Craig Ferguson talks stand-up comedy, traveling to Europe, 'Celebrity Name Game,' visiting the Dali Museum and more
As the Fallons and the Kimmels and the Colberts of the world get sillier and snarkier, more viral and more visible, Craig Ferguson keeps on leaning back behind his desk on the set of The Late Late Show, smirking slyly and delivering, night in and night out, the breeziest, most easygoing late-night talk show on TV.
Yeah. We said it.
At 51 and in his ninth season following David Letterman, the charming Glaswegian has carved out a comfortable niche delivering insightful, intimate monologues on American culture and unrehearsed interviews with entertainers and world leaders. It adds up to a show that feels uniquely honest, self-assured and intelligent — this, in spite of the presence of a randy robot sidekick and a menagerie of oddball puppets.
“It’s gotta be stuff that makes you laugh, and then you hope enough people share that with you,” said Ferguson, calling this week from Los Angeles. “I have to entertain myself, and then if enough other people join in ,that’s great. And actually I think that’s better, because it creates an empathy and a sense of contact with the audience that wouldn’t be there if I was just doing stuff I thought would please a certain demographic.”
From his days as a young Scottish punk to his American breakthrough on The Drew Carey Show to his books and screenplays to his near-decade in late night, Ferguson has remained faithful to what he views as his truest comedic form: Stand-up. As he brings his “Hot and Grumpy” tour to the Palladium in St. Petersburg on Monday, we asked Ferguson about his stand-up, his overseas travels and more. Here are excerpts.
If I’m not mistaken, this is one of five shows you’re doing in Florida.
Yeah, we’re doing a bunch, certainly. I’m going around a bit. But St. Pete’s the one I’m looking forward to, because I want to go to the Dali Museum.
It’s great. You can buy a melting-clock Christmas ornament in the gift shop.
Great! That’s what I’m after. I’ve been to the other one in Cadaqués, Spain, so I want to go to the one in St. Pete.
If you were coming next spring, they just announced the Warhol Museum is going to send down about 100 works to the Dali Museum.
That would be interesting. Maybe I’ll come back for it. We’ll see how it goes — if the people of St. Pete like me and I like them, we’ll take it from there. It’s kind of a first date.
I was at the last show you did in this area, in Clearwater, and I could definitely sense a difference in the energy you bring on stage versus what you bring on TV. Do you think Stage Craig differs from Screen Craig?
Of course, yeah. It’s the difference between a live band and a studio album. It’s much more raucous, I think, in the live environment. It feels a lot rawer, it’s a lot more rock 'n’ roll than pop music.
That must take you back to your days in music, playing in a band and being in musical theater. Stand-up must give you an outlet that you can’t get on TV.
Yeah, or anywhere else, really, for that matter. Live stand-up comedy is really kind of how I started. I’ve been doing it since, geez, 1986, when I started at the Edinburgh Festival, so 20-some years. It’s what I do. I went from punk rock bands into this, and I’ve been doing this ever since in one form or another. I’ve done a lot of acting and writing and all sorts of other jiggery-pokery, but I’ve always kind of thought myself a stand-up.
Do you remember the first time you did stand-up on television?
Yeah, I think I do, actually. It was at the Edinburgh Festival in 1986. They had a compilation show of all these different things. In fact, the host of that show was the guy who eventually drove me to rehab, so I made friends. (laughs)
I don’t think I’ve heard your side of the story about (stand-up comic) Cameron Esposito’s appearance, the one where you and Jay Leno were off to the side doing a little Statler and Waldorf routine, and she never finished her set. How do you view your role in handling a moment like that?
Well, it kind of was a very organic thing. Cameron was doing her set, she started to poke fun at Jay, and he started to poke fun at her, and I said, come on over. We run a very loose show, and Jay, for all that you hear, is an extremely relaxed and easy performer. So it was as much to do with Jay as it was to do with Cameron. She was lovely and funny, and good for her for having the spunk to stand up to it. She did well.
It picked up traction the next day on comedy blogs. People were talking about it after the fact, and obviously I’m asking you about it now. How frequently to you sense that something you’ve done on any given night’s show is resonating online the following day?
Not too often. I used to be aware of it a lot more some years ago. This is the end of the ninth season, about to be 10 years, and after a while, you kind of can’t keep up, nor would you want to. You don’t really want to Google yourself, because for everybody who loves you, there’s somebody who can’t stand you. My self-esteem is fragile enough.
I thought the shows in Paris and Scotland were fantastic. Do you have any plans to take the show overseas again?
Not right now, but I will. I feel that some of the finest work on the show was the overseas stuff. And I think that I would like to do that again. We have no plans to go anywhere at the moment, but that could change. And as you can tell from looking at these things, we don’t need a two-year preparation period. It’s like, let’s get tickets and go.
How do you make your traveling partners comfortable? How do you get them on board?
Just ask them, basically. Everyone, like Mila Kunis or Michael (Clarke Duncan) or Rashida Jones or anybody who’s come with us on these trips, we just ask them and they just came. It gets to the point now that people actually ask us, “When you’re going, can I come for the next one?” Julia Louis-Dreyfus right now is saying, “Let’s go to Italy!” And I’m like, “Well, I ... not right now, but yes, let’s go.” And we will at some point.
I saw you’re hosting a new game show, Celebrity Name Game. Have you ever hosted a game show before?
I haven’t. And I don’t know how much of a — it’s a game show, but it’s kind of an odd thing. It’s pretty cool. It’s kind of a very simple kind of pretext, and it works really well for fooling around and having some fun. I’m looking forward to it. I mean, we’re a long way away from that. It’ll be into the next year before we even start shooting that.
What’s the concept?
Basically, it’s a little like Password, but with the names of famous people, living or dead.
Have you reached out to your old buddy Drew for advice on hosting a game show?
I would never take advice from Drew about anything. Other than perhaps diet and exercise. He’s managed to keep all that weight off, which makes me hate him.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*