Two more weeks.
That is all you have left.
Two more weeks and then Craig Ferguson will no longer host The Late Late Show.
If ratings are anything to go by this is hardly the concern of most but a few.
I count myself as one of those proud few.
There I was one night recently lying on my couch watching Ferguson at 11:30pm and I just smiled. It had been a long long day and the sandman was at my door but I had held on, left the TV on. Because he’s my guy, it’s my show and I just smiled.
This is my Late Night TV show. My favourite. I only started watching two years ago when I got a digital TV. Maybe only a year ago did I discover all those old clips on YouTube and start mentioning to my friends that they should watch.
And now all too soon he’ll be gone and that will be that.
So it’s important to savour these last few nights of a truly unique late night talk show.
What do you get with Ferguson at the helm that you don’t get with my David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel?
I’ve been a long time watcher of Letterman who has the best interviews and the relaxed style of a veteran that can only exist by having been around. Watch him announce his retirement or pay tribute to Robin Williams, Jimmy Fallon the King of Late Night currently doesn’t have that gravitas nor storytelling ability. Fallon might grow into it. As a host celebrated for his boyish good looks, social media savvy and youthful enthusiasm people fail to notice he regularly acknowledges the history of the medium and seeks guests who are part of its rich history. Kimmel will keep Letterman’s snark alive and well. His comedy has edge and his most classic bits are just as newsworthy as any of the endearingly daggy games Fallon gets big guests to play. I really would have liked to have seen Conan O’Brien get a fair shake at The Tonight Show. I doubt that he would have been the success that Jimmy Fallon is now but for my money he is a better host. Conan felt like my generation’s Carson. He lampooned the things I knew and loved. He had the guests on that were my popular culture and his bits were just my sensibility.
But Ferguson…Craig Ferguson is my favourite. For starters I love double entendres, the more obvious the better and Craig has made an art of doing the obvious ones and doing several in an episode.
I love how he flirts with many of his female guests. Sometimes the way he fawns over how great an actress looks and then quickly mentions a male guest is looking good does raise concern of whether he comes across as someone who places too high a value on the way a woman looks. But he seems genuinely a fan of Shailene Woodley not just because she is beautiful but because she is smart and confident. While he happily flirts with someone younger like Kirsten Bell whose many appearances on the show have become legend because of their easy rapport, he is also flirts with peers like Robin Wright, Mary McCormack and Sandra Bullock and more venerable guests like Betty White. Some of the best bits have been when the women call his bluff and not only flirt back but confront him with doing something else. His nervous smile and clear discomfort with Kate Mara or Berenice Marlohe show he is happily married and out of his depth. Gwendoline Christie who plays Brienne of Tarth of Game of Thrones was on recently and is a great example of this. For a woman I know for being dressed up in armour, being stern and heroic and noted for her height it was a fantastic change of pace to see her being sexual and funny.
Secondly I love the zaniness of the show. This might have cost him in the end a shot at the 11:30 timeslot but that race had probably already been lost when Geoffrey Peterson and Secretariat became permanent fixtures. He has great chemistry with Josh Robert Thomson who voices, wait for it, The Gay Robot Skeleton Geoffrey Peterson. Yes Craig has a skeleton mannequin off to the side of the stage and also two guys in a horse suit named Secretariat off to the other side in a stable. I figured this was pretty weird but hardly off putting in this day and age. So imagine my delight when I found my baby boomer mother was put off by Geoffrey. “He’s a symbol of death, it’s kinda creepy.” She’d tell me. No offense Mum but your discomfort kind of makes Geoff and Craig just a little bit cooler and I thought at 34 I was way past these delights. Ferguson stated in several interviews that Thomson and him will be working together in the future. I’m not surprised. Often the best lines of the night belong to Geoff Peterson and not in a threatening manner to the lead host. Part of their act is essentially Ferguson throwing to Peterson for a punch line or at least to help him build to one. At least twice every night when a joke stalls Peterson pops in one that did work a few minutes before but in a mocking manner as if the show really never pulls off anything.
