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I Don't Care Who Is On Before Craig Ferguson

[ Posted Thursday, April 10th, 2014 – 17:00 PDT ]

To borrow (or, more accurately, "to blatantly steal") a phrase: "It's a great day for America!"

Those of you who understand why that previous sentence (in relation to this article's title) is a joke, please keep reading. Those of you who don't, well, I apologize because this column has seemingly wandered into some sort of Bizarro World, what with two columns discussing popular television programs this week (which has to be, to put it mildly, a first here at CW.com). Today, the subject du jour is late-night television, specifically that which airs on CBS. So if you're one of those people who never watches such things at midnight (or thereabouts), then I would strongly suggest you occupy your time today with other things than this column. Seriously, even watching a funny cat video will likely be a more productive use of your time.

Where was I? Oh, right... the greatness of today for America.

Of course, what everyone is talking about today is the big news that Stephen Colbert is going to take over David Letterman's show. This news has made some delighted and some furious. The funniest reaction I've yet seen was from Arianna Huffington, who posted a great suggestion on Twitter: "I think Stephen Colbert's first guest at CBS should be 'Stephen Colbert' from Comedy Central."

My reaction, however, is one of total ennui. OK, since we're dealing with the written word here, you're just going to have to imagine me saying the following in a really bad fake French accent (although one that, coincidentally enough, allows me to pronounce the name "Col-bare" properly): "Colbert ees taking over for Dave? I don't care... as long as I can still watch Craig when it's over."

That, like the misappropriation of the "great day for America" line, was an homage to Craig himself, who is fond of mocking the French (being British, it's kind of an inbred attitude) on his show. He is also fond of mocking pretty much everyone under the sun.

To get a little more serious (a tough thing to do when the subject is comedy), I'm truly glad that Ferguson wasn't named as Letterman's replacement. Because he is not only not ready for primetime, he is also not ready for 11:35 at night (I should really add, "...in your region..." to continue the homage).

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not saying -- not even remotely -- that Craig is unfunny in any way. My position instead is that Ferguson's brand of comedy simply could not survive the move to an earlier timeslot. Which, to be honest, isn't his fault at all -- it is, in fact, network television's fault.

To give just the most obvious example: Ferguson's use, as a running joke, of his own ongoing open warfare with the network censors. When you listen to his show, you are pretty much guaranteed to hear some bleeped-out words and phrases (well, not "bleeped" precisely, but "replaced with amusing overdubs"). He used to open his show, on occasion, with hand puppets. One of the funniest was "Sid, the Cussing Bunny." Think he'd be allowed to do this an hour earlier? I don't.

Craig's shtick is deconstructionism. This is a fancy, ten-dollar-word way of saying Craig doesn't give a rat's ass about anything, up to and including himself, his show, his audience, and even the concept of a late-night comedy show. That's his brand of humor, and I personally find it hilarious. Others don't, for various reasons. That's fine, there are other shows on for them to watch. But Craig is pretty much unique in what he does, which is why I'm glad he's going to keep right on doing it, same bat time, same bat channel.

Many people, in fact, don't "get" Craig's humor, or don't like it for whatever reason. I don't think he's ever even been nominated for an Emmy, for instance (I could be wrong, but I am too lazy to look it up). Many of his show's guests simply can't keep up with Craig, and are left sitting next to him with a look of astonishment (or horror, or disgust... take your pick). I understand all of that. But he must be doing something right, as to the best of my knowledge (again: too lazy to look it up) he's the only late-night comic to ever have been awarded the prestigious Peabody Award (given for excellence in broadcast journalism), for his interview of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Which, completely in character, Craig himself thought was hilarious -- that anyone would give him an award for excellence. Or journalism. Or anything.

Craig's humor is more than a little twisted. Which, as I said, I enjoy. But I seriously doubt he would be anywhere near as funny if he had been given Dave's timeslot. Ferguson may be right when he repeatedly says that the only reason the network gods at CBS allow him to continue doing his show is that most of them are simply unaware of him at all -- he's on so late at night, that he's not a big deal to them one way or the other. But if he moved up to 11:35, those same network gods would have to care about the show. Which would destroy it.

Conan O'Brien is the closest anyone has ever been to Craig's self-effacing and deconstructionist humor. When Conan was on at 12:35 (same timeslot as Craig), he was also hilarious. In a much different sort of way, but also in similar a "we simply don't care" style as Craig. Then Conan got Jay Leno's show. And it killed his funniness, because he had to make so many changes to his comedic style (can't have a "Masturbating Bear" on at 11:35 at night, sorry) that he wound up almost unfunny. And then, of course, Jay came back and Conan was banished to a cable backwater.

