The Comedy Couch

 CRAIG FERGUSON - June 16, 2006

GUY MACPHERSON: Is this TV's Craig Ferguson?
CRAIG FERGUSON: Is this Guy MacPherson? That's a
lovely Jewish name.

GM: How are you?
CF: I'm good, my friend. How are you?

GM: Excellent. I'm half-French, half-Scottish. So it's
CF: Ghee MacPherson. Well, of course, that makes
perfect sense.

GM: But I say Guy because Ghee and MacPherson don't go
CF: Right, yeah.

GM: And I don't speak French.
CF: (laughs) Then it's going to leave you looking
kinda awkward when you say, "Je m'appelle Ghee. That's
all I got."

GM: And that's all I got. That's right. I appreciate
you taking the time.
CF: I'm sorry I'm a bit late. I got held up in a

GM: That's all right. You've got to be one of the
busiest guys in show biz.
CF: You think?

GM: All this stuff you've got going on. You're a
regular Steve Allen of the new millennium.
CF: (laughs) Oh, God. I fucking hope not. Yeah, I'm
kinda busy. I kinda try to keep myself, you know,

GM: Steve Allen wrote books, he was a musician...
CF: No, actually I say that just because, God, am I
kind of doing that much? Am I working that hard? Steve
Allen, I don't know much. I mean, he created the
Tonight Show, though, didn't he?

GM: That's right. Talk show host, standup, musician -
he wrote thousands of songs - he wrote novels and
books. Just like you.
CF: Yeah, well, I hope so. We shall see.

GM: Are you that driven?
CF: No. Actually not. I don't know what it is. I mean,
the standup I do because I love doing it. It's fun.
The novel that I wrote [Between the Bridge and the
River, Chronicle Books, 2006] was something that I
worked on really before I started doing this show. I
wrote most of it before I started here. It comes out
anyway. I mean, if I wasn't doing this show I'd be
writing another novel, I'm sure. You know what I mean?
It's something that you do because you can't not do
it. It's the reason why anyone should be in show
business, by the way. You shouldn't be in show
business unless you think, "I can't not be in show

GM: That sounds driven to me.
CF: I suppose so.

GM: It's something that's in you that's gotta come
CF: I suppose I'm looking at the word 'driven' as
meaning the word 'ambitious', and I don't know if I'm
that ambitious. But driven, yes. Yeah, in a way
because I think that ambition would be like...
Actually, you know what? I was talking to someone the
other day who asked me if I had my eyes on the 11:30
slot at any point. And I actually don't. You know what
I mean? I like the slot that I'm in. I'm fine here. I
can do what I want here. I like coming after David
Letterman and all of that stuff. But driven is
probably slightly different from ambitious.

GM: But if Letterman were to leave, you wouldn't want
to see someone else step in instead of you.
CF: It depends. I don't know. I would quite happily
see Jon Stewart in there I think. So I'm not...
There's not a career plan. Maybe that's what it is.

GM: And there never has been?
CF: Never has been.

GM: Then you're just the luckiest guy in show
business. Or most talented, I guess. You get all these
CF: I work hard at what I do when I'm doing it. But I
don't do it with an eye to what I'm going to do after

GM: Back in your punk rock days, what kind of future
did you see for yourself?
CF: You know, the Sex Pistols in those days used to
have a song called 'No Future'. I think that's what we
all thought. I didn't really think about it. I suppose
I thought I would die of some drug-related death in my
mid- to late-20s. And the fact that I didn't I suppose
is lucky for me.

GM: Very lucky. Although maybe you would have been
more famous.
CF: No, I don't think so (laughs). It would just be an
anonymous drug-related death.

GM: Were you in any groups we would know?
CF: No, not at all. Not at all. We were all hideously

GM: What were some of the names of the groups?
CF: Uh, I was in the Bastards from Hell, the
Dreamboys, the Recognitions, James King and the Lone
Wolves. I always had a problem with this band, the
Lone Wolves, because I thought if it's the Lone Wolves
how come there's four of us in the band? But that
logic didn't seem to bother anyone else in the band. I
felt that it was wrong.

