The world was once astonished to learn of the seven types of ambiguity. Actually there are many more. That is where Craig Ferguson’s particular genius is found. He lays on the ambiguity like nobody’s business. This tendency is broadly self-satirized in the chain of “I’m just kidding…. no I’m not….. yes I am…” that can go to absurd lengths.

Ferguson shares his tales of a past littered with the residue of odd jobs (including punk rocker), problematic relationships with parents, authority figures, and women, and 15 years as a blackout drunk (including a weekend in a Glasgow jail). Then there’s the rehab experience, and the subsequent 7 years it took to pay off his debts. He recounts so many unlikely embarrassments, you don’t know which ones really happened or really happened quite that way, but fear the worst. Like, when he took the driving test at the advanced age of 27, he probably was really drunk.

Talking about fashion week in New York, he says he was a model once, and imagines people asking how he got into it. “I was a drunk at the time. Someone saw me throwing up and thought I was a model.” He invites the audience to celebrate with him the years of sobriety.

In this interview, when asked about the public’s reaction to Saving Grace, Ferguson says,

It interests me that you could be fine with someone drinking a large scotch and be concerned with someone smoking a big doobie. I don’t see the difference. I really don’t. I say that as someone who neither drinks scotch or smokes doobies, so it’s intriguing to me.

Quite a few monologues feature remarks about what lovely women his former wives are “for legal reasons;” in fact that little disclaimer “for legal reasons” shows up a lot. Then there’s the tease of whether Ferguson is really straight, gay, bi, or what. What does it mean that he wrote himself a movie role as a gay hairdresser? You just really never know exactly how much to believe. It’s even possible that Bob Barker actually is a vampire.

This is where things start to get all philosophical. When have we ever been entitled to expect truth from comedians? A monologue is a performance like any other – a fictional, exaggerated, dolled-up, piece of playacting. We don’t expect literal truth from Rodney Dangerfield or Phyllis Diller. But there’s something about Craig Ferguson that makes you want to believe in his truthfulness. You want to believe he’s leveling with you, all kidding aside. It’s a paradox, and a strange thing to wish for from a professional storyteller.

Here’s even more of a paradox: I often say the only people worth listening to are speculative fiction writers and standup comics. I’m kidding… I’m not. Very often, those who wield the most influence upon a culture don’t come at things head-on. They slip their ideas in sideways, en passant, coated with plot or humor or some other attractive component to make the medicine go down. Standup comics and speculative fiction writers have an important thing in common: they don’t preach to the choir. Given any political awareness at all, they have an enormous advantage as winners of hearts and minds. They’re not just talking to a few like-minded friends who have heard it all before. They deal directly with the masses whose hearts and minds count, if any change is ever to come about in a warped society. Because of their fantasy, because of their comedy, they have the ears of millions of ordinary people who willingly, voluntarily, eagerly listen to them. So we’d better hope they have something to say.

I like the story Ferguson tells about having his aura massaged, to the accompaniment of the predictable new-age patter. After the procedure, he wrote a check for $200 and the therapist suggested writing “chiropractic treatment” on the memo line, so his insurance would pay for it. He asked her, “Wouldn’t that mess with my aura?”

I also like that he flouts the “don’t laugh at your own jokes” rule – he cracks himself up on a regular basis. My only complaint is the schwa syndrome. For a brilliant, eloquent guy, Ferguson says “uh” too much.

The Late, Late Show has been called the best thing on television, and it just might be.

I think what happens is, when you get married to someone, you’re then related to them, and the only people who are into that are hillbillies and the royal family. Craig Ferguson

I collect ex-wives. There are two ex- Mrs. Fergusons and they’re very valuable because no more are being made. Craig Ferguson

Photo from the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, April, 2008, courtesy of angela n. via this Creative Commons license.

All the monologues, etc.
Craig Ferguson Passed the Litness Test
Saving Grace (2000)
Craig Ferguson’s Dad
Humor Quotations