In advance of that date, Westword caught up with Thompson to discuss how the character of Buddy Cole has the superpower to say whatever he pleases, bemoan the American audience's curious inability to access Canadian television shows, and get sidetracked talking about dictatorship in the Philippines.
Westword: You've done this most recent series of monologues at SF Sketchfest and at a few different spots on the tour. How has the audience reception been so far?
Scott Thompson: They've been going fantastic, better than I could have imagined. I'm actually quite thrilled. People are loving the show and it couldn't be going better, to be honest.
How it does it feel to get back into one of your longest-inhabited characters?
Well, it feels great, but the truth is that I kind of always do him, and it's not like it's really been that long since the last time. I still perform as Buddy quite often; there are certain topics that I decide I'm going to give him rather than to myself. But it has been a long time since I've done a whole show as Buddy. I'll tell you what's really fun: It feels like this is a good time for Buddy. Buddy doesn't really care what people think, and we live in a time right now where all people do is care about what other people think. It feels like Buddy has kind of a superpower now. To not be worried about offending people in comedy these days is a superpower, you know?
He's think-piece-proof, in a way.
In a way, yes, it feels like that for various reasons. Because, you know, I'm a white guy, so I'm not supposed to say shit. And I'm a gay guy, and you know, Buddy's not young, so I think maybe people look at him and think, "We should listen to what he has to say." And that's quite something. That's a real advantage right now.
How do the Buddy Cole monologues differ from your standup? Is there any sort of cross-pollination between the two?
Oh, yeah, they're different. The standup is much more...not free, but I rarely do things the same way every time. And it's not like I'm a robot when I'm playing Buddy, but once a monologue is done, after I've worked it and worked it and worked it, it really feels more set in stone. So I'm a little more precious about the writing when it comes to Buddy. And it's not like I don't care about the writing in my standup — I do — but it's sloppier. With Buddy, I work very hard to make everything tidy. Buddy has control over himself and his emotions and I don't, really. Buddy is stoic, and nothing can throw him; I can be thrown. But you can't throw me when I'm Buddy. He's got quite a lot of armor on. When I don the character, I think of it as a form of armor.
You mentioned earlier that being in character as Buddy frees you up to say things you wouldn't be able to say otherwise. Are there any dicey subjects you take up with these current monologues?
Yes, absolutely, I'm glad you brought it up. I take on a few topics, like gay marriage and the Me Too movement, so I definitely wade into some very turbulent waters, and it's a thrill. The newest one, the Me Too monologue, is the most thrilling because I'm coming at it in a way no else is, and that's very exciting. People go, "I can't believe he said that," and quite often, I can't believe it, either. It's a real thrill to wade into this stuff, and I think Buddy's the only guy who can do it.
Audiences must know what to expect from you at this point, though.
I would think so. Friends of mine who've seen the material will say, "You must be getting a lot of walkouts," "People must be going crazy," and the truth is that I'm really not. I say a lot of things that I think would get anybody else into trouble, but not Buddy. Not Buddy.
The tour coincides with the re-release of Buddy Babylon: The Autobiography of Buddy Cole. What can you tell us about the new material in the book?
Oh, yeah, there's a whole section — like forty pages — that we put back into the book. They were taken out of the original edition because it was too long. I don't think my publishers ever expected the book to be so meaty. I think they were expecting 120 tossed-off pages with three words each on them. So when we delivered an actual novel, they were thrown. I was very excited; I think it's the best thing I've ever done. And it wasn't censorship or anything; they just wanted to keep it under 300 pages. The section we removed could be cut out without really interrupting the narrative flow. The book is filled with stand-alone adventures, but there is an overarching narrative to it. So removing the section didn't really interfere with that, but I've always wanted to put it back in. It's another stand-alone adventure, and Buddy Cole is a supermodel in the Philippines, and he inadvertently triggers the People Power movement that brought down the Marcos regime. So once again, it's Buddy Cole at the center of these huge events. And it's fantastical; I mean, there are always fantastical elements from Buddy's life, but I think you could turn this particular story into a great, wild science-fiction comedy. But I'm very excited to put it back in the book because it takes place in the Philippines, which is a country I've been in love with since I lived there when I was young. So it's also my love letter to the Philippines.
I was going to ask if you'd lived there during the Marcos regime.
Yes! I was a teenager during the Marcos dictatorship. I was a foreign-exchange student, and I spent ten months overseas living with a Filipino family. And it was remarkable. I'd never known anything but white middle-class suburbs, and the next thing I know I'm living in a house with no electricity or windows and earthen floors, I'm cooking on an open fire and farming with water buffalo. I'm living in a third-world country under a dictator enforcing martial law. It was life-changing.
