Kids in the Hall comedian on gay men being neutered by women and how bullied kids should 'grow a pair'
Scott Thompson is still a kid in the hall, but his outlook on life – it doesn’t always get better, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy ruined our community and “the world isn’t kind to us” – is very much of a grown-up who’s been gay for a while. Thompson, 52, has been out publicly since his career launched in the ’80s with The Kids in the Hall, a sketch comedy show that helped push homosexuality into the mainstream with outrageously funny drag acts and monologues.
During our recent chat, Thompson looked back at The Kids in the Hall and how it wouldn’t have existed without AIDS; offered a solution to the bullying problem (“fight back”); and talked about the difference between him and Kathy Griffin – she makes you feel good about yourself, and he doesn’t.
Why talk about sex, race and death during this show?
What else is there? I like going to the places that make people uncomfortable, because that makes me comfortable. Also, Kevin and I balance each other. He’s much more the yin and I’m the yang.
As the show went along, I thought I should focus on these three things because they excite me and make people uncomfortable, and that’s what we want to do. Standup is a great form for that.
You’ve been doing that your whole life, especially with Kids in the Hall. Looking back, what do you think made that show so successful?
We were lucky. Society was being forced to confront homosexuality because of AIDS, so we just came along at the right time. If AIDS hadn’t happened I don’t think we would have happened. At least Buddy Cole (a character of his on Kids in the Hall) wouldn’t have happened. AIDS in many ways pried open that door. We were discovered in a fairytale kind of way; those things don’t happen very often. They happen almost never.
Was that show the high point of your career?
So far. The funny thing is, I’m still a “Kid in the Hall.” It was 22 years ago today that our special aired. How is that possible? We were just kids!
Hard to believe it’s been that long?
Yes, it is – because Kevin and I are on stage, and we’ve known each other now for 25 years, and we’re still behaving like children. I mean, our show is so stupid! It’s weird, Kevin and I get off stage and we’re like, “What are we doing? We’re middle-aged men. We have no right to act this silly.” But it’s great! (Laughs) That’s what keeps you young. We’ll never get old at this rate.
If you didn’t have that attitude, you may have not overcome some of what you did in your life, like cancer a couple years back.
I talk a lot about cancer in the show. What’s interesting is that I’ve discovered it’s a taboo. Now that homosexuality is completely boring I’ve been handed a new topic that people are uncomfortable with. I talk a lot about the side effects of chemo – like when I grew breasts! Suddenly I’m talking about cancer and hormones and transgenderism, and what could be more topical? I had bigger tits than Chastity... I mean, Chaz! (Laughs)
I’ve been thinking a lot about this, the whole transgender thing. When I had cancer, the chemo converted my testosterone to estrogen, I grew little tits like Jodie Foster in “Taxi Driver,” I became very emotional, I became obsessed with “Twilight,” I lost my ambition and my sex drive. I’m thinking, “But that doesn’t make me a woman; I’m just a man with a hormonal imbalance.”
You were halfway there.
I was! And now I’m back, because I went through testosterone therapy. So I’m myself again and I can’t tell you what that was like. Well, I do – I tell it onstage.
You say homosexuality is boring. Did you ever think you’d see the day when you’d be saying that?
Never, no! You know, today I was sitting in Starbucks having my tea and I look at the story about what we were two years ago, what our targets were, and in many ways the targets were straight white men in suits – that was the enemy. Now I go, I feel bad for straight white men! (Laughs) I feel like they’re the new woman. Like, straight white guys can’t say shit.
There’s this huge national dialogue going on about bullying, and I had a terrible time as a child. But women are bullying now! Let’s be honest, look at the role of gay men on television – for a gay male to be on television he has to be neutered, and who’s doing the neutering? Women. Straight men don’t do it; they don’t give a shit. They are jealous of how much sex we have. It’s women who are neutering us. They want us to be their shopping companions, but they don’t want us to be doing spit roasts or sucking cock in back alleys.
Which shows are you referring to?
Every show. Point to a gay male on television who’s a man and who’s sexual. (Modern Family) is a hilarious show but there are two gay men who aren’t really allowed to be physical or touch each other; it’s implicit that they’re monogamous, which we know is nonsense. They have to raise a Chinese girl! How feminizing is that? And on every makeover show, everyone talks about gay men like they’re little poodles.
We have Queer Eye for the Straight Guy to thank for that.
Exactly. I remember when it first came out and I went, “Oh god, stop – you’re going to ruin everything.” And it absolutely did. Every fucking show is full of that.
I talk a lot in the show about my chemotherapy, about getting those tiny breasts and having to have a mammogram, and that’s when I was introduced into the world of breast cancer. Breast cancer is out of control. Not the actual disease but the program behind it. Seriously, the other day I saw a Pepsi truck that was painted pink and that had a ribbon on it and I’m thinking, “Pepsi, you fucking cause cancer!” It’s like a fist being the spokesperson for domestic violence.
You’ve addressed bullying before, specifically how the It Gets Better campaign is basically a lie – it might not get better, you say. What would you tell bullied kids, then?
Grow a pair. Here’s the thing: The world is not kind to us; it never really will be. The gay male is always going to be at the bottom. I believe the things that happened to me as a child scarred me terribly, and I wish somebody would have helped me with some of the things that happened. But you have to fight back. So much of these bullying campaigns are part of the trend that we were just talking about – the recasting of gay men as eternal victims. And it’s like, fight back! Fathers should start teaching the boys how to punch. He does that to you, here’s what you do: You fucking punch him in the face.
I could never do it as a kid.
I couldn’t either, but with standup comedy you have that microphone – wow, is that powerful.
Did your scarred childhood lead you to comedy?
Yeah, absolutely. When I’m on that stage, and if you come at me, you’re going down. You feel like the lion tamer. It’s very powerful.
The vast majority of people are sheep, but when they get angry, they’re lions. They don’t think. Mobs don’t think, so if one person does something you gotta slap them down because it will catch fire. I think of a heckler as a cancer cell, so the moment I see it appear I have to destroy it immediately or that will spread.
And then you’ll have man boobs.
(Laughs) That’s right! So if I don’t slap ’em down it will metastasize into a riot and they’ll attack me.
I’ll probably never get over my childhood. And my heart breaks for these boys, and I know it’s so sad. I was reading the other day about these schools for gay kids and I just think that’s the wrong approach. They’ll never get the skills they need. That’s segregation. That’s just racism. So I don’t like any of those trends. I think that’s absolutely wrong.
Did you ever feel bullied as a professional comedian? Is labeling a comic “gay” a form of bullying?
Oh, constantly. That’s total bullying. It’s putting you in a category that makes you lesser. When you hyphenate anything, that’s basically lessening you. How about just “comedian”? I reject all those hyphenates. That’s just – no. I don’t want any hyphenates. I don’t want any handicap. It’s like affirmative action – that’s not good. I don’t need that. I can stand on my own two feet.
Right. We don’t call Kathy Griffin or Sarah Silverman “straight comedians.”
Exactly. And here’s the thing: Gay men almost never come to my shows.
Hardly at all, no. That’s always been an issue. The shows with Kevin and I are packed with straight people and a sprinkling of gay men – and I mean a sprinkling. Because I’m not a ghetto queen. I wish more gay men would come out. I think gay men are so used to being victimized that they think that a standup comedy club is a place where they’ll be attacked unless the standup comedian is a woman, like Margaret Cho or Kathy Griffin. Those women – and I love them both – make gay men feel good about themselves.
And you don’t?
(Laughs) No! You hit the nail on the head. I never thought of it that way, but no, I guess not. You got me.