While the staples of the Late Night franchise rotated and scattered in a panic, for the last ten years there was this loud Scottish fellow hiding behind all of them, discreetly tickling the undercarriage of television. If you don’t know, or if you need to be told again, CraigyFerg has always been different. I’m not talking about his accent (although I appreciate the free lessons in Glaswegian); he has molded his own little path for his show by rejecting what it is—and publicly so. Watch any episode from the last two years and you’ll see him deny ever wanting to be on television and giving us the impression he refuses to follow the advice of his network, or even his fans.
A few months ago, America learned Dave Letterman would retire and Stephen Colbert replace him. While the end of The Colbert Report is a big deal, another ending is happening: the last episode of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. As an adorer of all things late night television, I shouldn’t pick favorites, but I can’t help myself. First and foremost, my favorite is Conan O’Brien. Then there’s Craig Ferguson.
To illustrate some of the points I will be making, have a compilation of openings from The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson featuring his puppet craze.
I couldn’t even muster the thoughts about Craig leaving until a few hours ago when I remembered how I’d soon be watching him say goodbye. At least Colbert will be heading toward a new show. With Craig, I don’t even know. I mourn the passing of an era, and I bet you didn’t know someone who is largely so unknown could shape an era. Craig began hosting TLLS in 2005. Since discovering him one night, sometime around 2008, he has been the only host able to press my Giggle Button as well as Conan himself.
I haven’t seen much talk about TLLSwCT because it seems to be largely, surprisingly unknown to all but the night owl connoisseurs of entertainment. Where Stephen has a Nation, Craig has an audience of surly hobos and a robot skeleton army that lives inside a hollowed-out volcano. And that’s a great example of how sorely Craig will be missed: he gives his peanut gallery distinct names. Who will do that now?
It appears Craig sometimes shies away from trends among fans either to keep them guessing or to let them know they’re not in control of him. When I returned to his show in 2013 after straying for a year, it was like jumping into a bowl of half-eaten soup; it’s gone a little cold and you’re swimming around in search for the flavor you think it should have, but in the end you have to take it as it is. As you eat, you find out it tastes better as it is now. There is no explanation as to why certain parts of TLLSwCF evolves into what it does. It’s simple a matter of You Just Had To Be There. Who knows where all of Geoff’s necklaces came from? If you’re really late to the feast, who knows where Geoff came from at all?
Geoffrey Peterson made his first appearance on the show during one of Craig’s dance numbers, a time when Craig was doing other things. His first version featured the host’s voice trying out a few accents. Geoff began to take on a distinct personality and warm my cold, skeletony heart after a Mr. Josh Thompson took over:
In my wildest life plans, I get my own talk show. Conan is credited with this inspiration because he makes it look like so fun. In the end, though, when I think about what I would really do with my own show, it turns out Craig is more of an inspiration because he breaks apart the expectations of broadcast life. He shows us you can make dramatic changes without a big hullabaloo. He plays with dolls and animals stuffed with people, and insists he not speak to celebrities in the same way other talk show hosts quiz them on their projects.
In an attempt to do a top ten list of what I love most about Craig’s show, the words couldn’t do the concepts justice. Emily Yahr of The Washington Post wonderfully explains how some of the reasons why this show was different.
The little bits of happiness and creativity that Yarh didn’t touch on are these:
Unique swearing. Every time Craig swears, which is at least once per episode, a country’s flag appears over his mouth, accompanied by a stereotypical expression of that country. Oftentimes, “whassa come anna go” is more effective than a real cuss word.
Tweetmails. Viewers can tweet or e-mail the show with silly or serious questions. Sometimes Craig answers them. Sometimes he throws them on the floor. Sometimes one Tweetmail will spark some improv from the robot skeleton.
The anti-person Geoff is more respected than Craig. Probably because he’s dead. Sympathy card.
He plays with the camera. No, it’s not what it sounds like. (Or is it?) If you’ve seen more than two of his monologues, you know he hits the side of the camera before beginning. Combined with his habit of standing too close for comfort, he sometimes grabs the camera before making a point. In this way, he’s similar to Conan. Each of them seems to love approaching that one camera in this way, sometimes creepily, sometimes provocatively. These two aren’t stiff, line-reading, talking heads. This is also why I believe these two have the best fans; we recognize this gesture as a closing of host-audience boundaries for one hour every week night.
