Ascot, impeccable suit and devastating wit are just three of the ingredients in the recipe that is Buddy Cole, the effeminate LGBTQ comedy icon created by openly gay comedian Scott Thompson. Fans of the Cole persona will likely know of his origins in the hit ’90s sketch comedy show “The Kids in the Hall,” produced by Saturday Night Live legend Lorne Michaels. Though Cole was not Thompson’s only character, he is arguably the most well-known and the one whose unapologetic take on the world and its problems is just what the doctor ordered in an age of self-righteousness, cancel culture and social media-fueled outrage — at least, according to Thompson.
Now in the middle of his current international “Apres le Deluge: The Buddy Cole Monologues” tour, BTL caught him on the phone in advance of his upcoming stop at The Magic Bag on Saturday, June 1, just in time for Ferndale Pride. Thompson talked about the necessity of Cole in today’s world, how his character has changed over the last quarter century and how modern audiences react to his brand of comedy.
As an American with no knowledge of the French language, here’s my take on what the title of your show “Apres le Deluge” means: After I’m gone it won’t matter. Is that right?
Um … no. (laughs) OK, in French, it means, “After me will come the flood.” Which basically means, “You may think that after me you have solved you problems by killing the tyrants and bringing the democracy, but someone else will come and take that place because that’s human nature. That even when you cut off the head of the snake it will grow another head.” So, basically, it’s kind of a cynical way of saying power will corrupt no matter what. And it’s referencing “The Kids in the Hall.” This show was the monologue that happening after the end of “The Kids in the Hall.” So, it’s the death of “Kids in the Hall” and Buddy Cole on his own.
And who better than Buddy Cole to present that kind of a cynical take?
Yes, but he’s not jaded or angry about it, he’s much more just philosophical. Like, this is humans, this is who we are, we will keep muddling and moving forward very slowly and things well get better but very, very slowly and we’ll always step back but you’ll have to be aware that there’s someone in the margins who is going to take advantage of this and that you have to be very careful about who you think is on your side. And that the world is filled with people that are wolves in sheep’s clothing in a way.
Many who have commented on your show consider Buddy to be something of an antidote to an era that seems especially focused on calling out public figures, brands, organizations etc. online. Is that why you revived Buddy?
That’s exactly it. And that’s exactly why I revived it for now. I thought. “This era is sickening to me” (laughs). And I’m so sickened by people who think they’ve got it all figured out and all this piousness and outrage and sanctimony. And the whole idea that comedy can’t address certain issues now is, to me, absurd. And there are certain things I can’t say, and right now we’re in a very censorious time, but Buddy can. Buddy takes nothing personally. He is a philosopher and he’s kind of above it all in many ways. It’s cynical, but also, it’s not cynicism that comes from [anything] ugly, it’s loving. I think it’s empathetic.
How have things changed since you first started Buddy’s act in the comedy world?
When I first started doing Buddy Cole that kind of an effeminate gay male, people didn’t consider that kind of a character to have any real weight and they dismissed them constantly, the “queen.” And in many ways, that’s where a lot of truth comes from, it’s in the margins, it’s in-between, in the gray area, and that’s where Buddy Cole lives. And so, I took advantage of that, the whole idea that people dismissed this lisping gay man and it allowed me in a weird way, to kind of Trojan horse my truth in. And then I think people listened and said, “That character’s not silly!” And that’s kind of subversive, because I think you can say all you like about it, but the world really does not like effeminate men and that’s really true and that has not changed.
You’ve mentioned in other interviews that when you started you saw people laughing at Buddy more than they laughed with him because they felt superior to him somehow. Do you still see that now?
Absolutely, and even with gay men.
It’s less, definitely, but absolutely it’s true. You look at the gray area, it makes people uncomfortable. When a man doesn’t act like what you think a man should act like or a woman doesn’t act the way a woman should act like, that makes people uncomfortable in a deep, kind of subconscious animal way and Buddy owns himself. I think people, what they like about him, he doesn’t care and he’s comfortable in his skin and that’s, I think, powerful to go, “Wow, that guy’s comfortable in his skin and I’m not.”
