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"Dangerously Funny" Week: What a Whirlwind, Part 2: Ferguson and Skirball
December 4, 2009  | By David Bianculli

late-late-show-w-craig-ferg.jpgI'm here in Los Angeles, and I survived. Thursday night I gave my first public reading lecture for Dangerously Funny, at the Skirball Cultural Center -- and also taped my appearance on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, which will be shown Friday night (early Saturday) at 12:35 a.m. ET on CBS.

As today's BEST BETS describes it: "SEE the author of Dangerously Funny on tonight's Ferguson show! WATCH as he's too afraid to look at the audience! GASP as he freezes, and hems and haws, like Ralph Kramden on 'The $99,000 Answer'!...

$99,000_Answer_screenshot.jpgI was absurdly nervous and apprehensive about going on Ferguson, even though I knew I was totally among friends. To their credit, everyone involved with the show coddled me, like the TV equivalent of Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, and held-held me at every step, up to the point when I was waiting in the wings, just offstage, for the previous guest, Emily Blunt, to walk off, and for my turn to enter.


I could have chatted with Emily Blunt, star of The Devil Wears Prada and the new The Young Victoria, beforehand in the Green Room, but I stayed in my own dressing room area instead. I was nervous enough, without having to fumble through small talk with a gorgeous and talented actress. All I wanted to do was avoid anything that would make me more nervous, including, at that moment, beautiful British women.

And that approach might have worked, except for Craig Ferguson himself. After Emily left, but just before he introduced me to the audience, Craig snuck to my edge of the studio and said, with a mock-villainous affect, a raised eyebrow and a playful sneer, "So, at last we meet on the field of battle." Or something like that. The whole thing's pretty much of a blur.

I do remember admitting, right from the outset, that TV critics should be watching TV, not on it, and that I couldn't even LOOK at the audience. I remember, when asked what shows I hated, offering up Jay Leno -- so don't look for me on THAT show soon. As in ever. And I remember Craig being really, really nice, and playful, and pulling me through the whole thing.


And, at some point, getting to see Wavy the Crocodile or Alligator up close. That's Wavy with David Duchovny at left, from an earlier show.

(Wavy, Craig's most popular hand puppet, doesn't know which one he is. I could have told him, but, on national TV wasn't about to. I used to cook a lot of exotic meats: alligator tastes like chicken, and crocodile tastes like conch or calimari. I don't expect Wavy would have appreciated the taste-test ID option.)

The pre-taping ended at 7, and I was supposed to speak, across town, at the Skirball Cultural Center at 7:30. In Los Angeles traffic, at rush hour. My magician of a driver, snaking through empty streets in Beverly Hills I never knew existed, somehow got us there at 7:35, and I rushed to the stage -- still wearing makeup from, and shaken by, the Late Late Show appearance -- and gave a 90-minute lecture on the Smothers Brothers.


The audience was attentive and supportive, and the setup felt very much like one of my lecture-hall classes at Rowan University, so I instantly felt comfortable, and on solid ground. I think it went well, I signed a bunch of books afterward, and people who came to see me included Ken Fritz (one of the Smothers Brothers' managers and producers, and a key interview for my book), Paul Brownstein (producer of the new, and fabulous, Time Life DVD Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour sets), and my son, Mark, who lives in Los Angeles.

The Skirball folks, like the Late Late Show crew, couldn't have been nicer. Thanks to all, really, truly. And now, for the weekend, I get to take a breather, and steel for the reviews. (Damned critics.)

People magazine's Caroline Leavitt, in the Dec. 14 issue, just gave it 3 1/2 stars, and called it "a stunningly alive portrait of the '60s." That's a great start...




Angela said:

You're a hero in my book! (Pun!) I fear being the center of attention more than death.
I can't imagine what it feels like to work on a project for 15 years and see it finally completed. And then to have all hell break loose because the wheels you set in motion 15 years ago, start turning really, really fast! I'm full of admiration.

Keep us posted on the Amazon rankings. Did you ever think that it would do so well? Hm...that might not sound right. I know you don't put 15 years into something unless you truly believe in it, but it sure is impressive that's it's climbed so far up the charts!

I will live vicariously through you while you keep us all posted on what it's like to become a well known author! That is so cool!

[Angela, I don't know you, but I think I love you. Let me know if you still want to live vicariously through me after tonight's Ferguson appearance. If so, you'll have to die vicarously through me as well. - David B.]

