20 February 2007

Why You Should Be Watching Craig Ferguson

I can't say that I'd watched "The Late Late Show" hosted by former "The Drew Carey Show" costar Craig Ferguson, with any degree of regularity or committment. I caught his debut week when he took over from that other Craig--Kilborn--and thought he was a witty, amiable fellow, but to be honest, by the time 12:30 am rolls around, I've already watched Jon Stewart and David Letterman and after 90 minutes of celeb and shill I'm all talked out thankyouverymuch.

Last night, after Letterman, I decided to keep Ferguson's show on while flipping through the new Vanity Fair. As expected, the late night pundits were having a field day with Britney Spears's latest desperate stab for attention--we all know it as the head-shaving incident blah blah blah--and I didn't pay much attention to what I expected would be the standard jibes albeit delivered with a delightful Scottish burr.

But Ferguson did something unexpected--I would say even noble--that made for one of the more compelling bits of television I can recall: he announced that he wouldn't succumb to the temptation for cheap shots leveled at a young person whom he felt had a very obvious problem and should be given the support system and professional help that anyone else in such circumstances would and should deserve--celebrity or not.

The audience chuckled nervously--were we being set up for a punch line? Not at all--Ferguson then confessed his own problem with the bottle, having admitted to being an alcoholic at 29 and struggling daily for the 15 years he'd kicked the habit.

“For me, comedy should have a certain amount of joy in it,” he began. “It should be about attacking the powerful — the politicians, the Trumps, the blowhards. We shouldn’t be attacking the vulnerable. I think my aim's been off about this.” With startling honesty, the actor and author admitted to having seriously considered suicide in 1992. "I didn't have a drinking problem...I had a thinking problem."

I'm sure some people will dismiss Ferguson's mission statement as grandstanding--a maudlin "Candle In The Wind" opportunity misfired at a tiresome, B-list skank hot on the heels of the nation's rather curious knee-jerk mourning for the late C-lister Anna-Nicole Smith. And in the past, he's enjoyed some applause and laughter at Ms. Spears' expense. But why do we collectively always suspect those who take the "high" road? Where once Hollywood was an enviable dream land, we now regard celebrities as such utterly disposable commodities--and let's face it, as an entertainment entity, there's plenty about Ms. Spears that's disposable--that we refuse to see them as human. But does a million dollar record/film/book deal instantly turn you into one of Jack Finney's pod people? We revel in their failures and dirty laundry, standing on the soapbox to finger wag and chastise them for their deserved folly, as if we would do so much better with such opportunity and riches.

But that was Ferguson's point: like Elvis, Janis, the recent Anna-Nicole and hell, even the dead-half of Milli Vanilli, Britney has surrounded herself with sycophants and cronies that are arguably more toxic for her than what's in her frequently-refilled glass. Sure, at 25, she's old enough to know better, but on the all-too-likely chance that she is as hopelessly insulated and stupid as she appears to be (and we would like her to be, even if, like Jayne Mansfield, she turned out to be Mensa material), then someone's gotta intervene--after all, she's got a kid and without mom, it's K-Fed or the orphage (although we can take comfort that Frances Bean appears to have turned out all right). And Ferguson advises that these "someone"s are not hard to find: "They're near the beginning of the phone book", he hints.

You can watch the entire monologue here, courtesy of YouTube. Regrettably, the entertainment press hasn't really picked up on this, but he has won a fan...I, for one, will make it a habit to tune in a little more often.