Wednesday, August 31, 2011

There’s no-one on TV like Craig Ferguson

The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (CBS, broadcast in Australia on Eleven at 10.30pm weeknights) is a madcap pisstake on the late night talkshow format.

The usual sidekick in the band is a robot at a podium...

... the band hasn't turned up
... the lighting is dim
... the backdrop of LA’s skyline by night looks fake. 

Ferguson jokes that he can’t afford better lights or a band...

... that there are other things he’d rather be doing
... that CBS doesn’t know he’s still broadcasting.

The reality is that he’s a kind of anti-talk show host, doing something quite subversive on network television partly because he’s on so late, and partly because he can.

His opening monologue is unscripted. He uses prompt boards to remind him of topics. Then every now and then he’ll do a gag typical of late night talkshow host, draw attention to it, invite ridicule, smile sheepishly, shrug like he could care less, then resume ranting about whatever was getting his goat.

Craig Ferguson’s personal story is as compelling as his TV show. American on Purpose, his memoir of coming of age on the mean streets of Glasgow and later emigrating to the land of hope and dreams, is as good as they come. Funny. Sad. Scary. The killer ducks story is hilarious.

Starting out as a heavy drinker in his late teens, he plumbs the depths of depravity as a drummer in fringe bands before hitting the fledging comedy circuit in Glasgow then discovering cocaine in America so he can drink even harder. Then he sobers up, gets a break on The Drew Carey Show, then gets another hosting The Late Late Show.

Oh, and there’s a pantomime horse called Secretariat. The fake horse bounds in from stage right most nights after Ferguson rings a doorbell under his desk. Secretariat is accompanied by a disco beat and crazed dancing by Ferguson and the studio audience. Then the horse disappears as quickly as it came.

No-one knows why Secretariat appears. No-one knows when he’ll be back. No explanation is needed. That’s the joke. You’ll either get it and love it, or find the whole thing mildly odd. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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