(Craig Ferguson's special, "Just Being Honest," airs on Thursday, September 10 at 10 p.m. on EPIX.)
Once upon a time, and for many, many years, Craig Ferguson was my best friend. The feeling wasn't mutual, as that's not how television works, but for hundreds of thousands of insomniacs like me, the Scottish comedian was a nightly companion, a reprieve from the crushing anxiety of insomnia. Instead of watching the minutes crawl across the clock, each one bringing you that much closer to the moment in which the charade of sleep would have to be abandoned, you'd hear the doorbell ring and watch a pantomime horse dance out of the wings while a gay robot skeleton wiggled his wrist to the beat.
Maybe you were awake, maybe you weren't, it didn't matter -- you weren't curled in a corner of your bed dreading the break of day. How could you not come to love the man who stayed your execution nightly? And how could not freak the fuck out when that man's assistant calls you up and said, "Scott, I've got Craig on the line for you."
Fortunately, there's a bit in his new special about how flustered he was the first time he met Mick Jagger, so I had a natural entry into the interview -- which I still manage to punt, but given that it's his bit, he quickly got the gist and talked me down -- and then we proceeded to talk about pretty much everything, because as anyone who remembers his gloriously rambling monologues will tell you, sometimes he just can't help himself.
In the special, you talk about your future. So how long do you think it'll be before you're doing ads for used car dealerships?
I don't know -- but if someone wants to make me an offer, I'll think about it. I kind of dread when I'm in Scotland, and I see performers working on kid's TV, and I know these guys are comedians and brilliant, but they're hamming it up, dancing around with kids, and I'm like, "Fuck it, that'll how I end." So I don't know, but it'll probably be any day. Bill Hicks had a bit about this, brilliant, told people exactly what to do in advertising. You should check it out.
What's the real deal with Greensboro, North Carolina? What did it do to earn your ire?
People do get mad if you forget your catchphrase. They waiting for you to reveal yourself, but someone got mad at me because I didn't say "It's a great day for America!" I mean, it's the South, you know how they get. (laughing) I kid, I love gigging in the South, the people there are just funnier, more accepting of my style of humor.
I'm actually calling you from rural Louisiana, but don't worry, I won't force-feed you oysters.
Oysters and frogs' legs, everybody told me when you go to the South they'll make you eat oysters and frogs' legs, and I was down in New Orleans on "The Talk," and they brought out frog's legs, and I said, "I'm not eating that!" Because the thing about frogs' legs is that they're not drumsticks, like with a chicken, they're frogs' pants. How am I'm supposed to eat frogs' pants? That's like half a frog!
I don't know if you noticed this, but your Robin Thicke impersonation sounds an awful lot like your pterodactyl.
I've never claimed to be a great impersonator, so if there's some crossover between ancient reptile species and modern performers, that's just one of the crazy antics that can happen in a loosely performed stand-up environment.
Speaking of stand-up, any new comics you're particularly fond of?
Honestly, I tend not to watch newer performers -- like newer comics, because you just don't want to get anything in your head. You don't want to hear something if you're working on a similar bit, and then it's his bit or it's her bit too, because you can't get them out of your head. But I do love Rory Scovel and T.J. Miller. Very funny, very weird.
Now to turn to "The Late, Late Show" a bit. You were known for delivering these monologues that could suddenly turn very serious and heartfelt. Has there been anything in the news recently that's made you wished you still had that sort of platform?
Whenever I did one of those monologues, it was always because I couldn't see any way around doing them. So when you do a monologue about the Boston Marathon bombing, because I'd rather there wasn't a Boston Marathon bombing, you just think, "God, I can't not talk about this."
So I don't sit back and think, "Oh, I wish I could talk about that." The only thing that's occurred on the news since I left late-night television that made me want to say something is when Trump said he was running for president. I was like, "Holy shit, fucking crap that's a gift," like when Dick Cheney shot his lawyer in the face. You just think, "Man, that's beautiful."
How do you feel about being responsible for a generation of children who hear the doorbell ring and expect a pantomime horse to bound in?
I feel terrible, because they're going to be disappointed. I still have that horse costume -- I don't wear it, but I have it. I have to admit, I stole that from British pantomime theater, that's what happens every Christmas. They're for kids, and there's always a horse or a panda jumping around doing shit, and that's all we could afford on "The Late, Late Show." We had no budget, so I had two interns in a rented costume that eventually we bought.
Part of the thing your show did better than any other is talking to authors, bringing on people who spend all their time alone and pulling them onstage, giving them a moment in the sun. I was wondering if there was any particular author that you felt was most memorable.
There were a bunch that I loved -- Neil Gaiman, Salman Rushdie, Denise Mina -- they're just interesting people. What I tried to do on "The Late, Late Show" was try not to make any delineation between one form of artistry and another. So when someone's creative outlet is writing a novel, that's what they do, and so the interaction with an artist is an interaction with an artist, whether they're a novelist, an actor, a film director, of whatever it was. Gaiman and Rushdie were both gregarious, easy people to talk to, but there are others that were more taciturn. But that's also true of actors, so I tried not to, in my own head, not to pigeonhole people in my head.
What are you reading right now?
"The Moor's Account," by Laila Lalami, a Pulitzer-Prize shortlisted account of the first African explorer in America.
Is it the best thing you've read this year?
I don't want to be an ass about this, but one of my pet peeves is getting drawn into this "best things" lists, the idea that a book or a painting or a guitar solo is better than another one. They are what they are. Is the "Mona Lisa" better than van Gogh's "Wheatfield with Crows," it's a stupid fucking thing. People just make that shit up, and then they try to put a value on it.
Like, they make "the top ten movies," and "Twister" made more money than "Fanny and Alexander," so it's a better movie than "Fanny and Alexander." No one on fucking Earth thinks that's true, but you try and make a list, it's just too subjective and I refuse, I refuse to be a part of it.
I wasn't asking specifically for a "top ten," just a general sense of what you've been reading, as Salon's readers are always interested in that. Though, now that I think about, a lot of Bergman could've been improved with a couple of tornadoes.
You know what, that's a great idea -- maybe add a couple of tornadoes to "Fanny and Alexander" and it'd justify making a "top ten" list. Lars von Trier -- with an earthquake! Taking large, disaster movies from the '90s and putting it into independent format, I think that's a really interesting idea. "Here's a couple of old men -- who went into space!" Shit, that's been done, hasn't it?
As for what I've been reading, I used to have such an appetite for fiction, but I seem to be waning on that. I get impatient with fiction, especially if it's too florid with its description, that neo-Dickensian feel of "the criggly-wiggly staircase, with the sun glinting off shimmery leaves," and oh, fuck off, I just don't have the patience for that. So I'm stepping off into David McCullough's "The Wright Brothers" instead. It's fascinating.
Watch a preview of Ferguson's upcoming special below via EPIX: