If you mention Craig Ferguson’s name in group conversation, you’re liable to hear one of three reactions. The first almost always includes a reference to his former gig hosting The Late Late Show on CBS, which James Corden has since taken over. The second, depending on your group’s average age, will include a question that effectively asks, “Wasn’t that the guy from The Drew Carey Show?” As for the third, it will be uttered by the geekiest person in the room, and it will have something to do with that time Ferguson played drums in a punk band with Doctor Who‘s Peter Capaldi. #ItMe
Ferguson is fine with all of these things and more, as we found out when the stand-up comedian graciously took the time to talk to us about his new EPIX comedy special, Just Being Honest, which airs Thursday, Sept. 10 at 10 p.m. EST. The Scottish-American performer geeked out with us discussing the ins and outs of stand-up comedy, as well as the abominations that are shoes shaped like feet and Kenny G’s saxophone solos. He even dispensed skin-care tips and relationship advice in the course of apologizing for having to reschedule a previously scheduled interview due to the fact that he was in the technological black hole that is rural Scotland.
How was Scotland?
Good! Buggy, though. I was there for the last tour, shot the special after, then I went back for two months. Inexplicably, I got worse at golf! It hardly seems fair.
Weird. I’d think you would improve your game when playing in the sport’s place of birth.
You’d think, or at least play it more. Clearly, for me it seems to be a lack of preparation and a complete disregard for the way things are done normally. That’s exactly how I run my professional life, so golf should be no different.
After watching Just Being Honest, I couldn’t get Kenny G’s “Songbird” out of my head.
That’s a true story about him. I mean, all that sh*t is true. That’s why I called the special Just Being Honest. I went to a party and Kenny G was there. It was unbelievable. I’m not saying he was touching anyone inappropriately. I’m just saying that if he wanted to, he could because of the way he moved around.
Are you two friends, or did you just meet him at the party?
Oh no, I can’t claim a friendship with Kenny G. I would if I could, but I can’t.
I suspect after he sees your special, that just might happen.
I don’t know if that’s such a thing that friendships are based on, but maybe. I don’t hate Kenny G, I just don’t care for his music. It’s a tricky spot because now, in the days of the internet … I am capable of not agreeing with someone and not hating them. Which I think makes me a bad candidate for the internet, and perhaps very out of date.
Ever heard of Godwin’s Law?
No, what’s that?
Basically, it’s the idea that as an internet forum discussion or chat grows larger, the likelihood of somebody being compared to Hitler or the Nazis increases.
I can see that, someone disagreeing with another’s point and saying, “You’re a f*cking Nazi!” That’s crazy. I think Nazis are doing it. I think Nazis are sneaking onto the internet and trying to make everyone a Nazi. Trying to figure out who the real Nazis are, then contacting them privately via the deep web.
I knew you from The Drew Carey Show and The Late Late Show, but didn’t realize how much stand-up you did until I saw your previous EPIX special, Does This Need To Be Said?
Yeah, I’ve done it my whole life. It’s the one thing that I’ve always believed allowed me to remain autonomous. I started doing stand-up when I was still a drummer in a punk band in the 1980s. Stand-up is a very-punk rock thing because it allows you to be autonomous. Drew Carey is still my friend, but there was a time when he was my boss, so I would be careful about what I said about him. Nowadays I’m careful about what I say about him because he’s my friend and I don’t want to hurt his feelings, but you know what I mean? When I was on CBS, you had to be careful not to piss off CBS or the sponsors or the FCC or you’ll get f*cking fired. The thing that allows you to sail close to wind with all that is if you know you have a way of surviving and remaining viable as a human being. You can earn a living. You can perform and be creative the way you want to be if you have something that doesn’t rely on the permission of another entity, be it an advertiser or an employer. That’s why stand-up, for me, has always felt the freest of all these things. You can do what you f*cking like basically, and that’s what I love about it. That’s why I think modern stand-up is a particularly American art form, because it’s basically about saying what the f*ck you like. Which is the Constitution, apparently.
They treat you like you know what you’re doing. It’s an interesting way to make television. They’ll say, “Well you clearly know what you’re doing, so what do you want to do?” As opposed to, “Well you clearly know what you’re doing, so do what we tell you.” That’s a more traditional way of going about TV.
How long were you working on the hour that became Just Being Honest?
I think I ran it about 18 months. Usually I’ll run an act about 18 months, and then once it’s shot, it’s done. Actually, I just finished putting together the new hour. What I usually do is I start off at my favorite comedy club in America, which is the Comedy Works in downtown Denver. It’s a subterranean, archetypal comedy club. Two hundred fitfty seats, low ceiling, they serve fries during your act — it’s fantastic. That way, you can really figure out where the act is. So I’ll start there for about a week, work out the new material, then take it on the road for about 18 months, shoot the special, and then it’s done. I’ve been doing that for the last four specials, I think.
A lot of comics love those sorts of “archetypal” comedy clubs, especially the Comedy Works.
One of my favorite comics on earth is Dave Attell. Dave recorded his album, Skanks for the Memories in that club. If you’ve never heard that album, you’ve got to hear it. It’s one of the funniest things you’ll ever hear in your life. If you’re a fan of comedy, that is a f*cking piece of genius. It’s just an album, there’s no special so you have to listen to the audio, but by God it’s f*cking hilarious.
Not to emphasize your special’s title too much, but you tend to prefer being “honest” in your comedy.
The best way to do comedy is to do stuff that you have an emotional connection to. I’m not very good at going out there and saying, “Hey, what about those new Cheetos packets?” I don’t give a f*ck about that, you know? Unless it’s something that I really care about, I can’t make a connection to, and I can’t get any energy behind it. It’s not for everybody. It’s not like there aren’t great stand-ups who aren’t American. Bill Connelly and Eddie Izzard spring to mind as spectacular stand-ups, but neither one of whom are American. There’s a lot of good stand-ups in the UK, and Australia as well. Trevor Noah is South African. But to me, the American style of stand-up — the kind of Richard Pryor, Robin Williams kind of stand-up — that’s kind of what I was coming of age with. Sam Kinison back in the day, those kind of guys. There was a kind of emotion and a rawness to it. Bill Hicks, young Denis Leary, you know what I mean?
Definitely. That kind of emotion is especially evident in Just Being Honest, especially when you discuss shoes that look like feet.
What I talk about before that is having a great deal of skepticism about transubstantiation, the idea that during the Mass the wafer turns into the actual body of Jesus Christ. I’m really not angry about that, and if you are that’s cool. I don’t care. I don’t hate you for thinking that, and I hope you don’t hate me for not thinking that. What I do really hate are shoes that look like feet. I genuinely think that’s f*cking stupid, and if you wear them you wear your stupidity on your feet.
Vibram, the shoe company that made running shoes that look like feet, was sued a few years ago for false health claims.
Then the law has backed me up. I’ve been justified in my righteous anger about those f*cking shoes.
Much to your lighting guy’s dismay, you don’t like to sit still during your set.
Being on stage is a very heightened experience. All your nerve endings are tingling. You’re kind of in a zone, like a musician or an athlete. Everything that you see, everything around you connects. You connect to every piece of stimuli that happens. So if a guy misses a lighting cue, that’s something I’m going to react to. I’ve never gone on stage and just recited a script. I know what the act looks like roughly, but I’m going to go up there and do it the same way every night. Which means any time there is any kind of distraction for me, I’m going to work with it. Some nights I might do one minute on the lighting guy. Some nights I might do 10 minutes on the lighting guy.
What’s your preferred writing method before you bring it all onstage?
I have bullet points. I walk up and down a room in the house saying them out loud, trying to remember them. Then I’ll go to a club with these ideas in my head and take them onstage. Essentially, my stand-up is written on the stage. It’s not really written in a conventional sense. It’s put together in a way so that you can exist comedically for 90 minutes on a stage when you go into a theater. I’m not presenting a piece of scripted comedy or drama. What you’re seeing is a performance that has been partially written as it’s being done. That way it not only remains fresh and organic to the audience, but fresh and organic to me. It allows me to still love doing it. Comedians often become bitter, resentful and twisted, and I think part of that is them not allowing themselves to be free within the act. The comedians that I think are happiest are the ones who are loose in how they approach it. Though let’s be honest, I don’t know that many comedians. It’s a guess.
So you’ve got the new tour coming up, and Celebrity Name Game was renewed for a second season. Are you working on anything else now, or is it all about the stand-up at the moment?
There will be an announcement pretty soon. I have a new show which I can’t really tell you about. There’s a new comedy show that I’ve been working on, a series, that will be announced in the next couple of weeks.
Looking forward to it. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me today.
My apologies for missing you last time. I was in a part of rural Scotland that frowns on our modern communication system.
No problem. I was still on vacation at the time, so rescheduling meant avoiding an angry girlfriend.
Nice! Where’d you go on vacation?
Any bugs? Did you get bugged out?
Yes. She hasn’t forgiven me for that either, I think.
Do you know about that stuff, the “Skin So Soft” cure?
There’s a cheap skin-moisturizer thing, it’s called “Skin So Soft.” It’s a women’s moisturizer thing, but if you put it on, bugs f*cking hate it. They don’t come near you.
I’ll have to check that out next time.
It’ll change your life, and maybe save your relationship.
“Just Being Honest” premieres Thursday, Sep. 10, at 10 p.m. EST on EPIX. Here’s a preview…