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Craig Ferguson: Amusing, Honest, Literary Autobiography Author -- on Purpose
September 18, 2009  | By David Bianculli
craig-ferguson-bing-hitler.jpgCraig Ferguson's autobiography hits stores next week -- and his American on Purpose, subtitled The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot,vaults instantly to the top of its narrow but rarefied genre: it's the best memoir ever written by a late-night talk-show host.

And if that doesn't sound like high enough praise, it's meant as quite the compliment...


Johnny Carson, who had decades of fabulous inside stories to tell, never told them between the pages of a book. But Steve Allen, the original host of the Tonight! show, turned out tons of them, almost as prolifically as he wrote songs. But his books, at least the ones about his own life and career, seemed dictated as much as written. Jack Paar, who succeeded Allen on Tonight, had a conversational writing style in his memoirs, too, but both its style and content were up a few notches.

Other prominent late-night show hosts have either been notoriously silent in terms of autobiography (David Letterman, Conan O'Brien), or have worked with co-authors (Dick Cavett). But Ferguson, who already has penned movies and a novel (2007's entertaining Between the Bridge and the River), is as much a writer as a standup comic or TV host.

In American on Purpose, which you can buy at a substantial discount by clicking HERE, he proves it -- on almost every page.

Ferguson has the detachment to see his past without apologies or nostalgia, and the literary talent to make memorable observations about the various triumphs and mistakes in his life, and the environments around him.

As a "plump" young boy getting the chance to travel from his native Scotland to the United States for the first time, he recalls the simple thrill of getting his passport ("I felt like James Bond"). He remembers the time, while running from a gang of kids intending to do him harm, he came within a few yards of being flattened by a railroad train ("I still have dreams where I see the driver's face").

craig-ferguson_l.jpgAnd he talks candidly of the early experiences with religion-generated violence that formed his political viewers as a young teen: "I believe in a constitution which separates church from state," Ferguson writes. "I've seen what happens when they get in cahoots."

Ferguson's story is compelling enough on his own: his rambling path from construction work and odd jobs (including being a bouncer at a club) to acting and comedy, his alcohol and drug-fueled "Lost Weekend" that lasted more than a decade, and his often tempestuous relationships with friends and lovers.

One genuinely entertaining, and genuinely nice, aspect of Ferguson's writing is that, while he is very hard on himself throughout the book, he is quite forgiving of others. In Hollywood memoirs, not many ex-lovers and ex-wives get off as easily, or are recalled as fondly.

He's also got some very vivid show-biz stories, from doing standup as a bellowing character he called Bing Hitler to getting cast as the ineffectual boss on The Drew Carey Show. But Ferguson downplays most of his skills and achievements, except for the times when he himself is shocked by how far he's come. He admits this feeling readily, whether he's taking his parents to the Grand Canyon or hosting the White House Correspondents' Dinner, with President Bush as the guest of honor.

But it's the writing that gets me -- the way he writes so lovingly about an uncle, "Gunka James" -- and, as well, about his son, Milo, and about his parents. Long-time viewers of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on CBS surely remember the stunningly emotional and honest show in which Craig reacted to the death of his father. After reading American on Purpose, you'll get an even better sense of what a loss that was, and his mother's death as well.

Craig-Ferguson at dinner.jpgIn fact, this autobiography, while being the opposite of boastful, manages to explain a lot. It explains how Ferguson developed the gifts that allow him to improvise, night after night, the most entertaining and unpredictable monologue on television. It explains why he puts such a premium on friendship, why he became such a voracious reader and readable writer, and, most germane to the book's title, why he sought, and is so proud of, his American citizenship.

The only flaw with American on Purpose, as I see it, is that HarperCollins made the painful error of accidentally omitting Craig's acknowledgments at the end of the book. Ouch. Even though Ferguson announced that on his show, and mined it for humor, every author can imagine what a sinking feeling that must have caused.

So here's the deal, Craig: If you want to send your acknowledgments to TV WORTH WATCHING, we'll print them here, in full. For your memoir, as well as your place in American TV history, you've more than earned it.




