Arts·Queeries

Why Scott Thompson is Canada's true gay national treasure

It's time we — especially fellow gay men — start giving the Kid In The Hall the iconic status he deserves.

It's time we — especially fellow gay men — start giving the Kid In The Hall the iconic status he deserves

(Bruce Smith)

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.

As a Canadian gay man, if someone were to ask me to name our country's truest national treasure, I would have to say that — personally — there are three correct answers to that question: Céline Dion, Carly Rae Jepsen and Scott Thompson.

I highly suspect if I took a poll of say, 1000 other gay Canadian men, Ms. Dion and Ms. Jepsen would pop up on many, many lists. Mr. Thompson, however, would be very unlikely to do the same — which frankly is a great gaynadian shame, because he is one of the greatest gay comics of all time, anywhere.

Earlier this year I bore witness to this for the umpteenth time when Thompson performed an excerpt from his touring show Après Le Déluge: The Buddy Cole Monologues at Toronto's Glad Day Bookshop for a few dozen very lucky folks (who were even luckier because the show was somehow free). Buddy Cole, of course, is Thompson's alter ego from The Kids In The Hall, the CBC series that launched his career (and turned 30 years old this month!). I assumed given the fact that spending a night — for free! — with Buddy Cole in that intimate setting would be something I could easily find a gaggle of fellow gays to come with me. But alas, Kathy Griffin was in town with her (very not free) tour, and everyone appeared to somehow prefer that.

I rallied three of my favourite straight people (my brother, mother and aunt — all Scott Thompson enthusiasts, bless them) instead, and it was hands down the funniest live performance I've seen all year. Thompson walked into the bookstore, in full Buddy Cole garb, and made it clear we shared a mutual annoyance regarding how gay Torontonians were choosing to spend their evening.

"What a lovely crowd," he said to myself and roughly 40 other people. "My goodness, what happened? You couldn't get tickets to Kathy Griffin? There's no other explanation for gay men coming out to see another gay man!"

The gay men who made that choice were not disappointed. As Cole, Thompson delivered a rousing and hilarious commentary on, mostly, their very existence.

"I feel sorry for young gay men today," Cole screamed as he opened his monologue, martini in hand. "Because now they have all these new expectations. Now they're expected to get married, to have children, to be...mah...ma-nah...maaaa...monogamous."

Cole paused and took a sip of his martini.

"By the time we get done with monogamy, you won't recognize it."

A few months later, I had the honour of interviewing Thompson and asking him about Buddy Cole and why that character still resonates so much 30 years after he was created.

"He always says the things that people aren't able to say," Thompson tells me. "He has a sort of a special place. Because of how he is, I think people look at him and they're willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. They're willing to let him go further than they would let most characters. But also, for me, the time that I grew up in —  the time that I came of age —was a very different time for gay people. You could not really be an openly gay comic and definitely not an openly gay stand-up comedian. It was almost impossible."

"So in many ways, Buddy Cole was that voice that I used. And it's interesting that many years later, I still use him even though I do stand-up now because I still believe that there are certain things that only Buddy Cole can tackle. There's things that I tackle, but my instrument isn't as precise as Buddy's — let's just put it that way. When I'm Buddy I'm in full control."

(Bruce Smith)

Thompson said that he feels in some ways, Buddy is even more outrageous today because people are more thin-skinned.

"I mean, the truth is that these kind of cycles come around all the time," he continues. "The Kids in the Hall came of age in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which was a very tumultuous time of great social change and great political change. And then there was an enormous amount of political correctness and an enormous amount of pushback. And I think it's happening again right now as we speak, so it felt like the time to unearth Buddy. When I do him I feel almost invincible, almost like a war vet. Especially for a gay man of my generation in the world today, because think of what we suffered through to get here. I think that's [given us] a weird super power in the world today."

As for how the world today treats openly gay comics, though Thompson is sure it's "1000% better," there's still one major problem: there's still no openly gay male star in comedy.

"There's lot's of famous gay women in comedy, but not gay men," he says. "There's never been a star."

So why is that exactly? The answer seems to harken back to the example of Kathy Griffin.

"It's a very difficult question to answer," Thompson says. "It gets me into a lot of hot water. I think the level of self-loathing with gay men is a lot higher than people think. And as a result gay men have a very difficult time giving it up for other gay men. We're in a stage when gay men only seem able to give it up for women or drag queens, but not other gay men. Like if a gay man is up there being funny and he's not in drag I think most gay men feel like, 'Well, I'm as funny as he is.' Gay men all think they're hilarious and I have to inform you, they're not. Right? To me, it's something that I found very sad over my career: how little gay men embrace me, and how little gay men embrace other gay men in comedy. We're just not there yet."

(Bruce Smith)

Thompson's solution to getting there? We gay men "need to take a hard look at ourselves in the mirror." (Figuratively, of course — literally, we might have that covered.)

"You can't really blame society any longer — this is our problem," he says. "Gay men need to look at themselves and go, 'Why can I not let another gay man shine?' You ask any gay male comedian and I'm pretty sure 99% of them would agree with me. Lesbians are much more supportive of each other. Remember, gay men are still men...and let's be honest, the gay media is absolutely guilty too. It does nothing to help this. Really, they really just show if you're hot and hunky, that's all that matters. "

Personally, I think a very good start for us gay men (in the media or otherwise) would be by helping Scott Thompson shine as bright as he possibly can.

"I'm working on a screenplay I'm trying to get made right now," Thompson says. "I've got a television series I'm trying to get developed. I'm touring as a stand-up and I continue to tour The Buddy Cole Show. But my goal is to get a special. I want a Buddy Cole special. That's what I'm really hoping for. It's not happening yet but I don't think people are going to be able to ignore this Buddy Cole show much longer. I just don't think so."

I don't think so either — but if the next time Thompson (as Cole or himself) is in town and you choose to go see Kathy Griffin or her various equivalents instead, maybe it's time to take out that figurative mirror.

About the Author

Peter Knegt has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and playing integral roles in the launch and production of series The Filmmakers and Canada's a Drag. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also a stand-up comedian, the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.