Chuck Norris is coming to Supernova Comic Con & Gaming this month in Perth and Sydney and to celebrate Scenestr did a retrospective on the career of one Carlos Ray Norris. This was the Cover Story for the June edition of the Western Australian print issue and I was lucky enough to get the gig. This is my fifth cover story following on from my interviews with circus performer Jascha Boyce interview (WA DEC2017), Q&A with EDM legend Opiuo (QLD JAN2018), SNL superstar comedian Michael Che (WA FEB2018) and Adelaide Cabaret Festival Artistic Director Ali McGregor (SA MAY2018). I’m very grateful for the opportunity to have done these cover stories.
Produced by Eyeball Media Enterprises Scenestr. is an online national magazine with local offices around Australia. Celebrating 25 years in 2018 of publishing history they’ve excelled at moving into the digital realm but they remain at heart from the streets. They still publish magazines in print for Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland every month. The feature on Chuck Norris is the cover story for this month’s Western Australian magazine featuring on pages 10 and 11. You can read a digital version of the printed Western Australia edition here http://scenestr.com.au/read/WA/2018/15-WA/scenestr-WA-15.html#p=11
Post Super Bowl programming deserves sports parlance as much as anything and in the case of CBS this year you could describe it as Stephen Colbert fumbled a great opportunity and James Corden showed up to play.
Late Night Talk Show Hosts are cults of personalities. Always have been. Johnny Carson the story goes turned to a young producer once about a show he was about to start. The producer had been explaining the skits, the formula, the guests, the production values. When the producer was done Carson leaned in and told him “These shows are all about the guy behind the desk.” They are and I can tell you this because without my guys Craig Ferguson and David Letterman the genre has held less appeal this past year. All that remain are talented entertainers but they’re not Craig Ferguson and David Letterman and so I have not felt compelled to write about them. Where I live and with the technology I have I semi-regularly catch whole shows of Stephen Colbert, James Corden and Jimmy Fallon. I chase down viral bits from Conan, Kimmel and Meyers on YouTube. Alas I’m not catching anything from Comedy Central because “I’m an overseas viewer.” Their loss or mine? Who knows in this social media driven culture. What I see I like and champion.
Coco’s ratings scores have been as low as 300,000 viewers during the low season and he has never crested a million on a regular night in years. Yet a little Cuban special snagged two million viewers taking in DVR recordings after the telecast last year. Relegated to TBS O’Brien has a social media presence and a youthful demographic that belies his years. He is the epitome of punching above his weight. Kids watching him now may not even know about the Leno fiasco of ’09 but they know about Uber, Tinder and Grinder, Ride Along with Kevin Hart and Ice Cube, Call of Duty, Archer, Magic Mike XXL and crucially they know funny and Conan O’Brien remains as funny as he has ever been. At 53 he is out doing remotes when Letterman was sending Biff Henderson and Rupert Jee into the fray. His cultural reach far exceeds his real numbers. Sure some of the interviews are boring, sure sometimes the monologue is lame. Who cares? This man shows up to work again and again and rather than coasting on old NBC bits he’s been reinventing himself for a new generation. GO COCO!
Fallon is King and moment to moment I doubt there’s anybody funnier that’s why he regularly rates higher than his competitors. You tune in for Trump on Colbert. You watch Fallon no matter who’s appearing because Fallon is appearing. His monologues actually make me laugh; he has an easy rapport with his house band The Roots which amongst being bonafide musicians all have unique personalities which are comfortable to get involved in sketches and on the spot riffing. It’s true they’ve had six years to get this down pat but they’re running like a well-oiled machine at this point. The question remains when will we get tired of this routine. Will Fallon ever mature into the statesman Carson and Letterman became? Does it really matter? Jimmy Fallon has no edge, so what? Late last year he asked a question of Trump who replied “These were not the question we agreed to.” In this simple gesture he made Jimmy Fallon more badass than any question he was going to ask would have made him. He once turned to Hilary Clinton and asked “Why don’t you release the e-mails? I’m sick of hearing about it, aren’t you?” and she agreed. He asked the question and he put it in terms that were on most American’s minds. Frustratingly they just moved on but that is not to say Fallon is a push over. He has actually been very steadfast that he wants to make a fun show and he wants his guests to have fun on his show like everybody else. You can tell Fallon’s politics as clearly as Colbert but like Conan O’Brien his show is not about politics but about having fun. As long as that is happening I don’t think he’s going anywhere. Can he be the fun guy for multiple generations? Can he do dance offs with the next pop sensation when he’s 55 or will it lose something when it isn’t a peer like Justin Timberlake? Time will tell but the man is incredibly talented, hardworking and he has the most entertaining show on late night television consistently. However short the reign he has not been a flash in the pan. He is the current King of Late Night Television. Fact.
Colbert is booking CEOs, civil rights leaders and journalists in a way nobody else on network late night television is. This is classic counter programming which won’t place him in No.1 but will hopefully snag enough of a high income audience to justify his existence. The thinking person’s alternative though lost to Kimmel and Meyers throughout the month of December and those guys provide some of what he is selling to audiences as well. That makes it tricky. Plus nobody really bitches about Meyers lack of viralness because his lead in from Fallon makes him the highest rated in his timeslot by a country mile. The Colbert Report was so good for so long that we took for granted what an upheaval a new show would be. Colbert a former improve actor could sing and dance, his quick wit and intelligence was undeniable, his interviews in his old persona were actually really insightful and on top of it all he had a youthful openness, a yearning to ask questions and find answers rather than accuse and demean. Yet The Late Show with Stephen Colbert has been rife with teething problems of any first year out program. Jon Batiste is a talented musician and Colbert and he appear to genuinely like the other but chemistry comes from a variety of factors and right now… they don’t have it. Joe Biden’s interview on Colbert was a gift that reminds us what a great television moment of authenticity can be. A man clearly laying bare his emotions in a public forum without anything to gain from it as it turned out since he didn’t end up running.
I like a lot of the sketches Colbert has established written by his clever writers like “A Big Furry Hat” and even more so “Big Thoughts with even Bigger Stars.” Yet Colbert’s celebrity interviews are often as awkward as Fallon’s ass-kissing routine where everyone is so great and so funny. An easy rapport with Chris Pine and Josh Brolin recently had me questioning why can’t all Colbert interviews be like that? This may not be entirely fair for someone who just renovated a theatre on Broadway and has big numbers in it but Colbert doesn’t seem to do remotes. Neither does Fallon to an extent but you feel it with Colbert. The guy is busting his ass, dabbling in live shows and doing five nights a week but when you take a break six weeks after your debut it feels lazy.
Which brings us to the Superbowl.
CBS took the unprecedented step of following their Super Bowl 50 coverage with a live telecast of their late night programs The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Late Late Show with James Corden. The Late Show started strong with a monologue that involved him throwing the football to first soldiers overseas, an astronaut and then the President. It’s the kind of extra expense stuff you save for such shows which also tugs at the heart strings of Americana. Support the troops, we can reach outer space and our Commander in Chief enjoys a throw of the ole pigskin as much as we all do. It got even better when Colbert involved in some meta humour. The President pointed out he was in a pre-taped bit to which the host insisted he was doing the show live. President Obama proved his point by bringing Colbert onscreen in the bit to talk to his live studio self. It was a neat sketch and was true to Stephen’s comic sensibilities.
Unfortunately the rest of the show was not as strong at all. Colbert followed with an interview with Tina Fey and Margot Robbie that was average despite Fey usually being funny. It was awkwardly interrupted by a cross to the Super Bowl stadium to have a satellite interview with MVP winner Von Miller. When it concluded Fey joked “Now about this movie.” Will Ferrell followed with a neat joke about being a new animal expert for the show and refusing to talk about Zoolander 2 which he was there to spruik. Yet I couldn’t help but flashback to his lip sync battle with Kevin Hart last year on Fallon and just feel these were half measures. A popular sketch from Key and Poole related to football also made an appearance before finally Megyn Kelly showed up to engage Colbert in the type of interview that he’s good at but at that point the hour had drawn near. 22,000,000 viewers watched this fucking show. Two decades ago at the height of his powers with a four network landscape and a Winter Olympics lead in David Letterman mustered 14 million on a weeknight. Last year when he retired he pulled 13.7 million. You’ll never get 22 million again, this was a golden opportunity to draw a wide net and grab some extra casual viewers over the long haul to hopefully remain a viable competitor. To be fair it wasn’t for lack of tyring, Key and Poole, Fey and Ferrell are all comedy superstars and were well chosen. They referenced football, they got the President and the First Lady to show up and Megyn Kelly is a high profile reporter and brings an audience that doesn’t tune into Colbert. It was the kind of aisle crossing inclusivity the late show host has practiced since he booked Jeb Bush on his first night on CBS. Yet it didn’t flow seamlessly, it was a mess of ideas and priorities. Look here’s celebrities but we’ve got to cross to an actual footballer. Here’s a sketch from another show because it involves football which means it will be fifty minutes before I talk to Megyn Kelly which arguably is going to be the best bit but will not be funny and we need to be funny right?
