Not in Anyone’s Club
At McFarlin Auditorium, Craig Ferguson proves why he’s his own brilliant brand of comedy.
by Amy Martin
With no advertising and little coverage, close to 2,400 people, ranging in age from 20-somethings to old farts, gathered at Southern Methodist University’s McFarlin Auditorium on Saturday night to hear comedian Craig Ferguson. Of course, having two million insanely engaged Twitter followers rather helps the turn out. For in the sea of late night talk-show hosts, Ferguson is not Leno, Lettermen, Kimmel or the rest. Ferguson is their guy, the one that makes them laugh, the one they understand.
Ferguson’s arc is a wild one that emerges from his days as Bing Hitler—a punk rock parody that catapulted the Scottish native from the Glasgow alt music scene into the Edinburgh Festival Fringe—to eight years on The Drew Carey Show and ultimately to his own Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. While other hosts focus solely on their late nightness, Ferguson has quietly written two movies (Saving Grace and The Big Tease), directed one movie and been featured in several, and penned a novel and a memoir that both hit the best-seller lists. Heck, Late Late Show won a freaking Peabody Award. Ferguson’s not a guy to underestimate.
“I’m a punk rocker. I’m not in your club,” Ferguson declared in a bit about being recruited by AARP for having turned 51.”I don’t want to be in anyone’s club. I don’t want to be in your late night club” he sneered, referring to the current turnover of late-night talk-show hosts in a semi-falsetto and mincing dance step that mimicked Jimmy Fallon.
Liberated from television censors, Ferguson live is a very naughty man, but playfully naughty, more bawdy than crude, and able to share wild tales from his besotted past. One could assume that his standup would be an hour of his largely improvisational and free form Late Late Show opening monologue. But without the show’s puppets or sidekick skeleton robot Geoff, how could that be fun? Instead, Ferguson turned in a well-constructed yet loose and energetic set, well-threaded with repeating loops, riffs and reprises.
With his trademark phrase, “It’s a great day for America,” Ferguson started out strong with a bit on beliefs and righteousness that was plenty dicey territory for Texas: “Every single one of you will be offended tonight, every single one. I try not to offend you all at the same time. That’s religion’s job. If I accidently mock your belief system, well, what did you think was going to happen tonight? I’m a nutty foreigner who tells dirty jokes on late night television.”
Ferguson then merrily launched into a bit poking fun of where Mormon, Scientologist and evangelical beliefs converge, capping it with what offends him: shoes that look like feet and the game of hacky sack. (Well, he was in Austin the night before.) The overall theme of his current Hot and Grumpy tour was how easily many folks are to offend: “You got offended on the way over. Drivers, your partner, something didn’t look right. The deep pleasure of righteous indignation.”
Objects of Ferguson’s comedic commentary included a long rant on the difference between music and noise and which category smooth jazz saxophonist Kenny G falls into; the faux bravado of arguing via text message versus old fashioned street brawls of his youth; and nude beaches in Europe being overrun by “overweight Germans of indeterminate gender.” There was continual razzing of Dr. Phil, whom he speculated was “knitted from douchebags by Oprah.” His description late in the show of Ted Cruz as “the Voldermort of Texas” provoked huge applause and a facial reaction that seemed surprised at Dallas’ move away from being stereotypically Texan.
But Ferguson excels in the sly. He repeatedly spun a matrix of sharp silliness using mischievous banter, infectious voices and gregarious physicality, lumbering about the stage in incongruous dark sports coat and old-school tennis shoes. Once people were busy laughing, he threw in pungent and pointed quick observations that knocked the breath out of you with their depth—and unprintability. He’s definitely wickeder than he seems.
Opening act was Josh Robert Thompson, who voices the Late Late Show’s skeleton robot Geoff. Imagining unusual voices and personalities for car GPS systems is an overused bit for comedians. Thompson turned his from ho-hum to oh-wow by using Morgan Freeman. Totally spot on voice and mannerisms, and no wonder—Thompson is Freeman’s official voice double. Cute story of the actor’s reaction when the two finally met: “You’re a skinny-ass white boy!” Yes, but a funny one.
Original at TheaterJones published Sunday, February 16, 2014