What, I inquire, is Craig Ferguson doing in Ayrshire. “I live here,” he says. He likes Ayrshire. “My grandpa had a caravan down here and I used to come here as a kid.”
I frantically scribble out my questions regarding how it feels to come back to his native land after more than two decades away. “The thing is, I left here publicly, but privately, I’ve always been here. I just stopped working.” The longest he has been away from Scotland, since going to LA in 1994, has been ten months.
Having said that, in 2008, he took American citizenship. “My kids are American, my wife is American… my life has been American.” The accent, however, is still recognisably Cumbernauld.
Ferguson always wanted to be “a drummer in a really good band. But whenever I was in a band it just seemed to turn out not to be… a very good band”. Specifically, he wanted to be in a band with Shirley Manson (didn’t we all?) who was at the time with Goodbye Mr Mackenzie. “We still talk wistfully talk about it,” he says, “She lives near me in LA.”
Ferguson’s stint on the skins with Glasgow band The Bastards From Hell (later radically rebranded as The Dreamboys) resulted in a friendship with the lead singing Bastard, Peter Capaldi, and the push to try comedy.
Over and above all his other successes, it is stand-up that is his enduring love. “I’ll do it as long as they let me,” he says. His early gigs were spent as Bing Hitler, famously foul-mouthed folkie, but when the Real Craig Ferguson did Stand-Up he rarely sat down again and since the late 2000s has grabbed most of the US and Canada by its laughing bits and not let go. His fourth TV comedy special is on its way and he even has a Comedy Grammy nomination. The man is funny.
Apart from which, he is an award-winning film writer and director, successful author, Emmy Award-winning game show host, sometime voice of Susan the Boil and actor. “Yes… the acting... ‘sawright,” he says, of an extraordinary career that has spanned everything from Oscar in The Odd Couple onstage at the 1994 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, through The Drew Carey Show, The Rocky Horror Show, a slew of movies, more comedy cameos than a Victorian spinster’s jewellery box and an on-screen partnership with Betty White. “Put on this, stand over there, pretend to be someone else,” he explains, in what must be the quintessential encapsulation of the actor’s job.
And then there was the Late Late Show.
How did he come to take late night American TV by storm ?
“I don’t know about by storm,” he says. “It was more like a persistent cold front that wouldn’t go away.”
The show was produced by David Letterman’s company. “It was two hours of late night television, handed over by the network for David Letterman to play with and that will never happen again in American television. I wasn’t really working for CBS, I kinda worked for Dave, but not really because he wasnae paying much attention,” says Ferguson of the all-important administrative aspects of the series. The climb into the Late Late chair was made in the public eye. The multiple Execs “had a wee kinda American Idol thing and made everyone audition on the telly… an’ I suppose… I won,” he says.
Was it a dream come true ? “Being a late night TV host is like being a real estate agent” he says. “It’s not really anyone’s first choice”. But he took the Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson to unprecedented ratings in the timeslot and even won it a Peabody Award for his interview with Desmond Tutu.
He handed over the chair to James Corden at the end of 2014 and, although he loved it, does not really miss it. “It was about as loose as you get on late night TV but there was still a sort of institutionalised mindset that I developed,” he says. The whole “don’t frighten the sponsors” thing never sat easily with his style.
The current comedy climate doesn’t sit that well with it either. “It seems to me that the mindset of the day is that if you disagree with what someone thinks, you get called a f***ing Nazi,” he says. Flying in the face of the alternative comedy establishment, he thinks Trump has been very bad for comedy. “Everyone is going to the same f***ing well for the same f***ing jokes,” he spits, “talk about something else for God’s sake!” He does, as it happens.
Ferguson’s stand-up is, he says “anecdotal, observational, autobiographical… personal. And I am going to keep doing it like that. There is such a sense of ‘worthiness’ about a lot of today’s comedy, y’know, you’ve got to be doing material about this or that. You should do a joke – any joke – if it is a good joke. Not hateful, not misogynistic… just funny.”
It is not just today’s comics that give him gyp. “Everybody is an expert in comedy now,” he says. The endlessly vicious baying of social media critics irritates him. “I am not a fan of improvised jazz,” he says, “but I am not going to say that Thelonius Monk isn’t a musician… he is just not the sort of musician I want to hear.” I warn him that there is a lot of it about at the Fringe. He laughs bleakly. “Twenty-three years ago I did a bit in my act about how theatre gets reviewed by theatre critics but put yourself in the comedy section and you could get the fishing correspondent reviewing your act.”
But still, he is coming. I am delighted to hear The Craig Ferguson Show will be rocking the Gilded Balloon’s Rose Street Theatre, which seats about 200 people, he thinks. “I didn’t want to make a big to-do about it,” he says of his return. “I never planned to stay away as long as I did, but August is a big time for TV in America.”
The two-hour show will be broadcast live from Edinburgh, to the States. He is loving the freedom of the radio show which he says, drily, is done “with a certain amount of humour”. It is on for just ten nights. “I’m getting on a bit,” says Ferguson, “I can’t be doing a month of staying up that late.”
To say nothing of the fact that he is about to shoot a new TV comedy over here. But we have to say nothing because “if I told you they’d get all angry with me”. And he seems like such a great bloke that I couldn’t bear that. So if you fancy seeing what became of Bing Hitler when he grew up, I’d book now. But be aware, there will be “a certain amount of humour”. But no industry-standard Donald Trump jokes.
lThe Craig Ferguson Show is at Gilded Balloon at Rose Theatre, until 18 August, 10:45pm.