman, Kathy Griffin, David Cross, and on and on and on. And I used to just go [to perform standup], but I’d just dabble. I’d do it once a month, every three weeks, but I would never repeat it. The alternative scene was all about being very in the moment, not very joke oriented – although, I am a joke guy. I do love jokes. So, I did it, but it was always just a hobby, something to keep myself sharp, because work was very few and far between. But deep down, I always resented it. I had that classic –

Did you resent standup, is that what you’re saying?

I resented that my career wasn’t going the way that it was supposed to. And I was angry that I wasn’t getting the parts that I wanted. I’m being very honest…I was angry that I never got to show what I could do because, for many reasons, I’m openly gay, and when I started [in the business] it was a very different world than today. There was no such thing as an openly gay performer. There was no such thing as Glee, or any of those things, or Neil Patrick Harris, or Jane Lynch hosting the Oscars. There was no Ellen, there was nothing. So it was very rough, and all I ever got was – if I got parts – they were really boring, neutered gay characters that aren’t really characters…they’re really just vehicles to showcase peoples’ liberal credentials.

Do you think that they were a little bit too sensational?

No, I wish they had been. I wish there had been more sensation.

Because your character Buddy Cole is –

Well, that’s the thing; Buddy Cole was part of my problem. In fact, they were the absolute opposite of sensationalism, they were just boring. They were just boring, boring gay men that really are just there to listen to the main character. Very much like the “magic negro” – I use that word because that’s the phrase – that character that’s put into a movie or a television show for people to look at the white character and go, “Look at how open-minded that person is” so that the white character can find their way. And the gay character – the gay man – has become that. Back then it was the beginning of the magic queen. And they weren’t even queens, they…Buddy Cole scared the shit out of people; gay and straight. And, honestly, more gay. He scared gay people far more than straight people.

Do you think that it was an internalized homophobia for these people?

Oh, absolutely. And also, for gay men, a real image dismorphia, a body dismorphia, like when really skinny people that are 100 pounds look in the mirror and see someone fat, gay people look in the mirror and say, “I see someone butch.” But they refuse to see Buddy Cole.

Back then it was much more polarized and much more terrifying and that’s particularly for gay men, I mean the stakes were huge. I came of age during the AIDS crisis, so – I think that in many ways I was very angry that I was – I felt like I had been thrown under the bus to advance the agenda, because I’m an artist. I’m not an activist. Art is difficult. It’s prickly, it’s got dark corners, it’s not about putting forth the best face for advancement, and it’s about showing the truth.

And they pigeonholed you.

Well, and they used me. I was used to advance an agenda. But I was no longer thought of as an actor, so I was very angry about that. And then at the same time, I would never be able to have a straight role, ever. In the Kids in the Hall I played everyone – I played the butchest guy, the gayest guy, I played men, women, black people, white people, Spanish people, everything. I don’t have any barriers there. I don’t see any of it as problematic. I just thought of it as I could play anyone. But that was not the way it was, you could not hire me for those parts. Plus, I also could never be hired for the great gay roles. Those had to go to straight men…that’s what they [the studio heads] believed. So, let’s say for example, a movie like As Good As It Gets that went to Greg Kinnear and things like To Wong Foo, those kinds of movies. And I got really close to all of them, many of them. Television shows, too, like Will & Grace, etc. But it always had to go to a straight person or a closeted actor. So you can imagine all these things made me very angry. And then my own community turned on me. In my mind I felt completely ignored, never talked about, never acknowledged. I watched an army of straight people walk off with awards for being friendly to gay people, but nobody was acknowledging the actual gay people like the warriors like me and Lea DeLaria and Sandra Bernhard and all the rest of us who really greased the door handle so that they could enter.

Standup became an outlet for me. I’m not ungrateful; I went from The Kids in the Hall to The Larry Sanders Show. I went from one great show to another. But the truth is with Larry Sanders, I still was playing a gay man. Genius show, Gary Shandling is a huge influence of mine, a mentor, and I consider him a genius. I’m eternally grateful, but I was still a very minor character. I was still a gay man, and I was still neutered. So I could never be a fully-fledged – I felt like I was in this monkey suit, I was in a straitjacket on both sides I couldn’t feel like I couldn’t get a break. I wrote my book, I published the Buddy Cole novel, it got completely ignored, and if it was talked about people called it racist and homophobic. I mean, I was called homophobic more times by gay people than gay bashers.

The truth is the enemy’s in the mirror. That’s what the truth is. And no one really wants to hear that. So I’m a different person now, I’ve come through the fire, I’m on other side, I went through hell, but it broke my heart, it really did.

