Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Craig's Contract with his Audience

Only a few days remain until "The Late Late Show" is no longer hosted by Craig Ferguson. It's been a great ride. I've written posts that contain some of my favorite things from the show. What I want to point out today isn't the bust your gut funny moments, but those moments he made it real. That's one of the things that made Craig's tenure with the show so very special. Perhaps it was the main thing because it enabled because it enabled Craig to connect with his audience on a deeper level using his own feelings on a national or personal tragedy. It was cathartic for both host and audience.

Again, in no particular order, are ten examples.

This is the first monologue that I saw that Craig opened up about something troubling and it turned out to be a fantastic mix of humor and social slapdown. It's when I truly realized how special this show was with him at the helm.

David Letterman's production company, World Wide Pants, is the company that produces "The Late Late Show" which follows his own "The Late Show with David Letterman" every night. In 2009 news broke of Letterman's affairs with various female staffers over the years. As Craig himself says, this left him in a very difficult position since it was his job to comment on the news of the day.

This is just for fun. Apparently there was a power outage during the taping of his show. What do you do when a power outage occurs during the taping of your monologue? You take a few nips at the hand that barely feeds you.

Craig shared a lot with his audience. A lot.

I mean, a lot!

Five years after 9/11, an immigrant, two years shy of his U.S. citizenship, shared his memories of that horrible day. 

On July 20, 2012, a man went into a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. and shot 82 people, killing 12 of them. Two years ago an some change, we were still horrified by such an event (sadly I fear we've become a bit too accustomed to it now). A pre-recorded show of "The Late Late Show," including jokes about "The Dark Knight" (The film being shown when the event occurred) was scheduled to run, leaving Craig and his staff in a dilemma. So he decided to tape a new opening to the show that would address the shooting (and in fact his dilemma). It's the sort of sincerity that made his show so special.

And in a companion piece: On April 15, 2013 two pressure cooker bombs went off during the Boston Marathon. It was a horrific and cowardly act that left everyone shaken. Craig presents that confusion and anger perfectly.

Craig's mother and father had been on his show, his mother partaking in a particularly charming bit in which she went shopping with RZA of Wu Tan Clan. When his mother died, as he so often does, Craig shared his feelings with his audience. And he almost made it through without breaking.

Of course two years prior to the send off for his mother, fresh from the funeral, he spoke about his father's death. (The show that night actually became a wake for his father).

And of course honorable, and sad, mention belongs to his announcement that Craig would be giving up the reigns of "The Late Late Show."

Whether it was joy, frustration or grief, what you got with Craig Ferguson was an honesty and wit that couldn't be contained on a cue card. It was indeed his contract with the audience.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Let's Get This Party Started

I'm not quite sure when the puppet cold openings on The Late Late Show morphed into the spectacular lip synching numbers but I suppose it was inevitable in an ever evolving show. As I showed in the previous post the lip synching seemed to start with the puppets. A yodaling monkey, an acid rock wolf, a dinosaur and shark singing "Rain Drops Keep Fallin' On My Head." It was ridiculous and fantastic all at the same time. Eventually, with the help of a talented and playful staff, Craig Ferguson transformed this show opening featuring puppets into musical numbers that helped pump up the audience even more.

The numbers are remarkably notable when you consider the space in which they had to stage them. Some have quite a lot of choreography to them.

Again, in no particular order, here are ten of my favorite musical openings from The Late Late Show.

"Fireball XL5" was a children's show created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson of Supermarionation fame which Ferguson very likely grew up watching in Scotland ("Fireball XL5" actually did run on NBC on Saturday mornings in the U.S. from 1963-65). It had a curiously poppy closing song considering its science fiction theme that lends itself perfectly to a bit on the Late Late Show.

The Village People's "In the Navy" is a song screaming out for a good lip synching and Craig and his crew are just the folk to provide it.


