An oral history of Kids in the Hall's unabashedly outspoken Buddy Cole played by Scott Thompson
CBC Comedy talks to the troupe about their most controversial character
The world was changing and shifting in many ways in the late '80s and early '90s, with the Berlin wall coming down and burgeoning of the World Wide Web. But when it came to the LGBTQ+ community, a very polarized view was still reflected in the media.
In Canada though, a gay socialite made it to the CBC airwaves: the vehement "macho queen", Charles Budderick (Buddy) Cole — a character created by Scott Thompson just before he joined the Kids in the Hall troupe.
Buddy Cole is a self proclaimed "actor, singer, dancer, model... Canadian" and a keen observer, no nonsense monologist who addresses stereotypes, tells outrageous stories and shares his intriguing life experiences — all the while poking fun at everything and everyone including his own sexuality and the gay community.
Kids in the Hall cast members, Scott Thompson and Bruce McCulloch talk to CBC Comedy about Buddy Cole and what he did for Thompson (who himself identifies as gay), the impact of Buddy's uncanny ability to nonchalantly bring important issues to light and how the character, that at the time of its inception was not endorsed by the general public, was actually received.
Note: All interviews were adjusted for context, clarity and flow.
Bruce McCulloch: I had met Mark McKinney in Calgary and we had worked together in a different comedy troupe. We'd moved to Toronto to 'make it' and we befriended Kevin and Dave who had been in their own comedy troupe called the Kids in the Hall. We started working together with a bunch of people, like 10 people, and then eventually, it was just the four of us. Everybody else went away. And at that point we just kept doing shows, people would come in and out but we sort of looked up and it was just the four of us. And then Scott started doing little kind of things [with us] and then I don't know how it happened, all of a sudden he was in the troupe.
We still joke that we never officially made him a member of the troupe. But obviously he is.
We were pretty funny but he's the only showman in the troupe. I think Buddy Cole kind of elevated our performance because Scott was such a showman.
And Buddy Cole went out and was a showman and that kind of raised the energy and the level of performance and play, not just in that scene but overall for the troupe — because it's a brotherhood but it's also a competition.
Tide-turning outlandish character comes to town
Scott Thompson: Buddy Cole came about very organically, around the same time the Kids in the Hall did.
BM: He came about at the time when, in the early '80s, it wasn't that easy to talk about homosexuality and crazy gay stories. So he kind of took on a larger than life character and I think part of it was to not be afraid to be kind of a feminine gay man with crazy wild stories.
[Buddy Cole] is basically Scott's, kind of, alter ego muse.- Bruce McCulloch
ST: At the time I had never done characters really of any kind. Buddy came about because I fell in love.
For a gay man from my generation, everything was about hiding, everything was about proving that you are a man and that you weren't a f-g. Everything was about acting. I was working very hard to hide all of the things inside of me that gave away to the world that I was gay. Because for my generation, it was absolutely deadly to be known as gay. Either you'd be beat up or you die of AIDS. So for me to do Buddy Cole was a very political act.
But it came from a very simple thing. I fell in love with a guy who was very much like Buddy, a very effeminate man who had a wicked wit.
And at the time I was so surprised because I had so many hang ups about my masculinity and all of that stuff so I was quite amazed that I would fall for someone that was so effeminate because his queeniness was so powerful, he owned it, he didn't back down from anyone.
He didn't have the heart that Buddy Cole has, he was quite a cold person, and I understand why, but he died very quickly. He got AIDS and he died, like, so fast. And that was when people were just dying all over the place.
We didn't go out very long. Only a couple of weeks and then he got me very unceremonious and then he died. So I started to imitate him with Paul Bellini 'cause Paul had just gotten his first video camera.
At the very same time as I was meeting Kids in the Hall, I was also in a band with Paul Bellini who also wrote on the show and played the guy in the towel.
And because of AIDS we spent most of the 80s just making videos and writing songs and writing sketches and doing things just because, I don't know, the world was just so terrible.