GM: It's punk rock! Anything goes.
CF: Yeah.

GM: Did you have a name, like Sid Vicious or Joey
CF: No, no, no.

GM: Were you just Craig Ferguson?
CF: I was just Craig Ferguson.

GM: Not TV's Craig Ferguson.
CF: No (laughs). That's my punk rock name, TV's Craig

GM: You went from punker to standup comic?
CF: Yeah, I guess so. Yeah, I did. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

GM: That doesn't make sense.
CF: Oh yeah, it does. I mean, in Britain at the time
there was a lot of alternative comedy going on. And
actually one of the coolest things to do was to be in
this alternative comedy circuit. There was a huge wave
of standup that went through Britain in the late '70s,
early '80s. A bunch of us actually went to Montreal.
Canada was one of the places outside of Britain that
would recognize it.

GM: The Just For Laughs festival you're talking about.
CF: Yeah. In fact, I'm going back there this year.
Although it sounds now like an odd progression,
actually then it made sense because it was the same
people hanging out in the same nightclubs. Everyone
was kind of in the same big drunken mosh pit.

GM: So you went to Montreal. Did something come of
that to make you say you're going to move to Los
CF: What happened was, because I did Montreal and I
did standup at Juste Pour Rire there, I got invited to
America to do a pilot in '88 or '89, or something like
that. And I did this pilot with Zach Braff and Gwyneth
Paltrow, funnily enough. And it didn't get picked up.
So I went back to Britain and they went back to what
they did, which I think for Zach, he was still at
school. And then what I did was I did standup and
acting and I tended bar between gigs over there. And
then eventually I came back here in '95 to look for
work. And finally got it.

GM: So you weren't coming over with anything.
CF: No, I didn't have a damn thing.

GM: And you say look for work. That was in show
business, clearly.
CF: Yeah.

GM: You weren't looking for bartending work.
CF: No (laughs), no. I didn't have a visa for
bartending work. I was only allowed to work in show

GM: Was it acting work or standup?
CF: Yeah, when I came over I did a sitcom with Betty
White and Marie Osmond.

GM: Sounds great.
CF: It was dreadful. Although I made friends with
Betty White and I'm still friends with her today. I
love Betty White. And from that I got a job on The
Drew Carey Show. And that's what kept me in America.

GM: What kind of comedian were-slash-are you? Were you
that much different than you are now when you do
CF: No, I don't think so. I was a lot drunker than I
am now.

GM: That equals funny.
CF: Er, I don't know if that's true.

GM: For the audience, maybe.
CF: I don't know if that's true for the audience. No,
no, no, no. A lot of drunk people think they're a lot
funnier than they are.

GM: That's true, yeah.
CF: No, I was probably much the same. I was kind of
heading towards what I do now. The monologue thing
that I do at the start of the show is really what my
standup is like, except it's a bit ruder. Basically, I
don't know what's going to happen. I don't have an act
scripted out. I have a bunch of bullet points that I
work from and it'll be different on any given night.

GM: How often do you perform now, other than your
monologue which is essentially what you do, only
cleaned up?
CF: The monologue is brand new every day. And standup
I probably do maybe four gigs a month or something
like that.

GM: Did you follow standup growing up? Or was it just
because you and your buddies were in that scene?
CF: It was partly because of that scene and partly
because of Billy Connolly, who was a great hero of
mine when I was a child. Because he was essentially
from the same background so I was fascinated that
someone that sounded like one of us was in show
business. Billy was kind of like Elvis to me. Billy
kind of created this whole new idea that Scottish
working class people could be in show business.

GM: You do Sean Connery on your show;  do you ever do
Billy Connolly?
CF: (doing Connolly) "A wee bit of farty poo jobby,
you know?" I actually haven't done Billy. It's funny.
In America he's not as recognizable as he is in Canada
or in the UK.

GM: Your monologues on the show have really evolved
because when I first started watching it was more or
less like the other talk shows, wasn't it?
CF: Yeah, it was bog-standard bullshit, reading gags
from a teleprompter. But I get really bored with that.
And I hated doing it.

