Prior to SNL’s debut in 1975, the only time you’d really see sketch comedy on television was between musical acts on some celebrity-hosted variety show. The Not Ready for Prime Time Players showed the world that a show of just sketch comedy could survive though, but throughout the ’80s and ’90s, sketch in America stayed pretty broad with shows like Hee Haw and the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
Meanwhile, up in Canada they were secretly creating brilliant, subversive, and surreal sketch comedy. And thanks to HBO, which imported The Kids in the Hall from the northern throes starting in 1989, those who were stuck between the ending of Monty Python and the debuts of In Living Color and The State had some subversive and surrealistic comedy to chew on.
I was one of those kids. Growing up watching second-hand sketch comedy from north of the border blew my emerging little comedy mind. Things like “I crush your head,” 30 Helens Agreeing, and knowing what’ll happen when pigs fly (eventually crash into power lines and cook themselves) became part of my everyday vernacular, despite the bewildered faces of those around me.
In the middle of it all was comedian, actor, and legendary improviser Scott Thompson. He was both out of the closet and hilarious, and it amazed me—even as a straight, white, hetero male, Thompson’s brazen in-your-face comedy influenced how I would view people and the rest of the world forever after.
Naturally, in preparation for his three nights of shows at Once Lounge in Somerville, I asked Thompson about his motivations, the life events that fuel his comedy, and more.
Since you have the same name as Carrot Top, do you ever get his mail?
I’ve never gotten his mail, although one time in Montreal a young lady showed up in my hotel room looking for him. I assumed it was the other Scott Thompson, but it was a very chilly night so I invited her in anyway. We both made a friend that night.
Let’s start with the question that I’m sure everyone in every interview has asked you: How did Kids in the Hall come together?
Mark and Bruce had a group from Calgary called the Audience. Kevin, Dave, and Luciano Casimiri were the original Kids in the Hall. I had a group called the Love Cats, and that was the kind of stew. We all met in during Theatre Sports, which was competitive improvisation. They formed a big group of eight people, and started performing at the Valley and other places around town. When I saw them one night, I fell in love and said to my friend, I remember very clearly saying, “I’m going to be in that group,” and she was like, “You don’t even know them yet.” I just thought, well, it doesn’t matter if they don’t know me, they will! I very clearly knew the path of my life immediately. From then on, I just basically dedicated myself to getting to know them and becoming a member, and once I did, I shut the door and swallowed the key. No one was coming in after me.
Was being an out gay man important to your comedy?
You have to remember those days were very different than today. First of all, homosexuals were literally criminals in much of the world, and they still are on most of the planet. But in the West we’ve made a lot of progress. And then on top of it, HIV was decimating our community, people were dying like flies. So for me at that time, it really wasn’t a choice. I felt that it would have been immoral to stay in the closet. I figured somebody had to do it, because I didn’t want other kids to go through what I had to have to go through, what my generation went through.
The AIDS epidemic turned everything into like a war. I always think of it as gay men in those days were in a war inside of the society that was at peace, and the society that you were embedded in paid no attention and was waiting for you to die. So for me to stay in the closet then would have been immoral. That’s the only way I can put it. I just thought to myself, if I want to have the career that I want, and if I wanted to do the kind of comedy that I want, they have to know who I am. I thought to myself the way I am, if I stay in the closet, certainly I’ll have a better career, but eventually I’ll be dragged out by a scandal because I’m just way too horny. I’m way too horny and way too sexual to live in the closet.
Did other outlandish or stereotypical gay characters of the time influence the way you played your gay characters?
No. I’ll be honest, I was very jealous of In Living Color because they got all the attention and money, and we were sort of like this secret. When I would watch the Men on Film guys they were hilarious; I’m not going to lie, Damon Wayans and David Allen Grier were very funny, but they were coming from an outsider point of view. I remember when they hosted the Super Bowl it made me uncomfortable. I don’t think it affected the way I portrayed my characters. I always portray my characters as realistic as possible. Well, most of them. Buddy Cole came from inside, and I think people were uncomfortable with it. Back then gay men were very much on the outside and very much a figure of fun. In comedy gay stereotypes were very much a stock part of comedy. So, one of my goals was to destroy that, make homosexuals three-dimensional, and not the punchline.