I didn't want to see the same thing happen to Craig Ferguson. And I'm glad it's not going to. I really started watching late-night television around when I started blogging about politics on The Huffington Post. The two are connected. Understanding the zeitgeist of America means keeping in touch with who and what is being made fun of -- including politicians. I've seen polling which shows a scary amount of the American public gets its only news about politics from late-night comedians. Meaning watching what they're saying is important when you want to keep in tune with what goes on outside the Beltway. I mean, I draw the line (you simply have to) at watching morning news (gack!); but I have to see what people are saying somehow, so I started tuning in to the late-night shows. Ironically, I wound up watching Craig Ferguson the most, even though he's the one late-night comic who (for the most part) ignores politics (unless there's something juicy like a sex scandal happening). Because he was so damn funny, and because he was so damn honest. And also, because after spending all day on politics, it is fun to get away from it and just laugh for a while. People have seriously asked me: "How can you do what you do every day and not get disgusted or disillusioned?" and my serious answer to them is: "I watch Craig Ferguson -- that's what keeps me sane."

I first noticed Craig while randomly flipping channels one night leading up to the 2008 elections. I saw his rant on why it is important to vote, and my jaw hit the floor. I simply could not believe anyone was talking like that on teevee. I was so impressed I did something I had never before done (and something which I have never afterwards done, as well) -- I typed out the full transcript of his entire monologue and ran it as a column. I thought it was that good, and that important.

So you'll have to forgive me from reacting to the news of Stephen Colbert taking over from David Letterman a bit differently than most others. While plenty of people are having fun speculating about what the show will be like, and others are having fun cranking up the anti-Colbert hatefest, I simply don't care all that much who is on before Craig. Because as long as Craig Ferguson is doing what he does at 12:35 at night, every night, it will continue being a great [tutsi frutsi] day for America, indeed.

 

Program Note: For those who don't understand why "[tutsi frutsi]" was included in that last sentence, I invite you to watch Craig Ferguson's show. You won't be sorry you did. Or maybe you will, who knows? Either way, Craig won't care.

-- Chris Weigant

 

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

6 Comments on “I Don't Care Who Is On Before Craig Ferguson”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Chris,

    Okay, after reading the above, in full, I may have to start watching Craig Ferguson ... or, learn how to tape it. :)

  2. [2] 
    TheStig wrote:

    I'm a huge fan of Craig myself. His monolog is the longest on late night, standup story telling, not just a bunch of jokes strung together.

    The whole show is pretty bare bones - no band, a cheesy set,fake fireplace and, obviously, sidekick Geoff Peterson. A sidekick whose ego cannot be repressed. Voice Josh Robert Thompson is quick enough to hold his own with Craig, although using that particular phrase on the show would certainly result in a cascade of rude jokes falling out of the gay repression closet.

  3. [3] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    TheStig -

    No band? What about the ever-invisible "Alfredo Sauce and the Shy Guys"?

    Heh.

    Never knew Geoff's voice's name, thanks. You're right, he is both fast enough to keep up with Craig, and also does the best Morgan Freeman imitation I've ever heard.

    I liked Geoff's look better before they put a suit jacket on him, though. More skeleton-ey...

    :-)

    -CW

  4. [4] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Interesting perspective, but she does kind of admit it's all speculation:

    http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/archive/segment/53470e5afe34444fa70003a8

    -CW

  5. [5] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Craig may have been reluctant to bring Secretariat into the cruel NY winters.

    Look up the video of Geoff doing Morgan Freeman to guest Morgan Freeman.

    Geoff has undergone a lot of evolution besides the suit. The voice is completely different, both arms move, the head swivels and his sarcasm chip has been repeatedly upgraded. The suit is simply a place to hang a Price Is Right name tag, a sly dig at Drew Carey.

    Colbert is discarding one of the greatest comic persona of all time. This seems very risky to me, but he is a terrific interviewer and dances well. Not as good a dancer as Craig though.

  6. [6] 
    bgrhu wrote:

    Delayed commenting, but I also am *thrilled* that Craig will be staying right where he is, for all of the reasons you mentioned. I would never want to see his brand of genius comedy watered down for the kind of people who like the "harmless" light setup-punchline-repeat-ooh-celebs!" style of every other late night show out there.

    You mentioned Emmy and Peabody awards, and yes, Craig was nominated in 2006 (for "Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program," a category which sadly no longer exists). For Peabody awards, I believe Stewart, Colbert, and Letterman (or their respective shows/production companies) have also won them.

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