Josh Robert Thompson and Craig Ferguson
It has been a bad week for innovative television, with Stephen Colbert’s The Colbert Report
ending Thursday and The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson
ending Friday. Of course, we have not seen the last of these men. Although Colbert will leave behind his Colbert Report
persona, he will be taking over for David Letterman. And we can only hope that we will be seeing more of Craig Ferguson, who for now continues to host the weekly syndicated game show, Celebrity Name Game
, and to do a stand-up tour.
I have felt a special pop-culture bond with Colbert for some time. About a year before he began his run on The Colbert Report, I went with a friend to a taping of The Daily Show. At first, the audience was disappointed to learn that Jon Stewart was taking a rare night off, but Stephen Colbert filled in for Stewart well, foreshadowing that he would one day have his own show. At one point during a commercial break, Colbert was goofing around and leaned against his desk with his arms in the air playing to the studio audience, “I’m Ultraman!” Nobody laughed but me, and he nodded at me saying, “We’re the only ones who know who Ultraman is?” as I nodded back. As a kid, inspired by the Japanese television series on my Midwestern black and white TV, I used to pretend I was Ultraman as I played in my backyard. In the New York City studio, though, I found joy in discovering a connection so far away from my childhood home.
This week, Colbert ended The Colbert Report with an over-the-top final episode. It was funny and illustrated his numerous big-name connections. Check out the farewell of “We’ll Meet Again” with numerous celebrity cameos, starting at around the 1:10 mark in the video below (although Colbert actually ended the show with another song, “Holland, 1945” by Neutral Milk Hotel, playing over the final credits, apparently in a nod to his family).
Craig Ferguson’s final week on his show, which also began in 2005, has been relatively relaxed, hip, and low-key, consistent with his approach in the late-night spot. Still, he gave us several treats this week, such as an introduction to Josh Robert Thompson, the man behind the remotely controlled skeleton Geoff Peterson (see video at end of post).
Whereas The Colbert Report seemed so much a product of our time with its satire of cable TV politics, Ferguson’s show has always been simultaneously cutting toward the future and the past. Kids liked him, but so did my mom. Ferguson’s rejection of late-night norms has been innovative, even as his show with a talking skeleton sidekick and other outrageous antics nodded to a past of Ernie Kovacs, Sid Caesar, and Imogene Coca.
Ferguson was refreshing for the way he seemed less connected to our modern celebrity-driven media, even while interviewing celebrities. Like Colbert, his final episode also featured a song with celebrity cameos, using the quirky choice of “Bang Your Drum,” a song about carving your own path by Scottish band Dead Man Fall (see video above, which begins as a music video and ends with Ferguson performing with a band and choir).
Like a real late-night conversation in your home or dorm, Ferguson’s interviews with a guest could easily slip into an insightful discussion of famous painters or philosophers while still being funny. His monologues could touch on honest personal experiences as his did when he famously discussed his own alcoholism. In one of his great interviews, Dr. Cornel West told Ferguson, “You have a spirituality in your honesty.” So, it does not surprise me to hear that Ferguson recently explained how a conversation with Desmond Tutu affected the way he is leaving The Late Late Show.
We live in a crazy time where computer hackers can undermine a movie and where a former vice president gets air time to defend the practice of torture, so we desperately need the satirists like Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. I will miss The Colbert Report, even as I play my DVD of the show’s Christmas special.
But I will miss Ferguson’s nightly show even more. Most nights, I could not stay up late enough to watch The Late Late Show, so I actually saw Ferguson less often than the earlier Colbert Report. But on nights when I could not sleep, because of a thunderstorm, loneliness, anger, despair, overwork, or too much caffeine, I found comfort in Ferguson’s honesty and goofiness, providing us something real and direct while our troubles kept us awake.
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