Interview Date: 11/30/2010
Run Date: 12/03/2010
It's not ideal, but Scott Thompson is still best known to a lot of people as "the openly gay one" from The Kids in the Hall, the great Canadian comedy troupe that made pre-Jon Stewart Comedy Central bearable and is, to some of us, the only true television sketch comedy successor to the genius of Monty Python. Like all of the Kids, Thompson is an unusually gifted character comedian, creating memorable grotesques of all genders and sexual preferences, ranging from suburban dads and curmudgeons to Queen Elizabeth II and my personal favorite, violence-prone Italian screen siren Francesca Fiore. Don't ask me why Fiore never came up in this interview
After the KITH television show wrapped and "Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy" came out in 1996, Thompson followed it up with a stint on another dark-hued TV comedy classic. He played Gary Shandling's gay assistant, Brian, on "The Larry Sanders Show," where he was crucial to some the show's most explosively funny moments. Though he has kept busy in the years since, racking up over sixty credits on IMDb with numerous guest appearances including "The Simpsons" and "Reno 911,", to this day the character Thompson is still probably the most identified with is raconteur Buddy Cole, whose absurdly risque monologues created an indelible image of a man who seemed perfectly content to be a full-time professional homosexual and bon vivant.
The problem is that Thompson isn't Cole and he naturally doesn't appreciate being ghettoized as a "gay actor." All of which helps explain why Thompson decided to focus on the mostly openly heterosexual of his recurring male KITH characters for his first foray into comic books, Danny Husk: The Hollow Planet from independent publishers Frozen Beach. Debuting in stores right now, the three-volume graphic novel focuses on Thompson's straight-arrow office guy in a comic-science fiction tale inspired by everything from Lord of the Rings to John Norman's infamous Gor novels.
I caught up with Thompson at the Frozen Beach booth on the final day of Comic-Con 2010. As you'll see below, Thompson is a very friendly interview subject. He also doesn't mind getting into ultra-geek mode, as we explore such topics as obscure seventies science fiction writers and just what's up with the fanboy obsession with "dark" superheroes, as well as his survival of a serious recent illness.
We also found time to discuss briefly the latest from Thompson's old gang: "The Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town," the then-new Kids in the Hall miniseries, which was about to play in the U.S. late last summer. If you'd like to watch it -- I missed it myself due to a DVR user-error on my part -- a Region 1 DVD from the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) is currently all but unavailable. Let's hope that IFC will be putting out an American release soon.
Bullz-Eye: Is this your first Comic-Con?
Scott Thompson: Well, I came two years ago with Stephan [Nilson], the president of Frozen Beach and the guy who helped me adapt this into a book, but this is my first time as a professional on business.
BE: What's your impression of it, then and now?
ST: It's like being in Vegas without the gambling. It's that constant din. It's my third day, so I'm a little tired, but it's a lot of fun. Honestly, I think it's gotten a little too big. I think it's stretched itself too much.
BE: Believe it or not, I've been going to these things off and on since I was about 13 years old, and I definitely agree. It used to have a little more charm.
ST: It sort of reminded me of the Roman Empire. It might have stretched itself too thin.
ST: The fact that I heard they're going to make it even bigger does not bode well.
BE: As long as more people are willing to come, they're going to try to do that.
ST: But it seems to have lost its focus on basically what it was meant to be, which is comics and graphic novels and all that sort of thing. There's no reason why it shouldn't encompass pop culture, but "The Mythbusters"? Really? I don't quite understand that. It shouldn't just be about everything, because then it's about nothing. It has been a lot of fun, but I think it should go back a little. That won't happen.
BE: [Laughing] The tendency of all things is to expand.
ST: Expand until they break. That's human nature, isn't it? God, now we're seeing that with everything, with the American empire, really. This might be the Iraq of pop culture. It might have gone a...little...too...far.
BE: [Laughing] On that note...
ST: Not that I'm not having a good time!
BE: I'm a big Kids in the Hall fan going way back. I've been reminding myself about Danny Husk. It's interesting because I noticed Danny -- I didn't know he had a last name -- throughout the series has been in some of the funniest sketches. The salt in the eye sketch...
ST: "Salt in My Eyes"?
BE: I never quite get the exact titles....or where they discover the secret component in his sweat. And I was also reminded by consulting Wikipedia that he's also a former porn star...
