Monday, December 15, 2014

Au Revoir, Craig Ferguson: Why Is Late Night's Funniest Host Leaving?

The Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson answers another call
Am I the only person in America who'll miss The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson when it ends its ten-year run on CBS this Friday? Ferguson is a blast of fresh night air. Yes, he can be a bit aloof. He even borders on arrogance now and again. And he flirts a little too much with the starlets who appear on his show. But he is generally harmless, and is easily the funniest host on late-night television. And he's an underrated interviewer.

Deceptively smart, Ferguson can be utterly silly one minute, then surprise you with an eloquent discourse on abstract artist Jackson Pollock or playwright/poet Samuel Beckett the next. He never relies on predictable pre-interview topics. Instead, he takes his guests and his viewers on spontaneous, stream-of-consciousness journeys no other host would even attempt. But most importantly, he's just funny as hell. No one on TV, at any hour, makes me laugh harder.

Ferguson's unscripted, improvisational back-and-forths each night after the monologue with Geoff Peterson, his gay robot skeleton sidekick, are genius. The animatronic Peterson is voiced and operated by Josh Robert Thompson, a reliably weird and hilarious comic actor.

Each night when Thompson places random phone calls to Ferguson in various voices and dialects, he makes Ferguson, the studio audience, and me, laugh out loud. The "callers," all voiced by Thompson, include everyone from an old-lady stalker to Morgan Freeman to Liam Neeson. There's nothing else like this on television.

The Oddest Couple: Geoff the gay robot skeleton, and Ferguson
A postmodern spin on Bob Newhart's classic telephone routine, the calls, which take wildly unpredictable turns, are the funniest thing on late-night TV since the early days of Letterman's NBC show. 

They're funnier than anything you'll see from Jimmy Kimmell or Jimmy Fallon or even the sometimes still-funny and also soon-to-depart Letterman. And they're much funnier than what you get from Ferguson's direct competition, Seth Meyers, whose smart but smarmy college humor gets tired fast.

Only Conan O'Brien (sometimes) makes me laugh as hard as Ferguson, who's already begun hosting a syndicated game show called Celebrity Name Game based on the board game Identity Crisis

It should be called Celebrity Lame Game. It's harmless fun, I guess, but it's precisely the kind of thing Ferguson, who is genuinely subversive and regularly refers to himself as a "late-night douche," would relentlessly satirize after dark.

Ferguson, a recovering alcoholic who's also worked as an actor, author, punk-rock drummer and bartender, has clearly decided to coast. If only Spy magazine, which deftly lampooned show business coasters, were still around to put him in his place. 

I don't generally respect coasters. But in Ferguson's semi-defense, he did host his irreverent show for a decade. He worked hard to make it fresh and funny.

It was certainly leaps and bounds better than the show of the same name hosted by his predecessor, Craig Kilborn, the former ESPN Sportscenter anchor and original host of The Daily Show who was snarky and cocky without ever being very funny.

Now it appears Ferguson will be doing some standup comedy, but has otherwise decided to kick back and enjoy his wealth. Like his former co-star Drew Carey. Ferguson got his biggest break when Carey hired him t0 play his boss on The Drew Carey Show. That's when Carey was a chubby, funny standup comic. Carey is still likable, but now he's a svelte and rather unfunny host of The Price is Right.

Ferguson and Secretariat, the cocaine-loving pantomime horse
Ferguson wasn't built for daytime. He's too edgy, talented and funny to waste his time on a banal game show. A ground-breaker, Ferguson is the only network talk show host to employ a dancing, cocaine-sniffing pantomime horse named Secretariat.

But the existential Scottsman apparently never really wanted the gig in the first place. When asked if he ever wanted to replace David Letterman, Ferguson told PEOPLE that he "never wanted to be a late night host. I did it because it was fun, entertaining and engaging."

The guest on this Friday's final episode will be Jay Leno. But the unsentimental Ferguson apparently doesn't have any big plans for this final week.

"I don't really make plans," he told PEOPLE. "The show is organic. I'll have people that I would like to make sure to fit in. But I'm not retiring. I'll probably talk to them again in some form. Doing something very big and grand at the end doesn't really seem [to be] in the spirit of the show." 

I'm not sure about Ferguson's replacement, stage and film actor James Corden. He's also a Brit and is a reasonably funny and likable fellow. But I fear his version of The Late Late Show could be a bit more, um, polite. 


Will Corden's show be nauseatingly civil? I'm hoping not. I'm hoping it retains some of the slightly cantankerous, anything-can-happen spirit of Ferguson's show, which was more in the mold of Monty Python's Flying Circus than The David Frost Show

Ferguson and his gang created a bizarre and genuinely fun universe on The Late Late Show, which described itself as "not like any other late night show." Indeed, it wasn't. I'll miss it. But I'll be keeping an eye on the hopefully ascending career of Thompson (who plays the robot skeleton). He has a quick and gifted comedy mind.  

But what, pray tell, will happen to the cocaine-sniffing horse!?

3 comments:

  1. Sad to see him go too. Geoff Peterson was a brilliant addition to the show. Loved Ferguson's quirky, bizarre, off the cuff, industry-contemptible style.
    FYI, he received the 2013 Sir Peter Ustinov Comedy Award from the Banff World Media Festival which recognizes a creative talent that has made an outstanding comedic contribution to the media industry.

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