My favorite late-night chat program is, without a doubt, THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH CRAIG FERGUSON, and that’s because Craig Ferguson is the best late-night host on TV, bar none. No one else even comes close to Craig in terms of creativity, interesting personality and razor-sharp improv skills. Craig basically does his show solo each night, and he’s more entertaining than David Letterman, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O’Brien combined. (I don’t count Jay Leno because THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO clearly is not meant to be a comedy program, since there has been absolutely nothing funny on it since he took over from the legendary Johnny Carson.)
Craig doesn’t have a band or an elaborate set with fancy lighting. One of Craig’s ongoing bits is to complain the spartan studio is in a basement – and lighted like it is. He jokes that his audience is made up of “hobos” lured off the street by the promise of $5, but he loves them anyway. In fact, he has dubbed a group of audience seats as “Lesbian Row” – no matter who’s sitting there (even men).
A brilliant comic actor (Yes, this is the same Craig Ferguson who played Drew Carey’s boss, Mr. Wick, on THE DREW CAREY SHOW from 1996-2003.), Craig performs bits like “Michael Caine in Space,” “A Sean Connery Holiday Memory” and “Dear Aquaman” solo (Well, sometimes Aqualad stops by…), and there are recurring appearances from a troupe of dancers. But the show’s best bits are when Craig uses puppets. You read that correctly, hand puppets. Most commonly he pulls out “Sid,” a white rabbit that curses a blue streak in a North London accent. You haven’t seen funny until you’ve heard CBS bleep out a string of obscenities uttered by a puppet. There’s also “Wavy Rancheros,” a crocodile with a Cajun drawl, and several others who appear less frequently, like “Brain” the shark and “Kronos” the monkey. You’ll most often see “Secretariat” the pantomime horse – which is a horse played by two men in a cheap equine costume.
One thing you won’t see is a common sidekick. Oh, no, Craig wouldn’t settle for a mere mortal in that role. No, he has a robot; a dead gay robot, to be precise, and his name is Geoff Peterson, created by Grant Imahara of MYTHBUSTERS fame, voiced by Josh Robert Thompson. Geoff and Craig have a love/hate relationship and often trade bawdy humor and make fun of viewers or the audience.
But all that is window-dressing. The real secret to the show is Craig himself. He is like a TV friend who invites himself into your home to hang out and have fun. His nightly broadcast begins with a cold opening in which Craig does a couple of minutes of improv, often with the help of puppets or a stunned audience member dragged in front of the camera. Then, after a commercial break, he comes back and delivers and improvised monologue, often riffing with Geoff. He mocks himself as an “old effeminate Scottish man” who teases the audience with a game of “Is he or isn’t he gay?” that is itself a commentary on the public’s inappropriate interest in the sexual peccadilloes of celebrities. When he reads view tweets and e-mail, he spends more time on overly elaborate intro video clips and openly mocks the letters.
The meat of the show is Craig’s interaction with his guests. He doesn’t always get the biggest names, but he never turns in a standard lame interview geared toward selling whatever product the guest is flogging. Craig insists on having a conversation with his guests, and the rambling chats often veer off in strange directions and reveal a lot about the stars themselves. For instance, last Thursday, Tom Selleck told stories about contracting shingles and trying to poison gophers that were wrecking his garden. Then Selleck cracked himself up by recounting how he had unthinkingly told two young kids to watch the age-inappropriate Caddyshack. Craig gives his guests more than four minutes to share a canned anecdote and tell us all how wonderful his/her latest movie/TV show is.
The seat-of-his-pants, low-budget nature of the show – combined with close-up photography makes TLLSWCF feel more intimate, like he’s trying to personally entertain you. As I have tried to convey, the show hinges on Craig; if he’s off his game, the show will suck. Luckily, he is never off his game.