Scott Thompson is one of the five founding members of the Canadian comedy team Kids in the Hall, which ruled the airwaves in the nineties before breaking up in a perfect storm of animosity and heartbreak after their 1996 feature film, Brain Candy, flopped hard. But the Kids have reunited and they’re back on IFC with their scripted series Death Comes to Town, a Twin Peaks–esque comedy series that’s as nasty and as satisfying as poutine. Best known for his recurring “alpha fag” character, Buddy Cole, Thompson is celebrating his recent recovery from cancer by hitting the ground running. His S&M sword-and-sorcery comic book Danny Husk: The Hollow Planet is out in November, he’s broadcasting the world’s cattiest podcast at ScottFreePodcast.com, and he’s about to hurl himself like a “love grenade” at unsuspecting audiences on his new stand-up tour. Oh, and he’s also grown breasts and thinks his upcoming 9/11 comedy will win a Tony.
You went to college at York University in Toronto, but according to the Internet, you were asked to leave for being “disruptive.” Is that true?
That is true. Going into my final year they asked me to leave the performance program and go into the regular program, and so I graduated with an English major. I had done a one-man production about Montgomery Clift, and my tape recorder broke during the performance and I just lost it, and I broke a glass onstage. I was in bare feet and I continued to perform with broken glass all over the stage and my feet were bleeding and I turned it into part of the performance. At the end I collapsed, crying and weeping, into the pile of broken glass, and they were horrified. But there were lots of other reasons. I was always late. I was violent in a lot of the improvisations. I didn’t know how to control myself and my improv scenes with other actors always turned towards violence. After that I thought, Oh, maybe I should be in comedy because that’s full of people channeling violent impulses. But they did me a favor, really, because I got so angry that my rage just burned for years and that was the fuel for the first stage of my career.
You trained as a dramatic actor. What’s the most tragic production you were ever involved with?
That might have been a play called Bad Taste that I did right after university. I played a brother who has incestuous sex with his sister onstage, and then proceeded to have sex with Terry Fox. Terry Fox is a Canadian icon, beyond iconic, he’s like our Daniel Boone. He’s a one-legged boy who ran across the country and who died halfway through. He’s huge. It would be like having sex with Mother Teresa, but not normal sex, more like sodomy. It would be like buggering Mother Teresa on a pile of dead lepers. Then later in the show, I ate ham off my sister’s tits. I remember it so well because the girl who played my sister and I had to rehearse the scene and I looked up in the middle and the whole crew were staring at us through this little window, and I thought, “They can tell I’m not enjoying this … They know I’m pretending. They know I’m gay!” And I got so nervous that my nose started to bleed and I remember looking down and my sister’s tits were covered in blood. And that was just the rehearsal. On opening night the director gave us all cocaine, and I wanted to say, “Really? Cocaine? You already know what my nose is like.”
What was the highest point for you of being in Kids in the Hall? And the lowest point?
There were a lot of highs, and a lot of lows, but one of the biggest highs was when we were in Rolling Stone. We were in the first “Hot Issue” with Lisa Bonet on the cover and that launched us. It was a huge high. I even had a party for the issue where I gave out copies to everyone who came. We were known then in Toronto as a stage act, just a cult thing, but that Rolling Stone story said that we were the hottest thing in North American comedy and I think that indirectly led to our series. In Canada, you have to be accepted first in the United States before Canada will accept you, so that article made a big difference. Lorne Michaels opened a lot of doors for us using that article as grease. The end of Brain Candy… was the low of being with the group.
But when Brain Candy opened you had no idea it would flop. What was it like after it opened and before you got the first weekend box-office numbers?
We were all convinced it would be a huge hit, that it would be the beginning of our movie careers, and I knew we’d win an Oscar for Best Screenplay. Kevin [McDonald] and I would debate it endlessly, whether they would give us the screenwriting Oscar as a group or as individuals. We kept trying to figure that out. He’d seriously say, “But they don’t give the screenwriting Oscar to comedies,” and I really thought we’d be the first.
One of your best-known characters is Buddy Cole. Do you remember the first time you did him?
I’ll never forget it. I was with Paul Bellini, one of my oldest and dearest friends, at his place and it was the mid-eighties and we were high and had one of the very first video cameras and I just started improvising, and I did the voice of Buddy Cole and the first thing I said was about being 3,000 years old and being a vampire and I had never done that voice before. That became the first Buddy Cole monologue and it went over well. Afterward, a gay guy I knew pulled me aside and took me to task over it. He was furious that I was peddling that stereotype, but the thing was, he sounded really queeny while he was yelling at me, and the angrier he got the queenier he sounded. And I thought, Why can’t we just accept our queeniness? I remember doing Buddy Cole once and a very well-known lesbian writer was in the front row and she turned her chair around, and then all the other women in the front row turned their chairs around in solidarity. I was so furious that I directed all of my material that night directly at their angry lesbian backs.
You’ve really rejected the idea of being a gay spokesman. Did you ever embrace it?
I’ve rejected it for most of my career. I think it’s a real burden to put on an artist. Not all of us are suited for representing a community and it took me a long time to realize that I wasn’t suited to it. Art is about the edges and the sharp corners and those places are not conducive to activism, which is about putting on a gloss. Activism isn’t about holding your faults up to the light. That’s what comedy is about, it’s about saying, “Look at this person who is so flawed and frail and damaged. And we’re all this frail and damaged so let’s laugh at it.” When I was younger and Kids in the Hall was at its peak, I got caught up in being an activist and that whole I’m-a-hero thing, and I’m embarrassed by that now. I didn’t do it very well and I made a lot of enemies. I don’t have regrets over it, but I wish I’d been a little more dignified. As my mother would say, “Why can’t you be more like Sidney Poitier? He’s dignified. He doesn’t go out and make a fool of himself.”
Is there any material from Kids in the Hall that was so famously bad it’s become a joke among you guys?
There’s one piece that Kevin and I wrote called “The Naysayer,” and it was the worst. We did it in the third season and it’s about this ridiculous fairy-tale-type king and every time someone came to him with a request he’d say, “Noooooooo.” That was it. They’d say, “Sire, we want this or that,” and he’d say, “Nooooooooooo,” but he’d hold it for a really long time, like for a minute [Thompson demonstrates] “Nnnnnnnooooooooooooo … .” We thought it was hilarious, but it was such a disaster that we cut it between the first taping and the second taping. We’d never done that in all of our history, never cut something between tapings …
One of your other characters from Kids in the Hall is Danny Husk, whom you’ve done for years, and now you’ve written a comic book, Danny Husk: The Hollow Planet, in which he’s the main character. It’s a very old-school, sword-and-sorcery story, and I was wondering if you’re a science fiction and fantasy fan?
I’m a total nerd. I love fantasy. I’m coming out here. When I was younger I wanted to be a big movie star who’d get to be funny on talk shows and then I wanted to retire and write science fiction. I was a big reader, I still am. In my family, everyone was funny and so it didn’t seem like something that you did. To me, comedians talked about their lives, and I knew I was a gay guy and so I knew that I couldn’t talk about my life. And it took until AIDS happened when I finally went, “Oh fuck it, we’re all going to die. I might as well.” But I was always a big reader and I have always loved science fiction and fantasy. I’m a huge fan of John Norman and his Gor books. They’re wonderful, but I think they get progressively worse after about No. 15 when they just become his sexual fantasies, although by that point he’s hooked an army of adolescent boys who are all along for the journey. I find the Gor books fascinating, and they were an inspiration for Danny Husk: The Hollow Planet because they’re full of sex, and I wanted Danny to have sex because science fiction and fantasy always sort of happens in a humorless and sexless universe. People finally turned on the Gor novels them for political reasons. They couldn’t handle that he eroticized slavery, and with The Hollow Planet I wanted to explore that aspect. I wouldn’t want to own a slave, because it’s so much work and I’m lazy. But to be one would be wonderful.
You were diagnosed with gastric cancer in 2009, and told that your chances of survival were slim. You had aggressive chemotherapy and are now cancer-free. Was there a moment for you when you felt like cancer had taken you to a point beyond anything you were prepared to deal with?
I think it was probably when I realized I was growing tits. Chemotherapy is a brutal thing, it has untold effects on you, and one of the side effects I had was that my testosterone was converted into estrogen. So about six months after the end of chemo I developed little, tiny tits. It was a nightmare, and it was fascinating because I thought, “Maybe that’s why I’m crying all the time and can’t get enough of Twilight. Because I’m full of estrogen.” I love Twilight, but I became really obsessed with watching it over and over again, and I was always crying and comforting people and I thought, They’ve got a sprained ankle, I’ve got cancer, what is this about? I couldn’t sleep on my stomach. I was like an 11-year-old girl. Or these days I guess girls are getting breasts when they’re 6 so I was like a 6-year-old girl.
I developed pain under my nipples and I went to the doctor and he said, “Well, it’s not cancer. It’s tits. You’re growing breasts.” Men do not talk about this side effect, but it must happen to a lot of men. I had to have a mammogram and I think the moment came for me when this poor woman who grew up watching me on TV, she’s having to put my man boob into her machine that’s going to squeeze it. That was when I thought to myself, This is not any place I’ve been before.
And the politics of cancer are so strange. Breast cancer has gone from being the cancer that will not be heard to the cancer that won’t shut up, a bit like the gay movement. I go to the prostate cancer ward and it’s an empty hall with a surgeon who just has a rusty scalpel, and then I go to the breast cancer ward and it has ferns in the lobby and Sarah McLachlan is playing, and there’s lavender pumped into the air and the form you fill out is pink. For prostate cancer the form is on birch bark and the doctor who checks it lost his license long ago.
When I filled out the pink form, all the questions were about my periods and my tender breasts. It would say, “Is your period heavier at the beginning or at the end of your cycle,” and I would write next to it, “I have a cock. I do not have a vagina.” It would ask, “Are you spotting before your cycle?” And I would write, “Don’t have a vagina.” All down the page. And then I get to the end of the form and I wrote, “I have a cock, I have a cock, I have a cock” And I handed it in and the woman was not amused. She looked at it and said, “Do you want to fill this out again?”
You’ve got a one-man show coming up. What’s it about?
I had a show called Scottastrophe that I was doing at the Steve Allen Theater in Los Angeles when I got diagnosed, which sort of derailed things. But now I’m back and laying tracks for my new train. I’ve started to do some stand-up and I’m going to go on a little tour and develop a new show, but I’d love to bring Scottastrophe to New York because it’s about a comedy I was supposed to open Off Broadway on September 18, 2001, about terrorism. The posters were up and I was set to arrive in New York on the 13th, and it just never happened. I was never officially told that my show was canceled, but every time I asked the promoters what was happening there would just be silence, so eventually I assumed. The worst thing was, I was one of the producers and I’d spent all my money on it. It was a huge disaster for me. So a lot of Scottastrophe is about what happened with that show. I think it might be time for a comedy about 9/11 and I’m going to be the guy to do it. And, like I was about Brain Candy, I’m convinced it’ll win a Tony.