Thank You Craig
(First published December 18, 2014)
I can't bring myself to watch the final episodes of The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson. The digital recordings keep piling up but I can't bear to press Play. I just don't want it to end.
It's turned into an odd kind of love affair where I'm delusional, thinking that not only Craig and I could be good friends in real life but that in some weird way I AM Craig Ferguson. That isn't a psychotic rant. I think it speaks more to the fact that Craig has made us feel that any of us could be sitting in that chair. His chair. He has bridged the gap between celebrity and us.
I wasn't a fan of Craig Ferguson when it all started out. Not this show, nor any of his professional exposure before this. I first saw him on The Drew Carey Show and didn't like him. He was that British twit boss of Carey's and frankly he was annoying. Thing is, I've learned since then the art of the hated and the despicable. When a character is horribly unappealing to us and in fact personifies a true dick it means that the actor in question is, in fact, doing his job. His badness is, in effect, creative goodness. He's made us hate him through his goodness.
Fast forward 20 years or so and Craig suddenly appears on my radar thanks to the viral nature of YouTube. I'm watching some of his impromptu Late Show puppetry and it's pretty fucking funny. In fact it's brilliant. What makes it particularly brilliant is the fact that you're totally aware it's ad libbed and off the cuff. A man who's been given an hour of valuable late night network prime time is in fact just winging it. I'm suddenly left admiring both his panache and his screw-you irreverence.
The key to watching to The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson is to not expect anything, and by “anything” I don't mean to not expect a lot. I mean with Craig and his eclectic band of characters, anything could happen. And for that I'm thankful, and engaged. He's made the predictable zeitgeist of late night television lovingly unpredictable.
You see it in the simplest things on his show, whether it's the understated grandeur of Geoff Peterson, the zany ridiculousness of Secretariat, or Craig's total disregard for the late night shot clock. When we see Craig we see a show and a man, freewheeling and real. We're mesmerized by the possibilities. It's impulsive and compelling. We don't know what to expect, and we're loving it.
Sketches are suddenly abandoned although we won't complain. His show – in this grand gesture of spontaneity – holds us intensely. As far as we're concerned it IS live. Theoretically anything can happen.
What ultimately hooked me with The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson though are two things. One is an integral part of what has become his persona and one is one-off extremely human, not-for-TV moment.
The first is fairly obvious. After every guest introduction, and before every “celebrity” discussion begins, Craig Ferguson rips up his cue cards as an obvious sign that this interview indeed will NOT be an interview so much as a conversation between two people. Not two celebrities per se, but two people. It's not about plugging a movie or a recently-released book but at this point, it's about presenting a real, visceral conversation between two actual, real, homo sapiens.
The other thing that ultimately enrolled me into the Tao Of Craig was a moment (we would learn to be) very near and dear to him. Britney Spears, who was going through the tired wayward cliché of celebrity, was going off the proverbial rails and while she was becoming the fodder for the knee jerk viciousness, standard fare for late night TV, Craig, at this point, refused to fall in line. In fact Ferguson, who is a both an alcoholic himself and a confessed human being, would not tow the line and follow the de rigueur of late decorum. Instead he tried to shield Spears from the expected onslaught of pompous criticism. He took a stand. And for that he stood out. Not just to me, but to many.
This, along with a billion other differences, is what set Craig Ferguson apart.
This is why I can't bear to watch right now. In the same vein of Santa Claus I don't want the fantasy of Craig Ferguson to end. I want to believe that he's immortal and that he's not just a figment of our collective imaginations. I want to know that someone who is real and honest and true like Craig Ferguson can continue to exist in a world like this.