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Friday, August 20, 2010

“The Kids in the Hall”’s Scott Thompson: “I’m No Mammy”

Before there was Will and Jack on Will & Grace or David and Keith on Six Feet Under or pretty much everyone on Queer as Folk, there was Buddy on Kids in the Hall. And before Neil Patrick Harris or T.R. Knight or Lance Bass came out, there was actor/comedian Scott Thompson who not only played Buddy on Kids in the Hall, but also played gay assistant Brian on The Larry Sanders Show, and who was out personally and professionally long before it was easy to do so.

Scott Thompson

But then Thompson has never done much that was easy. He came out in the 80s during the height of the AIDS epidemic. He did stand-up comedy in an era where homophobia wasn’t just rampant, it was expected and particularly vicious. Then there is the matter of his latest project, Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town, a television series on IFC featuring that Thompson took on shortly after learning he had cancer, and then filmed right after completing chemotherapy treatment. caught up with Thompson to discuss his new project, his battle with cancer and his standing in the gay community, which hasn’t always been a laughing matter for the 51-year-old Canadian. Why a Kids in the Hall reunion at this point?
Scott Thompson:
I guess we figured this was our last chance where we could use the moniker and not be completely ridiculous. We did a tour two years ago, and we wrote all this new material. We wrote a ton of stuff and just thought, wow, this is amazing. We decided, let's see if we can do television again.

Rather than make another movie that's so difficult and no one goes to it, we said, "Why not make a TV show that no one watches?" We started planning it two years ago when we were touring. We were paralyzed in a way by our legacy for sketch comedy. We could never top it. So this is a different animal.

AE: I loved the character of Heather Weather the second I saw her. It's the whole package — that hair, the way she dresses, the attitude that you deliver. Was she something you've been doing for a while?
Oh my Lord! Not at all. She was just a name and an idea, and I had no idea how I was going to play her. I promised everyone I did, but I didn't. The truth is, I never knew how to play her until the day we shot it.

It was me and Dave. Both of us were in the makeup chair. I was getting made up as Heather, and he was getting made up as Levon. Neither of us really knew, and we were shooting it! We didn't have a clue how we were going to play them.

Scott Thompson as Heather Weather (left) and Kevin McDonald as Shayne (right) Credit: Michael Gibson/IFC

AE: I know the series has already run in Canada. Did people have the same reaction I did to her?
You know, it's funny. I said the other day, I think I finally have a female character that gay men are going to love. Because she's mean. She's nasty. I've never quite played a woman so bitchy and malevolent. Gay men like those kinds of gals. My other women are all too much nicer.

AE: I haven't seen enough of her to know that. I just liked her look and her voice.
She's a cougar. Gay men loved the Kim Catrall character more than any other on Sex in the City. So I thought, Kim Catrall is not the only aging Canadian blonde beauty. [laughs] I can play her too.

AE: Did having the project to work on while you were going through treatment for your cancer help you?
Well, it would have been if the show hadn't been called Death Comes to Town. [laughs] Maybe if it had been a remake of The Brady Bunch or something.

It was the best thing for me. I said to my doctors, "August 1st I finish chemo, August 10th, I need to be in Heather's heels. This is the way it's going to be." And they said, "Well, we hope you can do it." And I said, "No. I'm going to do it, because I have another C-word, and it's comeback."

It actually made me focus more on death, but in a funny way. I think what it did was give me a lot of hope. I told my doctors, "I have to get through this." I had six months of chemotherapy treatments, then did the show. They rearranged the series. It was supposed to be earlier, but I didn't finish my chemo, so they pushed it back.

Then when I did the series, seven weeks, and then went right to radiation. Then I completely fell apart. Completely. Physically. Some of the side effects of chemo take a little while before they emerge, like monsters, like the Swamp Thing. It was wonderful how the body holds itself together when it has to. I went to the hospital four times during the making of the series, but never overnight. They never stopped production.

AE: You look great now.
Thank you. For me, it burned away a lot of things, not just the cancer.

