I fell asleep on the couch one night and woke up just in time to catch The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. While in a half-daze, I watched the most surreal, original, and fascinating hour of late-night television I’d seen in a long time. Since then, I’ve caught the show sporadically, and I think I’ve finally got the gist of his manic show.
Ferguson opens not with credits or an introduction from a sonorous announcer, but with a cold open – he’s already on stage and staring directly up at the camera. Rather than addressing the camera head on from a distance, he stands slightly below the camera, as if the audience were standing slightly above him. Plus, he doesn’t appear to use any cue cards or to have planned his monologue at all. Instead of taking cheap shots at politicians or Tiger Woods, he often chooses more random, universal topics. There must be something like a handlebar below the frame as he constantly puts his hand down as he setups up a joke, giving the audience the feeling like he is putting his hand right on your arm for emphasis, as if he’s telling us a story instead of performing a routine.
The most surreal element to the show is Geoff, the sidekick/co host. Geoff is a silver, human-like robot with a Mohawk, who stands in an isolation booth, similar to the fortune-teller in Big, and has a series of prerecorded responses which come out of nowhere, usually when Ferguson bombs a joke (“Oh, yeah!”). I think it’s a spoof on Ed McMahon’s limited menu of comebacks to Carson’s gags, but with a Keanu Reeves-like Californian drawl. In any case, it’s strangely funny.
What I loved most about Ferguson was his involvement with his guests. He actually talks to them (again without cue cards), so there’s no prepared banter. He includes them in his monologues, and seems genuinely interested in what they have to say. Although he seems to be winging his interviews, I feel as though I’ve just watched a conversation.
While Ferguson is completely unique when compared to other late night hosts, he is most similar to Conan O’Brien in that both are relentlessly likable and are funniest when either they bomb a joke or gush over pretty actresses. I was so captivated by Ferguson’s on-screen persona that I checked out his autobiography, American on Purpose. While the book gave no insight into his innovations to the late night format, it was a good read. Ferguson wandered for around showbiz like a nomad for almost two decades, jumping from music to stand-up to acting to screenwriting and directing. I got the sense that The Late Late Show is just the next gig for him, maybe his next stop on the way to the London stage or something. Then I turn on the show and see an entertainer who has a unique and hilarious voice. While I’m seldom up at 1130pm, sometimes I’m lucky enough to fall asleep on the couch and wake up just in time to catch the most original host in late night.