Craig Ferguson is proud to be an American. The Scottish-born comedian and host of The Late Late Show has only been a U.S. citizen for a year and a half, but he has belonged here all his life. His new memoir, American on Purpose details Fergson's long, tumultuous, occasionally unrequited love affair with the country he now calls home. The affable talk show host writes honestly about America, Scotland, alcoholism and love. It's all there, even the part about killer ducks. That's right, killer ducks.
Your childhood in Scotland sounded very dreary and sort of Oliver Twist-y. You say that kids formed gangs based on whether they were Protestant or Catholic. Basically, teenagers fought each other over obscure 17th century religious issues. Did they have any idea what they were fighting about?
No, I don't think people who are involved in sectarian violence are theologians. It was just about gang colors.
You tried to explain your alcoholism by saying that if you could drink normally, you wouldn't do it at all. What did you mean by that?
The idea of having one or two drinks bores the ass out of me. If I'm going to drink, I'm going to do it to get drunk. If I'm not going to get drunk, I'm just not going to drink. It's hard to explain. That isn't necessarily what alcoholism is, I just tried to explain it as it manifested itself in me.
So how is it now that you're sober?
I remember talking to someone early on after I was sober about how I suddenly felt awkward at parties. They said, "Well, you're supposed to. Everyone feels awkward at parties." It's an appropriate feeling to feel.
Do you still feel awkward at parties?
Oh sure! Don't you?
Yeah, but that's a personal problem.
Well alcoholism is like a personal problem. My tip is to always walk into the kitchen if there is one. There's stuff going on in there, it gives you something to do.
Can you tell me about the time you took acid and saw killer ducks?
Have you ever taken acid?
I have not.
Well, it's kind of odd. You kind of know you're imagining things but at the same time you kind of don't. I was walking through a park, high on acid, and there were these killer ducks after me. I can't prove it, but it sure felt like I was being followed by them. It was terrifying. It was one of the more bizarre and unhinged moments in my life. I got away though. They didn't get me.
I'm going to switch gears a little bit and ask about The Late Late Show. You write that your producer told you your laugh was too creepy and to stop laughing so much.
He did. I'm not aware of having a creepy laugh, but apparently I do. I think at the beginning I had a nervous laugh. I was trying to appear more relaxed than I was and it manifested itself in some sort of Dracula chortle. I don't do it anymore, at least I hope not, ha ha.
You're not nervous at all on your show?
I've done so many shows that I just got used to it. We're coming up on a thousand shows. It gets to be routine and now sometimes it's the most relaxing part of the day.
When you auditioned for The Late Late Show, the producers told you that they loved the way you actually held conversations with the guests.
Yeah, apparently no one does that anymore. Instead, publicists work out what we'll say and who's gonna ask what. I'll ask you, "Oh you bought a house?" And you say, "Yeah I just moved and I got a dog." And I'll say "Tell me about the dog, is it named Spunky?" And you'll say "Yeah, Spunky!" I don't do that.
That must make it dangerous depending on the guest.
Absolutely. But it's not literally dangerous in a real sense. It's not Deadliest Catch or anything. It's just that somebody may get embarrassed. It's pretty much dead set that someone is going to be embarrassed by the end of the show. And if someone really clams up, I just keep talking. I try and help them. It doesn't happen as often as you think cause if you make people comfortable they tend to open up a little bit.
Will there ever be a late night host as big as Johnny Carson?
I don't know, TV is so fractured these days. When Johnny was on the air there were only three or four networks. Now there are hundreds of choices with lots of guys doing the same thing.
I'm certainly not a student of late night television. I don't really understand it, I just do my own show. I get up and just rant about whatever turned up that day. It's the beauty and curse of doing a daily show. Some days you've got nothing to talk about and other days Dick Cheney shoots his lawyer in the face and everyone is happy.
You describe doing stand-up for the first time and it sounds like an absolutely horrible experience. How are you drawn to something that also at the same time makes you so terrified?
I think you have to talk to Dostoevsky or Carl Jung or someone more qualified for that answer. I don't know. Maybe because it's a challenge? Maybe it's some kind of low level search for grace? Why do people do things that they fear? It may be that the fear contains information. Something can be interesting if you get to the other side of that fear. And the first time you make people laugh? Oh, that is fun. That's a rush.