ST: "Blade Rogers."
BE: Right. And blessed with the equipment that comes with that.
ST: Absolutely. That's still there.
BE: You're aware that there's two shows on television now with well-endowed protagonists?
ST: I did not see that. "Hung" -- what's the other one?
BE: I was at the MTV Movie Awards. About the only interview I could get was the star of that show. I can't remember the full name right now, but it was "The Hard [Times of R.J. Berger]."
ST: Yeah. And it's for kids, too -- young people. MTV right? Not children, but...
BE: They say it's like "American Pie" on television. So, do you feel like you could sue?
ST: I feel like it's perfect, because if Danny's the third, then maybe I can make some money this time. I might actually make some money this time. I've realized in my career that, being first, there's no money in being first. The money's in being third. So, maybe it's right. Danny's been hung for a long time.
BE: So let's talk a little bit about the comic. How did you decide to start doing a comic book in the first place?
ST: I've always loved the medium. I love comic books, I love graphic novels. The story's been in me for a while. I've been working on it for ten years. Originally, I was going to write it as a novel, and then I thought, "Why don't I write a screenplay?" I just thought that I just wanted to write something that I'd love. I didn't want to think about whether it was economically feasible or anything like that. I've never really done that anyway. I thought, "I want to take my two favorite things in the world, the mediums of fantasy and comedy, and put them together." I also wanted to escape that stereotype box that I've been in.
ST: I've been very boxed in by being openly gay. I thought, "When are people going to realize that I'm so much more?" And then I thought, "Stop bitching about it. Just write your way out of it."
ST: And then I thought, "Who's the straightest character that I play? That would be Danny Husk." I thought, "Wow, he's so perfect for an epic story like this, because you can project anything on to him. He's a bit like Chauncey Gardiner in "Being There." People [say,] "That Danny Husk, he's a brilliant one." He's not the most brilliant or anything, but he's dogged. He never gives up. And everybody can relate to him because they can feel a little bit better than him. I also thought what was perfect about him in a kind of epic fantasy like this is that I think it's great when a hero is underestimated. Like Frodo in Lord of the Rings, you don't expect the hobbit to be the hero.
ST: And you certainly don't expect Danny Husk to, but in all of his life, in all the things that Danny has done: his sweat saved the world; he was the world's most endowed porn star; he got kidnapped yet still managed to be walking around, but he's always completely unaware of his gifts. That was it. Then I peddled this screenplay for a year...It was conceived as a trilogy because I'm a total geek and everything should be a trilogy. [Doing a geeky voice] "It's gotta be three." Everything.
BE: [Laughing] Right, right.
ST: Then, everywhere I went, every studio said "Oh, it's the funniest, most original thing we've ever read." That translates to "we will never make your movie" and "can you get Will Ferrell to play the guy?" "No. Me." I was very adamant that it had to be me. Then a couple of years ago I thought, "I've been working on this for a long time. I want to get this story out. I love this medium, so let's see if I can maybe turn it into [a comic book.] Then I started peddling it around and a lot of graphic novel companies said, "This is a great idea." These guys I went with because I liked their stuff and I liked Stephan, the president. I thought he had a handle on the story. So, for the last 14 months, we have been diligently turning this into a graphic novel.
BE: Now, I have to admit I haven't seen it yet. Do you use the same artist throughout?
ST: The name's Kyle Morton. He's absolutely wonderful. He's a young guy from Nebraska. I went through a lot of artists. I wanted it to be realistic. I wanted it to be kind of old-fashioned. I want it to be tactile, and I want it to comic, obviously, but not overtly comic. I didn't want anything exaggerated. I didn't want giant anime eyes or tiny limbs. I wanted it to look like real people. I was very influenced as a child by Frank Frazetta and that kind of stuff.
BE: No kidding.
ST: The covers of pulp -- the covers of Edgar Rice Burroughs novels, Conan the Barbarian, and all that. Then I thought, I don't want him to be that out of control. Then I saw this guy's work, Kyle Morton, and I said, "That's the guy." So, we started working on it 14 months ago. The first thing was to take the 14 main characters. Once they were established, then we could tell the story. I would send him dozens of photographs of people online that I thought might this character, because they were all in my head. Of course, Danny had to look like me. Then when we settled on it, we would say, "That's the character," and then we started to tell the story.
