Actor Scott Thompson has always loved comedy, but feared standup, where he’d have to be himself onstage.
Conquering cancer in 2009 gave him a new resolve — it was time to stand up to his standup fear.
“I always monkeyed around with standup, but I never took it seriously,” Thompson, 58, said by phone from his home in Los Angeles. He returned to L.A. about seven months ago from his native Canada, where he got his big break with “The Kids in the Hall” sketch comedy troupe.
He honed his chops with the Kids and their popular television show, which ran from 1989 to 1995 in Canada and the United States, via HBO, CBS and Comedy Central. He got plenty of laughs with his portrayals of Queen Elizabeth, socialite Buddy Cole, and various other male and female characters.
That exposure led to other television appearances on “The Larry Sanders Show,” “Politically Incorrect,” “Reno 911!” and most recently, “Hannibal,” playing crime scene investigator Jimmy Price. He’s also stepped into films, with roles in “Mickey Blue Eyes,” “Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy” and the 2017 release, “What Would Sal Do?”
Along the way, he’s done plenty of one-man shows and some touring, but since he wrote and memorized those performances, he never thought of himself as a standup comedian.
“I never developed an act,” he said. “I was always afraid of it — always terrified of it. But the last eight years, I have decided I would take it on and take it seriously. And then I just decided last year, I’m going to move back to the (United) States. It’s time to see what I could do with this.
“Originally, I just wanted to be an actor, then I met ‘The Kids in the Hall,’ and that changed everything.”
Cedar Rapids audiences will have two chances to see how his new resolve has panned out, when he brings his standup show to Penguins Comedy Club on Friday (7/14) and Saturday (7/15) nights.
His routine revolves around storytelling. Topics range from his “adventures” with Laurence Fishburn and pop culture to his family and his battle with cancer.
“One thing I don’t talk about — I don’t really get into politics,” he said. “Certainly, I’ll mention things, but it’s never really interested me. I definitely address the mood of the states right now, because I don’t know if the word’s ‘fascinating,’ but it’s also disturbing. I definitely address the divide, which I find troubling, to say the least.
“I’ve lived here on and off for a long time. As a Canadian, you’re very schooled in America, and you really watch what’s happening all the time. I’ve never seen it quite like this. I’ve never seen a country in such a state, and that’s why I think comedy’s really important, more and more,” he said.
“Comedy has been under fire quite a bit lately — political correctness, etc. I think it’s actually more important than it ever was. It’s very much needed right now. There’s nothing like being in a group of people laughing — there’s just nothing more fun. My show’s a fun show.”
He might even toss in a few of his characters’ voices. He’s trying to incorporate them “more and more” he said, but does offer a warning for his live audiences: “I sweat a lot, so I’d advise you to bring a splash guard or sit in the back.”
He grew up in Brampton, part of the greater Toronto area. His father was an engineer, and his mother raised five boys. Thompson is the second oldest in what he called a “wild household,” where everyone was funny. At the dinner table, they would “deconstruct” the day.
“You made jokes, and whoever was the funniest always won,” he said. At school, however, his class clown role got him in trouble.
To avoid ridicule, he tried to suppress his love for theater and dance in high school, so when he told his parents he wanted to be an actor, they were shocked. Staying true to himself, he studied acting in college, and when he went with a friend to a midnight comedy show, he found his calling.
“I saw them perform, and that was it. I fell in love,” he said. “It was love at first sight. I said to my friend, ‘That’s what I want to do. I’m going to be in that group.’ ... My goal was to become indispensable to ‘The Kids in the Hall’ and to become a member.”
He arrived with a bag and wigs and costumes, wrote a monologue, and the rest is history.
“Our story is a fairy tale,” he said. “We were discovered by Lorne Michaels (creator of ‘Saturday Night Live’). He put us up and became our comedy daddy.”
He coaxed them to come to New York in 1988, put them up in a little apartment, gave them $100 a week and they “did whatever he asked us to do.” When they landed in Rolling Stone magazine, their career took off.
He’s enjoyed the various paths his own career has taken.
“Comedy is my real love,” he said. “I love acting. I just love to pretend. I love to play, and that’s really all it is. I’ve come to love standup — and I’m actually quite shocked at that. I never thought that would happen.”
— By Diana Nollen, The Gazette
If you go
WHAT: Scott Thompson
WHERE: Penguins Comedy Club, 208 Second Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday (7/14) and Saturday (7/15)
TICKETS: $15 advance, $17.50 door, (319) 362-8133 or Penguinscomedyclub.com