[Review] - Craig Ferguson: Hot & Grumpy
I've seen two Scottish comedians perform in the past two weeks, and they've both made jokes about Hitler. I have no analysis, I'm just noting the correlation.
For my money, Craig Ferguson is the only late night talk show host worth watching. While his show follows the basic formula of his predecessors (monologue, comedy bits, interviews), he spends every evening subverting and undermining that standard. He's the late show host we need. His stand-up isn't quite as subversive, though he still manages to pack it with enough of his proud punk rock anti-establishment background as he can. This show in particular was overdue, having been rescheduled from a tour earlier in the winter, during which he contracted pneumonia. It was worth the wait.
Hit the jump for the brief review.
I noted a pattern in Scottish comedians. Craig, Billy Connolly, Danny Bhoy and the like all structure their shows around storytelling. American stand-ups prefer the joke-laugh-joke pattern, while these Scots construct their shows around a meandering, seemingly absent-minded evening of the oral tradition, concerned less with set-them-up, knock-them-down laughs and more with the absurdity of a well told tale. It's a style I prefer.
We got a bit of both worlds with this show, as Josh Robert Thompson, better known as the voice of Geoff Peterson, Craig's gay robot sidekick on the show, opened the show for him, kicking the evening off with his various and impressive array of impressions (he claims that he is the official Morgan Freeman fill in voice, which considering the quality of his Freeman is entirely possible). Thompson's set was of the American style, though he does change things up at the very end with an audience participation, character-immersion bit.
If you've seen the Late Late Show, than you already sort of have an idea what to expect from one of his performances. It's essentially the monologue portion, the portion of the show where he looks down the camera and stream-of-consciousness talks about what's on his mind. That is his show, though without the censorship of the cussing. It's a more relaxed version of those personal moments, Craig out of the three piece and roaming the stage somewhat manically. But he's exactly the same guy as fills our DVRs. The same frustration over idiocy, the same random tangents, the same voices. It comes together in a way that seems very genuine, like the talk show, that this is a man stripped down and absence of pretense.
And the audience responds to his inflated honesty. Though he promises that everyone will be offended at least once, that didn't seem to bother the crowd I was with, who struggled to hold their breath as he meandered through his tales of personal observation and study. The bulk of the show is built towards describing the time he spent working with Mick Jagger on a film in 1997/1998. The rest of the show is filled with his unique Scottish perspectives on the ridiculousness of the show business town he lives in, and (because he is over fifty) the universally relatable process of getting older. Observations that allow him to revisit an old memory of visiting a nudist colony in his early twenties, probably my favourite bit of the night.
The night took a bizarre and fantastic turn at the very end, when things went heavily off book. Thompson returned to share the stage with Craig, intended as a farewell moment, which spiraled out of control as the audience began presenting the duo with an assortment of gifts, to which Craig was completely at a loss to react, and to which Thompson deftly opted to narrate as Moran Freeman. The mark of a comedian's prowess is how they react to things when the thread is lost, and both men filled what could have been an awkward or rude moment with self deprecation and Craig's trademark false anger. It was an unexpected (for us and them) cap to a great night, which sits at the top of my experiences with stand-up comedy (and I've seen Bill Bailey perform Enter The Sandman on horns).