BE: So this is quite an epic story.
ST: It is epic. 14 main characters, human and non.
BE: How many issues is it going to be?
ST: Issues? There'll be three books. It's a big book. It's a 130 pages.
BE: So it's three graphic novels.
ST: It's three graphic novels, eventually, yes. Burroughs was a huge influence. The Pellucidar series.
BE: I'm familiar with it...
ST: Do you know that?
BE: Pellucidar is the...
ST: ...center of the earth.
BE: I'm not sure if I read those, but I have read some of the John Carter of Mars series, the Tarzan books. I should have read [the Pellucidar books,] but I'm not sure that I did.
ST: The Journey to the Center of the Earth [by Jules Verne]?
BE: Of course.
ST: ...The other main inspiration is also John Norman's series, the Gor books.
BE: I never read those.
ST: But you've heard of them.
BE: I sure have. Back when I was little science fiction geek, they were highly controversial.
ST: And they still are. He's still never gotten his due because I think people are -- they're terrified of the man. Terrified to say they love him. He totally subverted me. I had no idea what I was getting into when I first started reading the Gor series. Then it was like, "Oh my God, it's about a slave planet and there's all this S&M stuff and blah blah blah." I wanted this book to be sexy. I wanted to explore sexuality in all of its glorious Technicolor. I decided at the very beginning that the world would be very polymorphously perverse.
BE: That makes sense.
ST: People would have sex with whoever they wanted as long as it was consensual. No one cared. I wanted to explore, comically, but I wanted to explore the notion of slavery. Danny becomes a slave. Much like Through the Looking Glass, I wanted to invert our own world. So I thought, "If I'm going to explore that world of slavery, I'm going to completely convert it. So Danny is the white slave. The king is black. It's a racial negative. So that's what happened. I've said "John Norman" to some people and they kind of go "What?!" It's very politically incorrect. Art is not about political correctness.
BE: No kidding, yeah.
ST: That's his vision, that's his world. He's not saying that everyone should be like that, but that's what he wants to do. Not everything has to be activistey. And as a person like me, I have been such a victim of that thinking, that everything I have to do has to be politically correct, or positive.
BE: Any artist in a minority position gets this.
ST: They do. If you're a black artist or a gay artist or Hispanic, whatever, there's this weight that's put on you by the larger community, but you're own community, mostly. I find that really boring. The majority community doesn't have to worry about that sort of thing. They just tell stories. That's what's so great about using Danny. He's a straight, white male, a heterosexual middle-aged businessman. He's the enemy, but in my world he's the hero; he's the antihero. A lot of it's about exoticism. What is exotic? Well, in this world, he is exotic. Exotic is just what you don't know.
ST: So this has given me an opportunity to explore these themes. Of course, because I like comedy -- I adore comedy -- and I want to do it through comedy. I don't want to insult the world of graphic novels or comic books, but I'm going to. It's not very funny.
BE: There have been a few. I'm actually not as up to date as I should be. There's been a few people, like Kyle Baker. Interestingly, because of what we've just been saying, he's a black artist whose been able to get out of that box to some degree....I mean I could go historically, Plastic Man...
ST: I know Plastic Man, yeah!
BE: And The Spirit...
ST: The Tick would be a newer one.
BE: There's been a few, but overall it's kind of like the [overly serious] heavy metal music world sometimes. Traditionally, comic strips were more associated with humor.
ST: Yeah, you're right.
BE: And there's a kind of a young male [aesthetic]. Traditionally, when people think of superhero comics, it's sort of harder edged genre stuff. But, yeah, there's been some [humorous comics], but not enough.
ST: It's funny you say that because I've never really thought of that. The fact that comic strips are usually funny, but when they become comics or graphic novels, they're not.
BE: Originally, it was very bifurcated. You had funny animal comics -- Carl Barks' Donald Duck -- for kids. I don't want to give you the whole history of comics...
ST: I don't mind.
BE: Well, if you think about it, there was a big reaction against the "Batman" television show because that was funny. A lot of people in the superhero world really reacted against that. They didn't want to do anything remotely campy, even to the extent that there's recently a very good television show, "Batman: The Brave and the Bold," which is more or less a comedy show and is somewhat campy. There has been some controversy among fans, though there has always been a core group of us who liked the "Batman" TV show. It was funny.