I imagine you felt powerless and disrespected.  So at what point did you feel like you could turn it around and do what you wanted to do? Because it seems like right now you kind of have the ability to take the show on the road and it’s all about you and what you want to do, am I correct?

It’s now. I have the power now. I went back to – do you mind if I make this convoluted and the long way to get there?

No, go ahead – certainly.

I did a couple of tours back in the late 90s. I did a standup tour. But it was just so different then. I also wasn’t really a standup, I wrote routines and I memorized them. And I would do characters in between. That’s not standup. You don’t memorize, they’re not monologues. And I love monologues, and I did many of them at Kids in the Hall. So I was an actor pretending to be a standup comedian. I was acting, but I was never comfortable. There was that part of me that’s going, “What are you doing? You should be in the movies! You should be on television.” But it wasn’t possible. It wasn’t possible. I was naïve; I didn’t quite realize what I’d done. I never realized what the implications were about being open.

Were you proud to be open?

Very much so. Absolutely. I still am and I’m extremely proud of what I did. So I never concentrated on it, I just dabbled. And every time I would do it I’d go, “But I should be on a sitcom. I should be in a movie at least. I should be doing something. I should at least be nominated for a GLAAD award.” I’ve never even been…you don’t even know what I think about them. I think it’s corrupt beyond belief. I think they’re terrorists. I think they’re bullies. And I don’t mind saying this on the record to be honest. I think they’re bullies and I think they’re extortionists. And they’ve bought into the system. And they’re star fuckers. And that’s it. I mean, that’s what I believe. And of course you can understand that I’m a very combative person. I’m not a wilting flower. I’m honest, so I pick a lot of fights. I’ve burned a lot of bridges.

Do you think that the gay community is turning away from you, or are you finding in your standup tour that they’re kind of coming back around and understanding who you are?

No. There are never gay people in the audience.

Tell us about women in comedy.

A funny woman is a dangerous woman. Males don’t go after funny women. So when women are really funny, they generally have to – if they want a man – they generally have to tamp their humor down. We’re animals, right? They’re like Amazons. Amazons, in order to fire the bow and arrow, they had to cut off a breast. So a woman, to be hilarious, must in some way masculinize herself. She must, metaphorically cut off a breast to master it. The mic, it’s a cock. That’s a phallic symbol. So that’s maybe why standup comedy – I won’t say is dominated – I’d say is overrepresented by lesbians. Let me put it that way. I mean there’s no question. It’s huge, so many of the great female comedians are lesbians, and therefore more masculine women. This is the truth. There are very few hilarious women that are super feminine.

What about Sarah Silverman?

She’s not feminine. She’s definitely a tomboy. She’s boyish. You can name them all – Mariah is quirky and goofy. I mean, it’s not all the time, but generally you’ve got your Judy Gold, your Sandra Bernhard, your Lea DeLaria, your Kathy Griffin, they’re all – Kathy’s not butch, but she’s not feminine.  To handle a room you must be in charge. And to be in charge you’ve got to have balls.

So, now standup comedy for gay males, it’s the complete opposite. It’s overwhelmingly straight. Out of all the performing professions – acting, dancing, singing, etc., comedy? It is straight. It is straight, straight, straight. There are a handful of openly gay comedians, and I mean almost none that are in the mainstream. There are quite a few that are in sort of like a ghetto circuit, but there are very, very few – it’s a tough, tough masculine world.

With this tour and this comeback that I’m trying to attempt, I’d like to make amends for my past. I know I said a lot of terrible things and there are certain things that I regret, but I have to own who I was and who I am.

Do you want to talk about any of that?

Well, I mean, there are certain things I regret, absolutely. I still stand by my – I still know that what happened to me happened to me. In standup now, I have the power. I love being on stage. When I was really ill I was like, “Will I ever perform again? Will I live?” You know,” and if I do” – and I was very convinced I would, but I had doubts and there were times – I would go, “I’m going to really get this down.” And I stopped being angry. I stopped being bitter about what had happened, and resentful.

How long did you have to deal with your cancer? Did it get you for quite a while or was it very quick?

No, I was very lucky. It was caught very early; stage 1. It was two and a half years ago. I’m still fighting some of the side effects. But it was, I would say, it was a full year of battle. Even the treatment was about almost 6 months of chemo and a month of radiation with a little bit of time in between. I shot Death Comes to Town during that time. The Kids in the Hall changed the shooting schedule for me and the location. It’s really quite remarkable, and I’m eternally grateful.

