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Review: Craig Ferguson brings a different kind of 'Late Late Show' to Ruth Eckerd Hall



Only six men in America host nightly network talk shows -- I'm feeling generous, so I'll include Carson Daly -- and one of them wasn't even born in this country. The nerve!

His name is Craig Ferguson, and over the past couple of years, he's become the most interesting oddball on late-night TV. And on Wednesday night, he brought his A-game to Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall.

Performing to a sold-out crowd, Ferguson was on from beginning to end during a show that was nothing like his Late Late Show, aside from how funny it was.

"It's a great day for America, everybody!" the Scottish comic said to start he show, as is his custom. They said I'd never play the prestigious St. Patrick's Day show at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida, but look at me now!" 

I'm not as huge a Ferguson fanboy as my colleague Eric Deggans, and I wasn't taking detailed notes -- any quotes you see here are paraphrased -- but since I was there, I figured I'd at least share a few thoughts on Ferguson's set, which touched on everything from sex to Scientology to his alcoholism to his boss, David Letterman.

In the spirit of Ferguson himself: What did we learn from the show tonight?

I learned ...

... That Craig Ferguson isn't a talk show host -- he just plays one on TV. If you went into Wednesday's show expecting a rehashing of The Late Late Show, you probably left disappointed -- and not just because Ferguson dropped a lot of F-bombs. There was no Wavy the Crocodile, no ersatz interviews, no topical, monologue-style "What's in the news today?" humor -- only a line about Tiger Woods' impending Masters' comeback seemed pulled from the headlines. The only Late Late Show setpieces he brought with him were the two dancers who accompany Ferguson whenever he lip-syncs his way through the cold open to his show. (They "performed" two songs, including Britney Spears' Oops! ... I Did It Again, which you can see in the video above.)

... That Craig Ferguson isn't afraid of his boss ... okay, maybe he's a little afraid. Ferguson didn't talk about the recent late-night wars that claimed onetime time-slot rival Conan O'Brien, but he did have a couple of Letterman jokes up his sleeve. After he noted that Dave's extortion saga was the first celebrity sex scandal he couldn't really talk about in his monologue, he said one thought did cross his mind: "Dave, you survived open heart surgery, and you get caught banging the staff? You magnificent bastard!"

... That "Scottish people are different from English people" is the European comedy equivalent to "White people dance this way, but black people dance this way." Ferguson got a good chunk of mileage out of how posh English people pronounce the word "yes" as "ears." To hear Ferguson tell it, this can make for a confusing night whenever you find yourself making love to a posh English lady -- which is something he doesn't mind doing. "It's sort of like what they did to Scotland," he said, "only gentler."

... That Kate Winslet isn't likely to be a guest on The Late Late Show anytime soon. Ferguson told a couple of stories about unfortunate Hollywood celebrity encounters, including one involving the Oscar-winning Winslet. During one monologue, Ferguson casually referred to Winslet's character in Titanic as a "fat bitch." This apparently got back to Winslet -- "You don't think of celebrities owning televisions, but they do," Ferguson said -- who was royally P.O.'ed. When Ferguson heard about it, he called her publicist to apologize, and said he'd do anything to make things right so she'd come on his show. The publicist relayed the apology to Winslet, then called Ferguson back with bad news: No dice, apology not accepted. "Then you tell her," Ferguson said, "that she's a fat bitch."

... That Craig Ferguson knows how to work a room. His style onstage is much more manic, more animated, than it is on television. On The Late Late Show, Ferguson is not afraid to draw out pauses, to let silence linger, to let his small studio audience meander with him through his monologue. In Clearwater, Ferguson never stopped talking, pacing the stage like the live comedy veteran he is, playing to the seats in the back with outsized gesticulations. Makes sense -- before he entered the late night game, he was a stage and television actor (in addition to being a screenwriter, and a director, and a novelist, and a memoirist).

Here's what amazes me: Some comics work for months to hone their act to the point where they can perform an hour of convincing, hilarious stand-up. Ferguson does have a one-hour special to his credit, but it's not like he's working Improvs across America every weekend, fine-tuning his material. It's astonishing that his one-hour set flowed as naturally, as convincingly, as it did. There were no slow moments. It was laugh after laugh after laugh, and all of it flowed smoothly thanks to Ferguson's ineffable charisma.

When it was over, everyone stood and cheered, expecting an encore, but we didn't get one. Bummer. I guess one hour of Craig Ferguson each night is all the world gets.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 3:18pm]


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