On the night of Sunday, November 16th, the radiant Chicago Theatre – often home to the mellow likes of Cat Stevens and Dr. Seuss musicals – played host to a very aggressive comedian.
Prancing onstage beside his trusty (fake) steed Secretariat, recently-vacated host of The Late Late Show, Craig Ferguson, displayed the kind of energy you’d find surprising in a caffeinated gerbil — much less a 52-year-old reformed alcoholic.
From Mick Jagger’s tiny hands to colonoscopies and whether or not “Christians think the biscuit actually turns into Jesus,” Ferguson’s balance of self-deprecating and blatantly frank humor means no one is safe.
He even prefaced the show by saying what everyone always thinks, but never actually says, about comedians:
“Everyone in here will be offended by something I say tonight, let’s just get that out there right now. You came to this show, what did you expect?”
But he’s not just tastelessly offensive funny. A good comedian can stand onstage and tell funny jokes, but a great comedian can improvise. Ferguson’s style is so loose, fast and manic that you can never tell what he’s practiced extensively and what he’s pulled out of thin air.
For instance, last night a “Woo!” issued from the front row during a lull, apropos of nothing. Craig stopped mid-bit, turned to the man in question, and said “Perhaps you’re just the ghost that haunts this theatre…or a small passing train.”
Another likely improvised bit came when Ferguson attempted to smell his finger after he mimed using it for, ahem, R-rated purposes.
The audience groaned as he slowly raised the digit to his nose, prompting him to abandon the gag and shout “THAT’s what offends you? THAT’s the thing??” Then in a mock sissy-voice he said, “Oh please, Mr. Ferguson, don’t smell the fake smell!” He spent the next minute sloooowly raising his finger to his nose, achieving effusive applause when he finally took a big whiff.
He also carried on a tradition of deprecating his own fame both live and on TV, saying things like “I went to this Hollywood party…which, there must have been some kind of mix-up, because I was invited…” And there was no limit to the barrage of curse words (something he’s made his staple on TV by not even trying to limit), bleeping out words with flags and phrases like “ooh la la!”, “crikey!”, and “tutsi frutsi!”
Ferguson’s anti-celebrity transparency and “no one is safe” honesty make him the “South Park” of comedians – saying what everyone thinks but never has the courage to say.
And thus, putting anarchy on the audience’s mind long before “Anarchy in the UK” played at the show’s close. He’s an anarchist to the celebrity culture, using his vulnerability to be refreshingly outspoken in an industry of people wearing publicity masks.
This down-to-earth and anti-celebrity attitude gives him a unique working class, everyman vibe; even after decades of success starting in the US as the boss on The Drew Carey Show, to writing Saving Grace and now to The Late Late Show. Following years touring the British isles as a punk rock frontman and TV actor, Ferguson made the leap to the United States in the nineties and he’s loved it here ever since.
“It’s a great day for America!” he proudly declares as the applause dies down, going on to explain how he’ll probably be delivering his iconic catchphrase when he’s an old and busted shill scraping work in car commercials. The audience laughed but offered a few appreciative hoots as well. They know what the man’s been through and they want him to feel loved.
The genuine originality makes his show a gem that will be missed; as Ferguson doesn’t exist in the same vein of well, being vain, that many of the celebrities he and other talk show hosts alike interview.
He has no mask or caricature that he maintains for the public eye. Instead, his transparency gives him a unique stance of Hollywood objectivity to basically say what no one else will about the world in which he works.
Because at the end of the day, Craig Ferguson doesn’t give a tutsi-frutsi.
- Co-written by Carlyn Hill
(Featured photo courtesy of disgruntledindividual.com)