Ferguson brings unusual style to late night TV

 

 

By Fraizer Moore

SPARTA, N.J. – The format of CBS’ “Late Late Show” is as routine as its name. There’s a host at his desk, celebrity guests, the occasional skit, an opening monologue.

And yet, with Craig Ferguson originating his brand of shrewd silliness, this is an hour unlike other talk shows. Tune into Craig, and you get a contact high, which sure beats just watching TV.

The contact is almost physical at times: At key listen-up moments in his monologue, he moves in close to the camera and gives it a chummy swat, jiggling the picture. The effect is more than funny. It’s almost like he’s tapping your shoulder, replenishing a tactile connection.

“That’s what I’ve got: me and you,” he says in an interview. “I want to break down the barrier between us for that hour.

“The joy I get from the show should be transmitted to the viewers.”

During his show (weeknights at 12:37 a.m. EST), Ferguson is a kinetic cutup, loose-limbed and quick-witted. While he carries on, his face cycles briskly from wide-eyed wonderment to sly knowingness, naughty flirtation and that expansive, charming grin.

The soothing Scottish brogue of his native Glasgow can take flight into an emphatic squawk, or the grand pronouncement that “it’s a great day for America, everybody!” That’s how he starts each nightly monologue. Then a wisecrack explains why.

But, seriously, he does believe it’s great. Smitten by America since first visiting as a teen, Ferguson was officially sworn in as a U.S. citizen earlier this month. He proudly shared video from the ceremony with his audience.

Most late-night hosts don’t have much to say about who they really are. But on the air Ferguson is self-disclosive and deftly unguarded. He mines humor from tough times including two divorces, career setbacks, and his past drug and alcohol abuse. Last February he devoted a monologue to mark his 15th year of sobriety. In January 2006 an entire show paid tribute, with laughs and tears, to his dad, who had died the day before.

Of course, he generally dwells on not-so-weighty life issues, such as a recent meditation on moviegoing when he voiced plans to see “The Spiderwick Chronicles.”

“I don’t really know what a spiderwick is,” Ferguson admitted. “I think it’s a combination of Spider-Man and Wikipedia: He fights crime and gives you the wrong answer for everything.”

Ferguson, who hits the road lots of weekends, spoke to The Associated Press one recent Saturday night backstage at an auditorium in Sparta, N.J.. Soon he would have a house full of fans convulsed in 80 solid minutes’ worth of laughter.

At 45, Ferguson is not only a talk-show host and standup comic, but also an actor, writer and musician of sorts: At 16 he quit school “mainly to drink” and joined a punk-rock band on drums.

He has appeared in several films, and written and starred in three, including the 2003 comedy “I’ll Be There,” which he also directed. Two years ago he published “Between the Bridge and the River,” a daring novel with an autobiographical streak.

Until he took over “The Late Late Show,” he was most widely known as Nigel Wick, the imperious British boss on Drew Carey’s long-running ABC sitcom. Ferguson landed the role after his arrival in Los Angeles in 1995 (seeking the American Dream as his bank balance bottomed out at 27 cents).

But since Jan. 2005, he has steadily redefined late-night talk in his own image, and, from his snug, no-frills L.A. studio.