In Defense of ‘The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson’ | PopMatters
January 8th, Jimmy Kimmel brought his late-night talk show on ABC at 11:35 p.m. m., 25 minutes before the time in which it had been formed for almost ten years before. The run-up to the move provided a whirlwind press tour for the comedian-turned-host that saw him drop bombshells at Jay Leno, reiterate his undying love for David Letterman, and, of course, land him the cover of the first of 2013 Rolling Stone. and it was in that particular post that the following passage was first written:
“Even though the live! broadcast won’t end when (Jimmy) Fallon’s late night begins, Kimmel says he’s still watching Fallon closely: ‘People are going to be comparing him and me for years to come, we’re being positioned as the Leno and Letterman of the next round. I like him because he is a worthy competitor. we exchange emails. he’ll say, “that was great, I wish we’d done that,” and I’ll say similar things to him. He continues: “Fallon has more fun on the air.” he just seems delighted to be there, and he manifests himself.’”
There is someone the former man show host forgot to mention, however, during his journey through the media storm. he’s someone who looks like he could outsmart his competitors on a minute-by-minute basis with what he’s doing on television during the night hours. he’s someone who made gallons and gallons of lemonade out of the expired lemons he once foisted on him early in his career. He’s someone no one seems to be talking about now that Kimmel is going head-to-head with the two most established names the after-hours talk show universe has seen in decades. and perhaps most notable of all, is someone who continues to redefine the notion of what a late-night talk fest should be with every rambling monologue and torn token.
it’s craig ferguson.
and why he isn’t properly recognized for his contributions to the nocturnal world at this time is beyond logical comprehension. why kimmel seems to think it’s just a two horse race especially considering how ferguson is positioned to replace letterman every time the gap toothed king decides to step down mind you not only nasty and a bit cocky but it’s also irresponsible and disrespectful to both the late night crowd and the Scotsman himself.
It’s true: quietly but surely, Ferguson has taken the mold of what a traditional American 12:30 AM TV meeting should look like. m. and he’s made it completely his own, incorporating everything from a robot sidekick who has his own podium, to a stable with someone dressed as a racehorse secretary, who he turns to from time to time throughout the show to nod and say, ” What’s up?”
His late late show is as strange as it is addictive, and anyone who has seen it can attest to that. Take Beast’s Joshua Alston, for example, who wrote about the guy in 2008 when he hosted the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
“Ferguson admits to some performance jitters, but like most people in Washington, he figured out how to spin,” Alston wrote in the days leading up to the event. “‘If I do a good job, it will be good. and if I do a bad job, it will be good for the monologue the next night. That’s easy enough to say in a wrinkled oxford shirt and jeans, lounging in his Los Angeles office, a few thousand miles from D.C. bypass. that bravado could wear off once he’s in front of a heavy crowd, smothered in a tuxedo. because craig ferguson is not that guy. in fact, he’s built the late late show‘s healthy cult following of just under 2 million insomniacs by not being that guy. He doesn’t seem to be comfortable in a tuxedo, since on his show he can’t be counted on to wear a tie or button up shirts. (As opposed to his fancy-pants boss David Letterman, whose company produces the show). he likes to call his viewers “mischievous and mischievous monkeys”, particularly when they respond to one of his mischievous and mischievous jokes. Like when he recalled that a guest, former draw co-star Carey, planted a kiss on him. (‘Now I can’t stop thinking about him,’ she confessed.) He does silly sketches, like his impression of Michael Caine in space, or Aquaman as an advice columnist. then there are the chatty, chatty monologues from him. he’s known for coming off his sleeve and bolting, whether there’s a laugh every half minute or not. “What I try to do is be as personal or as honest as the situation allows me,” he says. (“late bloomer,” by joshua alston, the daily beast, April 12, 2008)
actually, ‘personal’ and ‘honest’ are two adjectives that apply to his time cbs more than any of his competitors, and they’re also two elements that help balance his craving for the strange so poignantly one has wonder why he can’t be listed with kimmel or fallon as “the next leno and letterman”. Do you want a worthy competitor, Jimmy? How about we take a look at how ferguson praised his father after his death in 2006, when no one knew craig kilborn wouldn’t host late lates? that episode earned the host an Emmy nomination. Or how about when he was the only guy on the night to come out and tell his audience that he refused to make Britney Spears jokes in 2007 while she was going through one of the most publicized meltdowns in cultural history. pop because i understood what was it like to fight addiction? do you think leno, letterman, kimmel, fallon, conan or anyone else could resist that temptation to make that kind of joke?
