5 min

How low can he go?

Gay icon enters his 'Hugh Hefner' years

Credit: Paula Wilson

Following the hairpin turns of Scott Thompson’s deliciously twisted mind is like driving an icy road: You never know where or when you’ll come to a sudden stop. One minute it’s Oprah-style forgiveness, the next it’s brazen gay invective.

Polite, punctual and eager to please, the ex-Kid In The Hall is also desperate to be a “monster.” Not for him the polite platitudes of the “liberal agenda” or the “gay leadership,” (whatever and whoever they may be).

For his new one-man, multi-character show, The Lowest Show On Earth, he’s gone as about as low as he can go. “Sea level,” he jokes. “Most of the characters live below sea level.”

A tale of 12 characters built around the story of an ancient straight guy trying to get laid, “it’s about base impulses, the urge to commit murder, drugs, unsafe sex, rape, gossip, exploitation,” says Thompson. “It’s partly a satire on shock culture.”

He should know. Last spring, Thompson shocked a crowd of Can Lit types with a brazen performance at the Griffin Poetry Prize awards ceremony. Playing a French Canadian sex pig with an interest in water sports, Thompson swung an oversized sock-penis at the likes of Margaret Atwood, Hilary Weston and Orange Prize-winning author Anne Michaels.

“I don’t know why people would be upset about that,” he says. Then, sliding into character and a Jean Chrétien-like accent: “I say to her [Michaels], ‘Want to suck my cock?’ And then I say to her, ‘Piss on you? Ah, you want to piss on me, unh?’

“She’s staring at me with horror. Apparently she’s a big writer. I didn’t know. The Canadian literary establishment is pretty snobby.”

Thompson was shuffled off stage.

But he doesn’t regret much. “There’s something thrilling about going down in flames,” he says. “Obviously, I’d rather kill. I’d rather the audience leapt to their feet and carried me out on a litter. But it’s better than a lukewarm reaction because I obviously pushed buttons.”

Even better, nobody called him “gay.” Monster, appalling, filthy, insane… yes, but not gay. “And I was so thankful for that,” says Thompson.

Out since the early 1980s, and nationally famous as a gay comic since at least 1989 when the Kids In The Hall began its six-year run on national television, Thompson, 42, is apparently sick of playing gay – or at least the nice version of it.

Famous for Buddy Cole, his acidulous, martini-swizzling queen character, Thompson also played a gay assistant on The Larry Sanders Show and the gay best friend on Providence. The Sanders gig was a great introduction to US showbiz, says Thompson, but Providence was the last straw.

A gay character at 8pm in prime time just doesn’t have much leeway, says Thompson. “You make food, you wear an apron, you listen to the main character bitch, you straighten their blouses and then you wait for them to come home from their date and you sigh with them. ‘What’s wrong with him?’

“It’s not that I don’t want to play gay but if I play a gay character, they’d better have some gumption, some balls, some dimensions…. I’m an artist, not a tool. I’m not something to be used to teach people about tolerance.”

Thompson was asked to read for the Sean Hayes role on Will And Grace, but declined for fear of typecasting. “That would have been me saying that’s all I can do.”

For the new show, he’s broadened his reach. Old characters are back. Buddy Cole explores bisexuality and Queen Elizabeth takes on barebacking. “She thinks it’s about riding a horse without a saddle.”

But there are four new characters, including the French Canadian sex pig. “He’s never not killed since that night [at the Griffins],” says Thompson. “They loved him in Florida. They loved the idea of a French-Canadian with a giant penis in a Speedo trying to pick up all the women. They really related to that.”

Overall, the show is about “survival and emerging from the rubble. It’s about each character triumphing in a weird way over adversity.”

Thompson himself has survived a lot. And we’re not just talking national fame and celebrity. His brother Dean committed suicide six years ago. Then a little over a year ago, his home in LA was firebombed by alleged Islamic extremists.

Thompson’s then-partner, director Joel Soler, was working on a documentary about Saddam Hussein and apparently some people didn’t like it. Soler is now working on a film about Osama Bin Laden’s family. “He’s a very brave man, a little crazy,” says Thompson. “I think the two of us coming together put the planets out of alignment.”

Now single, Thompson has adopted a philosophical approach to life (“I feel much more compassionate about people’s failings, about my own failings”) and a heightened libido. “I’m single for the first time in years and I’m fine with it,” he says. “So I am in my Hugh Hefner years, except I’m not 70, I don’t need Viagra and I get dressed when I get up in the morning.

“I’m totally in my stud years. I’ve made my peace with sex.”

Thompson came out just about the same time that AIDS struck and for a long time it frightened him into a kind of creative repression. “It’s not that I was monk, but I didn’t really have relationships up until 1990.

“I would have been the whore of Babylon if I’d come of age in the 1970s.” Instead, he created comic characters.

Long before Kids In The Hall, Thompson was working on Buddy Cole. Together with writer Paul Bellini (co-writer on The Lowest Show) and other friends, Thompson spent entire weekends inventing stories. “We spent all the ’80s hiding out from AIDS,” says Thompson. “All our gang did was smoke pot and make stories on video. Paul had the first video camera I’d ever seen.”

Most of the stories revolved around “plastic surgery, plastic surgery nightmares and world domination.” They almost always started with one of Buddy’s amorous catastrophes. His lovers were usually CEOs or terrorists. “Buddy always lived large.”

In one story, Buddy is starting to age and a surgeon decides the only way to renew his youthful vitality is to place the lining of his asshole over his face. The operation is a success. People think he’s seven.

In another story, someone’s asshole is kidnapped and stretched across the Don Valley Parkway where it causes a huge multiple car pile up.

Thompson is at his happiest telling these stories, but then, he seems happiest describing his characters, a varied crew whom he treats like real people. It’s the rest of the world that seems to irk him, particularly that part of the world that would block his artistic energies or fail to give him his due.

As the gay face of Kids In The Hall, Thompson was doing out gay comedy eight years before Ellen DeGeneres. Even today Buddy’s bibulous monologues and kids’ discussions of sex and AIDS on “The Steps” segments are still fresh. But his work never received the same level of recognition as DeGeneres’s. And that’s created a sore that’s never quite healed.

“I’m telling you there was literally no attention. None. So of course I was hurt, very hurt, for many years, very angry.

“You [Xtra] were the worst. I hated you like I hated a person. Imagine you’re the gay paper and you don’t talk about something that’s happening on television in your country to one of your own that’s revolutionary. What is that? If that isn’t self-loathing and we hate ourselves, what is?”

These days Thompson is cautiously philosophical. “History is filled with people who were first and don’t get their due.” He admires Ellen, but figures she went through hell. And it had to be a woman who made the first big breakthrough. “People are still more frightened of male homosexuals. [We’re] much more demonized.”

And he’s much more at ease with himself and about as comfortable with the world as a satirical performing artist is likely to get. “My yawning chasm of an ego,” he says wryly, “seems to be filled at the moment.”

* The Lowest Show On Earth.

$34.50-$39.50. 8pm.

7:30 & 10pm. Sat.

until – Feb 3.

New Yorker Theatre.

651 Yonge St.

(416) 870-8000.