Have you changed Buddy’s views on any topic in particular since you started performing as him?
Never, not a bit.
No! Well, Hmmm. Well, one of the things that I’ve discovered is that over the last 10 years I’ve started doing a lot of stand-up and the better I got at stand-up and I think some of that skill went into Buddy Cole and when I do Buddy Cole I don’t sit in a stool, I move, I talk, you know, Buddy Cole can handle a microphone now which he never would have been able to do before, so I’m much more physical. And what I’ll always do is go on YouTube and look back on an old Buddy monologue I did 25 years ago and I’ll go, “I gotta remember to keep that.” Like last night it was Buddy’s show and I could tell that it was a good show, but I knew that there was too much of me, you know what I mean? Like I went, “Buddy wouldn’t be this physical or this confrontational.” A lot of comedians now my age are looking back at their past and going, “Oh, I wouldn’t do that today!” And I’m like, “Well, I would” (laughs).
One thing that’s stayed the same absolutely seems to be Buddy’s delivery. He’s very well-spoken.
Yes, he is and he prides himself on his language. You know, I’m a bit of snob myself in terms of language. I love writing, I love books, I love people that can speak well and I totally believe vulgarity has an absolute place in communication, but if you have a large vocabulary, why would you use a word that’s not perfect? And there might come a day where Buddy Cole might swear and if that day comes, I would say watch out (laughs) because something terrible might be coming. That show would be called “Autre Fuck le Deluge.”
Do you think that there will come a time where Buddy’s commentary will no longer be necessary?
No. There won’t be (laughs) not in my lifetime. You know, I think he’s definitely taken differently [by different audiences]. Sometimes, with some of the younger people that watch me and don’t really know who I am they look at him and they’re confused. Like, “Why is this is guy acting like that? Is this a straight man?” And you can feel their outrage building because it’s always building. But then as the show goes along I can feel them relaxing and see that, “Oh, this isn’t a hateful thing, this is just a character.” And the show is built in a way that there are 11 monologues and none of them have ever been seen on television. It goes from 1995 until today so it’s 25 years of monologues. So, the world changes but he does not and they get progressively more and more challenging. But by the end the audience is so softened up that I can say pretty much anything and they’re gonna laugh and that’s interesting. That’s kind of a power that I have to say pretty seriously because I go, “Oh, I could go bad, just go sour! I could go Cersei Lannister.”
That’s certainly powerful.
Yes, it is. But, for example, the last piece in the show is called “Woke Me When It’s Over.” And it’s basically a takedown of woke culture from Buddy and it’s challenging, and it triggers a lot of people, I push a lot of buttons and it’s like getting onto an elevator and I push every floor (laughs).
Speaking of woke culture, what are your thoughts on cancel culture? That’s when the internet decides collectively to stop engaging or listening to a specific person, brand, etc. for something that they’ve done.
That’s what the last monologue is about, it’s all about cancel culture, that’s exactly it. So, you can imagine what my take is: I think it’s appalling. This whole thing where no one has any empathy and this whole thing where what, you’re judging people? And cancel culture? What does that even mean? Like some 18-year-old keyboard warrior is going to cancel you because of something that you said 25 years ago? What a ludicrous situation that is. I reject it.
What do you think about cases of cancel culture that are more serious, like concerning sexual assault or something along those lines?
I mean, each case is different, but I definitely think we’re in an era of overreaction. Te truth is, I like to leave those questions and answers to Buddy. Because the last 20 minutes of the show are Buddy Cole taking on things like gay marriage, #MeToo and woke culture. So, the last 20 minutes are really very exciting. Here’s the thing, I can see how we get things so wrong and I can see the arc of history a little bit more now that I’m older and I go, “Oh, we’re just repeating what happened 25 years ago! That’s all.” Like this era of PC right now, this was exactly the way it was in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when “The Kids in the Hall” were in our heyday. But difference is that today that social media has in many ways accelerated it.