Craig Ferguson isn’t just The Late Late Show host; he’s a soothsayer. While other talk show hosts dribble predictable jokes about whatever news made it to the Yahoo! landing page that morning, The Bard Ferguson actually addresses his audience about topics that interest him. Without preaching, he usually manages to find a lesson about modern life in topics like beekeeping, American Idol auditions, and why you shouldn’t be watching him. But he’s wrong on that last one.
And lest you think we say this because he’s on CBS, we pledge right now to revisit his praises should he ever get a show elsewhere. We may get fired for it, but it’s a stand we’d make to recognize any man for being that good at his job. Here’s why.
Even the internet never devised a talk show with a gay mohawked robot skeleton sidekick, criminal puppets, random dance-parties from Secretariat, and audience lip-sync karaoke. Ferguson did just that on network TV, a field where taking a chance normally means rearranging the furniture. And you know what? He looks like he’s having a hell of a lot of fun. He puts his guests at ease for a natural, interesting conversation, and even got a smile out of Trace Adkins, who lives harder than the lyrics to most country songs and only laughs when a bullet thinks it can hurt him.
He doesn’t dumb it down
How many talk show hosts chuck statements like “‘Porno’ implies a negative value judgment,” into their opening monologue while comparing erotica to the poet Homer? Ferguson knows anybody up late enough to watch his show is an adult, and treats us, the audience, as such. It’s not his fault if your kids are mature enough to handle discussions of, oh… we don’t know… auteur theory and pickled pork couched in relentless flirtation with a nervous Amanda Seyfried. You heard that right. He makes one of the most beautiful actresses on Earth shy.
He’s a proud American
In Craig Ferguson’s world it’s always a great day for America. The Scottish emigre became a U.S. citizen in 2008, tattooed Ben Franklin’s “Join or Die” cartoon on his forearm, and espouses this country’s traditional values: hard work, honesty, integrity, and yelling incomprehensibly on TV. What most of us take for granted, our novitiate brother brands into his skin (which hurts) and lives out our principles (which is hard). More on that in a minute.
He has great hair
Somebody crack an egg, because we need somewhere to put this high-grade salt and pepper.
He doesn’t care
To watch Ferguson work is to motor through the boring malarkey other talk shows soak in, and only play the interesting bits. As the man himself said, “You can’t fake it. You’ve got to genuinely not give a rat’s ass.” He once stated in an interview that he’s not chasing demographics or success, and he’ll say whatever he wants until they fire him. That’s punk rock–which, by the way, he used to play in his drumming days. He swears like a gentleman, flirts like an old man, jokes like a school boy, and…
He DOES care
Johnny Carson is the standard by which all talk show hosts are measured (and fail to stack up), but Johnny was also famously reserved and remote. Craig is honest and forthcoming. The man has class, which is perpetually rare. Watch him talk about his alcoholism while everyone else is busy making “LOL Britney Spears Gone Crazy” jokes.
And rather than indict those who did make fun of a sick woman, he said simply, “It’s a personal decision for myself as an act of conscience,” and moved on to better targets. Here he is simply and candidly discussing his love for his parents after their deaths in 2006 and 2008:
He trademarked the awkward pause
Most talk show hosts spend their first couple years limping through strained skits, featherweight smalltalk with single-scene actors, and flop sweat monologues. It leads to a lot of super-awkward pauses. Ferguson strode forward and embraced that moment. Embraced it, tongue-kissed it, put a ring on it, and still enjoys a healthy sex life with awkwardness after all these years.
He does something important for our collective consciousness
Okay, even though we’re in the golden age of TV programming, we can all agree that the medium’s reached some astonishing lows recently too, right? The Jersey Shore is a collection of bleeps with a few surviving audible conjunctions, and we’re still trying to figure out why the Kardashians are famous, let alone have their own TV channel.
Add to that there’s a faltering sense of decorum in our internet age whereby yelling and calling the other person a Nazi is the way to win an argument, and suddenly you realize, looking around you… that Craig Ferguson is the only person on TV interested in a dialogue. Rather than follow the talk show model of “Question, joke, plug,” he’s legitimately interested in the people he meets and what they have to say. He leads the conversation to interesting and far-off topics simply by responding to them rather than riffing on their words like a jokebot.
He came to our country, pitched in, and reminded us how we used to debate or discuss things–how to express an opinion, politely disagree with someone, and be willing to learn rather than assume we’re right. He reminded his new countrymen of our own values simply by enacting them, and the last person who got famous doing that was Superman. Scoff if you want, but the work Craig Ferguson does is important.
And that is why, Ferguson, you are the man.
Brendan McGinley had fun interning at Late Night, but learned more watching The Late Late Show.
Brendan summoned his inner Ferguson to interview Maine rapper Spose –>