Queer Pioneer Buddy Cole Sleighs at SoHo Playhouse, Through Nov. 3

Gay icon Buddy Cole is at SoHo Playhouse through Nov. 3. | Photo by Bruce Smith

BY SCOTT STIFFLER | Ascot around neck, cigarette in hand, lips pursed in close proximity to the rim of a stiff cocktail, uncompromisingly outspoken gay bar denizen Buddy Cole made his bones as a monologue-delivering mainstay, during the televised run of iconic sketch comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall—whose wonderfully eccentric, character-driven work was seen from 1989 to 1995 on the CBC in Canada, and on HBO and CBS in the United States.

In 2018—fittingly, on April Fool’s Day—writer, actor, and podcast host Scott Thomson brought lisping, convention-defying Buddy Cole to NYC, as the first date on his Aprés le Dèluge: The Buddy Cole Monologues tour (other stops included Boston, Denver, Austin, Los Angeles, and Chicago).

Cole is once again holding court in NYC, in residency at SoHo Playhouse through Nov. 3. Aprés le Dèluge is comprised of monologues from 1995 to the present. For longtime fans, the show offers material not seen on The Kids in the Hall. For those unfamiliar with Buddy, the show offers… well, we’ll let Cole’s creator tell you about that. Chelsea Community News recently spoke with Scott Thompson about the show, the character, generational differences, and the truth behind those rumors that The Kids in the Hall are coming back to the small screen.

Scott Stiffler, for Chelsea Community News: How has the show changed since you last brought it to NYC?

THOMPSON: The show you saw a year ago, it’s come a long way. It’s really “done.” It’s gotten a lot denser… I think it’s a better show, because I’ve gotten a lot better about getting into character. When I first started putting this show together, I think I was having a harder time separating my stand-up persona from my Buddy Cole persona. And now I’m much; I think I’m deeper into Buddy. There were things I would do, and they would work—and my director [Robin Collins] would say, “That’s not Buddy. That’s you.” I really want this to be a show by a character. So I’m trying very hard to take myself out of it.

CCN: Tell us about the new material, stuff that we didn’t see last year.

THOMPSON: Well, I have to keep up with the times. Because when I came to New York a year ago, it was 2018. So I have to have a monologue for 2019. The new piece is called Woke Me When He’s Sober. It’s about woke culture, and, you know, cancellation culture, and pronouns. So it’s all about really, really hot button topics. It’s about Buddy Cole confessing his racial crimes—and it’s really exciting to do, because I’m really gong into an area that’s very dangerous right now. That’s part of the philosophy of the show. I want people to kind of like, be slowly lulled into Buddy’s world, where by the end they’re laughing at things that where, at the beginning of the show, they’d go, “There’s no way I’m going to laugh at that.” But at the end, they are—and to me, that’s what I want.

CCN: How was it for you, as a performer, taking the show on tour last year—and how was it received?

THOMPSON: Well, it’s rough. It’s not the way I’d like to spend the rest of my life—on the road. I find it very difficult. The thing I find the most enjoyable, is the actual performing. The actual performing, in a strange way, is getting easier and easier. In a way, I’m more comfortable.

One thing about doing the show as Buddy Cole, is that especially in the times that we’re in—which is a very polarized time, and people are very thin-skinned—that when I don Buddy Cole’s armor, I feel very protected, and feel like nothing can go wrong. So it’s different than when I’m doing stand-up. Because when I’m doing stand-up, I feel more precarious, like, “Oh boy, I’m gonna go off a cliff here.” With Buddy, it doesn’t bother me. Like, if I go off a cliff, I am very confident that I can just spread my arms, and it will take me, you know, softly to the ground. But with myself, I don’t trust myself the way I trust Buddy, if that makes any sense… He’s in control, and I’m not. But he is.

Buddy Cole is a kind of character who never lets his emotions color his thinking. And I’m not that person. So when I become him, I have this ability to just kind of let everything just wash, you know, like water off a duck’s back. It doesn’t bother me. But it does bother me when I’m myself… Buddy, it’s not that he’s closed down. It’s just, he understands that there’s thinking, and there’s emotions, and you have to keep them separate. At least that’s the philosophy he has, or what I have for this show.

Scott Thompson photo by Mindy Tucker

CCN: When Buddy first burst onto the scene, there weren’t even a handful of gay characters on television, let alone out and opinionated ones. How does he fit into the modern LGBTQ+ landscape?