James Corden On The Other Hand
The Late Late Show followed and scored a franchise high of 5 million which is impressive when you consider some affiliates were going with local news at that point after cutting Colbert’s last few minutes. So let’s talk about James Corden. James Corden a portly British television and theatre star has spent twelve months on his show embracing American culture including kicking a half time field goal at a local game and hanging out at a tailgate party.
Following this formula he did a similar thing with his signature sketch- he did Carpool Karaoke with Elton John. This part of the show referenced nothing about the Super Bowl but it was Corden’s superstar sketch with a major superstar in it for his biggest audience ever. That’s how you do it. By organically filling the rest of the show with football the Elton John bit did not need it and since Carpool Karaoke is such a signature Corden bit its inclusion did not feel awkward or out of place either in the Super Bowl special. Speaking of Carpool Karaoke, a recent one with Adele has hit 67,000,000 views on YouTube. That’s more than anything on YouTube from any late night TV show. The Late Late Show with James Corden is not perfect but I marvel sometimes at it. It has a spirit of fun, has established its own identity within weeks of airing for the first time, Corden’s chemistry with Reggie Watts is easy and Watts is not a sidekick but his own thing. One night I tuned in and James Corden and Tori Kelly went out to restaurants in a remote and sang for their supper. Working outside the studio with a shaky premise and uncertain of how crowds are going to react makes for exciting if awkward television. As it advanced Reggie’s house band came out and Tori Kelly got people up and dancing to her song Nobody Love. The punch line made me smile.
Zoologist Jack Hanna of Letterman fame showed up with Betty White a great animal lover along with Amar’e Soudemire. Rachel Platten closed with a powerful rendition of her pop hit Stand By You. My God it was fun!
When legends retire, you stand up and you applaud. For the past month of shows the audience in the Ed Sullivan Theatre have been rising to their feet as David Letterman walks out to do his monologue at the beginning of what are to be the last episodes of The Late Show with him at the helm. The monologues are not the strong suit of the show and five minutes later only one good guffaw may have been unleashed. Still they are on their feet clapping. Most likely not for the monologue or even the show to come. Most likely not for the guests on that night. Possibly not even when things are going particularly well. No they’re rising to their feet and giving a standing ovation for over 6,000 shows over 33 years. A lifetime of memories that Letterman gave us from a lifetime of work. They’ve come from around the country, most are long-time fans, and they’ve paid money, booked tickets and waited outside. They haven’t done this for nothing. They’ve done this because they want to see the man in the arena either one last time or for the first time because one more times are fast running out. A pilgrimage to let the man know it mattered, what you did mattered and we are grateful. Part of this is nostalgia and sentiment for time passing. Would we have appreciated him signing on for another year of not being Jimmy Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel? But the outpouring of love and reminiscing runs deeper.
Letterman’s origins come from so long ago we kind of take for granted how much he changed the comedy landscape. Tenure gives you respectability as Letterman has pointed out adamant that he is no Johnny Carson but Judd Apatow, the two Jimmies, Conan, Jon Stewart, Ray Romano, Stephen Colbert to name a few have cited the importance of how 80s Late Night show changed everything. The hyperbole of the moment includes Late Night television will never be the same. You hear laments about how talk has left the genre of talk shows. So it’s important to remember in September there is going to be a lot of buzz devoted to Colbert’s arrival as the second ever host of The Late Show and the ensuing interest to see if Fallon can stay No.1 and if Fallon remains king what will this mean for all the new players.
Time marches on and the world continues to turn. In a moment as we all get misty eyed about Dave and his achievements it’s easy to forget sometimes that he’s been a little lazy in recent years, a little a bit of a prick to people who didn’t deserve it, a little too awkward around young starlets. So why the love? Seriously is it all for the revolution that was Late Night in the 1980s? I mean why didn’t Jay Leno get this much press last year? Seriously he didn’t. 22 years at the top in the ratings, far nicer to people and probably on average funnier moment to moment than his rival. Partly this was due to the fact that Leno had gone away before and come back but also because critics have never loved Leno as much as Letterman.
