Scott free -

Scott free

Scott Thompson of Kids in the Hall talks to Maclean’s about having cancer


“What? I won the lymphoma? I had no idea I was even nominated,” jokes Scott Thompson. “There are so many other people that are more deserving.” The ever-flamboyant member of cult sketch-comedy troupe the Kids in the Hall says this, as one might imagine, with tongue in cheek and dressed in drag. But though Thompson may be joking, he’s not kidding—this past spring, the Canadian alt-comedy icon was diagnosed with cancer. “I have . . . I had large B-cell non-Hodgkin’s gastric lymphoma.”

Thompson looks pretty fantastic, considering—credit his flashy red dress, blond wig, fake eyebrows and shockingly lifelike boobs—not to mention “modern medicine and medical marijuana.” On a warm September afternoon in North Bay, Ont., he’s seated in a wheelchair after tearing a calf muscle shooting the Kids’ comeback miniseries for the CBC. Middle age could be blamed, but more likely his injury is an indirect consequence of Thompson’s chemotherapy regime—the sixth excruciating round completed only two weeks before filming. “My body looks good,” he smiles, “but it’s fragile.”

The upcoming Kids reunion is an eight-episode murder mystery called Death Comes to Town. Yes, really. “This series has been bracketed by chemo and radiation—and in the middle is this wonderful phrase ‘Death Comes to Town,’ ” Thompson, 50, notes wryly. Making it even more surreal is that North Bay is where he lived until age eight. “In this funny way, I’ve come home to be reborn,” he says, eyes gleaming. “With what I’ve been through this year, to rise from the ashes here has been a really remarkable experience.”

Thompson joined the Kids in the Hall—alongside Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch and Mark McKinney—a quarter-century ago. Their sketch series, which aired on CBC, CBS and HBO between 1988 and 1995, made them cross-dressing cult sensations. But after his subsequent role on The Larry Sanders Show, Thompson’s career has largely involved one-man shows and occasional guest spots (including a coveted Simpsons cameo).

A well-received 2008 Kids in the Hall reunion tour, featuring all-new material, led to this TV foray. And then, shortly after the miniseries was green-lighted, Thompson’s cancer was discovered. It started with a flurry of gunshots outside his L.A. home one night last March. “I went into complete shock. I spent the night trying to find the thickest wall to hide against. The next morning when I woke up, I had pain in my stomach.”

For Thompson, the gunfire awoke the trauma of a 1975 school shooting he witnessed at Centennial Secondary in Brampton, Ont. “It was my class.” The shooter killed Thompson’s teacher, a student and then himself. “It was as if the bullets had been travelling for 30 years and they got me. His name was Michael. He sat behind me. I was transported back to that day in hiding—it’s as if the trigger for my cancer was an actual trigger. But in a strange way it saved my life. It made me go immediately to the doctor.”

That doctor diagnosed Thompson’s pain as cancer. Its location meant surgery wasn’t an option. “There was no way other than to poison the s–t out of me,” he says, and though catching it early, in stage one, would prove vital to Thompson’s recovery, it made the experience no less overwhelming. “There’s no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole—or a chemo ward. The first thing I did when I was told was pray.”

The next thing he did was cancel his gig hosting the Winnipeg Comedy Festival. He was initially worried about the work impact of his illness, but it may ultimately prove a boon. “My job is to bring light into the darkness—and gays are fine, they don’t need me anymore. I’m moving on to a new group, cancer people.”

One thing that helped Thompson power through was that the other Kids didn’t treat him any differently. “They teased me, even about having cancer—accusing me of doing it on purpose to grab the spotlight. But it’s important to have people not ask how you’re doing and look at you with big watery eyes.”

Once filming wrapped, Thompson returned to Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital for radiation therapy. His doctor now uses the word “cured,” but without his makeup and wig, or perhaps without the invigoration of filming, back home in Toronto in November, Thompson looks thinner and more tired than he did in North Bay. His leg is better but still swollen and he’s beset by back spasms from being bedridden for much of the past six weeks. “Radiation was worse than I expected,” he explains from the couch of his Toronto apartment. “That’s the problem with only talking to breast cancer survivors. You should talk to someone who gets it on their stomach—it gave me intense nausea and pain and exhaustion like I could not believe.”

Thompson is planning to turn his cancer experience into another one-man show—a format he used to great effect for 2001’s The Lowest Show on Earth and 2006’s Scott­astrophe! “I’ve never been this excited about performing live, or at least performing stand-up. I really feel like I have nothing to fear anymore. What’s going to happen to me? Someone’s going to not laugh?”

Thompson also hopes to be an inspiration to others. “Did you see my puzzle?” he asks, pointing to a completed jigsaw of hockey star Saku Koivu over on his dining room table. “I know it’s embarrassing, but I’m going to mount it. We had the exact same cancer. He came back and played great hockey. I find that incredibly inspiring.

“If Saku Koivu can come back and play hard, then I can joke hard.”


Scott free

  1. Good for Scott Thompson! My father had the same disease but was in stage 3 before being diagnosed. Unfortunately the treatment is more brutal than the actual disease. I think laughter is what will get you through any horrible situation and I know that joking with my dad helped him and the rest of the family when it got hard. My prayers are with Scott that he gets back on that stage where he is the funniest, good luck!

    • Good luck SCOTT. I was dx'd with Stage IV 7 yrs ago. Given 6 mos plus to live. I'm still around, but for how long nobody knows. Have one inoperable lymph node which my 2 chemo episodes couldn't get rid of. Try to appreciate each day as it comes. I'm an agnostic tho all my large family & friends were praying for me. Next week I'll get the results of this week's CT scan. Life's a bitch but I could have been born in a country where no therapy was available.

