It’s hard to dislike Craig Ferguson.
Unless you’re a close personal friend of a famous person, who really knows what they’re really like?. Fame is a sales game, and there are divisions of major agencies that spend countless hours teaching their clients what to say and more importantly what not to say. The really good ones can do this while seeming to be glib. The bad ones sound like they have no mental acuity unless it’s neatly printed on a cue card (or, if you’re a politician, maybe on your hand). That scene in Bull Durham where Kevin Costner teaches Tim Robbins how to cliché his way through an interview might be an inside joke to baseball fans, but in Hollywood it’s reality incarnate.
That’s why guys who can succeed on late night television are so rare, and why it takes even the great ones a bit of time to find their footing. Ultimately, you have to be yourself or it doesn’t work. When the audition process to replace Craig Kilbourn on The Late Late Show was in full swing I assumed (as did many) that D.L. Hughley would walk away with the job without breaking a sweat. He is an established comic, very smart, fast on his feet and a likeable guy. Famous guests come on the show to plug a movie, a television show, a new album or tour. Softball questions are proposed, topics slated as in or out of scope, straight lines prepared. So simple, a caveman could so it.
But after the auditions, the producer of the show approached Craig and noted that he was really listening to his guests and engaging them in conversation. “That’s what I thought the job was about”, Ferguson replied. And that’s how and why he landed the gig. He was interested enough to invoke talk on a talk show.
Craig Ferguson has had a pretty incredible life, and despite bouts with addiction demons and a couple of marriages gone awry, he seems to continue to fall into opportunity and make good when it happens. American on Purpose is an unusual bio in that it avoids the formula timeline walk from childhood to present for a more anecdotal, lessons learned approach. Writing almost conversationally, Ferguson is no apologist; he freely placing the blame for most of the bad decisions in his life squarely where they belong. And while proud to be a driven man chasing a dream, he’s also honest enough to admit when his fortunes relied on someone to give a needed push.
If there is a personal disappointment, is not only that he skirts quickly past his stand-up career (Bing Hitler aside) but also the show that gave him his big break. Ferguson clearly acknowledges The Drew Carey Show as a major turning point in his life and career but moves on with nary an anecdote; admitting the work became like punching the clock. He does point out that Mr. Wick would simply pop out of his office like a groundhog from its hole, spout his one or two witty lines and return to the office, but I couldn’t imagine being on set with Carey, Ryan Stiles, Diedrich Bader and Kathy Kinney (among others) being anything less than gut-bustingly fun.
But that small nit aside, Ferguson’s heartfelt and witty tale is very entertaining and endearing. It’s an easy read, and while I could recap many the particular stories, I suggest you read it yourself; Ferguson’s words are far funnier than mine. He’s candid, unfiltered, brave and honest, and one gets the feeling that he’d rather have you not like him for what he is than fawn over him for something he is not. (That’s an uncommon trait for normal people; for Hollywood it’s off the charts.)
Clearly, beneath the libido and appetite of a mad Scotsman beats the heart of a man who appreciates the opportunities he has been given. “Between safety and adventure“, he says, “I choose adventure.”I don’t know if Craig the person would be as much fun to hang and talk with as Craig the author or Craig the talk-show host, but I’d make that leap of faith to find out. Sometimes the good guys win. Maybe this is one of those times.
Craig’s site for The Late Late Show.
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