then there’s the meeting with retired anglican bishop desmond tutu that won him a peabody award in 2009. there’s the refusal to make fun of all the idiocy that was going on on nbc when leno wanted his tonight show back. there are ways to rule out a rise of the dark knight monologue at the last minute because of the shootings that occurred in colorado. It’s the week of shows in Paris. There’s the moving tribute to one of his predecessors, Tom Snyder, who at one point hosted a different talk show on his time slot. there is the admission of pre-recorded monologues. There’s his palpable enthusiasm to be able to vote in his first US presidential election. there is an open dialogue about his sobriety. there is the touching goodbye to his friend michael clarke duncan. the list goes on and on and on and on and on.
since 2005, ferguson has pushed the boundaries of the nocturnal world. even when the interviews are fun, they feel surprisingly more personal than the conversations you find elsewhere. The stars seem genuinely happy to be sitting in their little CBS studio. he always seems to somehow create a level of comfort within the dialogue that makes viewers feel like they’re watching a conversation between two old friends, even if the two people speaking barely know each other. there’s a levity to the presentation of him that, frankly, is more appealing than the aesthetic hype found elsewhere on overnight cable. yes, it’s fun and yes, it’s a little different, but his secret weapon is clearly his heart. there are a million different reasons to love the late late show, but there’s only one that makes you root for the guy to succeed as a person every single night, which is why that secret weapon allows than its late-night happy hour to be so transcendent.
and transcendental is the right word. Since day one, it’s been the quirky alternative to stereotypical, pretentious talk shows with the word “late” in them. Fallon is too predictable and kind to really grab the viewer in the same way that Ferguson does. Yes, he has roots behind him, and sure, the SNL alumnus has provided his share of unmissable viral videos, but whenever those guests sit down, Jimmy all too often resorts to fanboy mode. Kimmel, on the other hand, is doing quite well as a host, but there’s a fundamental lack of emotion in the questions he asks whenever someone sits on his couch. it comes across as an acute sense of apathy that makes it difficult for any viewer to truly buy their conversations. Like Fallon, he’s had his fair share of hilarious moments on YouTube, but when it comes to the nuts and bolts of hosting a late-night show, Kimmel often seems uninterested in the two things that late-night hosts will always have, no matter what. . do: talk and provoke.
ferguson, on the other hand, has a natural ability to connect with people. His previous experience as a comedian turned C-level actor turned addict and then host sets him apart from the traditional figure usually seen on late-night television in the United States. he’s seasoned, and that always seems to help guests get used to his unorthodox style of interviewing. You can’t help but respect a guy who’s been outspoken about how close he came to death, both personally and professionally, before his life, again, both personally and professionally, made a rocker-style comeback for the ages. this is not the type of person to obsess over someday presenting letterman’s late show, for example. this is the type of person who is happy to be on television again, period. late, early or in the afternoon.
“the challenge now is for ferguson to become the topic of conversation,” alston wrote. “He seems perfectly happy with her rung on the ladder, but no one in show business cares about a little extra attention.”
That was written five years ago, remember. If Kimmel’s proclamation is to be believed, Ferguson obviously still hasn’t become the kind of conversation starter some may think he should be. though even with that said, and even if no one wants to throw his name into future late-night ratings wars as a serious contender, and even if cbs still insists he start rehearsing more for his show each day, and even if the pundits refuse To take you seriously as a legitimate talk show host, there’s one thing no one, not even Jimmy Kimmel, can argue with: Craig Ferguson will still be doing late-night TV.
and ferguson will still look like he’s having more fun doing it than anyone in the world.