Craig Ferguson's Tickle Fight: Musings on Donald Trump, Reese Witherspoon's height make this show a whimsical delight

Deven Kanal

Dec,18 2017 11:51 57 IST

Craig Ferguson is not your run-of-the-mill comedian. But anyone who even remotely followed his career would know that.

How many people would give up a late night comedy show—arguably at the height of their powers, riches and fame—because they felt it was simply time to move on? At the time when the late night wars were in full swing—Jay Leno was fighting upstart Conan O'Brien for control of The Tonight Show after the king of late night had been dethroned in a palace coup—Ferguson did the unthinkable and simply walked away from a chance to fill David Letterman's chair over at CBS.

I first came across Ferguson in The Drew Carey Show. Ferguson, a close friend of Carey, played his a@#$^*& boss Nigel Wick. Ferguson didn't so much as steal scenes as he did commit armed robbery. He was fast, furious and vulgar. He was the amalgam of every terrible boss you've ever had. He quickly became the funniest part of the show (which, in hindsight, is low praise). When the show ended, I didn't give Ferguson a second thought.

Craig Ferguson's stand up special Tickle Fight is available on Netflix

It was only many years later that I rediscovered Ferguson, this time through the magic of YouTube. I almost didn't recognise him. He looked much older. He was in a suit and tie. His accent was thick. He seemed to be having a damned good time hosting, what seemed to be a low-rent parody late night show. To my surprise and delight, I discovered that it was a late night show.

The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson was, to steal a quote from an ad campaign, nothing like anything. Unlike Jon Stewart, Ferguson didn't care about informing you. Unlike David Letterman, interviews weren't to be treated seriously. Unlike Jay Leno, celebrities weren't 'just like us'. Ferguson knew the truth: Hollywood was at its core, fake and shallow and utterly ridiculous.

The show reflected Ferguson's eccentric nature: Instead of a human host, he installed a gay robot sidekick named Geoff. He also later brought in a pantomime horse, which would stare uncomfortably at guests and sway along to creepy music. At the start of the interview, Ferguson would also take the carefully stacked cue cards on which ostensibly, his questions were written and tear them up. His interviews were at times, extremely uncomfortable and at times wild. He'd flirt shamelessly with the female guests, safe in the knowledge that, according to him, "no one watches this show".

At times, his show was unexpectedly moving. In 2007, when Britney Spears seemed to be losing her mind in front of the entire world, and his late night cohorts seemed almost gleeful in mocking her for it, Ferguson seemed apologetic and repentant. He vowed not to make any jokes ridiculing the singer and unexpectedly recounted his own journey from drugs and rock 'n' roll to sobriety.

“I’m starting to feel uncomfortable making fun of these people,” Ferguson said. “And for me comedy should have a certain amount of joy in it. It should be about always attacking powerful people, attacking the politicians and the [Donald] Trumps, and the blowhards. … Go after them.” How prescient!

When I heard he was walking away from his show, I was disappointed. It was almost like I'd lost a crazy uncle. So when Craig Ferguson's new stand up special Tickle Fight popped up on my Netflix account, I was thrilled. Ferguson, like Seinfeld, Judd Apatow, and many, many others, has become just the latest big name in comedy to join the Netflix family.  And I'm happy to report that while Ferguson doesn't exactly make you laugh out loud, he does make you chuckle, delight you and just occasionally, even makes you think.

“If you’ve ever seen me before, you’ll know that you’re in for an evening of crushing disappointment,” Ferguson says, early into his set, an oft-repeated sentiment and callback to his late night show. I kept waiting for his patented 'you too ladies' line, which always killed the audience, but it never came. Perhaps that was his one concession to this new world, where someone's repressed homosexuality (even playing his own faux gayness for laughs in a self-deprecating manner), was off-limits. Good for him.

Still, Ferguson touches on a wide range of topics, from Japanese toilets (in my opinion, his funniest bit), his best friend and fellow CBS employee stealing a getting drunk in Las Vegas, stealing a limousine and calling him for help. Ferguson then has to do something patently illegal to get his chum out of trouble—what is CBS gonna do, fire me? Too late f$#%#^@, Ferguson exclaims to raucous laughter—Reese Witherspoon's height, Twitter and Instagram, and of course, Donald Trump. Trump, he insists, means s*%^ in Scottish. "That's not true," he admits, a moment later after the audience has laughed. "But if someone tweets it..."

For once, Ferguson comes close to expressing regret. That he isn't behind his desk when Trump is president. “When I heard Donald Trump was running for president, I was like, ‘Are you f#^&*$@ kidding me?’” he exclaims. “That’s like when Dick Cheney shot his lawyer in the face! It’s just beautiful! I mean come on, that’s a gift. I used to have to work at monologues. Now, this f#@&^@ runs for president?!”

Ferguson, however, isn't partisan. He isn't here to score political points. He'd rather talk about his beard, his kids, what an absolute a#%#@^ he is to his ex-wife, getting old, body hair and 70s porn. He insists that he will tell only one joke during the course of the evening, the oldest joke in the world. One his friend, an Egyptologist, discovered, incidentally, in Egypt. A joke his old friend Drew Carey once told him.

Ferguson speaks in a way that makes you believe he's talking off the top of his head, often blurting out a ridiculous statement that leaves the audience bewildered for a moment before he adds: Let me explain. And he does.

It isn't the strongest stand up material I've ever seen, but Ferguson's goodwill with the audience and his delivery leaves you absolutely tickled.

Watch the trailer for Craig Ferguson's Tickle Fight on Netflix:

Published Date: Dec 18, 2017 11:51 AM | Updated Date: Dec 18, 2017 15:46 PM