November 25, 2010
Scott Thompson is not a kid anymore.
I’m not talking about The Kids in the Hall , the anarchic comedy troupe that made him famous in the 1990s, or the kids in the audience at the Elgin Theatre, where he’s playing the pantomime dame in Ross Petty’s annual holiday entertainment, Beauty and the Beast , until Jan. 2.
No, I mean personal maturity. Thompson is 51 now, a bit sadder, a lot wiser and although his comedic edge hasn’t been dulled at all, he’s certainly not as happy-go-lucky as he once seemed to be.
Cancer will do that to you. So will the suicide of your older brother, the evaporation of a seemingly rock-solid personal relationship and a mental state described by Thompson himself as “a total meltdown.”
That final event happened around the time I last interviewed him in December of 2001, where I reminded him that we photographed him literally crawling up a wall.
“Oh, I remember me back then, I was absolutely certifiable!” he cackles, eating his way through a spartan dinner of salmon and brown rice,
He’s calmer now, but he still has a mad gleam in his eye when he talks about appearing at the Elgin in what is, after all, a family entertainment.
“You know what worries me? Interacting with the kids. I’m afraid that’s when my Tourette’s will kick in. Some little dude will lip me off and I’ll say ‘Hey, stud, didn’t I see you at Remington’s?’”
Thompson has been cracking wise all of his life. He was born in North Bay on June 12, 1959, the second-oldest of five boys.
“My poor mother, she grew up without a father and with nothing but sisters. She didn’t know what men were like at all, but God sure gave her a crash course.
“We boys were all very boisterous, very rambunctious. My youngest brother Derrick called it ‘the dinner table wars.’ We’d all sit there ridiculing everyone we’d run into that day. Everyone trying to be funny.”
He sips at his ginger ale. “Five brothers. Just like a hockey lineup. And then The Kids in the Hall . Five of us there, too. I never got away from it all my life.
“Comedy is actually very macho driven. It’s something boys use to prove they’ve got balls. It’s violence for physical cowards. You control the audience. They’re your bitch. You’re the top.”
That kind of masculine security was already proving necessary for Thompson because he knew “really early on that I was different. I swear the first man I felt horny toward was Sean Connery in Dr. No when he wore a bathing suit. My brother Dean was always teasing me. But I never said or did anything. That would have been death.
“You know what was so sad about being in the closet? I couldn’t celebrate with anyone when the gays bashed the cops at Stonewall or when Trudeau decriminalized homosexuality. I just had to celebrate quietly in my head.”
As he got older, Thompson started to make some choices, tentatively, and learned how dangerous they could be.
“I wanted to be a male ballet dancer. Just once, I mentioned it to Dean and the ridicule he gave me was so intense I never talked about it again.”
He hid behind a smokescreen of wanting to be a lawyer or journalist, but it was an outreach program called Canada World Youth that really changed his life.
“I was sent to work in the Philippines. The first time I had ever been away from home, the first time I had ever been a racial minority. I was dropped into a family of 14 living in a cinderblock and I had to shit in a hole and push a water buffalo away to do it. I loved it.
“It made me realize that people were exactly the same around the world and wanted the same things. That’s when I shed white guilt because I also realized that there is racism everywhere. I went to ride a horse and picked out one I liked and the Philippine stablemaster said ‘No, you no ride that horse. It bad horse. We save it for the Japanese.’”
Thompson also came to see that anti-gay prejudice was also universal. “Faggot is the n----- of the world, baby. People are just hard-wired that way. Sure we think everything is wonderful in Canada now, but who knows it won’t change in 10 years. Germany in the 1920s was the best place in the world to be gay, but 10 years later, you were being dragged off to the camps.”
Thompson returned to Canada with his newfound knowledge. He enrolled in York University for three years but was asked to leave for being “disruptive.” He kicked around the comedy scene for a while, then came together with The Kids In The Hall , the last person to join the group.
They hit CBC in 1988 and by the time they left in 1994, they had gone from way-out wackos to cult favourites. Thompson’s most memorable character was the acerbic, effete Buddy Cole, always sipping cocktails and with a bad word to say about everyone.
There were reports of internal dissension toward the end of the TV show, but not from Thompson. “We loved each other, but we were so tired of each other.”
They plunged into a feature film called Brain Candy , which was pretty much a disaster, with members’ marriages breaking up and Thompson’s brother Dean, the one who bullied him the most, committing suicide two weeks before shooting began.
“I don’t know how we did it, I really don’t. And when it was through, I think we all fell apart.”
Thompson went on to L.A. and a berth on The Larry Saunders Show , but he admits that “I knew it was good, but I didn’t like doing it. All those years on Kids , we were in control. Here, I was just another actor.”
A lot of bad years ensued, with relationships crumbling, projects not working out and Thompson trying to tough it out in South L.A., “with Hispanic gang wars raging all around me.”
He finally came back home in 2009 to start a new comedy miniseries for CBC with The Kids called Death Comes to Town , only to be diagnosed with non-Hodgkins gastric lymphoma.
“When I found out I had cancer, I just said one thing: ‘I want to hold on to life’ and that changed everything for me. I finished five months of chemo on Aug. 1 and we started shooting the series on Aug. 9. I was weak enough, but then I had an accident and tore my calf muscle in half.”
Thompson is finding comedy even in this, hoisting his leg high in the air to demonstrate how he kept shooting.
“They’d squeeze all the lymph fluid that had collected up to my torso and I’d have about 40 minutes to work. I only did it because the rest of the Kids helped me and carried me through it.”
He has to stop to wipe away the tears that have welled up his eyes.
“Will you look at this? Scott Thompson, crying! My God, baby, ain’t that a bitch?”
FIVE FAVE WOMEN SCOTT THOMPSON WOULD LIKE TO DRESS UP AS
Imelda Marcos : I’m fascinated by people with unlimited power, but mostly because I have a shoe fetish.
Mae West : I love brilliant women with prodigious sexual appetites, especially ones who got in trouble with the decency police.
Cirocco Jones : She’s a bi-sexual pilot of a spaceship in novelist John Varley’s Gaea Trilogy. She falls in love with a centaur, who has both male and female genitalia. I like characters that cover all the bases!
Nina Simone : One of the greatest singers who ever lived and a crazy-assed old lady with anger issues.
Queen Elizabeth II : Just so I can erase the stain of Helen Mirren’s performance.