Have you been able to return there since then?
Yes, I have. I've been back twice.
Have you been there since Rodrigo Duterte got elected?
No, I went there when Aquino was in power. Which was fascinating to me, seeing the country twenty years later when the citizens ostensibly had more freedom but living conditions and quality of life actually seemed much worse. I thought, "How the hell is this possible, how could things get worse?" It's a very tough country. But it was after the Philippines endured a series of tragedies that happened all in a row: They had Pinatubo, the volcano, they had a super typhoon and a devastating earthquake all on the heels of one another. So I went back after the third disaster, and it was still definitely a mess over there.
You can almost understand the appeal of electing another authoritarian leader after all that.
That's actually an interesting point. We here in our lovely, rich, West kind of tend to forget that people's number-one priority isn't freedom of the press. It's food and water and shelter — all those things. So you really can understand how countries, in their development, might yearn for authoritarian rule. I understand that in a way that I probably wouldn't if I hadn't had that experience. And it does seem like that's what happened; Duterte is definitely a return to the Marcos era.
I didn't expect this comedy interview to get so geopolitical.
Neither did I!
It's almost weird to pivot back to show-business stuff, but here we go, anyway: I was reading about What Would Sal Do?, and it sounds like one of the most intriguing comedy premises I’ve heard in a long time. Do you have any idea if or when American audiences will get the chance to see it?
Oh, man, that hurts. It's done. They didn't pick it up for another season and I was very heartbroken about it, because I was thrilled about that show. The writing, the premise, the cast; it was just the sort of meaty part I'd always wanted to do. And I got to play a straight guy, which I'd been yearning to do forever.
A priest, no less.
A straight priest who's in love with this woman who might be the mother of Jesus? I loved it. I think it's one of the best things I've ever been a part of, and it's my best work since Kids in the Hall. And I was very pleased by how all the episodes turned out. But it didn't get picked up, maybe because the premise is that it's about the second coming of Christ. It was fascinating, because it was a comedy with elements of drama that really treated religious belief with a lot of respect. It doesn't mock people of faith. And my character is devout, and that was fascinating to play. The writers were so good, you never really knew which side they were coming down on. You couldn't tell if it was all real or just magical thinking and coincidences. So it was a really wonderful first season, and you end the series not knowing if he's actually the second coming of Christ or not. But anyway, I would love it if it could eventually find a home somewhere so people can see it.
It's weird that American audiences have access to shows from the U.K. and Norway and South Korea but not from our neighbors to the north.
I was just saying this the other day to someone, because I'm watching a Norwegian show called Occupied, and I love it, but I'm thinking, "Where are all the Canadian shows on Netflix?" And apparently they're producing a lot of Canadian content, but I can't see it here! And they never give standup specials to Canadian comedians. And they almost never give them to gay comedians, for that matter. So they certainly don't have my special.
I was actually just reading this interview with James Adomian about Saturday Night Live, and I hadn't really thought about it before other than thinking he'd be perfect for their cast. And there definitely seems like there's a real problem there, because not only is there no good reason to overlook someone so talented, but they've really like never had a gay cast member.
Well, not since Terry Sweeney for one year in the ’80s. That's it.
During arguably one of the worst seasons of the show.
Absolutely, and now that I'm thinking about it, I think that was during the one year where Lorne Michaels had left the show and before he came back. So, yeah, I agree.
I think standup is changing a little bit; there's a new generation of really funny people coming up right now.
Absolutely, and I really hope they don't have to go through what my generation went through. And I don't just mean HIV, I mean society accepting them. There was no place in entertainment for a person like me until very recently. I certainly had a great run from Kids in the Hall to The Larry Sanders Show, but even with all of Garry Shandling's genius, I still played a gay guy with a pretty tiny role. And if I were a straight guy, that wouldn't have been the case.
Okay, asking this feels a little obligatory, but do you have plans to reunite with the other Kids in the Hall for another project any time soon?
Oh, that's a fine question. I would obviously love to do something with those guys again. I'm really hoping. The five of us are talking about it, and we're hoping. I can't say much more, but I would drop everything...and I mean, even if I was holding a newborn child, I would drop that child. I would drop a baby to do another Kids in the Hall show.
Scott Thompson brings "Après Le Déluge the Buddy Cole Monologues Tour" to the Oriental Theater at 7 p.m. Monday, April 9; visit the Oriental's box-office page to buy tickets, $15 to $40, and learn more.