AE: Like what?
Things I didn't need anymore, like guilt, regret, bitterness, anger. All those things I thought fueled comedy. And they don't really. They might fuel it when you're young, but they don't fuel it now.

AE: What fuels it now?
My love of it. It's so in me. You can't kill it now. What fuels it now? Joy. That's basically it. I've come out of this loving it more than ever, like I did when I was a kid. In that way, I feel reborn, like I'm seeing things through new eyes.

AE: You came of age in the 80s, so when you got the diagnosis, was there some part of you that thought, "I survived AIDS and now this?"
It was like “How the f*ck dare you?” Absolutely. Yeah. And not only that, because I used to think to myself with our generation, "We're not going to have that midlife crisis where we confront our mortality. We've already done it." That's what pissed me off. I had to go through it twice.

AE: What was The Kids in the Hall approach to gay comedy? Did you talk about it? Did you have to educate the guys when you joined?
In the beginning. You have to remember, we've been together an awful long time. We were very young when we started. We came of age in the 80s when it was a very different time to be gay, much more terrifying than it is today. In the beginning there were certainly growing pains. There were certainly things that were problems at the beginning, but that happens with everybody.

There was never any discussion about "How do we treat sexuality?" It was basically all the same, all sexualities were on the same level. We never spared anyone. In fact, we may have even gone further with homosexuality because we knew we were in a very uncharted territory.

At the time, you'll remember, the gay community was not a community that was willing to be poked fun at. Those days particularly. Even now, it's still a very defensive community. I don't think people could believe that what we were saying wasn't deeply homophobic. There were a lot of gay people that did not like us. They took it the wrong way.

A lot of people didn't even believe I was actually gay. They thought it was a shtick. Back then the idea of actually being openly gay was like, "No! No one's really openly gay." We had a lot of problems in the beginning with people misreading us.

Thompson as Buddy Cole

AE: You were openly gay at a time when few actors were, you played a gay character on The Larry Sanders Show when there weren’t many on TV. What are your thoughts on your place in getting us where we are now?
I don't know. I think I was one of the people who greased the knob to let other people in, and I'm very proud of that. I'll be honest. There were a lot of years where I was angry at what I thought of as not being given my due.

AE: By...?
The community. I'll rephrase that: very angry. [laughs] But that's not the case anymore. I'm philosophical about it. I also realize I had my own part to play in that. It's just human nature. I know I did, and other people know, so it's a little weird for me to point it out.

AE: Well, I'm the one asking the question. Both of those things are true.
I'll be honest with you, I felt ignored. Absolutely. I was furious for many, many years.

AE: Who did you feel was ignoring you?
Everyone. Every magazine, every organization. I was on the cover of The Advocate in 1989 and then I never appeared again. That doesn't make sense. I said a lot of things that made the establishment uncomfortable. I'm an artist more than I am an activist. Art and activism are not good companions. Frankly, the whole idea that you're supposed to always reflect positively is fascist and anti-art.

No one asks Will Ferrell's characters to reflect straight men properly. You know what I mean? It's a drag for minority artists, always having to be positive. When I hear the term 'positive role model,' it's like a hypnotist is talking to me and I fall asleep. [laughs]

AE: Do you think it was Buddy that put some people off?
A lot of it was Buddy. And again, back to this whole delusional thing, I think a lot of gay men are quite delusional about the way they come across.

AE: In what way?
They think they're a lot butcher, to be frank, than they really are. Most gay men do read gay and that's just the way it is. Buddy reads super gay. That's the thing. I don't think people were really listening to him. Buddy was my standup voice, at the time. If things had been different, I probably wouldn't have even invented him.

I would've just been a standup comedian, but when I tried standup before, I was treated so badly by the other comedians that I retreated. I found these guys and thought this is a great place to hide until the radiation clears. [laughs] You know what I mean? "This is the perfect bunker for me to hide in until the world changes."

AE: Comedy has long been known as a very homophobic place. I'm curious how much you think that has changed?

