An audience with the queen

Former Kid in the Hall Scott Thompson holds court about his sissy-celebrating new book and solo tour.

Published July 24, 1998 4:56PM (EDT)

He's a dedicated barfly and a natural-born ham, the unabashed queen of
debauchery. Buddy Cole, who made his debut telling tall tales from a bar stool
on the Canadian sketch comedy TV series "The Kids in the Hall," is the
creation of Scott Thompson, one of the Kids' founders and the
only openly gay member of the troupe. Two years after the Kids
split up, Thompson is keeping Buddy alive with a continentwide
comedy tour and a new memoir titled "Buddy Babylon: The
Autobiography of Buddy Cole," a novel's
worth of material that Thompson and collaborator Paul Bellini
wrote for the character. The story is a classic rags-to-riches tale
-- Buddy moves from his childhood home on a northern Quebec
pig farm to the fast-paced urban party scene, touching glitter and
glam, copping a feel where he can and experiencing many a night
he barely remembers on the way to momentary stardom. Like
the show from which it sprang, Buddy's story is full of flaming
silliness and caustic intelligence, as well as deliciously random humor.

In their heyday in the late '80s and early '90s, the Kids in the Hall
took cross-dressing comedy over the threshold of camp into a truly original
comedic art form. It was easy to forget that none of the five Kids was a
woman. Besides Buddy, Thompson contributed a giddy portrayal of Queen
Elizabeth (to whom he bears a stunning likeness) to the group's repertoire.
In his post-Kids life, Thompson is best known as Brian, Hank Kingsley's gay
personal assistant, on HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show." Salon recently spoke
with Thompson about his stand-up comedy tour, his opinion of a certain gay
sitcom star and the repressed culture that resists Buddy Cole's
alcohol-soaked wisdom.

You were just in Texas, right? What was that like?

Well, I'll tell you, that was an education. Houston was very good. San
Antonio was good and bad. I had some great shows; I had some other shows
where half the audience walked out. But my retort to San Antonio was,
"Jeez, it's as if they've never seen a feminine blond boy before, which
means they must never have seen 'Titanic.'"

It's interesting to go back into the hinterlands. You realize people
are different. It's not like the coast. But that's fine for me. I have a
real warrior mentality. I like to do battle. I like a challenge.

Of all the characters you've developed, why have you decided to take
Buddy Cole on the road?

Well, I'm promoting my novel. That serves that purpose. The other thing
is, Buddy Cole had an enormous amount of material that I'd already written
for him, and I've continued to write for him ever since the show ended. And
he's the one character I do that is not just a character, he's also a
person who's very self-reflective and he has pretty much an opinion on
everything. So it allows me to range far and wide over the state of the
world. He allows me to say things that other characters are not allowed
to, and he allows me to wade into areas of taboo and somehow
get away with it. You know, some of the things I'm most fascinated by are
things that people can't really talk about openly, like race and
self-loathing among gay men and sexuality. And I get to be a queen, and
that's a big relief.

A big relief from what?

Well, it's a big relief to let all of your feminine qualities reign; it
really is a release. Oddly enough, of all the characters I did in "The Kids
in the Hall," the most feminine character was a man. Buddy Cole allows me to
access that queen in me. As gay culture has ascended, there's been this
attempt to masculinize gay men, which I think is quite silly and very
wrong-minded, and I'm hoping that Buddy Cole can slap a little sense into
people. You know, I'd be slapping them with a handbag! But, I mean, come
on -- the sissy is the truth. The muscle queen is not. That is a false
construct held up by wires, strings, steroids and the gym. It's
not real. And if gay men aren't going to accept the sissy, then they're

How have your characters changed as you've gone from a Canadian TV
show to a major motion picture to solo TV gigs?

It's very difficult to create characters on your own. One of the
greatest things about Kids in the Hall was it was a laboratory. We were
together for 11 years. You had four other people who were constantly
pushing you to go deeper and to be better and constantly criticizing you,
and that's a very healthy thing in art. So for me it's been very difficult
to continue to create new characters without the boys. I have created some
new characters, but most of them have just been my older characters. I'm
extending their lives. Because I always intend for my
characters to be with me for life.