Maybe it’s because Letterman is 33 years of Late Night, the last link to an age when Johnny Carson was still on the air. Conan O’Brien has become the elder statesmen and he is only has 11 years to go to match Dave’s record, Kimmel has 20 years, Colbert has 20 and Fallon has 27 years to go. Although television as we know it going to be around in 2022 let alone 2042. They might make it and hell if any goes with 20 or 25 in the bank it will deserve our recognition. However this is about more than longevity. It’s about more than all that the gap toothed youngster did in the 1980s. All this love is about Dave.
I’ve been watching David Letterman since 2001; I was a university student living in public housing in Australia with a TV and five channels. In the middle of the night if you didn’t want to watch Tony Robbins infomercials The Late Show was it. This was before torrents. Before YouTube. Before cheap DVDs. I had seen Jay Leno on my parent’s cable and thought he was funnier and nicer. Kevin Eubanks seemed more hip than Paul Schaeffer and the bigger stars seemed to be on Leno but this was nothing else on so I watched. Then something funny happened. One night I was over at my parents place and I asked my siblings to turn the channel over to him at the allotted time. They didn’t get it. They mocked it but that’s when I knew, I was a fan.
Was dropping random objects in a giant water tank mesmerising television? No it was not. As sexy and talented as a grinder girl was I don’t think I needed to see her that many times or hula-hoops lady either but stagehands Pat and Kenny reading Oprah transcripts –that never got old.
Alan talking sexy to the camera. Love it.
When Biff yelled out at a jogger with a bullhorn “You’re going to die anyway.” While passing by in a car I laughed so hard.
Letterman himself played over and over a clip from a Gap Jeans commercial just because he liked the girl in it. Given at the time he was 30 years her senior that is perhaps a little leery for today but it spoke to my youthful hormones and on some level you knew Jay wasn’t doing stuff like this. Dave was the rebel and as the years ticked away that became why I loved him. When you think about some of his best interviews some of the ones that immediately come to mind were distinctly unpleasant. Letterman would milk the awkward tension and unpleasant vibe for all it was worth.
A personal favourite was Paris Hilton coming on the show after her time in jail.
I’ve seen the clips of Cher, Madonna, Andy Kaufmann and Harmony Korinne from before my viewing time as well. They’re all solid gold as well as any number I watched live with Bill O’Reilly though they have mellowed around each other somewhat.
Regis Philbin who was an unknown to me here in Australia has been on the show more than anybody else for a reason. Some of the best shows Dave had were with Regis. Just two old guys on a couch arguing like an old married couple. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFx3n6DSD9E
But other interviews I’ve loved with Letterman had nothing to do with awkward pauses and glib putdowns. If Dave has become known for openly showing disinterest in the parade of young stars with repetitive products to shill he has become the go to guy for former Presidents, current politicians, war heroes and journalists to be interviewed by.
Some of the celebrity ones have been stellar.
I’m not interested in pointing the finger at younger rivals and complaining that they can’t do this. The Dave of Late Night couldn’t have brought gravitas like the Dave of now. They can grow into it just like he did.
Yet Dave does bring something only he can. I don’t know if it’s the Midwest in him or his interest in wordplay but there’s something deeply unique and profoundly simple in the some of the way he talks about things. On Robin Williams he described his comedy force arriving at the Comedy store in comparison to the other comedians. “We’re like morning dew and he comes in like a hurricane.” When jousting with Bill O’Reilly “You’re putting words in my mouth just like you put artificial facts in your head.” Or when returning to the air after September 11, 2001 “We are told these attacks were carried out by zealots fuelled by religious fervour and if you live to be 1000 years old will that make any sense. Will that make any Goddamn sense.”
Johnny Carson tucked America into bed for 30 years. If nothing else David Letterman did it that night. He still has that power. Letterman was the last to return to the air after Robin Williams’s sudden suicide and we waited to see what he would say about the man he had known for 30 years having passed away. By recounting the early days of the Comedy Store he acknowledged the extraordinary talent and generosity of the man. There was no homespun homily either. After a clip throughout the years he closed with “I had no idea the man was in so much pain, that the man was suffering. Robin Williams what a guy.”
David Letterman doesn’t lie. This is troublesome when he’s bored by someone you or the populace likes. Yet that brings its own reward. When at 67 years of age he bounds onto the stage and says the indie rock band playing was good you know he means it. When he introduces a guest as the very funny or the very talented it’s high praise.