That’s part of the appeal for me too. Since the show airs at 12:30 at night in the States it’s like a best kept secret. It’s production values look cheap and half the time it’s guests are B-Grade. I cannot back up if this is actually true but the impression they try to sell is that Craig comes out and rather than do a monologue written by ten writers and put on cue cards he rattles off a few points of interest from the day and see where it takes him. This means when everybody else is referring to Governor Christie or the Presidential elections Craig might be mentioning an obscure International Day of… There’s a devil may care attitude to proceedings and an acknowledgement this late in the game that the people watching aren’t mainstream America but fans most of which aren’t casual viewers. You either get this or you don’t and if you get it you’re not normal-you’re one of us. That’s a terribly nice feeling when you sit down to watch something. If you think you’re odd, you’re not alone and maybe you’re a little bit cool because you get it and not everybody does. The opening number written and performed by Ferguson implores you to stay up and that you’re part of a group. It’s hard to stay up. It’s been a long long day and the sandman is at your day. But hang on. Leave the TV on. And let’s do it anyway.
Let us do it anyway.
The show follows a standard format. Monologue (kinda), a section where Craig reads tweets and e-mails from viewers while riffing with Geoff, interview 1, interview 2 and finally a summation of the night with What Did We Learn on the Show Tonight Craig? I’ll admit that I look forward to the monologues and tweets and emails reading most nights. The only difference between the two is the stimuli and that he stands up for the monologue and sits down to read the e-mails and tweets from viewers in the second one. Both rely on repeated jokes that are told every week and appear to be adlibbed by Ferguson and Thomson to hopefully come up with a punch line that will be successful enough to end the segment on. When you think about it, this is gutsy live performing that is a wonder to behold. Nobody else does this. Everybody else had monologues that are polished, topical and get smaller laughs more often. Craig and Geoff crack me up though and there’s an energy that comes from the comedians themselves not knowing how they are going to get to where we’re headed. It’s two mates basically trying to crack each other up.
The interviews can be hit or miss but it’s not because Ferguson is a bad interviewer. Ferguson is interested in ideas and owing to the later start time he gets on people that don’t have to be big celebrities. Novelists, old comedians and the former Mayor of Reykjavik sit down on his couch and not just to plug some product but to merely tell their story. His interview with Reverend Desmond Tutu won him a Peabody Award and he had a whole episode where he discussed a range of topics with Stephen Fry. The latter being a tribute to the former format of the show under Tom Snyder who really did a TALK show. When somebody sits down for an interview he asks the kind of random casual questions you’d do with a friend you haven’t seen in a while or stranger you just met at a party. He infuses every interview with a sense we can talk about anything. Many years ago he had an interview with Alec Baldwin and he read his cards for the interview which were prepared by his staff. The first question was “How have you been?” He tore up the cue cards and has made a point of doing so ever since. Anthony Hopkins talked to him about being in the army not so much his latest movie. Kevin Bacon talked about his Mum’s cooking not so much his new TV show. Shailene Woodley talked about pipe smoking and Matthew McConaughey about acting and Don Cheadle about colonoscopies. Ferguson will rope in things going on in his life at the moment like becoming a vegetarian or a new love for British TV show Foyle’s War or an incident of road rage. They often feel like genuine conversations with people he is either friends with or is getting to know. I doubt this is true but that’s what it feels like. So much so that I am surprised when I see them show up on other talk shows. Kevin you bitch?! What will Craig think? Why didn’t you ever do a Footloose re-enactment on his show? Yeah silly I know but that’s how friendly they sometimes seem. If the guest and him are struggling to find a focal point he may pull out his pipe and pretend to be a therapist. This works on so many levels. First off it mocks the LA mentality that everybody, especially rich famous people, are seeing a therapist. Secondly it invites celebrities to talk about their secret fears, hates or dreams. To share something real and personal. Thirdly in a very real way it has gotten quite a few quests to mention they have done therapy. This has opened up to a wider audience however subtlety that everybody goes through a range of issues of emotions in their lifetime and if you need to see a therapist then you are not the only one. While we’re on the topic of acceptance having a gay sidekick however not real is a step in the right direction too. There may be a lot of play on word jokes but honestly after you’ve heard of Geoff’s active sex life isn’t this making more conservative people used to hearing about a gay person having an active sex life. Yes I know he’s a skeleton and he’s not real. I still love him and still think it’s a relevant point. A mainstay of the show is him closing with an awkward pause. Like a lot of gags they can get too repetitive but there’s something comforting in the repetition and most times it leads to something amusing if not hilarious.