THOMPSON: Well, I think people see Buddy Cole very differently now. When I first started doing him, he came out into a deeply homophobic world, where homophobia was societally entrenched, and it was considered completely normal, and it was actually encouraged. And so just being Buddy Cole was a kind of act of, you know, almost recklessness. The way I behaved and the way I talked, to some people, was already enough. I didn’t have to be as witty and smart as I think Buddy is now. I think I’m a better writer now than I was back then. Back then, I depended a little more on, just, the shock value of it. I mean, people were shocked that a person would do that character—and I think what was shocking to people, was that the character wasn’t stupid, and the character wasn’t to be laughed at—that he was laughing at you. And that was very radical.

But now, we live in a world where gay people have moved on, and marched so far forward than when I started, that there’s a lot of younger people, particularly, that are very… their dukes are up. And they’re ready to defend the LGBTQ community, personally, even if they’re not in it. And that was not the case, at all, when I started out. But I think there’s some people, especially younger ones, who look at it and go, “That guy’s making fun of gays.” And they’re immediately angry. And then the show goes along, and they realize “Oh, this is a real person. This is an actual, real person.” It’s funny. The show is quite shocking, I think, to a lot of people, but I never get walkouts. People don’t attack me… Because I think the character, in a strange way, he’s bulletproof.

I think we live in a world right now where being a victim has become a lot of people’s identity, in a world where victimization, it’s almost an economy now. We live in a kind of victim-based economy, that when you look at a gay man of Buddy Cole’s age and generation, you can’t really hold a candle to his oppression. Like gay men of my generation went through such hell, that I think people feel like they have to listen. Even if they don’t agree with it, they have to listen, because they know that this character and the actor playing the character, lived through a world. So they have to listen to it. So it’s funny. That for a white guy my age, that I’m allowed to say all of this stuff, is an incredible privilege.

CCN: Did you have a specific age you were playing him at, during his televised incarnation?

THOMPSON: Not really. I was imitating someone. In the very beginning, it was just a straight-up impersonation of somebody I had an affair with. And he was not older. But the longer I did it, the more I thought of him as more of an older man. Still a very sexual man, but an older man. I always thought of Buddy as in his 40s, 45.

CCN: I’m 52, so I grew up with the character. His takes on AIDS and racism, his casual throwing around of the word “fag,” those were virtues because they were rarely addressed at all, let alone with such candor, as opposed to being taboo topics because they weren’t being handled with an overcompensating about of reverence and respect.

THOMPSON: Here’s the thing: It would be [on the tour last year] the younger people that would be more offended than older people. Absolutely, yeah. Because they’re much more conditioned to defend the gay community than my generation was.

CCN: But the message is so inherently pro-gay. Do certain people not appreciate the irony, or are they not going below the surface to see the satire?

THOMPSON: That’s part of it. Yeah, that’s part of it. And I think now, everybody’s jockeying to be the most woke. So, you know, Buddy Cole doesn’t care about any of that stuff. He’s so much freeer than I am. He really does not care—and that’s kind of a superpower in the comedy world right now, because people are very nervous in comedy. And when I’m Buddy, it doesn’t bother me if people don’t get it or are offended. I don’t care. It’s not my problem. But I’m emerging surprisingly unscathed. And I keep reading about performers going, “You can’t say anything in comedy anymore.” And I’m saying, “I just said that last night, so obviously, that’s not true.”

CCN: What sort of feedback did you get from audiences during the 2018 tour?

THOMPSON: Well, I have to be honest. It’s mostly people that tell me how much it meant to them when they were growing up. I think a lot of younger people have no idea who I am, no idea who Buddy Cole is, and they’re like, “Wow, where did this come from?” Yeah, I don’t think he’s known, I really don’t. I mean, I intend to make him known.

CCN: Is there anything else you want to do with Buddy, and any other different projects you want to pursue?

THOMPSON: I’m at the stage now where the show, I think it’s pretty cooked. In the next six months, I want, by hook or by crook, to get this show filmed, because I think it’s really of the moment. I’m pursuing it, and right now, there’s a good chance it’s going to become a TV special… And [apart from Buddy], I look forward to a little more… When I’m doing him, I have to control my physicality and volume, and all of those thinks. I have to speak differently. So I’m looking forward to playing other people. I’ve been doing it for such a long time, the only thing that’s changed is, I think Buddy is a better performer than he was, because I’m a better performer, and my years of stand-up have really given Buddy a lot more confidence on stage. He’s all over the place. I did Buddy Cole for so many years on that stool. I never moved! And now, he never stops moving. And that’s very different.

CCN: Regarding your current NYC appearances, how did you become associated with SoHo Playhouse—and is the show’s first long run?