Comment posted on December 4, 2009 7:43 PM

Sally W. said:

Your appearance on Craig Ferguson's show was impressive! I can empathize how nerve-wracking it must have been.

I do wonder: how often would a tv critic be on tv? (to be on the medium that you critique - kind of mind-boggling, isn't it?). I do recall when Charlie Rose hosted a whole panel of tv critics (like Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly and Matt Roush of TV Guide) to discuss a season - possibly the most recent tv strike season; but to be on a network talk show - that really is something different entirely! I also loved the cameo of the puppet, too - that kind of funny spontaneity is what makes Craig Ferguson's show a great watch.

[My nerves weren't the only things wracked, I'll tell you. And this is one piece of TV I won't be able to evaluate with any sense of objectivity, or clarity, for years. But I lived, and my Ferguson friends are still talking to me. So for the next few days, I'll try to process... -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 5, 2009 1:46 AM

hoppy said:

Caught your Late Late Show appearance.

Upon seeing himself on TV, Rod Serling described himself as looking like a "scared
Sicilian prize fighter."

He's not the only one.

[Imagine, if you will, a quiet man of the written word, thrust into the nightmare world that is the hot-glare, memory-wiping, vocabulary-erasing, national-TV trap known as... The Twilight Zone... But my ancestors hail from San Martino d'Agri, not Sicily. Otherwise, I accept your comparison.-- David B.]

Comment posted on December 5, 2009 12:28 PM

Jay said:

Amazon is taking orders on the audiobook version of your book. WIll you or another do the reading? If not you, Tom or DIck?

[I honestly have no idea. When I was told an audiobook was being offered, I mentioned I'd been a radio guy for, oh, more than 20 years, and might be capable of reading my own book aloud... but no word yet.

I'll keep you posted. -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 5, 2009 12:51 PM

Tim said:

David, your LLS apearance was VERY good. (Your nervousness was charming and worked in your favor!) Don't stress a bit - you were perfectly lucid, funny and very enjoyable.

Craig has had other TV critics on (Tucker, for one), and you easily measured up. As for Leno, I happen to agree, so it's no tragedy if you don't get on his show!

Congratulations also on your close encounter with my idol, Wavey. LOL!

Looking forward to reading the book, as I sneaked a peek at my Xmas gifts, and it was among them!

Comment posted on December 5, 2009 6:44 PM

Laura said:

I'm imagining a near future New York Times book review (glowing, of course), and subsequent climbing of bestseller lists. Yes?
[Probably not. I have lower expectations, and imagine arriving home safely tomorrow night, without incident. Right now, that'd do me just fine. -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 5, 2009 7:36 PM

InternJack said:

Do you get to see the questions on the blue card that Craig Ferguson tears up at the beginning of the interview?


If you got a "green room greeting card" from Craig Ferguson, what did it say?


Who does a person have to lobby in order for you to be the person who does the audio book? If you don't get to do it (why this would happen I don't know but anyway for the sake of argument)

but if you weren't the voice of the audio book who would you definitely NOT want to be the "voice" of your book?


Would there be a writer's commentary for it much like there is a director's commentary for movies on DVD?

And (last one)

If they translate your book? Will you have to rewrite in order to explain American television to the rest of the world or would they just have to figure it out?



[Wow: In order:

1) No. Don't get to see the cards.
2) Never looked for the "Green Room" card -- too nervous. I'll ask about it Monday.
3) No idea on the audiobook questions -- again, I'll ask Monday. And yes, I'd prefer to read it myself. Who would I NOT like to read it? Carrot Top, for starters.
4) Consider these blog entries and replies the "DVD supplemental" stuff. Close as we'll get.
5) International readers have to absorb what they can -- just like we did with Monty Python.
-- David B.]

Comment posted on December 6, 2009 2:20 AM

Neil said:

Hey David, I recorded LLS so I could watch it at a civilized hour on Saturday. I've viewed it twice, and from my side of the screen it went well. Your stage fright was more apparent on the second viewing, but you recovered quickly and I think it actually played well with Craig's quick-wit improv style. Besides, very few others will see it more than once, unless and until he re-runs it during some future recess week, so worry not.
[Sigh. Thanks. I'm just thrilled to be back on OUR side of the screen... -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 6, 2009 4:20 AM

Jan said:

Hi David,

I really enjoyed watching the interview on LLS. (I, too, taped it to watch later.) You and Craig interacted very well together, and I don't like Leno (and haven't liked him for a long time) either. I loved your refreshing candor, but I think Ferguson pulls that out of people. Nice job. Now I still have to listen to the Fresh Air interview, but I'm more and more intrigued about the book. I hope you get to read the audio version.

