In the six years since Craig Ferguson took over “The Late, Late Show,” he has taken the night-time audience by storm — setting all-time viewer records and achieving some of the highest ratings since the show hit the air.
But for a guy who has plenty to brag about, you won’t hear one shred of arrogance from this Scot.
While he’s mostly known for his hilarious banter and funny one-liners, Ferguson has his limits. Over the course of his show, he’s made it clear that comedy has its place in certain situations but should be off limits in others. Most recently, Ferguson pulled the plug on jokes about Charlie Sheen, comparing it to the somewhat heartless ancient history where the public would pay a penny to watch mental patients.
In a similar fashion, he skirted past jokes on Miss Britney Spears when she was the Hollywood story of the hour because he said he wanted to do television that he could be proud of. Poking fun at Spears’ public breakdown wasn’t something that would fit that category.
Perhaps those are strange examples but after talking with Ferguson briefly before his big set of shows at Mystic Lake Casino, I found these to be the best ways to explain the kind of person he is — genuine, respectable and a true original.
Before he takes the Minnesota stage, Ferguson was kind enough to discuss just about everything with me — from his recent Anthrax scare to his life-long love of science.
Q: So I guess let’s start with the somewhat crazy news of late, the little anthrax scare you had at your studios. What was that like?
A: Well, it was sent from France, I think, the letter. It was opened by a couple of interns. Yeah, well ya know, the interns are easily replaced. But yeah, they opened it up and said, ‘I think this is Anthrax’ or something. But it was cornstarch. I guess it was someone who wasn’t a fan. It was from another country, I think it was someone from Belgium. The rumor was that there was a return address posted on it but I don’t know if that’s true. But it was really cornstarch, so the soups around here are actually rich and creamy. It’s done wonders for my soup.
Q: Also somewhat recently, Kathy Griffin was on the show discussing her thoughts on our Minnesota politician, Michele Bachmann — what are your thoughts on the Bachmann clan?
A:Oh, it’s none of my business, you guys just go ahead and do what you gotta do. I’m just a vulgar entertainer, I don’t feel I need to comment at the moment. If they get any power than they become targets, I feel for politicians. For any politician, until they have any power, they’re just another douche bag in the media, I suppose. I’ll wait for if and when they become legitimate targets, I feel.
Q: On a recent show, William Shatner decided to take you for a spin, literally. What was it like to be ridden like a horse by Shatner?
A: Oh, it was a lifelong dream. You know, it was at that point, just as Bill was riding me up and down the studio, I thought, ‘This isn’t what I had in mind when I was watching (Captain) Kirk as a child.’ I didn’t think, one day that chubby Canadian will sit on my back and have a good time, I didn’t think that.
Q: So did you know that was going to happen beforehand?
A: Oh no, I never know any of this stuff is going to happen on the show. We don’t rehearse, that’s painfully obvious most nights but yeah, I didn’t know it was going to happen, I don’t think Bill knew it was going to happen. It just happens.
Q: “The Late, Late Show” has been highly successful since you took over in 2005. So what’s your secret to ruling the late-night crowd?
A: Uh, I think if I have a secret it eludes me, it’s even a secret to me. I don’t pay much attention to what’s going on outside the show that we do here, so I don’t really consider myself part of that gang — that late-night thing. I just do a show. I honestly don’t. I don’t think what we do … it’s been a long time since I’ve watched even this show but I haven’t watched any late night shows in a long time but from what I remember, we pay lip service to be on a late night show but I don’t know how much of it we really are.
Q: In your time on the show, who has been your favorite or most-memorable interview?
A: Well, there’s been a few. Desmond Tutu is kind of hard to beat. And I’m always happy when Betty White is here, you know, or some of the bigger movie stars — it’s kind of surprising to see someone that famous up close, but other than that, no, you know, it’s a gig. You talk to people and try to be nice to them. You know, it’s kind of like I have a diner. They come through, you know, and order whatever they want to order and I be nice to them, give them a bill and send them on their way.
Q: What has surprised you about this job and having your own show?
A: I think I’m surprised to find I have my own show. I’m constantly surprised by that. It’s very surprising sometimes to walk through the office and see my name on a letterhead. That’s surprising. Or on a sign. That never really goes away too much. That always is surprising. But other than that, I mean no, we’ve been doing this for a long time now. I think we’ve done 1,500 or 1,600 of these things so it’s a job. It becomes a job — some days are great, some days you just get through.
Q: So you’ll be reprising your role in “How To Train Your Dragon 2,” right? Have you guys started working on that?
A: The sequel to that comes out in, I think, 2014, but yeah, we started work on it already. It’s fun. I like doing it. It’s an easy way to work. You’re voice only, so when you turn up to do the voice in the studio, you don’t have to shave or even wear pants. You just go as you are and no visual preparation whatsoever.
Q: Moving on to your show coming up at Mystic Lake. Have you been to Minnesota before?
A: I have, I think. Um, let me see. I’ve, of course, been to Minneapolis. I’ve played Minneapolis a couple of times. I think Minneapolis is the only time I’ve played in Minnesota.
Q: What can ‘Late, Late Show’ fans expect from your live show?
A: Um, I don’t know. I don’t rehearse too much. More cussing, less robots. (Laughs)
Q: Speaking of robots, kind of, your fans know quite well that you have a love of science and science fiction. Where does that stem from?
A: When I was a kid, I think. I was 7 years old when the moon landing happened. So all of that kind of great surge and belief in science is the way forward in the late 60s and early 70s was when I was in a very formative part of my childhood. Also, you know, I loved that BBC show “Dr. Who,” we all did when we were kids in Britain. So that kind of fed a love for it too.
Q: And you’ve even had a few tributes to “Dr. Who” on your show.
A: Yeah, I like it. I have fun with that. It’s something that I enjoy doing, I get a genuine pleasure of being associated with it even.
Q: I’m sure that’s part of the fun of having your own show — you get to do whatever you want, really.
A: Yeah, you can do whatever the hell you like. It’s a great luxury, I mean, within certain parameters but yeah, you get to play around with what you really want to do.
Q: So looking forward then, is there anything that you haven’t done yet that you’d like to do?
A: If I could answer that question, I would do it on the show tonight. That’s kind of how I do it. If I think of something I want to do, we go and do it. It’ll come up, I’m sure. I hope it comes up because we’re taping the show in about two hours. So I better get thinking of something.
Craig Ferguson will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24 and Sunday, Sept. 25 at Mystic Lake Casino. Saturday’s show is sold out but tickets are still available for Sunday night’s show. For ticket information, go to Mystic Lake’s website. Catch Craig Ferguson on The Late, Late Show, weeknights at 11:35 p.m. on WCCO, Channel 4.