Craig Ferguson was never the greatest talk show host around, in spite of the nine years he spent doing just that on The Late, Late Show. He got by through a mixture of sheer will, silliness, moments of unblinking honesty, and a genuine curiosity about the world. Well, that and he turned the charm up to 11 whenever a comely female guest was seated next to him.
It stands to reason then that his stand-up comedy would have the same loose-limbed, borderline over the top feeling to it. The sort where he can and does get away with saying some pretty raunchy things, like “Can I kiss you where it stinks, and I don’t mean Cleveland?” and you’re still charmed by him. Just listen in Just Being Honest, his fourth comedy special, for the reaction of the many older women in the audience. No matter how blue he gets, they are with him every step of the way.
As with almost all of his humor, Ferguson himself is the butt of the jokes (pun fully intended). That line I referenced above came courtesy of a German man who hit on the Scotsman when he was visiting New York for the first time and happened into a gay bar. All of the material about getting old and having a face that looks like a scrotum, or getting a camera sent up your rear to get your colon checked out…that’s Ferguson referring to his balls as “two prunes lost in the fog” and stoned on prescription meds as he marvels at a film of his lower GI system.
The principled man that he is, when the 53-year-old comic throws some outbound jabs, he punches up. The longest set piece of the night recounts his experience working with Mick Jagger on an unproduced screenplay, which entailed Ferguson following the Rolling Stones around on their Bridges To Babylon tour for about a year.
Through the comic’s lens, Jagger has an easily bruised ego, small hands, and a lifelong fear of his songwriting partner; Charlie Watts is a drumming space cadet, and Keith Richards is a terrifying working class bloke who wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire. Through it all, Ferguson stumbles and bumbles like a buffoon, while trying to please his benefactor with a dark script that winds up with a lead character that is a serial killer with Tourette’s. It’s a great story that you wish could be padded out with more detail as a memoir or biopic.
Just Being Honest is as shaggy and unkempt as every one of Ferguson’s stand-up specials before it, and his discursive Late, Late Show monologues and interviews. Through the hour, he gets distracted by the audience, the shoddy spotlight operator, and his own wandering mind. Yet, again, his Scottish charm and wiggly body keep you rapt and giggling and skipping behind his every twist and turn.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.