AE: Including standup?
Absolutely. When I first started doing standup, the comedians used to wipe the mic exaggeratedly after I performed, and make jokes about me giving them head, and AIDS jokes constantly. Constantly. That's the way it was. Gay men were very much the whipping boys of comedy.

AE: I was watching old Kids sketches, and I want to talk about the one where you're coming out of your house repeatedly and no matter how you dress, a straight guy calls you “faggot.” It seemed to come from a dark, angry place.
Very. It was a very dark place. I was furious at society. Furious. You remember what it was like? My God. Nobody mentioned AIDS for the first eight years.

AE: Did the other Kids understand where you were coming from?
Yes. You have to remember, they still mocked me about everything. The mocked my cancer, for God's sake. They accused me of getting cancer so I could hijack our comeback.

AE: I was going to make that joke, but decided it was distasteful.
[laughs] Well, you know, I figured now that the gay card doesn't have quite the oomph, I have the cancer card, and that's accepted in every country. The gay card isn't accepted in Africa or the Middle East or most of Asia. Cancer card is accepted everywhere.

No, they did understand. They certainly mocked my outrage and fury. I look at it now and I'm like, "Wow. I was crazy ... crazy mad." I was crazy mad at society, and then I got crazy mad at gay people, at the way I was treated by my own kind. That was what I did not expect. But you know, time heals wounds.

AE: There was talk of a Buddy series.
There was an animated series that almost came to fruition. What happened was, it was going to be made in French, for French-Canadian television, and I couldn't have anybody else do his voice. It's still a possibility. I'm mulling the idea if a big Buddy tour. I think people didn't get him. He's so much smarter than I am.

I think if people were listening to him, they wouldn't have been so angry at him. That accent, that really fruity voice, lulls people into thinking that what he's saying is frivolous. That was the secret, I think. I didn't know that. People are conditioned to think men with those kinds of voices aren't to be taken seriously.

AE: I think there's a ton of effemiphobia in the world. A ton.
Oh yeah. That's what it is. That's the word: effemiphobia. I love that. Most of us are not "straight acting." And what is straight-acting anyway? What's any of it mean, really?

AE: What about the graphic novel? What's going on with that?
Danny Husk: The Hollow Planet. Yeah, I'm very excited. It comes out November 1st. Danny Husk is the star of it, my business man. It actually plays into what we were talking about earlier. I started writing it ten years ago as a way for me to escape the stereotype box.

I came to a point in my life where I thought, "Why does no one see past my homosexuality? Why do I have to keep playing these boring gay characters that are never the center?" They're always adjacent to the main characters, the best friend, the mammy roles. I thought, "I'm no mammy." They're gutless characters. They're characters written by activists, not artists, people trying to flaunt their liberal credentials rather than creating fully-fledged human beings.

AE: You feel like you've had to play some of those roles?

AE: Anything you want to mention specifically?
ST: No
. I've learned a few things. [laughs] Not much ... but ... I wrote Danny because I thought why can't I play these characters I know I'm capable of doing?

AE: But you did on Kids.
On Kids, but nowhere else. Except for Star Trek Voyager. That was the only American series that really let me be someone different. I played this real rampant womanizer alien who was after Seven of Nine. That was the only time anyone let me play that. I had to have a giant blue head, but still...

It was fantastic. I was so thrilled. I thought, "Wow, if Star Trek gives me the chance..." So I wrote this for Danny because I thought, "Okay, who's my straightest character? Danny! I'll write a property for Danny." That's why I've been working on it, so eventually if ever became a movie, I'd get to play him. I'm so happy with how it's turned out.

AE: Single? Dating?

AE: Interested?

AE: So eventually you'd like to settle down?
I would.

AE: Get married?
I would. I think I would if it was the right person.

Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town airs on IFC Friday nights at 10 PM


THE SOUP: 'Kids in the Hall' Drag Reunion

Four of the five Kids in the Hall members appeared on The Soup as former child beauty pageant contestants with a frightened Joel McHale standing by.

"That really happened."