Those of you who go see Scott Thompson perform this week are catching the veteran comedian and actor on the way up.
During a Thursday morning interview, Thompson, who is headlining Goodnight’s Comedy Club in Raleigh, said he is approaching stand-up comedy with the vigor and excitement of someone who has faced a life-threatening illness, survived and now doesn’t want to have any regrets about what he could have said on stage, but didn’t.
If the phrase “Thompson was one of The Kids in the Hall” doesn’t mean anything to you, that’s OK. In fact, I’m kind of jealous that you can be introduced to the Emmy-nominated, Gemini Award-winning series that starred Thompson along with the rest of the Kids troupe: Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald and Mark McKinney.
In addition to The Kids in the Hall, Thompson has been a featured performer on The Larry Sanders Show and Hannibal and provided the voice for Grady in a few episodes of The Simpsons, among many other acting credits.
Subversive humor, almost certainly the best kind, has always been Thompson’s forte, and while he was sick with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, he vowed, if and when he got healthy, to focus on pursuing a stand-up career that wouldn’t require him to “soften his edges.” Not that Thompson would have done that anyway.
He was razor sharp in this interview, so enjoy it, follow Thompson on Twitter and don’t forget The Best Tweet I Can Find in Five Minutes at the end.
Tony Castleberry: How would you describe The Kids in the Hall to someone who is not familiar with the show?
Scott Thompson: Five hilarious brothers who occasionally like to wear dresses. [interviewer laughs]
TC: That’s the synopsis?
ST: Yeah, and when they’re not fighting, they’re making funny. That would be it. I grew up in a family of five boys so I know how this works. It’s like a hockey team. It went from my brothers to a hockey team to the Kids in the Hall. Five guys, I was always on that kind of team.
TC: You’ve played major roles on some iconic TV shows. Does any one of those experiences mean more to you than the others?
ST: Kids in the Hall is No. 1 for me, obviously. I am a kid. Deep down, that’s what I am, a kid in the hall, but I’ve been on three great shows: Kids in the Hall, Larry Sanders and Hannibal. All were fascinating in their own way. It’s interesting because as each goes along, I’m always on these great shows and my parts get smaller and smaller. [interviewer, Thompson laugh] The next great show that comes out, I’m just going to be an extra.
TC: And go the other way, right?
ST: I’ll start off as the star, and I’ll finish off as an extra on the world’s greatest TV show.
I’ve enjoyed them very much. I’ve been very lucky to have landed on three iconic shows. Hannibal was a complete surprise. That came out of nowhere. I had no idea how good it would be and I miss it to this day because it was so much fun. … I just enjoyed the group. I think one of the keys in making anything great, especially in television which is such a collaborative medium, is just the right group of people. You have to want to be with the people. You have to enjoy yourself and on all three of those shows, the people that made the show, I enjoyed that group. That’s really rare.
TC: Do you remember the first person who told you that you were funny?
ST: No, I don’t. Not really. I mean, my brothers were all hilarious, but with the nature of brothers, no one would ever tell you that you were funny. You know what I mean? Because of competition, the rivalry.
My first memory of people being hilarious was the dinner table (growing up). I learned a lot about being in a writers’ room and also just about the competitive nature of comedians at my family’s dinner table every night. It was in the days when families ate together and we would just mock everybody that we met that day. [interviewer, Thompson laugh] My mother tried to tell us, “Oh, be gracious” and then we would just mock someone. She was always trying to make us gracious and we were always going, “Oh, shut up.” We would just make fun of everyone we met and just hash out the day. I’m still doing that to this day.
TC: So you were on to something back then.
ST: Yeah, I had some teachers that thought I was funny, but mostly back then, the funny was not as important as being trouble. I was troublesome. The teachers went, “You’re smart, but you get into trouble all the time” so it’s very hard for a teacher to see past that.
I love comedy. I think it’s so important. It’s very hard for me to take anything seriously because I can go deep down into everything’s funny.
TC: That leads me right into the next question so congratulations on giving me a perfect segway. Did your cancer diagnosis affect your sense of humor? Were you still able to laugh at things while going through chemo and radiation?
