Comedians like to use bad words. Late night talk show hosts don’t. They are not supposed to because the people who pay them get very mad at them if they do. Craig Ferguson is a late night talk show host. The person who pays him is David Letterman, who is paid by CBS. So when Craig says a bad word on CBS they put a flag over his mouth and a recording of ooh-la-la to cover up the offending vocabulary.
It is harder and harder to understand the standards and practices that deal with offensive material on the old boob tube. Over the years attempts have been made to mold these rules to conform to community standards. That is where the problem comes in. What are community standards anymore? They certainly are not what they were 20 years ago…or 50 years ago. Yet sometimes attempts are made to take a stand. Just recently a national group took credit for the cancellation of the NBC show The Playboy Club. Was it any worse than dozens of other shows on the air? No, probably not, but it was an easy target. Parents have always hated Hugh Hefner for reducing the moral standards of the country, so it was time for payback.
So Craig Ferguson has a Comedy Central concert special, and it is now available for our enjoyment. We still have a problem. Comedy Central is on basic cable. Basic cable has restrictions as well. If you want to hear bad words, you have to pay extra. You can get any kind of filthy on cable, but you have to pay more the dirtier it is, but on basic cable you are not paying extra, so you don’t get to see it all.
Back to Craig and his Comedy Central special; you are not going to be able to hear it all. It is now on DVD and you pay for it, so now you can hear it all. Craig wants to use all the vocabulary, but especially the ones he is discouraged from using on CBS. One word in particular that starts with F gets a particular workout. People use that word because it is so useful. It expresses so many things. One of those things is anger, and Craig is very angry in his cute Scottish kind of way. In fact, I don’t think Craig is that angry. I think he’s over it, but he knows the rest of us are and he wants to help us work it out. He likes to entertain. He likes to shoot from the hip. He likes to cut loose. He wants to do everything he can’t do in his normal day job (make that night job). He doesn’t tell jokes. He just riffs, which makes sense because that’s how he started his long career. He started playing in punk bands when he was a young teen (and other kinds of music he is less proud of). Most of us probably first became aware of him as Drew Carey’s angry stupid boss on The Drew Carey Show. Now he’s on Late Late Night (which is defined as 12:30 AM) after David Letterman. Late night TV has gone through some strange mutations over the years since Johnny Carson ruled with The Tonight Show. I will not try to go through the history of late night, but I will name the people involved in a version of musical chairs over the last ten years. They would be Jay Leno, David Letterman, Tom Snyder, Conan O’Brien, Jon Stewart, Craig Kilborn, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, George Lopez and Greg Kinnear. The deck got shuffled, and some of the cards got lost. Craig Ferguson is a card and one of 7 jokers currently still around. Ferguson seems to be the one who seems most ill at ease with his position, almost contemptuous. A lot of that contempt comes out in this DVD, but there is always a sly, impish, bad-little-boy grin on his face.
Fans of his show can expect that he will be naughty and rude while still being almost polite and pleasant about it. The real issues become the F-words and how many times they are used. Otherwise it is not too much different than an extended version of one of his free-form monologues that he is well known for and has won awards for such as the Peabody.. His ratings are frequently good enough to have beaten his various competitors such as Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Fallon. I wasn’t going to mention the late night wars but the similarities to Conan are striking. Conan was promised the move to 11:30 and The Tonight Show. It happened and then it unhappened, which led to Conan doing his own concert tour which was somewhat more angry. It is very possible Ferguson will move to 11:30 someday when Dave retires, but I don’t think Craig cares. He gives the impression of a carefree happy guy who knows that his current success is a complete lark. His DVD concert may be angry, but only because he knows that’s what people like. I pretty sure he’s actually very happy.