You’ve had a lot of tragedy, you survived cancer, you witnessed a school shooting school when you were a kid, and you were firebombed by terrorists for a documentary you were making. Have these incidents influenced your comedy?
Absolutely. I’ve had, let’s call it a bumpy life, but I’m a survivor and right now I look back and I’m like, holy fuck, I cannot believe that I’m still here. The world has tried to kill me over and over again, and it’s just not working; obviously I have something to do. That’s how I feel that I have not accomplished what I need to do yet.
I think it’s absolutely affected me. The shooting for one thing is a huge wound in my life that I constantly return to. … I look at these young kids, and I know exactly what they’re going through. I know where they’re at. I know what they’re thinking. I know I’m proud of them, even though I have no real right to be proud of them, they’re not mine. But I think that what they’re doing is remarkable, and I think to myself a lot, “How can I help them without making it appear like I’m jumping on their bandwagon?” Because I’m very leery of that. But I do think that the time has come where I have to do something rather than just be funny.
I can’t put it off any longer. I just feel like I’ve got to do something because it’s just not right. [The school shooting] was 40 years ago for me, and I can tell you that when things like that happen to you they never really leave you. You can patch it over, but it’s like patching up an old sofa: Occasionally the stuffing will continue to come out. That’s how I feel now, like the stuffing is coming out.
I used to talk about it, I was always making them funny because that was my instinct, to make everything funny no matter how tragic. But there comes a point where you go, “Oh my God, I can’t really make that funny anymore.” That’s how I feel. I’ve written monologues about that incident. I did a one-person show about it that never got seen because of 9/11. I’ve written a movie about it that I had been trying to make for many years, but I feel like I’m on the verge of something. It’s going to be about that because I look at those kids, and I just think to myself, those kids who have got a wound in them now. Most of them will get through it, but there’ll be some that won’t.
Your school shooting happened in Canada in 1975; do you think here in America people don’t factor it because it was a long time before a lot of other school shootings?
The funny thing is my shooting, my shooting, as if I own it, was very much the template for what we’ve seen in the last 40 years. Disaffected white kid, alienated from his community, starts to change over a year. Cuts hair really short. Joins a peacetime military, starts to work out with guns. Starts to say weird things to kids at parties, but no one takes it seriously. Becomes really resentful about everyone around him. Comes to school with a shaved head, had two guns, shoots it up, kills himself. Revenge on students and teachers; it’s very similar. After Columbine, which was a big one for me, that’s when I started to write my movie, but Columbine is the one that made me go, “Oh my God, how can this continue happening?” But Dylan and Eric were aware of our shooting, and we looked at the timeline—it begins with ours. I can’t believe I’m the oldest survivor of this whole epidemic.
What other famous sketch group do you think Kids in the Hall could beat in a fist fight?
Any of them. Anyone.
Even Monty Python? Because John Cleese in pretty tall and has the reach.
Yeah! We would take them because we’re Canadian, and they’re British. They would probably pull back a little bit. I think all their private school education might work against them, and I think our scrappier beginnings might work in our favor. Honestly, we’re a little crazier in a fight.
The show you’re doing at Once Lounge, Après Le Déluge: The Buddy Cole Monologues, is it material that we saw on Kids in the Hall?
If people are thinking it’ll be Buddy Cole monologues from the television series, they’re wrong. It’s all new material. People are not going to know the show. Après Le Déluge means after the flood. The flood would have been the Kids in the Hall years, so it’s monologues written since the Kids in the Hall went off the air. It’s 10 of some of the monologues I’ve written from 1995 until now. I’ve been on a real roll the last year, so the last three monologues are very, very new, and I finish off with Buddy’s take on #MeToo.
See Scott Thompson in Après Le Déluge: The Buddy Cole Monologues from 4.5–7 at ONCE Somerville. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at oncesomerville.com.