Scott Thompson Beat Cancer, Moved Back to L.A. and Became a Stand-Up Comedian
One side effect of Scott Thompson's battle with cancer? The gift of not giving a fuck.
Bruce Smith/courtesy Omnipop
It was April 2009 when Scott Thompson reached his breaking point. He'd spent his post–Kids in the Hall years living in Los Angeles, but times had gotten tough. Living near the intersection of Normandie and Adams, Thompson felt as removed from Hollywood as he felt from the career he wanted. He was bitter and furious that things had stalled.
Then it happened. “I heard gunshots outside my house,” Thompson says over the phone from his North Hollywood home. “A gun battle outside the house was a low point. The next morning, I woke up with pain in my stomach and I thought it was rock bottom for me. It ended up being cancer and I knew I had to get outta here.”
Thompson says that April 19, 2009, was the most consequential day of his life. Without health insurance, returning to his native Toronto wasn’t just necessary but life-saving. “I knew I was going to beat it,” he says. “But I think my emotional state contributed to my illness, too.”
After years of treatment, 58-year-old Thompson is cancer-free, but descending deep into illness is what made him want to give stand-up a shot. He'd always worked predominantly in sketch, crafting characters such as the iconic, gay barroom raconteur Buddy Cole, but something about becoming gravely ill allowed him to overcome his fear of facing a crowd on his own in a stripped-down setting.
“I felt like I’d hit the ceiling for the second time in my career in Canada,” he explains. “When back home, I started over again. When I got better, I had nothing to be afraid of anymore. I’d always kind of played around with stand-up. I never took it seriously and never thought of myself as a stand-up. I was always terrified of it, and when I got really sick, I thought maybe I should devote myself to it and see if I could get good, and maybe I’d have a career that I thought I was going to have years ago.”
He moved back to L.A. in January, around the time of Trump’s inauguration (“I’m a war comic and am ready to go,” he says), to give it “one last kick of the can.” Thompson decided that this time, he wasn’t going to give a shit about the insecurities that plagued his previous stint in L.A.
Armed with new management and new focus, Thompson has hopped on stages across town and has quickly become a nearly ubiquitous comedic presence. Just recently, he performed in Lindsay Ames' My Diary night and the stand-up showcase Cuck at UCB; he was on Kevin Allison's Risk! podcast and recently recorded a segment for Comedy Central's storytelling show This Is Not Happening. In addition to appearing on the local circuit, he’s toured across the country performing stand-up. Though he retains the surliness of a comedy veteran, Thompson also has the hunger and hustle of a newcomer. His set during the Cuck showcase seethed with manic energy; he'd worked up a sweat by the end. His dedication to the joke is unmistakable.
“The thing about being in a [sketch] group, if you’re off, someone will always carry you,” he says. “In stand-up, you have to unlearn how to work with others. Now that I feel more confident, I’m allowing the sketch comic to come back. I’m trying to let everything into the stand-up act, like acting voices. There’s times when it’s like mini-sketches and now that I’m not as much of a purist as I once was, I find all things that I’ve done in my career can be put into stand-up. It took forever to get to that point, though.”
Thompson knows he’ll always be associated with the Buddy Cole character, so he decided to revive and dust off the Buddy Cole Monologues, which he's performing Wednesday at UCB Franklin. Thompson is aware he needs to tone down his stand-up act if Buddy is going to be the flamboyant character that fans remember. He’s incorporating three “fairly new” monologues that will be in his upcoming performance, along with the usual slew of taboo jokes associated with that character.
“I’m not good at multitasking and I’m not really good at doing more than one thing at a time,” he says. “I have to be Buddy and I have to remember that this is more controlled and more graceful than I am. Buddy was my stand-up voice when I couldn’t be myself. He’s still a character, but there are elements of my stand-up that work much better as Buddy Cole.”
With a live album slated for the end of the year, Thompson looks back on that fateful date in 2009 and realizes that without it, he might not have been able to appreciate what’s now a resurgent career.
“I feel like Moondoggy, the old guy that can still surf, and it’s really nice,” he says. “I feel very rejuvenated and reborn. The cancer really threw me, and I went very far down. When you get that close to the edge, you have to think about what you really want to do when you’ve crossed that divide. I hadn’t given up before the cancer, but my subconscious had. I had 30 side effects [from cancer]; 29 were terrible. One was great, which is that I don’t give a fuck, and that’s the greatest gift.”
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