I think Craig Ferguson is the funniest, smartest most innovative host on any of the big three networks today. To me he has clearly been the star of Late Night talk for a number of years. What those of you with day jobs may not realize: he is also an unapologetic American.
In the entire gaggle of Late Night Hosts, I believe that Craig is the only one who comes close to filling the big empty shoes left behind when Johnny retired. While Leno and Letterman each have some of Carson’s characteristics, Ferguson is able to capture both sides of his genius. He is warm and goofy like Leno, but he’s also cool and sophisticated like Letterman. Like Johnny, he can handle a shy guest with disarming charm; hold his own against a tough guest; then put on the buck-teeth, the big fake ears, and do an impression of Prince Charles that is both ridiculously silly, and satirically eviscerating.
Craig Ferguson’s latest book is entitled “American on Purpose.” It’ spans his career from the beginning as an alcoholic punk rock drummer, to becoming one of Late Night’s brightest stars. There are some marvelous insights about what it’s really like growing up in Europe, from a person who has seen the side that the tour buses usually avoid.
He grew up in one of the bleak concrete housing projects that popped up all over Europe in the wake of World War II. (You’d think a continent so ravaged by central planning, would have lost their affection for it.) Craig talks about his longing to be an American from the time he was very young, and made his first trip abroad; admiring the Americans for their beautiful straight teeth. Because he isn’t here by accident of birth, he is the only network talk host who recognizes American Exceptionalism. (He is also quite visibly the only host who actually had to pass a test on the U.S .Constitution.).
Every year on this day, Craig Ferguson has mentioned the terrorist attack. While the rest of his colleagues safely avoid the subject, Craig has been quite bold about marking September 11th in his show opening. Here is his first September 11th monologue done back in 2006 [transcript here]. It still chokes me up every time I watch it.
He repeated his commemoration with a different monologue on September 11, 2007, performing what was for me the pinnacle of a stand-up routine; the most brilliant monologue I have ever seen on television. Topics like terrorist attacks are avoided by even the bravest comics, but Craig seamlessly wove somber recollections, the Gettysburg Address, and hilarious comedy lines into a tapestry of genius. It was the kind of stand-up routine every comic should aspire to. Unfortunately, it disappeared from the Internet, and is nowhere to be found today. (I wish I had made a copy. If anybody out there works for CBS could you PLEASE put it up again?)
Craig couldn’t even do a monologue about the day in 2008. It seemed like he set the bar so high the previous year, that he didn’t even want to attempt the leap. He did however make a short mention of the attack in his pre-show, that was just as poignant and commemorative.
He followed up by bringing his sister and Drew Carey on as guests, mentioning later in the show, that he felt spending time with friends and family could help him through, what is obviously still a tough day for him.
Last year, he did another pre-show mention that was almost as good as his 2007 monologue:
September 11th doesn’t fall on a weeknight this year, so that was the last monologue we can expect until 2012 (Nielsen willing).
To fill the void this year, I’m posting an excerpt from the final chapter of his book. In it, Craig outlines why he made applying for American citizenship a running gag on the show:
“It seemed to me that American patriotism had been hijacked by politicians who used it for their own jingoistic ends, and I wanted to use my television show to get away from that. I wanted to get back to the image of the gum-chewing GIs who brought swing dancing, fruit, and hope to Scotland when my parents were kids. I wanted to share the feeling I got when I received my big color poster from NASA in the mail. I wanted as many native-born Americans to understand the thrill and exhilaration that comes from joining the land of the free.”
If this sounds trite, I don’t give a rat’s ass. I believe in it. America truly is the best idea for a country that anyone has come up with so far. Not only because we value Democracy and the rights of the individual, but because we are our own effective voice of dissent. The French may love Barack Obama, but they didn’t f***ing elect him. We did.”
God save Craig Ferguson.