  2. “There's no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole—or a chemo ward. The first thing I did when I was told was pray.”

    But still had the chemo. So not that much faith in the power of prayer, huh?

    • What a positive person you are.

    • Show me where in the Bible that it says medicine or science was bad? Luke was a physician. It's just common sense to accept the medical treatment. God expects us to use our heads. Do you take medicine for anything, Dee? Ever? If you're such a person of faith then you would know that God detests arrogance and lack of mercy, especially from those who claim to know Him. You insensitive asshole.

    • Show me where in the Bible that it says medicine or science was bad? Luke was a physician. It’s just common sense to accept the medical treatment. God expects us to use our heads. Do you take medicine for anything, Dee? Ever? If you’re such a person of faith then you would know that God detests arrogance and lack of mercy, especially from those who claim to know Him. You’re just ridiculously insensitive.

    • I noticed that too. That old saw about there being no atheists in foxholes doesn't make any sense, and is obviously a statement made by someone who isn't an atheist. Finding oneself in danger doesn't suddenly cause an atheist to become a believer.

  3. Scott, you are such an inspiration. I've seen "Scottastrophe!" and so have heard about all the hardships you've endured, and continue to endure. And yet you triumph and build from these experiences. So many people could let these kinds of circumstances tear them up, get to them, bring them down. But not you. You are such a strong, truly blessed individual, and I thank God that you were given to the world. Thank you for everything you do and keep fighting for all of your goals.

  4. I adore Scott Thompson. Here's to your continuing recovery! The Kids in the Hall needs to be around a long time ;)

  5. Reading this article was a privilege, plain and simple. The honesty and grit of Scott Thompson shines throughout. Scott, I met you after a show in 1994 and loved you immediately for your directness and positivity–the "fan meets star" jive was completely absent. In fact, I can recall how energy just swirled around you as you greeted everyone in the lobby. Blessings and goodness be yours! Humor is the greatest weapon in the arsenal.

    • Totally agree, he is the best, we love you Scott!!!!

  6. I met Scott after a KITH live performance at the Paramount in Seattle several years ago, I spoke with him for a couple of hours. He is such a kind and personable man. I am sorry to hear of his diagnosis, but heartened to hear that it sounds like the treatments he's endured have worked. Stay strong Scott, your story is very inspirational. I'm going to forward this article along to a friend of mine who was just diagnosed with cancer.

  7. Scott kicks cancer’s ass! Now make it your bitch!

  8. I don't believe in a god in heaven, but I believe the closest thing to that are real people like Scott.

    Hey, where is My Fabulous Gay Wedding? I loved it!!


  9. Scott I adored you from the day I met you infront of the Shucton Police Station! I am honoured to have worked with you (big hair, fleece funky skirts, and unintentionally we were wearing the same mocassins in the court room scenes). With the combination of my well wishes to you and your jokes, it's a good healing journey to be on!! The most important focus is celebrating what gives you JOY in your life!

  10. Scott we love you. God Bless..and good luck.

  11. I'm terribly sorry to read you've been so ill but glad to read that you're on the road to recovery, sense of humour intact despite your harrowing experience. I also wish you all the best for a healthy future. You and your sense of humour help make the world a wonderful place!

  12. Scott, I held the door open for you at Princess Margaret one morning.
    I saw you there a couple of mornings in a row in mid-October but I didn't believe it was actually you. I have a football sized tumour in my mid-section and was getting radiation therapy as well. I'm back down in December for a ct scan and surgery prep and I guess surgery in the early new year. I've been told what I have is completely curable. I'm hoping so. You're right about the fatigue and nausea. It's like getting hit by a truck some days. I hope I can joke about it all in six months as well. Good luck.

  13. What a great piece! Scott is hilarious always and even in tough times a brilliant comedian. My wife just wrapped up chemo and now on herceptin for a year. It was tougher on me I think seeing her go through it. Wished this article was available a few months ago as this would have helped a great deal. Speedy recovery to Scott and cant wait for the new series. Hang tough!!

  14. I went to BCSS with you Scott . How wonderful after all these years that nightmare did something good for someone. Love your attitude and how positive you are. We need many more people just like you! Keep on laughing!

  15. This guy from New Brunswick named Rick Simpson has been curing people's cancer with this hemp oil recipe:
    He is in Europe right now, and the RCMP raided his house a while ago, but the recipe is free to anyone and there is video all over youtube about it.
    There is a lot of new science that shows how cannabis kills cancer and stimulates the body's own cancer-resistance systems. It might increase your chances of survival and and make the ride a lot easier in the process.

  16. Best of luck to you Scott. Please feel free to pray all you want, but don't claim to be Atheist when you're not. I don't claim to be Christian then refuse to pray when I do treatment. There are Atheist in foxholes, we have faith in medicine. If your faith lies so much in prayer then leave it to that. I love your attitude, but I don't see you making jokes about your faith, so please don't make jokes about how other chose to live. No one knows as well as us how important humor is to those of us in treatment, don't kick me when I'm down, and I won't kick you in your fairy tales.
    Good luck in treatment, S

  17. This is great news. I really like reading facts and truth about fighting cancer.

  18. What a man he is !! I never seen such a courage man like this before !!!

  19. Scott you are just amazing.May pray god for your happiness.

  20. May god bless you Scott and I had ever seen a man like you before.