[Thanks, Jan. There's a thin line, I suspect, between candor and panic. -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 6, 2009 10:22 AM

Marlark said:

So, my high schooler got home from his post-show diner festivities after appearing as Nick Bottom in his high school's production of "Midsummer Night's Dream" and was getting into the fun behind-the-scenes stories when I looked at the clock. My god, it was 1:10am!. "Hold on for 10 minutes" I shouted. "I've been waiting all day for this moment." Stunned, he followed me into the bedroom as I flipped on the LLS. I loved every minute of your appearance. It was honest, exciting, and you came across very, very credible. With a big smile I shut off the TV and looked at my son. "THAT was David Bianculli who lives right here in South Jersey!" I said with enthusiasm.

He waited a beat; a blank expression.

"Anyway, right before Act 3..."

It all puts things in perspective, but in many ways, thanks to your faithful blogging here, I lived your 7 minutes of TV time almost as much as our family did our boy's. You both did a great job!

Comment posted on December 6, 2009 5:18 PM

Gregg B said:

My wife and I watched the interview with Ferguson yesterday as we DVR'd it and we both thought you were great. You were funny and your nervousness came more across as humbleness. Ferguson was great at getting the book on screen many times and the whole interview was very enjoyable. Oh and I couldn't agree more with you about Leno, he is ruining broadcast prime time.

Also I bought the book at Barnes & Noble in Union Square, NYC on Friday. Book was located on the wall of new non fiction. Looking forward to diving in just after I finish the book I am currently reading.

Good luck.

Comment posted on December 7, 2009 10:30 AM

Mike Gold said:

Good job on Ferguson. Kinda cute, actually. And I wouldn't worry about being booked on Leno -- that show won't be around after the Comcast deal closes. Probably won't last that long. It'll be vapor by September; the affiliates will bolt otherwise.

Leno's show is everything the Smothers show wasn't. Sad, as Jay's better than that.

Comment posted on December 7, 2009 1:00 PM

Kristy said:

Pleasure having you at the Skirball David...glad you made through the day in one piece! Skills.
[Dear Kristy -- You folks were the best hosts possible. I loved the venue, and the audience, and was both amazed and impressed by your attention to technical details. Thanks SO much!... And thanks for finding my site! -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 7, 2009 4:36 PM

Dan L. said:

Finally got to Ferguson on DVR, and (w/ judicious editing?) you were just fine. I've yet to find your comments on his show; I'd like to know more about their whole approach there, and how he's updating some classic talk show elements as the "punk Paar."

Hadn't heard anyone else yet echo my sentiments that Leno did a better Carson show than his own. I remember in the last years of Johnny (when he had long since ceased to be funny) Jay's guest hosting that format was impressive. Since he's been on his own, the saccharin level just goes up and up.

Best of luck w/ the book....

[I'm a big Carson fan, but I agree completely that Jay, when he guest hosted the Tonight Show, brought a memorably potent energy to the mix. Where it went, when he took over the reins officially, I have no idea... As for my feelings on Ferguson, I've been a strong supporter from the start. I think that Ferguson, David Letterman and Regis Philbin are the three most natural broadcasters working in the talk TV arena right now. -- David B.]

Comment posted on December 7, 2009 7:45 PM

Johnny Heller said:

Dear Mr. Bianculli,

I hope you will be happy with my narration of your book. I read here that you wanted to do it and I never know who makes those decisions but know that it was an honor for me to narrate it. I was always a huge fan of the Smothers Brothers - their show, music and comedy. Even though I was very young I remembered almost every bit of Steinberg's first sermon bit. Your book was great and I truly hope that you will be pleased --- even if you're not, I still loved doing it! Just a great book.

johnny heller

[Dear Johnny: I haven't gotten a copy of the audiobook yet, and your identifying yourself is the first I've heard about who is narrating it. I certainly don't blame you for a business decision made elsewhere, and I'm glad it was in such enthusiastic and knowledgable hands. Thanks for the kind words, and good luck to you. Many people have read the book, or so they tell me, but you're the only person I know who's had to read it aloud. -- David B.]

Comment posted on February 1, 2010 1:14 AM
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