ST: It was funny.
BE: There's nothing wrong with that. You can do serious and you can do funny.
ST: After "The Dark Knight," do we really have to get darker?
BE: [Laughing] "The Darker Knight," "The Darkest Knight."
ST: Exactly. Really. "Ebony Knight," "Death Knight." Seriously. Yes, comics can be taken seriously now. Now, can we be funny?
BE: I think in alternative comics there's always been a lot.
ST: Yes. R. Crumb and that sort of thing.
BE: I do want to talk a little bit about "Death Comes to Town." When is that coming to the States?
ST: August 20th on the IFC, Independent Film Channel. It's already played in Canada. It did extremely well. It's now being rerun, it's playing again this summer...Actually, next week I go back up to L.A. and the five of us start doing press for it. It's pretty amazing for me. Everything is coming together in a way that I didn't really dream of. I'm quite thrilled with the way things are coming together.
BE: The fans are all very excited to see you guys back together again.
ST: I think you're going to love it. It's not a sketch comedy series.
BE: I'm aware of that. It's a miniseries.
ST: But it is us. We wrote it, we star in it. I think, honestly, for many years we were paralyzed by the fact that we can't really do another sketch series; we're not gonna top that one. Then, Bruce [McCullough] came to us with the idea when we were on tour two years ago with our last show. We did a brand new tour. It was very successful and we started writing like crazy again and went, "Geez, maybe we should have another kick at the can and see what happens." Bruce had this idea about Death being like a salesman stuck in a hick town and having to kill these different people and how boring it was. He wanted to make it a movie, and we said, "Bruce, rather than making another movie of yours that goes nowhere..."
BE: [Laughing] Hey, I like "Brain Candy."
ST: "...Like all our careers. Why don't the five of us make this into a miniseries." The timing was just right for us. We love each other like crazy, and there's nobody that makes us laugh like each other, so we thought, "Let's do this, while there's still time, before the window closes."
BE: So, it's not really that much of a whodunit? I sort of got the impression that it was.
ST: Well, it is.
BE: I mean, if Death is killing everybody...
ST: No, Death isn't killing anyone, he's just Death...Someone is actually killing people. Basically, it is a whodunit, but, honestly, Agatha Christie's not rolling in her grave. It's comedy first, but it is a mystery. We hope to do another one, and we decided to take on this genre our way. I think one of the big inspirations for this was, I don't know if you're familiar with the British series, "The League of Gentlemen."
BE: I'm familiar with it, I never actually watched it. Moving back to the comic book, aside from what you've already mentioned, what are the other comics or genre stuff that you think may have informed "The Hollow Planet."
ST: I would say Lord of the Rings for the epic structure and the fact that Danny Husk, like Frodo is a character that is underestimated. I would say, as I said, John Norman for the Gor books, Edgar Rice Burroughs...H. Rider Haggard of She, that's another big inspiration. Another inspiration is John Varley, I don't know if you're familiar with him.
BE: No, I am familiar with John Varley. You're only a few years older than me. I was reading Galaxy Magazine in the early eighties I guess. Was he the one who did the story called "Birthdays"? No, that was Fred Saberhagen.
ST: Yes, I know Fred Saberhagen. No, [John Varley's] the one who did the Titan trilogy. Titan, Wizard, and I can't remember the third [Demon]. They're amazing books. I'm amazed no one's turned them into movies. They're a trilogy. They're very sexy, sexual.
BE: I remember that.
ST: Very. There's a race of centaurs that have penises and vaginas. Everybody's bisexual. The centaurs are having sex with humans, the main character is a lesbian. This was written 25 years ago.
BE: That late seventies/early eighties world -- they called it "New Wave science fiction." It was a time of massive [freedom]....You probably remember Ursula K. Le Guin's book, The Left Hand of Darkness...
ST: Of course I do, yes.
BE: For a while it seemed like it was almost unusual to read a book where everybody was heterosexual. You had characters who were -- if they weren't humans especially...
ST: They were generally lesbians, not male homosexuals.
BE: People tend to be a little more comfortable with it.
BE: But I do remember that Ursula K. Le Guin wrote another book, The Dispossessed, have you read that one?
ST: Of course. I'm a huge geek. Science fiction, I adore.