GM: So you went to the producers and said you want to
change it?
CF: Yeah. I went to the producer, Peter Lassally, and
I said, "I gotta stop doing this." And he said, "I've
been waiting for this. Okay, good."

GM: Really? So there wasn't a fight or anything?
CF: Not at all. No, the only fight I've ever had with
Peter is he wants me to wear a tie and I don't want to
wear a tie. He still wants me to wear a tie and I
still won't wear one.

GM: So you won.
CF: Uh, so far.

GM: There's no point. You look relaxed.
CF: I am relaxed. It is the most relaxing out of the
day, actually.

GM: What about writing this monologue? Is there a lot
of pressure every day to come up with something new?
CF: That's the meeting I've just come from. Yeah,
there's a horrible amount of pressure every day to do
it. It kind of hangs over you every day. But at the
same time it's the challenge of every day. I mean,
it's a real thrill when it's right. When it doesn't
quite come off, I think it's still good to do because
at least we had a crack at it (laughs), you know what
I mean? When it doesn't quite work, it's one of those
rare things in American television that you can
actually see someone fall flat on their ass. And it's
not edited out. I think you take all the fun out of
stuff when you don't see things fall on their ass.
Johnny [Carson] never cut out stuff that didn't work.
He would do it.

GM: It almost seemed like he would purposely put in
stuff that didn't work.
CF: Peter Lassally, my producer, was with Johnny for
30 years. And I asked him if Johnny put stuff that
wouldn't work, because I thought the same, and he
said, "No, he never, ever did." It was always (laughs)
just annoying... Not annoying, but he just turned a
sow's ear into a silk purse.

GM: And it humanizes the host, too.
CF: I think so. I think it allows... I don't need
people to think that everything that comes out of my
mouth is the funniest thing that's ever been said by a
bunch of crack writers in Hollywood. There's a kind of
distance that that creates between the host and the
audience, which I don't think you really need.

GM: And you're charming enough to get away with it and
quick enough on your feet to come up with something if
you do tank.
CF: You have to be. That's the one thing. You better
be fast. Because if something dies, you better cop to
it and think of something quickly.

GM: How much of it is spontaneous?
CF: It changes from night to night. Some nights 90
percent; some nights, you know, 40 percent.

GM: So it's up to you? When you're in the moment you
can decide to go off-book?
CF: It's done absolutely as-live. I go out, I do it
once, we never do retakes on it, we never stomp down
on it. We go with what we get. That's it. It's an
unusual thing. There's not a lot of people doing it
right now. You know what? It's kind of like a radio
show, I think, in a way. We just go out and do it. A
lot of people in the mornings are doing that. These
zoo radio shows.

GM: Oh, please don't compare yourself to a morning
CF: Well, I'm not. Some are good, some are not good.
But there are people who go on and talk for a long
time. And some of them are really good.

GM: Except that they have wacky sound effects.
CF: Well, I have the whip crack thing.

GM: How different is your monologue from what we'll
see here?
CF: It's a little more R-rated and also it's a lot
looser because I can follow a train of thought and not
worry about the time it's taking. So if I start
talking about, you know, marine biology in the 1970s
and I feel that it's funny and the audience thinks
it's funny, I'll talk about it for ten minutes and
then go back to what I was originally talking about.
You can't really do that on the air because there's
commercials and timing. I get basically 11-and-a-half,
12-and-a-half minutes at the start of the show to go
anywhere I want. It takes about 11-and-a-half or 12
minutes to get warmed up doing standup, you know what
I mean? So it's more R-rated for sure, but then it's
also freer in a kind of creative way, I think.

GM: Most American talk show hosts are from the
CF: Yeah.

GM: Did you ever think that your accent or nationality
would hold you back?
CF: Not for one second did it bother me. I'm the only
one that it didn't bother, but then again it's my
accent and my nationality. It never bothered me. And
also I was coming into the job at a time when the
governor of California, the state in which I make this
show, has an accent thicker than pea soup. So that
didn't really bother me.