You’re a team.

We’re a team. We are a team. We’re family. We’re like a fellowship, like Lord of the Rings, and they carried me when there were times when we had to be carried.

When you were doing the scene where you were being grilled by the – you were talking about the body and everything when you were in the court. Were you really ill at that time?

Yes. There was no makeup for that character. I had no hair, so that character had Alopecia, that was the backstory. There’s no makeup on me, I have no eyebrows, no eyelashes, nothing. But I was ill, so what I told my doctors was, “When the chemo ends, I have a series to do.” And so they had to push back my radiation a couple of weeks, and I said, “I have a comeback to squeeze in between this.” So I finished my chemo, almost six months later I was on set in heels, which destroyed my body. And the heels…my calf muscle tore in half on day three. So I was on crutches and in a wheelchair for much of the series. You can’t tell. You don’t know, and I’m very proud of that. There are certain times when I look and you can tell certain things, but you’d have to really know – like there are times when I can’t really walk. If I wasn’t shooting I was sleeping, or I was doing rehab, or I was in the hospital. But I’ll tell you, that moment between action and cut, I’ve never been more alive. Because I was like, “I’m acting for my life.”

You know it does seem a bit like it was kind of a spiritual rehabilitation.

Totally. I actually believe that the many things that cured me – chemo, radiation, Death Comes to Town, my graphic novel that I wrote at the time, and my family and friends, those things got me through it. But having a project like that really changed everything.

I remember being at the wrap party and I collapsed onto the floor. I went unconscious. I mean I was a mess. I hadn’t had a drink, I had one drink and I fell – collapsed. I didn’t end up in the hospital that time, but I was in radiation two days after. And that’s when I really went downhill. The radiation just took me down. I don’t think I could have done the series after radiation. I don’t think so. And honestly, I don’t really know how I did it. Because after that I got shingles, I got really, really sick.

So I would be writing, but there came a point when I couldn’t – I mean I did as much as I could, and then there came a point when it was pretty difficult. When we were in the writer’s room leading up to the series they had a bed for me on the floor, and people would work. And Paul Bellini, who’s like my best friend, and my collaborator, we would work on our own together because sometimes I couldn’t be with a big group. I just couldn’t handle the sensory overload. I mean, it affects every part of you. If your brain doesn’t work properly, nothing works. I couldn’t really have a conversation with more than one person, so the writer’s room was just hell for me. I couldn’t really follow anything.

All the anger that I had just went away because I realized I’m extremely lucky. I’m a Kid in the Hall. I’m a fucking Kid in the Hall. Every comedian in North America and the English speaking world would give their left breast or their right nut for that.

Moving onto another topic, I’m curious how you were affected during the AIDS crisis.

Oh, everything. AIDS colored everything. I would not be openly gay if it wasn’t for AIDS. I came out late in my life, which I think saved my life, absolutely. I’d probably be dead. I came out and met the Kids in the Hall pretty much at the same time. I had an outlet for my sex drive because I really believe art is very much, for me, a lot of it is sexuality diverted.  I also had a punk band at the time, too, so those two things were how I got my rocks off. I was terrified of sex. I came out and within a year people started dying. So I never had a moment, never had any peaceful time. There was never a moment when I wasn’t thinking about death and sex. It’s only the last few years that I don’t constantly think about it. I mean cancer kind of takes it away. But I don’t worry any longer. I figure with what I’ve done, with the amount of men I’ve slept with, I’m not getting it. And I’ve always been safe, but it’s difficult to spend an entire lifetime always having safe sex. It’s difficult, especially when you see everyone around you abandoning it. That’s very hard. I totally understand condom fatigue. Like my generation, I get it. When guys go, “I can’t do this any longer” I get it. I understand the impulse. It’s not for me. I’m just too much of a survivor. Nothing  is black and white. There would be no gay marriage without AIDS.

I’ve heard this many times in interviews before. Could you tell me why you feel this way?

AIDS humanized gay people. Straight people started to see their brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles, dying and they became real. And when people realize that it had been ignored for so long I think there was an enormous amount of guilt from right-thinking people, from liberal people, from human people. People that don’t have their – human beings that went…we did this. We watched 50,000 men die before Reagan mentioned it. He never mentioned it. And that’s a stain. People can pretend all they like that things were different, but it’s a stain. It really is.

I understand now the movement, why it happened the way it did. We’re not there yet. Eventually they’ll even let an actor like me play Harvey Milk, rather than Sean Penn so people can relate. And if I played Harvey Milk, that sex scene wouldn’t have been in the dark.

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