BE: Then you probably know more than me, but that was a book that made a huge impression on me. And I remember being struck at the time. In the book, while her main character is male and more or less heterosexual, his best friend is gay. Just to kind of make him [i.e., the gay friend] happy -- and I may be remember this slightly wrong..
ST: He has sex with him?
BE: He has sex with him a couple of times. Not out of any particular desire to...
ST: No, he's a good guy!
BE: ...Just to be a nice guy. Yeah.
ST: There we go. I wish the world was full of more nice guys like that. I met a few in my day! "You know Scott, it's not my thing but, come on, I'll throw you a bone, no pun intended."
BE: [Laughing] Yeah, so...
ST: That is a big one. I actually reread the Varley trilogy, and I went, "Man, this guy was ahead of his time. One of the main characters is Gaea, the planet...that's so much now in the world, the zeitgeist. The Gulf spill. You can't look at the spill -- "God, the planet's got a wound, it's bleeding." [Note: Thompson is alluding here to the Gaia hypothesis, which holds that the Earth is a kind of single organism.]
BE: Yeah. Right.
ST: But the polymorphously perverse aspect of his work really influenced me.
BE: Have you had any early response from anybody?
ST: No, because nobody's read it...Well, Stephan Nilson, the one who adapted it and the president the company [said] some people have read parts of it and he's said they're responding very, very well.
BE: I'm sure you have your fingers crossed.
ST: I do.
BE: Because the hope is, and it's funny how these things work, sometimes you put something into comic book form and then the studio people get interested and turn it into something.
ST: Sure. That would be wonderful but, honestly, I would be happy if it's [just this], because I couldn't be happier with the book. I'm so thrilled to see it there. To see something that's been in my head for ten years come to life is an unbelievable joy.
BE: And kind of a wrap-up question: Aside from "Death Comes to Town" and "The Hollow Planet," what else is in the future for Scott Thompson?
ST: I've been making a lot of short films. I'm working on my third. I'm going to start taking them to festivals...I decided to take my career in my own hands. “Stop complaining, just do it.” I have a podcast too, called Scott Free, which I've been doing an awful lot. I'm doing stand-up again and I have a one-man show called Scottastrophe that [I'll be] touring. I'm extremely busy right now. Oh, and I just kicked cancer.
BE: I was going to ask you about that.
ST: That's the big one.
BE: That's kind of big, isn't it?
ST: It's kind of big. Yeah. It's kind of big.
BE: According to Wikipedia, they told you it was inoperable, but here you are.
ST: That's not true. Is that what they said? That makes it so much more dramatic.
BE: So, you were never told that, but...
ST: Oh no, it was "inoperable," but that doesn't mean terminal. I think people hear "inoperable" they think "incurable."
BE: Obviously, they just didn't want to operate.
ST: Whoever did that -- that's not quite true. It makes me sound much more of a hero.
BE: Remember, it's Wikipedia.
ST: I had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. It's a kind of a cancer that they don't really [operate on].
BE: It's not how it's treated.
ST: I've had quite an education since I was diagnosed and it's more like a leukemia. You don't operate on leukemia either. It's a liquid cancer. It's the lymphatic system. I had four lesions. It was in my stomach. The technical term for my cancer was non-Hodgkins large B cell gastric lymphoma. I had the same cancer that the guy from "Spartacus" had.
BE: That's funny because I was actually at a roundtable with him a few days ago.
ST: How's he doing?
BE: He said "great." I don't know if you feel this, he actually said that he's had a kind of extra burst of energy. He was in bed for awhile and he's slowly getting back into working out because he's got to go back to the show.
[Writer’s note: Unfortunately, it was announced in September that Andy Whitfield of Starz's "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" would not be returning to the show as previously planned. His doctors had determined that he needed to resume aggressive treatment for the disease. We obviously wish him a speedy recovery.]
ST: He's like my cancer brother. I want to meet that guy one day.
BE: Seems like a nice guy.
ST: Because...I know what he went through. It's not easy. It's a vicious cancer but it can be cured, and it was. I'm exactly like him in that -- well, he's a little...
BE: He's a little younger.ST: A little younger and he's certainly got a much better body. But, you know, it has given me a whole new lease on life. I feel better, younger, hungrier, happier, than I've felt.