I used the word “weird” with a friend last week and they thought that I meant it as a pejorative. This could never be the case. The great love of my life is weirdness. To be common is to be fucking boring.
Craig Ferguson’s Late Late Show was uncommon, and thus weird. It was also never boring, polished, or fake. And that’s a reflection on the show’s host.
After a few adjustments, Ferguson has become a man that seems comfortable within his own skin. His style and charm comes from that “take it or leave it” aura, with a side order of “I truly don’t give a fuck”. We should all be so lucky to say what we want, how we want while punctuating those thoughts with a shrug like he does.
At 32, I’m too old to have heroes or idols, but I think Ferguson is onto something and I feel like it’s something that I’ve been concurrently and minorly working towards in my life and work for a long time. That’s why Ferguson’s The Late Late Show was for me, but now as I survey the late night landscape, it seems like a smiley face emoticon with few exceptions and it’s hard for me to feel like a show really speaks to me because the weirdness and occasional awkwardness has left the room and it took its robot skeleton with him.
More and more, I find myself falling into the voluminous online library of late night talk show clips (Late Night with Letterman, Late Night with Conan, and Ferguson) for comedic sustenance, and thanks to that habit, I feel like I’m able to post a view clips from Craig Ferguson’s show that point to why he was so special.
“This is me. Me and you.”
These guys stand in front of us every night for thousands of shows. We get to know as much about them as they’re willing to share, and Craig Ferguson shared more than any other late night host I’ve ever seen, including the death of his parents and his feelings on national tragedies.
Here, Craig explains why he doesn’t want to punch down toward Britney Spears in the midst of her troubles while drawing a parallel between those struggles and the Christmas morning where he was determined to kill himself because of his own addictions.
It’s a shocking admission that exposes uncommon vulnerability to the audience, but Ferguson is clearly comfortable with his biography and how it has shaped him.
The whole thing could have felt like a lecture in someone else’s hands, but with Ferguson it’s something memorable and commendable.
“Our nightly trainwreck”
Ferguson resisted the “late night” label and considered his show to be something else. In this episode, he goes so far as to say that the show has moved past being a late night talk show and that it has turned into their “nightly trainwreck”.
Whatever label you use, though, this episode (and I’ve included only a clip, but you can likely find the whole episode on YouTube) is a masterful throwback to a time when talk shows were about real educated conversation. Here, Craig’s guest is Stephen Fry. Really, it’s a brilliant and sedate affair that dares you to pay attention. It’s also a reminder that Ferguson could be an amazing interviewer.
“Ooh La La”
Craig took the show to both Scotland and Paris in his time, but the Paris episodes had a special charm because they included the adorable Kristen Bell as co-host. Which is only natural since the two have developed uncommon on-air chemistry over the years.
My favorite part of the Paris episodes is captured in this clip as Ferguson and Bell walk through the street while talking to Eddie Izzard. I love how enthusiastic Izzard is and the environment really seems to open him up and it showed us something we’ve never seen before.
Unfortunately, I can’t find a clip from the interview that Craig did with Harrison Ford a few years ago (I believe he was promoting 42), but I stumbled upon the full episode on YouTube the other day and it’s brilliant in how bad it is.
Let me explain: first, Harrison Ford is courteous but he’s not usually a fun guy in talk show interviews. Conan O’Brien was really the only late night host that I saw him develop a rapport with. He does not reach those heights with Craig, but it’s not for lack of trying on Craig’s part after he spends the entire segment asking detailed questions about helicopters and flying — which Ferguson and Ford are both passionate about.
I’m charmed by this because it is a completely selfish act that doesn’t give a damn about an audience that wants to hear Ford deliver funny personal anecdotes. To me, this shows supreme confidence. I love that Ferguson doesn’t act as though he is afraid of his audience. He’s putting on his show, if people want to watch, good for them.
“Bang Your Drum”
There are hundreds of other moments that I could highlight, but the good thing is they’re all out there for you to discover on your own.
We end here with the series finale’s robust musical number because of how it stands out as a collage of the show’s various characters, puppets, stunts, friends, and odd moments. It also allowed Craig Ferguson to sing his head off and relay to us that he’s simply done enough on this specific show (not all others), that it’s the right time for him to move on, and thats he’s going to keep banging his drum — all through the lyrics of this charming Dead Man Fall song.
What came after this moment in the finale was fine — the Leno interview was probably the best one that I’ve seen him give — but in my mind, Craig screaming about “Banging on” while atop his desk is the real lasting final image for this show.
“No one lives forever…
there’s business here Ive got to finish.
You won’t make your mind up.
You won’t make your mind up for me.
Keep bangin on! Keep bangin on your drum and your day will come.”