"Look Out There's a Monster Coming" is a catchy little tune that can be found on the album 1967 "Gorilla" by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (one of its members, Neil Innes, would go on to write the fantastic songs to be found in the Beatles-parody band The Rutles). And it's nice to see Geoff Peterson get in on the act.

The Late Late Show's take on "White Lines" (covered by Duran Duran) is one of those numbers that definitely cemented the party aspect of the cold openings.

I think "Wonderful Night" was the first lip synching bit that I saw and it only increased my affection for this show.


It's only fitting that when Craig took the show to Scotland, his country of birth, the opening would need to be big. Add an awesome TARDIS effect and you have a rockin' cold opening.

And when in France:

"Over At The Frankenstein Place" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" was one of the more elaborate cold opens and it works excellently.

This next one is one of my favorites featuring a cover of "Istanbul" by one of my favorite bands, They Might Be Giants.

As a "Doctor Who" fan like Craig himself, this last one is probably the penultimate cold open for me. It didn't, however, actually open the show when it was broadcast since at the last minute it was discovered that they couldn't get the rights to the "Doctor Who" theme music. What was filmed was a practice run-through that Craig, none the less, winkingly encouraged should somehow make its way onto YouTube. And so it did. Brightening the lives of every Whovian out there.

These are the things that made The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, despite the late hour, such a joy to tune in. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Craig Ferguson's Puppets

In my last post, I told you about my sadness at Craig Ferguson's imminent departure from the Late Late Show. Tuning into the show every night was like stumbling on an open house party at a neighbor's house, and late night will sorely miss that energy.

I would like to illustrate why I love this show with a few Top Ten lists (borrowing, of course, a concept from another show).

Borrowing a concept from another show, I would like to illustrate why I love this show so much using a few Top Ten Lists (although the the entries are in no particular order). To begin with here, are ten of my favorite cold openings featuring Craig's cast of hand puppets (a cast that seemed to grow as the concept went on):

So one night I tune into The Late Late Show and opening the show, I see a white rabbit puppet talking to the camera in squeaky cockney, an empty set behind him. I think that's when I officially realized that the party had begun. As much as I enjoyed the sketches written for the show (a particular favorite was Michael Caine at Hogwarts), there was something so audacious about a host opening his network show with only a white rabbit hand puppet talking to the audience (Craig doing the puppet's cartoon voice) that I was spellbound. And when he did it again and again (with a monkey, or a unicorn, or a puppet he referred to as a crocodile/alligator) I was a goner. 

Kronos, King of the Monkey People, is another puppet that has made a number of appearances on the show. With his firm, booming voice he professes to being on the verge of taking over the planet. The adorable elevator operator outfit (or is he a bellhop) he wears, however, makes it hard to believe that he'll succeed in these plans.

Kronos made an appearance in a rare multi-puppet opening bit featuring a dinosaur and a shark singing "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" before they started a toothy make-out session. 

I mean, come on!! What other show offered that?

Another toothy denizen of the Late Late Show puppet brigade is Wavy the crocodile/alligator. Fresh from the bayou, he apparently has an English cousin whose longer torso is perfect for High Def.

Wavy not only has an English cousin, but also has an English girlfriend, who he introduced to the audience. She seems a shy, retiring type, though I suppose one would be when dating a crocodile/alligator. (This is one of my favorite bits)

In what seemed like a shark week of his very own, Craig was having relationship problems with his shark. Breaking up is hard to do, especially with a shark.

But it turns out, that the shark has quite a personality.

The lip synching to songs became more elaborate as time went on and began to incorporate staffmembers, but there's something so right about puppets "lip" synching.

And speaking of elaborate, here's a little unicorn joined by friends to sing "The Lonely Goatherd."

Not to be outdone, however, is Kronos, King of the Monkey People, a monkey of many talents.

As an honorable mention, it seems only fair that Craig should have a puppet all his own.

There are any number of other puppet bits floating around out there on YouTube and I highly recommend an hour of surfing.

My next post will discuss the more elaborate cold open lip synching.