Marlark said:

No band. No sidekick. No budget. And Craig Ferguson is the most entertaining, laugh-out-loud funny, endearing, honest and thoughtful late night host on television today. Period. This man is quickly becoming a national cultural treasure. As often the case, it takes an outsider -- and recent insider -- to show this country its best and worst.

Give CBS kudos for giving this relatively unknown performer the reins (and rope) to fashion his own hour of success.

Now, just give Justin Timberlake his own variety show and we'll have more TV Worth Watching.

[I couldn't agree more -- on all counts! -- David B.]

Comment posted on September 18, 2009 10:02 AM

Mac said:

Ferguson proves he is indeed the King of Late Night. At least Letterman had the smarts to hire him. Here's some additional Ferguson on the cheap. The hardcover edition of his 2006 novel shows up in the buck bins at Borders(displayed in the lobby,so they don't really care if someone steals this title). Also,the DVD of "I'll Be There",is showing up in the $3 rack at Big Lots.Craig co-writes,directs and acts in a comedy you wouldn't expect coming from Ferguson. For me,the best part of the DVD is the commentary by Ferguson and co-writer Phillip McGrade. In fact,I wish the commentary was available on a separate track from the audio part of the movie. The movie gets in the way of too many good behind the scenes stories,but definitely worth three bucks.

Comment posted on September 19, 2009 9:54 AM

Greg Kibitz said:

I can't agree with any or all of you any more than 100%, so 100% it is!

FYI: I've been watching some of Craig's Ye Olde Made in Merry Old England Movies (Born Romantic & Saving Grace) that he not only Stars in, but he also one he Wrote and Produced too (Saving Grace). They were both great and he was great.

I can't believe he calls his acting career a failure. Surely no more than a bit of self-deprecation, and I have great respect of the humility of self-deprecation. That said, the only real failure was the US Entertainment Industry that did not make of him what they have made of Ricky Gervais. To think, the best he could do here was some minor character on Drew Carey, and a few small parts in some movies no one ever saw. For shame American Entertainment Industry, for shame!

But at least he has found a home. And thankfully CBS was smart enough to "screen test" for that home on actual live shows that aired on TV for all of us to see.** That was pure executive genius. And the winner they found, pure entertainment genius as well, and just a wee little o' the sexy/naughty! Okay, a whole lot o' the sexy/naughty!

And may he be with us for very long time and may we see more Bayou Alligator as we did tonight. Not only is Ferguson immensely good looking and intelligent, infinitely personable, a great raconteur, comic (stand-up and writer), actor, author, singer, drummer, rocker and producer, he's even a friggin' puppeteer that may have what it takes to give the inimitable and dearly missed Jim Henson a run for his money. And those be some very big britches to fill, and that would just be a side gig for Ferguson! WOW, what Renaissance Man He Be!

**I used to watch Kilborn and I hated to see him go. But it was probably the fault of his own greed, so good riddance to him, because now we are all the more glad he left.

Comment posted on September 22, 2009 5:31 AM

Gregory Kibitz said:


Gotta read the new Ferguson book. Been following all the live excepts on the show, and they seem oh so good! The recent Danny Devito one was especially enjoyable, but more his reading than the actual content. I'm so loving Sunny in Philly. Wish I had discovered it long ago. Perhaps it is time for a TVWW recommendation for it? (if you have not done one already).

p.p.s. Amazed you didn't cut some of my VMA-Swift-Kanye comments. They were a bit harsh but, honestly, when Taylor won, I was thinking about the same thing that Kanye said, except my Id was not all liquored up and sitting right next to the stage. Not that I think that what he did was right, but I do understand where he was coming from and, in a moment of weakness, I may have acted in kind. And, if the two better choices that lost to Taylor had not won elsewhere, I'm sure a real scandal would have been made of it anyway. And Beyonce literally brought me to tears when she so generously gave her time in the spotlight to Taylor to help correct for Kanye's trespass. That was the real moment that should have played all the next day, at least back to back with the other!**

** But as we all know, that fair and balanced ship, in this country at least, sailed long ago!

Comment posted on September 23, 2009 12:18 AM

harish said:

wow, it is really very funny, I like this very much. you explain it in very nice way. that is fantastic. I like it very much. I want to suggest you that you also write in your blog about Saving Grace episodes. this is very good show.

Comment posted on September 30, 2009 6:20 AM
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