I think it’s high time we get someone on Late Night who isn’t a middle aged white guy and I’ll tell you why. Because while Ferguson is those two things he is also a Scotsman and that alone has brought an outsider’s perspective to proceedings. He’s well-travelled, well read and refers to pop culture that sometimes Americans don’t know about. The aforementioned Foyle’s War and Doctor Who for example. He’s taken the show on the road to New Orleans, Scotland and France. There is something wonderful in that. The idea to introduce your audience to large ideas, a wider world and obscure entertainment that nobody else knows about. Compare that to a company man like Fallon who only mentions what’s coming up next on the show this week.
Finally I just like Ferguson. He’s not mean like Letterman or Kimmel can be. But he’s more real and honest than Fallon and less zany than O’Brien. In the serious moment of the show he talks about his aim to be honest with everything he does with the show. That kind of nobility can only come from a man who’s lived life. The son of a postal worker and a teacher. A former punk rocker who became a stand-up comedian who worked odd jobs including bouncer and construction worker. A Scotsman who brings an outsider’s perspective to Americans and yet as a newly minted citizen has an idealism and deep love for his adopted nation. A man who is well travelled and well-read who in between the smutty humour will quote Kaufman, Beckett and Freud. An actor who I remember fondly playing Mr Wick on The Drew Carey Show, an author and a screenwriter. A doting father and happily married husband who knows the pain of divorce. An alcoholic who hasn’t had a drink in two decades. This all informs his act and beneath the scramble to make you laugh is a determined journey to make you engage. Even I can recognise that Craig makes it a little bit about him sometimes but in doing so it draws us in as viewers and I believe has drawn in some of his regular guests. Mary McCormack a regular spoke on last night’s episode that she loved when he spoke about his Dad. He said he’s never gone back and watched it but at the timehe just had to do it. It was almost ten years ago when the show had been on the air for a year when his father passed away and he talked about his father in the opening monologue. It says something about how real that love and loss is and it was about his father and not him when he says he’s never gone back to look at it. As soon as I got into Ferguson and read up about him I immediately youtubed it. Fathers and sons are a particularly pertinent topic for me and this did not disappoint. He talks about a man who loomed large in his life and that he looked up to. A man who was tough and taught him right from wrong but also looked out for him. The man couldn’t let his father pass without acknowledging it and the same was true after the Colorado shooting or the Boston Marathon Bombing or his mother’s passing.
How could he make us laugh when something sad had happened? He had to be honest in that moment and about how he felt. His feelings are faultless because in remaining true to how he felt he has honoured the dead. That honesty was even more powerful and profound when he spoke about his alcoholism in the wake of Britney Spears being carted off in the back of an ambulance with a shaved head. Here was someone famous and wealthy who couldn’t keep it together and so was throwing it all away. In our ignorance we may have judged her a little for risking it all through bad decisions. You can’t beat this rap with money Ferguson said and then wished her good luck. To not hop on the band wagon with such insight into addiction and some courageous openness about his own past sealed the deal. Craig Ferguson is my favourite and I will miss him when these two weeks are up.