The standards in America and the standards in Canada are different.
Canada is more repressed but, oddly, more tolerant. America is a country
that's got a bit of an identity crisis. America, I think, fancies itself
as a man, a big butch man -- Charlton Heston holding a gun for the NRA.
Our [Canada's] symbol is a Mountie, which is a male figure, but it's a
person without a gun who basically wants to talk to people. Our country
settled by a gunslinger, it was settled by a cop. So Canadians have a very
natural, inbred adherence to authority which in some ways is very analogous
to England, and that totally affects our comic way of looking at the world.

America now is in a place where you have the right to kill people, the
right to fuck your brother's sister, the right to be 800 pounds, the right
to swear at clerks.
Where I come from, you don't. There's much more of a
sense of the body politic. I think in America now this individualism
has gotten out of control. I think it's a misnomer to think that freedom
is an absolute; it is not. If you want 100 percent freedom, then go live in
the hills with the militia freaks. Because civilization is not about that.

We have such a reluctance to judge people [in America], and I'm a
satirist and that's what satirists do -- they judge. And that's why I
think our movie ["Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy"] bombed -- it was out
and out satire, and America's more into parody, which is, to me, sort of
the inbred cousin of satire.

I wonder what Jonathan Swift would say about that.

Oh! You've said the right word! I want "Buddy Babylon" to be compared
to Swift. All I'm looking for in a review is one word: Swiftian. Then I
will be so happy. That is a very big model for me. The book is a
picaresque kind of journey. I'm not saying it's "Gulliver's Travels," but
there are certain elements of it that are analogous. I mean, when Jonathan
Swift wrote "A Modest Proposal" about eating the Irish, people wanted to
kill him, because people didn't understand. In my career, people have
wanted to hurt me and hold me down because they mistake content for intent.
And you just have to ignore it.

Looking back now on the Kids, how does it fit into the comic
landscape of other shows like "Saturday Night Live," "In Living Color,"
"Mad TV"?

I think of it as music -- "The Kids in the Hall" was Sonic Youth. We sort
of affected the whole scene, but we never got the kind of attention of a
Nirvana. I think people came along and took our ideas and became bigger
with them. But I think we laid a lot of those seeds.

How would you compare the gay comedy of "Ellen" to Buddy

Oh. OK. I get in a lot of trouble over this.

That's good. Trouble's good.

Yeah, trouble's good. Trouble, trouble, trouble in River City! Buddy
Cole's comedy is not driven by an agenda. It's not activism, it's comedy.
Buddy Cole, number one, is about the joke. "Ellen" became about
empowerment. And the only empowerment in Buddy Cole is the empowerment of
talent and the empowerment of a great story. You look at Buddy Cole and
he's not what you would call a paragon of virtue. Buddy Cole is not
somebody you hold up and say, "This is what we should all be." I didn't
create Buddy Cole or any of my work to make people feel better about being

He's just sort of stumbling through it in a haze.

Absolutely. He's human. If there is empowerment, it comes through
laughter. I think I have a good metaphor: My work turns over the rock and
looks at the worms and the maggots underneath. Ellen's [DeGeneres] show
turned over the rock and pretended there were candies underneath. A lot of
that kind of work, to me, ignores the ugliness. I'm sort of a pariah
because I try to tell the truth, and historically, people aren't always
really interested in the truth. Not to shit on Ellen. I think she's
hilarious. But I really do think the show got caught up in activism and
became hijacked by those -- I don't even know how to describe those people
-- by the fascists.

Who are you talking about?

GLAAD [The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation].

They so wanted a leader that they picked her, do you think?

She didn't have the chops. Ellen was a physical comedian. I saw her
live before, she reduced me to helpless laughter, but at the end of the
show, I wouldn't be able to tell you anything about her. That's fine.
Everybody has their own muse to serve. And I think it was ill-advised for
her to try to serve this muse. Her muse is Lucy, not Lenny Bruce.

Who's your muse?

My muse would be Lenny Bruce -- and Lucy. I look at things sometimes
and I go, "That's ugly," and I just have to say it. Whereas, I think other
people will stop themselves because they think it will hurt the cause. My
cause is me. My cause is comedy. It makes me sound really selfish, but
artists are selfish by nature. Art is selfish, it is dictatorial. It is
not politically correct. It is not inclusive. It is not democratic. Art
is a bitch riding a horse all night and then putting her away wet. That's
the beauty and the ugliness of it. You have to accept that when you do it,
you're going to be misunderstood.

By Fiona Morgan

Fiona Morgan is an associate editor for Salon News.

MORE FROM Fiona Morgan

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