THOMPSON: I’ve been doing in LA at Lyric Hyperion, that’s every Monday. But no, I have not done a run this long. This is the first time I’ve come back to New York in almost 20 years. I had this big show, years ago, that was supposed to happen, and it ended up in disaster. It was a 9/11 casualty. So this is a big deal for me, to bring this back. I’m very excited. It’s my second crack at New York… There’s a whole section about 9/11 that might be taken differently. Because it’s New York. Because Buddy is quite; I wouldn’t call him cavalier about it, although he’s cavalier about everything. So I’m interested in how it will be perceived.

CCN: Might this show be released as a book?

THOMPSON: A book? I’d love that. Yes, that’s one of the things I’d love to do after this, when I finish with the show, to put out a book of Buddy Cole monologues. I mean, I have enough that I could absolutely publish a book. That would be very nice, I’d love that. But the thing is, no one’s seen these pieces, unless they’ve been to a Kids in the Hall tour, where they might have seen one or two of them. But none of them have ever been on television. And I must have done 20 monologues [on TV]. So that’s enough for a book.

The promotional poster for 2018’s tour. | Image by

CCN: Is there anything else about the show we haven’t touched upon?

THOMPSON: If you saw the show a year ago, I’d recommend coming back if you enjoyed it, because there are new things in it. My director has made it a little more theatrical. I’m just very, very excited about bringing it to New York. Lea DeLaria is presenting it, so that’s cool—we’re really old friends.

CCN: Is there any chance of The Kids in The Hall producing new sketch work?

THOMPSON: Yes, there is. I got my fingers crossed. We’re right how, waiting on some decisions, but there’s a very good chance Kids in the Hall will be returning to television. I can’t say who the network is, but basically the deal that is being talked about right now is to buy all of our catalogue, all of our library; put it on television, put it onto one of those streaming services, and then do another season of The Kids in the Hall. So, yes. We have not been on television in a long, long time. So I look at the things that we did and think, “How come the young people haven’t discovered The Kids in the Hall?’ It’s perfect for this generation. So I hope that when it finally does get back to television, that people will rediscover it.

CCN: I saw the Kids when you were on tour, one of the live stage shows. This was quite a number of years ago, and you did a sketch with the Cathys [a group of women who worked in an office together]. Even at that point, there were allusions to how you had all aged. Will that happen with other characters if this TV project comes to fruition?

THOMPSON: I would think so, yes. Absolutely, yes. I mean, there will be new characters and all that, but if we did the Cathys again, you’d be discussing who they are now, absolutely.

CCN: Have you been thinking in that direction, about the characters aging? Have things been percolating?

THOMPSON: Oh yes. There’s an awful lot of percolating going on. I’ve been thinking about [married couple] Fran and Gordon. Are they still together? Is one of them dead? All of these sorts of things. I’ve always treated my characters very realistically. I’ve always believed they’re real, so I want them to age, like real people. I would love the honor of being able to show who they are right now. So there’s an awful lot of percolating going on right now. The five of us, for the first time in many, many years, are all on the same page, and we all want this very much… I would love to do it in a very classic old school sketch comedy show way, because sketch comedy, before SNL, wasn’t always just about being young and sexy. It was older people, middle-aged people, on Carol Burnett, that sort of thing.

CCN: You were all quite young when you created the show, but many of your recurring characters were older.

THOMPSON: We were in our 20s and 30s when we were on television. We were kids. A lot of the things I was writing about, I hadn’t even experienced them yet. Now I have, so I would love to see what kind of new depths we could bring to it.

CCN: When people see those sketches that were set in an office, or around a family dinner table, those things don’t change over time; interpersonal dynamics. There weren’t a lot of references to current events, to age them as the years have gone by.

THOMPSON: That was very intentional. I mean, one of the only characters that ever really touched on the outside world was Buddy. Buddy Cole would occasionally mention real people or bring in real events. But he’s one of the only characters that ever did that. Ever. Almost everything else was very much our world. There’s no reason why a person now wouldn’t like it, as much as they did then. We went through huge events—Tiananmen Square, Afghanistan, George Bush, Iraq. We didn’t mention any of those things. But you know, it’s all there, even if you don’t mention it. We really did not want to do parody. We didn’t want to talk about current events. We wanted it to be universal.

Lea DeLaria presents Aprés le Dèluge: The Buddy Cole Monologues. Starring Scott Thompson. Directed by Robin Collins. Thurs.-Mon., Oct. 24-28 at 8pm; Fri., Nov. 1 at 8pm; Sat., Nov. 2 at 7:30pm and 10pm; Sun., Nov. 3 at 8pm. At SoHo Playhouse’s The Huron Club (15 Vandam St. btw. Sixth Ave. & Varick St.). For tickets ($45), call 212-691-1555 or click here. On Twitter, Scott Thompson can be found via ScottThompson_ and @mrbuddycole.

 

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