Not lying allowed him to interview Warren Zevon and not gloss over then fact that he was dying. Zevon is a musicians’ musician who amongst other hits wrote and performed Werewolves of London. But in 2002 when Dave has Zevon it’s fair to say he wasn’t the biggest star in the world. Long-time Letterman fans knew him thought from multiple appearances including sitting in for bandleader Paul Schaeffer. He devoted the whole show to him and me who didn’t know Zevon or their mutual history was mesmerised. “It’s lung cancer.” Zevon told him and David responded “That’s tough.” with a heartfelt grimace having gone through a quintuple bypass a couple of years earlier. Mortality was circling the now middle aged rock’n‘roll baby boomers.
You can hear a pin drop in the clip as the audience goes deathly quiet. Zevon cracks wise throughout the interview and looks great if a little thin but does not shy away from what is happening. Death is a part of a life but seldom is it dealt with on television with such authenticity. It is here. Hear Dave’s voice crack when he tells “Stop it Paul” who is offering Warren to play the songs in any order. Warren Zevon performs three songs on the night and while his voice can’t quite ascend to its full range during the ballad Mutineer he is right on point throughout his last public performance. Looking over at his fellow musicians in recognition and thanks at the end of every song I am always moved by the concentration on every band member’s face as they nail the horn finale of Mutineer.
During the interview Letterman asked Zevon if he knew anything about life that he did not know yet. Zevon answered “To enjoy every sandwich.” The sentiment is so simple and so profound it shows the similarity of their two sensibilities. At the end of the final performance Letterman strolls over and advises Zevon and us all to enjoy every sandwich.
It immediately spoke to him and he repeated the exchange in a tribute show to Zevon the following year when the news came that he had passed away. It was a lovely touch earlier this month when a cover of Mutineer was played and Letterman mentioned Zevon by name after. That whole show was just so real and I pray to God that tradition is maintained in the late night shows to come.
Not lying has brought him forgiveness too. Coming clean about having an affair with staff was an incredible low point. I used to watch Stephanie Birkitt on the show that is a few years older than me and I had a big crush on her. We’ve all got our own sins to make up for but I am pleased to see Dave trying as much as the rest of us, maybe even more and while it’s none of my business I hope Regina is now happy and at the time gave’em hell. I hope Birkitt and also those affected will be allowed to get on with their lives from this moment. But when Dave says he did a terrible thing and he has a lot of work cut out for him it kind of makes me happy to still count myself as a fan.
I just like Dave. But I also like the entire crew that he has brought in front of the camera. Rupert Jee from the Hello Deli, the aforementioned Alan Kalter, Pat and Kenny, Biff Henderson. Then there is Paul Schaeffer. Paul Schaeffer it turns out was just as hip if not more hip as Kevin Eubanks. He’s backed some of the biggest names in the business on the show and made some of the most magical musical moments on the show possible. Every night as the commercials have come and gone I have gotten used to the bands rendition of this song and that. I can’t believe they’re not going to be there anymore. This would have been more than an achievement but Paul has become one of the funniest sidekicks on TV even sometimes nailing a punch line as Dave searches for one. This supporting cast of characters has been as much fun as Dave has.
Yet it all does come back to Dave. When I think about my favourite bits from the last decade I usually recall stories he told at his desk in between the monologues and the guest interviews. One day he told a story of stealing the car keys of paparazzi following him while he jogged. When he threw the car keys away he closed with the line “I felt like Clint Eastwood.” Another story about a bear breaking into his house is a well-known classic https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWRTglU3GXU
as well as the countless riffs on the Conan vs. Jay war of ’09
Last year when announcing his retirement he again was in story mode and it softened the blow beautifully while also making you realise the one thing you were going to miss most about him – that of the storyteller. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5sVI_-LRCI
For two years I had Craig Ferguson and he became my favourite but he’s already gone. Maybe that’s a good thing because while I was still watching Dave these past few months have reminded me why Letterman was my Late Night host for all these years. I’ve seen a lot of clips of Johnny Carson and I get why 1992 was such a pivotal moment in American culture. Carson was everything. When Letterman says he is no Carson I understand what he means but Letterman is Letterman and that in itself is something special so let me put it out there in this little obscure part of the internet. Dave always feel free to come back and do anything you want big or small. It won’t taint your legacy and we’ll be happy to see you. Adam Sandler struck a nerve with me when he sang “Because you’re the king of comedy, my best friend on TV.”
When Craig Ferguson’s last show aired in the middle of the night I stood up alone in my living room in my boxers as Craig finished singing and the audience applauded. I smiled sheepishly knowing how stupid I was behaving but wanting to feel connected in some way.
No doubt I’ll be on my feet again this Thursday. Because that’s what you do when legends retire. You stand up and you applaud.
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.