When you hear a bell ring *ding* vee speak in zeh German accent. Ven zeh bell rings tvice *ding ding* …vee are still German.
Everything is done for no reason. This need not be explained.
The open of every show has nothing to do with the episode. If you want the glitz and glam of Hollywood, go to Fallon’s gold-plated set. If you want a low-key, friendly atmosphere filled with awkward pauses, poor lighting, and disagreements, find it with Craig Ferguson. When you think about the puppets, the dances, the word of the day, and recaps after every show, you come to realize this show is Sesame Street for adults. It’s your last bit of happiness before bedtime, and Craig decided not to be like any other late night show. (Did I mention he once opened the show in his underwear?) He wouldn’t screw you out of a genuine experience of human connection.
Much of this humanity is expressed in lifeless individuals, who, if there were any doubt as to how strange this show can be, shape the obscurity and nonsense of each unique episode. There’s a horse with lips. There’s a plastic tub full of puppets. There are calls from disembodied celebrities. There’s even a great, big snake mug. Why? Because Daddy likes what he likes.
I want to know what will happen with all of these characters after the show’s end. Maybe Secretariat will be shipped to a farm upstate where he can run and play all day with Wavy the “crocodillio”, Sid the cussing rabbit “from Norf London”, the family of pigs, and ____ the shark. (I forget the shark’s name. Tootsie-fruitsie, I’m embarrassed I forgot his name. He was my favorite!)
What will Craig be doing now? Without having to ask other fans, I can speak for all of them when I say we wish him happiness, health, and the time and privacy to love his sons and wife to his fullest ability. Nevertheless, something will be missing without Josh Thompson (Geoff) interjecting jabs during all minutes of the hour. We could look forward to any little bits of Geoff and Craig they may plan for us in the future. Heck, I’d go for a late night show hosted by Geoff himself!
Another change I have to lament is the shift in what I’ll be watching where. CBS, like an asshole, is the only broadcast station not on Hulu. Because I don’t have Netflix or Tivo and can never remember to check the CBS website or make it to the show’s actual air time, I’ve missed out on awesomeness like Madam Secretary and The Crazy Ones. I’ve also missed out on many episodes of The Late Late Show because CBS likes to shut down Youtube channels and other access we can’t watch because some of us go to bed earlier like responsible people. At least their video player stopped showing commercials for a while. (CBS Cares.) Ah, this is what I get for being a cheapskate.
I would have been very happy watching Colbert on The Late Show, followed by Ferguson. I’d also watch a show where Craig and Geoff actually do walk the earth, solving crimes. Heck, I’d even go for a morning show. I’d even wake up for a morning show! We can’t say, “CraigyFerg, we hardly knew ye” because he opened up to us—and he shared his personal life. (See what I did there?) We of the RSA are proud to have been carried along on this journey of whims and fancies. Some of us were dropped off in the middle for various reasons, or came later than others, but every one of us got to join in at all the right moments. (I’m babbling out all my Feels now. I’ll stop.) This moment, the one we’re seeing now, is a last awkward pause with us all.
Who is taking over The Late Late Show again? Some other white guy. I can’t remember, nor do I care. And I don’t care out of disgruntled pettiness, no. I simply don’t care what comes after Craig because I Just Don’t Care in all the ways Craig himself has not cared in order to keep the mood light. I’ll still watch the new guy and wonder what will become of the new show. With his luck, I’ll become a fan. It is what it is, and if the new host of TLLS (and, dare I say, TLS with Stephen Colbert) resigns himself to cookie-cutter formats, what interesting experience could there be after Craig? This is one big kilt to fill.
I’ll illustrate my point with more videos: chilling with a happy, gluttonous Kristen Bell for no reason; a surprise call from a super-secret celebrity (it’s a fake Morgan Freeman!); Steve Carell being a person; our stars get angry while maintaining classiness’ Bob Newhart confused about where the prompt cards went; Melissa Rauch (who could totally play Harley Quinn, IMO) shows you how to negotiate in Hollywood. You won’t find these people doing these types of things on other talk shows.
Find current reruns after The Late Show with Dave Letterman/Stephen Colbert [IN YOUR REGION] until sometime in the Spring.
I’ll sign off here with an introduction. Here is the full version of his opening theme.
P.S. I would also like to promote his novel, Between the Bridge and the River. It’s a bit dark comedy, a bit odyssey. I read it twice in one year.