So I started imitating this character Buddy on camera. At the time I was in Second City and I was playing a character in the show called Buddy Cole but the character was not written like Buddy at all. It was actually like a nerdy straight guy. But I decided for some reason just to be an a--hole that I would play him like Buddy. And I remember the director just going, like, 'Why are you doing it like that?' and I went, 'I want to.' And they didn't like it and I said: 'Well I'm going to do it anyways.' So I was quite an a--hole.
They didn't want that at all. They said it would turn people off and I said: 'I don't care, I'm doin' it.' I likely got fired. I got fired from everything.
I remember the very first thing I said to Paul to the camera was [in Buddy's voice], 'I'm a thousand years old.'
The original idea was that Buddy Cole was a vampire who had lived for thousands of years so I think I probably just read Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice and that was full of covert homosexuality.
And I just loved the idea of a queen like Buddy that's lived through thousands of years of history and never changed. I'm not saying that's what he is, but that was the original impulse.
'A powerful warrior' who said the unsayable
Buddy Cole dared to say things that many were thinking but couldn't utter, and in a proudly effeminate voice at that.
ST: For me, the ultimate goal is to write or do something that cuts through all of the crap that separates us. That's what I love most about comedy. That's what I think comedy does, is hold the light up to the darkness and it holds the light up to the silliness and things that we try to pretend aren't there. But comedy won't look away.
I knew that when I talked in that kind of a voice it made people listen because people are conditioned to take that voice not seriously. People don't take feminine men seriously. And they think they're figures of fun. Particularly in my generation, all gay character were basically ridiculed.
And the difference with Buddy is, he ridiculed. Nobody ridicules Buddy Cole.
So he became this warrior of mine that I can say anything as him and nobody will ever hurt me.- Scott Thompson
BM: Scott's process with Buddy Cole is, like, go as far as you can and say outrageous things or improvise the story from the audience.
I think people couldn't believe we were going there and I think there is a bravery to it but it's also funny. It's also silly enough. He doesn't go, 'This is important people.'
He was talking about getting gay bashed and having a lover and it would be funny because it wasn't heavy. He had a sense of mystery and irony and so he didn't play it heavy. He played it fun, he played it for the fun and I think that's why even if people didn't realize that Scott Thompson (the actor) was gay, they came on board. I think we even won over some people who weren't that gay positive in 1984 with that character, you know.
And what I also liked is that he wasn't a gay man who was just an interior designer. He also played that he had his heart broken, that he had sex, that he saw the world, he saw racism. He didn't shy away from big topics and I think gay characters often [at the time] were just considered fastidious men.
ST: I knew that a character like that could get away with murder and he literally does in one sketch because people aren't gonna take him seriously. And by the time the monologue is over all the stuff that I said is in their brain and regardless they have no choice, they have to think about it.
It became the perfect voice for saying the unsayable.- Scott Thompson
BM: And the fact that it was both truthful, like truthful to kind of some weird experiences Scott was having and also from the fantasy element, that for me is the sweet spot of why that character is so relatable, interesting, groundbreaking, all those things.
I think now, the world is a bit more complicated so I think we have to think of what we're saying a little bit more than when we were in our 20s just doing stuff. But, I think we instinctively know that each other's going towards something that is valid and we all know that our motives for doing things aren't to cause a stir, aren't to provoke, aren't to, well maybe to provoke, but not to offend anyone or see how far we can go, how dark we can be. We think something is genuinely funny which means kind of important and we move toward it. But if not everybody in the troupe is into it, sometimes things just die.
But ever so often you're like no I like this one, this one's gonna be great and then the guys kind of let you do it or we all let each other do it, or sometimes not.
Writing and portraying a character that was unapologetically gay in the early '80s was a bold move as the stigma and violence against the LGBTQ+ commuinty, which to this day has not fully dissipated, was prevalent. And, naturally, there was backlash.
ST: There was always backlash. There's still backlash today. Absolutely.
Interestingly enough the backlash doesn't always come from the places you would think. Most of the backlash came from the gay community. And even today, it's exactly the same. Nothing's changed.
People try to hide the ugly parts and that's not healthy. People reacted badly two ways: you have your typical homophobic people that just didn't like that kind of a f-g and then you'd have the gay people who didn't like that being reflected. They'd rather put out a more socially acceptable picture and Buddy Cole would turn over the rock and show some of the darkness of gay life.
Activists never liked Buddy Cole. Never. Still to this day Buddy Cole makes people uncomfortable. And I'm absolutely fine with that.
He is probably the most confident character that I have. When I do Buddy Cole I feel nothing. Like nothing can touch me. Nothing. You can't hurt me. When I'm myself you can hurt me but you can't hurt me as Buddy. It doesn't matter what people say, it doesn't matter what people do, I feel nothing. It's literally armor and I know I'm right and so I just don't care.
And I think comedy and emotions are very difficult companions. I think that emotion quite often clouds thinking and comedy is very much about thinking. A lot of it is. Or the kind of comedy that I like is.
With me, my emotions quite often get in the way of clear thinking. But when I'm Buddy, it's not like he has no emotions, but he has control. A full control of his instrument. I do not but Buddy does.
You look at a character like that and you go, 'Wow that guy has been through hell.' You can tell. You look at him and you go, 'His life must have been hard.' But he never shows it.
And I think it'd be a complete failure, if a person felt sorry for Buddy. I'd feel that I've failed.
The worst thing a comedian can hear is this in the audience: 'Aweeeee.' I'd rather they vomit. I'd rather hear a vomiting sound than an 'aweeeeee'. That makes me sick and that makes me vomit.
An eternal life
ST: Buddy Cole as far as I'm concerned will last forever because he's eternal. There are always characters like that in life. And every culture has them. And I think the effeminate male is a creature that is quite often throughout history, in every part of the world, persecuted. And Buddy Cole won't have it.
So he became a very powerful warrior character for me. I think people have a very hard time understanding what it was like for gay men back then. It was so terrible that I didn't know if I'd live. I was very, very kamikaze at the time. I basically said, 'I'm in the middle of a war, I might not make it through so what do I have to lose? Nothing. I got nothing to lose'. So that's what happened, I just went, 'This might end badly for me.'
I didn't care. I mean, I came out. I was openly gay from day one and that was just not done and my feeling was, 'I have to do this. It's morally imperative that I do this. To stay in the closet would be immoral.' And so Buddy was just basically my voice.
At the time I would have liked to have been a standup comedian but that wasn't possible for my generation.
You could not be an openly gay standup comedian. I had tried and the abuse was so terrible that I quit.- Scott Thompson
So I realized that doing Buddy Cole could allow me to have my standup voice in many ways. And then, over the years, he just became a real person.
I'm still writing new Buddy Cole monologues.
BM: For me Scott's the great unsung gay cultural hero. He needed to say some things that were important to him and so that was one that is more his than any other character is of a person, you know. We can say, 'Oh, this Chicken Lady isn't as funny as the other one,' [but] Buddy Cole is a different thing, it's really kind of, as I said, Scott's alter ego.
He has so much to say. [Scott] did a one man show that toured around which was Buddy Cole talking about being older, the #MeToo movement, being a gay man now and, like, that character has the ability to have been relevant 30 years after it's creation. So I think in that way it would have to be considered the best [sketch between the most famous ones like the Chicken Lady and Headcrusher].
The future of Buddy
Buddy Cole seems to have survived it all and according to the troupe, we'll be seeing more of him in the near future.
ST: There's gonna be a firestorm of controversy over us and you know what, God that's gonna be fun!
You don't know where Buddy Cole stands, you can't figure out what he is. Is he left, is he right, is he centre? What is he?
Buddy Cole, he's whatever he thinks. He's an individual. He's a human being. He's not a cause. When you're too much into a cause that means you're not gonna make fun of the people around you and you have to. That's why I don't join anything, because if I join then I'll wanna make fun of them. They don't want me. Nobody wants me. When a group wants me, I go, 'Why would you want me, I'll just fuck things up.' You need me in comedy and that's it. You don't need me in any group.