TMiK TV Review: The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson

img053 copyIt is a bit jarring to watch Craig Ferguson the first time. He stands close to the camera, crowding it and fidgeting, a dark minimalist studio behind him. He touches the camera, prodding it, reaches around it as if tapping your shoulder, but then quickly spins and smacks the camera as if smacking you on the ear. Ferguson has an air of alcoholic madness, of unpredictability and slight Scottish menace (though an ex-alcoholic he seems to permanently channel a stiff buzz) He’s like the most whacked out guy you knew in college, who you hung around just to see what he would to do next — especially when he had some beers in him.

If comedy is about finding an edge to prod our sensibilities, then Ferguson has got razors to spare. He might begin the show operating an alligator puppet and raving with a twisted bayou Scottish accent, or doing a group karaoke to Hanson’s “MMMBop,” or just glaring and blinking at the camera. You get the sense he might not have any writers, that it’s just him winging it. In another bit of minimalist virtuosity he always begins the desk segment by reading e-mails (the most basic talk show form) and consistently turns it into rip roaring fun. 

There is something aggressive and egalitarian about him, as might be expected from a former drummer of a punk band. He is also quite unpolitically correct, drawing upon his recent immigrant status for the mantra: It’s a great day for America! His rants have a working class feel. Then he might flash a smooth operator, narcissistic grin and you can’t help but smiling and liking the guy. He has a touch of Johnny Carson — a guy who is purely liked and who knows it. 

No one is more skilled at getting more from an interview, or rather, getting more from a guest and making it an encounter, an exchange, something worth waiting on, where something exciting might happen. You’ve got to roll with him and be real. He has no patience for sacred cows and boring shit, and seems to size up guests quickly and decide if they’re his kind of people or not. If not, if he detects a certain proud air, he might give them a hard time. He clearly had Julia Louis Dreyfus on her toes, then ended the interview thirty seconds early, letting her squirm for his entertainment and ours. Refreshingly, he ended a goofy Mitch Albom college football story, by capping it off to his liking and zinging Albom that his way “gave the story some edge.” He tests celebrities to see what they’re made of — thank you! — and is smart enough to keep the upper hand. 

Conan O’Brien has made an uncertain beachhead in Hollywood, and seems to be chafing a bit under the weight of the Tonight Show crown; he’s pressing. A bitterness has set in with Letterman, and an annoying political bent. Jimmy Fallon is trying to get noticed, and is doing a lot of dancing. Jay Leno’s ten o’clock gambit is both formulaic and schizophrenic. Of this late night pack, Ferguson is furthest out on the edge and also the funniest. He is worth watching more than the rest. 

Gentle reader, you are invited to comment below on the above.



By robbskidmore

Robb Skidmore writes upmarket literary fiction. He is the author of “The Pursuit of Cool”, a critically acclaimed coming-of-age novel about love, music, and the 80s, and the novella “The Surfer.” His short stories have appeared in many publications.

5 replies on “TMiK TV Review: The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson”

Hi. You used the word “minimalist” at least twice during the first minute of reading. If there’s one thing Craig Ferguson’s style is not, it’s minimalist.

The proof is in what’s in the palm of his hand…puppets, an outrageously intrusive rattlesnake mug used for shock value, and other props that he frequently uses. No, no, minimalist is not the adjective for Craig. If anything, he’s sloppily hilarious.

Razors? He’s very polite. It’s Letterman who wields the razor, and it’s barely perceived. Now he’s bitter and too political? Well, to each his own.
Your opinions sound more like a press agent’s than a reviewer’s.

Thanks Sally B. An amazing thing about Craig’s show is that he relies almost totally on himself and his quirky comedic wit. His reliance on things in the studio, or filmed skits, or writerly contrived bits is quite “minimal.”

Wait. Who are you comparing him to? He does Aquaman, Prince Charles, Jessica Fletcher, so what do you mean by “writerly contrived” bits?

The puppets? I don’t understand you. He’s got writers. If he appears to be improvising, that’s a talent. His talent. He uses plenty on the show in terms of props. Certainly more than Letterman. When you talk about outside remotes, that was Letterman’s or Merrill Markoe’s stuff. But Craig did show himself being made a citizen. That was a remote. Basically, I don’t agree with you that he’s minimalist. He’s maximalist. He’s a ham. Hams cannot be minimalist. They’re over the top by nature. The’re also lovable. You want stark, minimal stuff? Look to Letterman’s bit on “Just Shades” from the old LATE NIGHT show. — Sally
Maybe YouTube has some old videos of his remotes. There’s one theme. That’s minimalist.

Great review. I’ve become aware of a lot of performers and authors and people outside of the entertainment field just because they are on his show. I watch the whole thing because he makes them interesting. Very talented.

I appreciate that Craig has lots of writers on his show. He holds them in the same esteem as actors and celebrities, where they belong. He’s a writer himself and he gets it.

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