So it's Friday morning and I have an interview scheduled for 10 a.m. with Scott Thompson. He's an icon of Canadian comedy especially for someone my age who grew up as the comedy troupe the Kids in the Hall was skyrocketing in popularity.
My interview was to be about his upcoming stand up show in Winnipeg. I planned to ask him about his work both past and present and how he feels about his place in Canadian comedy and about being one of the first openly-gay comedians in the country.
For those who aren't fans, the Kids in the Hall and Scott Thompson didn't shy away from anything on their show. In fact, when I went looking for an appropriate comedy sketch to play during our interview, I couldn't find one in time.
The reason is that most of the skits I found online were Scott's saucy monologues as well beloved gay nightclub owner Buddy Cole, who uses the word "faggot" a lot. I decided not to worry about pulling a comedy clip for the interview. Instead I would ask Thompson what sketch he would like me to play.
When I told my producer, he suggested that during the interview I might tell Thompson the story of my search and ask him about an appropriate clip for morning radio.
In fairness to CBC, I must tell you that I didn't know if a piece of comedy using the word "faggot" would be a problem or not. But my past experiences told me that it may be an issue since it wasn't the focus of the interview. I also simply thought that choosing another piece of comedy was an easier choice. If I'm being truly honest, it crossed my mind that if I pulled a clip with the word faggot in it, some listeners might think that it was just for the sake of being provocative.
So, no clip … for the pre-tape at least. That's how I went into my interview with Scott Thompson.
Now Thompson is a very funny guy. As we got into the interview, he reflected on how the Kids in the Hall pushed boundaries but still had to do it through sketch comedy and characters, something he says has changed today.
"The main difference now is I'm myself," he said.
"I'm tired of carrying around a bag of wigs and I don't have to hide the way I used to … When I first came of age, you know, an openly gay man with my kind of sexuality and my way of looking at the world was not accepted, it was not possible to do stand up comedy. In many ways that's why I created Buddy Cole. In many ways Buddy Cole was my stand up voice. I just no longer need to do that."
Since he opened up the topic I thought it might be an appropriate opportunity to mention that I had trouble choosing a piece of comedy to play on morning radio because most of them had the word "faggot" in them. Thompson jumped in.
"But here's the thing," he said.
"It's interesting to me that you decided not to use a clip with the word "faggot" in it."
I replied after a pause with the truth, "I don't know how to own that word, as a straight white woman."
Thompson replied, "But you see I find that disturbing, that you would ignore our best work because of a modern sensibility. In a way you're hurting … by continuing that. For example, you're right. "Faggot" is all through our work but now they won't show that stuff, it's not right. It's a revisionism and it's not the way history unrolled. History did not unroll smoothly."
I clumsily tried a few times to return to our focus, which must have seemed very disingenuous. The reality was that I had opened up a discussion that in the moment, I felt ill-prepared to engage in. As a journalist I am not often pinned down for my opinion. My opinion is supposed to be irrelevant, if I do my job correctly.
Thompson would have none of it. And in retrospect, though I was flustered in the moment, I'm glad he pressed on.
"I'm rock hard about that stuff, absolutely. I don't believe in any of that stuff, I don't believe in calling things the "n word." I don't believe in revisionism of any kind. No, you must face the facts. You've got to face the way the past was," said Thompson.
"It bugs me. Like, when we did Seth Myers last week, they, we discussed "faggot" and they censored it so badly [that] the audience has no idea what we're talking about, and that's doing a disservice."
Thompson went on to describe a classic Kids in the Hall sketch that featured a guy coming out of his house on multiple occasions and no matter how he changes his appearance, the neighbourhood kid rides by on his bike and yells "fag" at him.
Thompson says that can't be shown anymore.
"How in the world does that help? When you have these executives trying to do the right thing by censoring it, like, it doesn't make any sense … and as an artist it angers me."
I told Thompson that I didn't speak for CBC, but if he wanted my personal opinion on airing the "faggot" comedy then I would air it, carefully and in context.
Our conversation would take a few more turns before we returned to the matter as Thompson raised the differences in being a comedian in Canada versus the United States, a place he plans to return to work in the future.
"I'll go back to the States this year … because I really want to build on the success I've had the last couple of years and Canada's not the greatest country for that and also I think that my point of view is more problematic for Canadian television," said Thompson.
"For example, you're not allowing that word," he said.
"You know, America's more … um, they believe in freedom of speech more. Real, pure freedom of speech. Uncomfortable freedom of speech, and that's where I'm at, I like that. I don't like people censoring me to protect people, I find that egregious."
Ultimately, Thompson asked me to tell him what my producers would decide about airing the "faggot" comedy … and we said goodbye.
After the interview, I was rattled.
My producer told me that he thought it was a great conversation about a struggle that many people have around censorship of past material. I, however, came out of the interview feeling that somehow I had betrayed my generation.
I come from Generation X. We said "faggot" for all of the wrong reasons and came of age as pioneers like Thompson were fighting for gay rights. Yet here I was, caught in a moment where I forgot how to be brave.
Had I become a slave of political correctness or was I being responsible with our public airwaves?
I wasn't sure what I feared more … not talking about this topic or talking about it. Would I be able to express myself clearly enough to not offend or would I be misinterpreted no matter what?
Now you might be thinking, just don't air the interview. That, however, is the only thing that I am sure about. It will air Friday morning at 7:40 A.M. on 89.3 FM.
If I had to do it again, I would like to tell you that I would pull a classic Buddy Cole clip, "faggot" and all, and play it without hesitation. But the truth is that I don't know what I would do.
What would you do?