GM: Not so much after you got it, but before. Were you
thinking, "Ah, I'll never get a show like this"?
CF: Oh, yeah. I did before it. Yes, absolutely. I
thought they'll never give it to me because of that.
Afterwards, though, I thought, no, fuck it, I'm in.

GM: Do you ever get any mail from people saying, "What
is this guy doing?" because of your nationality?
CF: No, not anymore. I've been here for a while. I
think the first couple of months there was stuff come
in, but the proof is in the ratings.

GM: What are the ratings like?
CF: We break records every week on this thing.

GM: Really? Are you beating Conan [O'Brien]?
CF: We are bumping up against him Monday nights and
Thursday nights. This is the highest ratings this time
slot's ever had for CBS. I mean, Conan's a great show
and he's been doing it for a long time, and I'm not
saying that we're there, but compared to what this
show has ever done, yeah, it's better than it's ever

GM: It's funny, talking about the accents, but
Canadian entertainers are always told to lose their
accents lest anyone find out their horrible secret.
CF: Hey, listen, there's plenty of people who told me
to lose it. But they were wrong.

GM: People are smarter than that.
CF: Yeah. It's okay. I mean, people can handle it. The
idea that America or even Canada has all one accent
and everybody has it is just complete nonsense. Sixty
percent of the population of California don't even
speak English as their first language. So the idea
that everybody's walking around talking like Tom
Brokaw is just ridiculous.

GM: You talk about how much you enjoy doing standup.
It seems to be in your blood. Guys like Bob Newhart,
who are eighty and with successful TV shows and don't
need to do it, and Jay Leno, who doesn't need to go
out and do standup, but they continue doing it. What
is it about standup?
CF: It's highly addictive. It's just hard to explain.
Unless you've done it, you don't really know. It's
like crack. Once you do it, you can't really go back.
You gotta get more. It's the most honest and immediate
performance I've ever been involved with. You know
right away if something's working or not working. You
know right away and you're right there. Especially if
you're improvising a lot, which is what I do, you're
kind of all in it together. I love that feeling. A
good audience will make me a better standup.

GM: And a bad audience?
CF: A bad audience will make me a different standup
(chuckles). I don't know. These days a bad audience
for me is an audience that's quiet, I guess. But I
don't get a lot of those, knock on wood.

GM: Canadians are quieter.
CF: Well, thank you for that lovely bit of
encouragement (laughs).

GM: I'm enjoying your novel.
CF: Oh good.

GM: I just got it on Wednesday, so I'm only on page 60
but I like it.
CF: Thank you.

GM: Are any of these characters loosely based on you?
CF: Yeah, all of them are.

GM: Because you said something at the beginning how
the story is true even though it's filled with lies.
CF: Yeah, that's exactly how I feel about it. The
essence of it, the heart of it is true, the emotions
of it are true.

GM: Were you constantly writing down little phrases,
turns of phrase and bits of dialogue when you were
working on it? Because you have some great ones: a
mustache that "advertised the color of his pubes", or
"being in her company was like mainlining joy directly
into his system", or smokers who congregate outside
offices are "like little pockets of pickets for
earlier death".
CF: When I wrote the book I was constantly writing it.
I tend to binge write. I don't write for a long time
and then I do nothing but write for maybe three
months, and then kind of don't write anything else for
a while. It's binge-y more than actual consistency.
I'm not really consistent in any way. The only thing I
do consistently every day I think is take care of my
son and this monologue. And in that order.

GM: Were you writing this book while you were looking
after your son, or did that come before? How old is
your son?
CF: My son's five. Yeah, I sure was. I wrote the book
for my son. In a way. The dedication at the start of
the book is for him.

GM: All that cunty language for your son.
CF: Well, it's not for him reading in the nursery. But
he can read it when he grows up.

GM: After you wrote it, how soon did you find a
publisher for it?
CF: I think it took about five or six months.

GM: And did anyone try to advise you - any of your
people - "Hey, you can't talk like this, you're TV's
Craig Ferguson!"?
CF: Yeah, yeah. Lots of people have lots of advice but
they're wrong. The only people who are right are the
ones I agree with.

