By Amber Harper-Young
VANCOUVER — As a teenager Scott Thompson enrolled in the acting program at York University.
“I had no intentions of being a comedian, I wanted to be a serious actor,” he says. “To be a comedian, well the kind I liked, you had to be honest about your life. And in my time that was not possible. You couldn’t stand onstage and be openly gay,” says Thompson. When asked about York, he says, “I think I’m the only student ever to be kicked out in their final year!” Thompson was asked to leave for being “disruptive.” He explains, “It made me angry, so it drove me.”
Soon after that he found sketch comedy. It was the perfect outlet for his angst, a cathartic and creative pathway for him to act and channel a tough early adulthood of disappointment, illness and tragedy.
Thompson was a natural performer when he hit the stage with his first troupe but eventually found his true place in an ensemble called The Kids in the Hall. After seeing them perform live in 1984 he remembers, ”I thought maybe I can make them greater! I just knew instantly that I would be in the group. That was it, I never looked back after meeting them.”
Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels plucked the group early on from Toronto to shoot a pilot in New York City. Upon returning home from the project, The Kids in the Hall had to get back on their feet, Thompson started performing at Second City and then the group received an offer that would bond them for life — 22 episodes of their very own show. Together they went on to write and perform their silly, dark, boundary-pushing TV show, which aired on CBC, HBO and CTV from 1989-1995. Their brand of comedy and uncompromising natures made things occasionally go less than smoothly; they found themselves fighting censorship during the making of the show.
“They were always trying to make our references American and we refused,” Thompson recalls.
After their TV experience, they wrote and starred in the film Death Comes to Town. While shooting, Thompson was diagnosed with B-cell non-Hodgkin Gastric Lymphoma (cancer). He attributes his recovery to support, treatment and a future goal. Thompson knew he hadn’t fully been himself onstage yet and his determination to get there played a big part in his recovery. “I found it very terrifying being myself, but things changed when I got cancer. I said, ‘Well I have nothing to be afraid of.’” He wrote a one-man show called The Lowest Show on Earth. Then he tackled stand-up, officially getting to a place where he was “naked” just like the comics he’d always admired.
When asked about the state of comedy and the world today, Thompson says, passionately: “There’s certain things that I want to say in stand-up that I know will make people uncomfortable and go against the prevailing wind. Everybody’s got a point of view and even if you reject it, it’s valid for them. The American election has really shown how dangerous things can get when the two sides refuse to not only listen but acknowledge each other. That’s not healthy and not healthy for comedy.” Amongst numerous TV/film credits, writing projects and Kids in the Hall gigs, Thompson has also acted in three seasons of the psychological thriller, Hannibal, proving that he’s become that dramatic actor he first set out to be. And he’s still doing stand-up to show his true self to the world.
Catch Scott Thompson January 26 to 28 at The Comedy Mix.BC, British Columbia, Comedy Mix, Kids in the Hall, Scott Thompson, stand-up comedy