ST: Oh, absolutely. In many ways, it intensified (funny things). Cancer obviously was a terrible experience, but there’s things that I took away from it that are good. I do about 15 minutes on cancer (in my act), but for me the No. 1 side effect was, now I don’t give a fuck. [interviewer laughs] It doesn’t mean that I don’t care. I care. It just means that I don’t care what people think. I don’t care if people misinterpret me and in the world we live in today, people are misinterpreted everyday. If things go well for me, eventually that’s going to happen. [interviewer laughs] When you’ve faced a demon like cancer, what are you afraid of?
I’ll tell you something, a chemo ward, it’s not a place of grimness like you would think, at least not when I was there. I was always making jokes. There’s a lot of hope in a chemo ward because people are fighting to live. I’m not saying it’s fun. It’s not fun. [Thompson, interviewer laugh] But people that are there that want to live, that spirit’s in the air. That’s a good thing.
From my very first chemo treatment, the laughter started. … My name is John Scott Thompson. I go by Scott, but officially I’m John Thompson. When I first started chemotherapy, they called me John Thompson. I was with a friend and I stood up and my friend went, “What are you doing?” I said, “That’s my name.” They go, “Really?” They had no idea. So I went off and I said, “Yes, I’m John Thompson” so for the entire six months of chemotherapy I only answered to John Thompson. Basically it was magical thinking: “Well, I don’t have cancer. John has cancer.”
TC: Oh wow.
ST: I go back every year to be tested and my oncologist, who’s been treating me for seven years, he knows who I am. He knows I’m Scott Thompson, but he still calls me John. [Thompson, interviewer laugh] We still play this game! The nurses call me John. They watch me on TV and know I’m Scott, but they’ll call me John.
Recently, when I had my five-year checkup, I said to my doctor, “You know, I think you can call me Scott now,” and there was a pause, and he goes, “Why don’t we wait on that?” [interviewer laughs] Darkly, it was very funny. The greatest joke of all is death so how can you not joke about it? I reject any thinking that there is some place that comedy can’t go. That’s just completely false.
TC: I agree, and you mentioned not caring and I understand that to mean not caring about consequences. I imagine that gives you a certain freedom. Had you always had that freedom as a performer or did you maybe get a little bit bigger grasp of that after coming to that realization?
ST: That’s a very good question. I’ve always been free with what I think and what I say. I think when I was younger, it was more a question of having maybe a minor case of Tourette’s. I’m kind of being serious and kind of not, but when something’s taboo, I can’t help going there. Show me a dark cave and I have to go in there.
When I was diagnosed (with cancer), my life was not good. My career had completely cratered and I had been drifting for quite a while. I had lost my faith. Not my religious faith. My comedy faith. I started to question what I was doing and questioning where I was and wondering why I wasn’t going to the next level. I have lots of theories for that, but I thought maybe it’s because I make people uncomfortable and I should just be one of those of those fall down, go boom comics. You know what I mean?
TC: I do.
ST: I tried to soften my edges, and that didn’t work. When I got cancer and I was very ill, I went, “No, I’m doing the right thing. This is why I’m on this planet. When I get better, I’m going to rededicate myself to comedy and I’m not going to be afraid at all.” I decided when I was very ill that I would become a stand-up. I thought, “OK, the world’s changed. I can now be myself” and I could never have done that when I was young. The world could not have handled me. Maybe it could have.
TC: Like in small doses? An hour every night, we can handle you?
ST: It’s been seven years since I got better and felt well enough to go back on stage. … I wanted to be a real stand-up. I wanted to have an act. I wanted to have a persona. I didn’t want to be one of those people cashing in on their past. I admire the art form too much to not treat it seriously.
It’s interesting because now I’m in a time where the world is very fenced in and I feel like, “Oh my God, no one is talking like this. This is perfect for me.” I think if I keep on this track, things might work out because I don’t care. Lots of people in comedy are retreating because political correctness is putting a stranglehold on our culture. People are tiptoeing everywhere and I don’t really feel like I have to. I don’t have to tiptoe. Please. I feel like I’ve been grandfathered in. I feel like I’ve suffered enough. I don’t have to worry about that crap. … People will always misinterpret. That’s the way it is and when you push the envelope, it upsets people. That’s just the way it is. Accept it.
Here it is, The Best Tweet I Can Find in Five Minutes:
I go to Dr. Yurfine Walkitoff
— Lachlan Patterson (@lachjaw) May 5, 2017