GM: I agree with that!
CF: I find that in life, the only politicians that
make any sense are the ones I agree with. The only
reporters who make any sense are the ones I agree
with. The only reviews that make any sense are the
ones I agree with. And everyone else is wrong.

GM: And often the best art is that which doesn't try
to find an audience but the audience finds them.
CF: I couldn't agree more. I hate when I feel
manipulated by any artist or film maker or writer or
musician. Anything. Do your own stuff and let others
appreciate it, or not appreciate it. Let people make
up their own mind. Because to try to please everybody
in a certain demographic is just hateful.

GM: Is this a story that's been with you a long time,
ruminating around in your head?
CF: I think it must have been. I mean, I didn't know
how it was unfolding until I actually started. I had
an idea for a book, and really had an idea for about
two-and-a-half chapters of a book. But by the time I'd
written two-and-a-half chapters, I had gotten
interested in the characters and I wanted to see how
it would work out for them. So I just kept writing.

GM: That's about where I've read to, then.
CF: Yeah. Now you're heading off on untrampled snow.

GM: (laughs) Thanks for that Canadian imagery.
CF: (laughs)

GM: Now I understand.
CF: NOW you understand.

GM: Were you a disciplined writer in that you would
start writing at a certain time every day and end at a
certain time?
CF: No, not at all. I lack discipline in nearly all

GM: What was the writing process?
CF: Sporadic. It was, like I say, binge writing. It
was three months on, three months off, a week on, two
months off. I think it took me about two years to
write the book.

GM: And what was the editing process like? Was that
CF: Minimal. I wouldn't... I had a number of offers
for the book but I wouldn't make a deal with any
publisher that wanted to make any real significant
edits. I took out a couple of legal things that
apparently would have gotten me in a lot of trouble.
And that was it. The rest was spelling mistakes and

GM: That's what an editor should be!
CF: Exactly. You say that to any writer and they're
like, "Oh my God, you're kidding?" But the lucky thing
was, I mean, the book I wrote for myself and if I
started to change it to find a market for it, like
what we were talking about, it wouldn't have been
honest. And even though it's a fictional book, it has
to have an honesty. And that honesty is that I stand
by it and everything in it.

GM: So they weren't saying, "Well, I think this
section would be better over here"?
CF: Oh, yeah, yeah, there was a lot of that. But like
I say, if I don't agree with something, they're wrong.

GM: Are you a big reader yourself?
CF: I do, yeah, I read a lot.

GM: Do you have influences in writing?
CF: Sure, yeah. Everything I've ever read, probably.
I'm a voracious reader. I read crime fiction, I read
the classics, I read anything.

GM: I think you have to be to be a good novelist,
don't you?
CF: I think so. I think you have to love... You have
to be interested in what you're writing in the same
way that you're interested in a book that you read.
You have to want to know what happens. And kind of
un-put-down-able and all that kind of stuff. It has to
cast the same kind of spell on you.

GM: You've received generally great reviews for this,
haven't you?
CF: Yeah, I have.

GM: Were you expecting that?
CF: I've gotta be honest. I was not expecting that. I
thought I would actually get trashed because I was
doing the talk show on television, if nothing else.
You can't do two things! Because people don't know you
and they think, "Well, this is a guy who talks on
television." This is like, you know, Pat O'Brien
writing a book, do you know what I mean? But the
reviews that it got, which were fantastic, and it's in
its first printing and in the LA Times best-sellers
list for a few weeks. I mean, it's done really well.
For literary fiction, it's sold an enormous amount of
copies. It's a real best-seller, so it's good.

GM: Are the publishers hounding you for another one
CF: Uh, yeah, they're hounding me but luckily I didn't
make a deal. So I was just like, yeah, when another
one's ready I'll make a deal for it. I won't make a
deal for a book I haven't written. That doesn't seem
right to me.

GM: Lots of celebrities have written books: Terri
Hatcher, Lorraine Bracco, William Shatner. These are,
I suspect, ghost-written but I don't know.
CF: I don't know if they're ghost-written but it's not
the same type of thing that I've been working on.

GM: William Shatner has written science fiction books.
And I wonder if he really wrote it or if he just told
someone the idea and said, "Now go write it."
CF: You know, I really don't know. I suspect in the
case of Shatner, he probably wrote them.

GM: You've written a few screenplays that were made
into films. Did you just want to do a novel, or did
you think that this story must be told in the novel
CF: One of the reasons for writing a book is I was
tired of making films because I hate the compromising
that you have to go through with turning a screenplay
into a movie. You just have to; there's so many people
involved. And with a book there's not. A book, you
write it and it's done and it's yours.

GM: Now are you going to adapt it to film?
CF: No, absolutely not.

GM: You sound definite.
CF: Definitely, I will not make a film of this. Nor
will I allow it to be made. I haven't sold the film
rights, and I've been offered the film rights to it a
few times and I won't sell them.

GM: Why is that?
CF: Because I don't want it to be a film. I know how
to make films. If I wanted it to be a film, I'd have
made it. I wanted it to be a book. And when I finished
writing the book, the story was told, it's finished.
And if you want to know the story of this book, you've
gotta read the book. And if you don't want to know it,

GM: That's interesting. Because these days a lot of
people are thinking, "Great! More money!"
CF: Yeah, but there's gotta be some magic left in the
world. It can't all be about fucking money, surely.
And I didn't write the book for money. And trust me,
I'm not making any fucking money out of it. I can make
more doing a night of standup than I got for the
entire two years I spent writing the book. I wrote the
book because I wanted it to be what it is; I didn't
write it to get royalties or a revenue stream from it.
It's not to say that I discount doing the standup. I
love doing the standup and when I'm doing it, it's
very much the first thing on my mind. But if you've
spent two years getting a book right, it's two years
of your life. You've got to make sure that you've done
it properly.

GM: And you'll get more revenue when the paperback
comes out.
CF: Maybe. Well, yeah, I'm sure of it. But honestly, I
don't think of it. I really don't. I didn't do it for

GM: You had a bit of a controversy with Canada in your
show, I read.
CF: Are you talking about the posting on Wikipedia?

GM: Is that true or not? Because you never know with
CF: It's horseshit. It's fucking horseshit. I've got
relatives that live in Toronto. My Uncle James has
lived in Toronto for, God, nearly 40 years. Sorry, my
Uncle Ronald. My Uncle James lives in New York. My
Uncle Ronald has lived in Florida [sic] for 40 years.
It's horseshit. What I said that night was after the
plane crash, which nobody was hurt in, by the way. So
I mentioned it and I poked some fun about, you know.
It was bullshit. But the idea that there was this
great uproar and that I somehow had some anti-Canadian
bias is just bollocks. The fuckin' Scots built Canada.
Don't give me this crap.

GM: (laughs) Okay. That's good to clear it up because
with Wikipedia, some people swear by it and others...
CF: Wikipedia is an unedited... It's the bathroom
wall, Wikipedia. People can write on it anything they

GM: Yeah. But they say that it's self-correcting so if
somebody puts something wrong on it...
CF: Well, I'll fucking correct them then. It's
garbage. And also I remember them saying in it I had
to apologize to the people of Canada. I have never
apologized to the people of Canada because I had
nothing to apologize for.

GM: I suppose your ratings are just as good here.
CF: I don't know what the ratings are like in Canada.

GM: I guess a test will be when you go to Montreal and
CF: Yeah.

GM: Have you been to Vancouver before?
CF: Many times. Actually, I was in Vancouver when I
found out I had this job.

GM: The TV job.
CF: Yeah. I was at the Sutton Place Hotel. I was doing
a TV show for ABC and I got a phone call saying I got
this job and I headed straight back to L.A.

GM: Have you ever done standup here?
CF: Never done standup in Vancouver.

GM: Just coming in for the day?
CF: I'll be in for the weekend. I like Vancouver so
I'm going to stay for the weekend.

GM: I hope the weather's good for you.
CF: Well, you never know but that's the northwest,
isn't it?

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