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Review: Craig Ferguson hits the Capital with a hearty helping of humour

By Terry Steeves on March 31, 2014

Craig Ferguson, host of the Late Late Show, delivered a much needed dose of hilarity during two back-to-back nights last week at Ottawa’s Centrepointe Theatre. His Hot And Grumpy! Tour 2014, part of the Just For Laughs Festival, features stops in Hamilton, Montreal, Ottawa, Kitchener, Toronto, Halifax, and London. It was just the cure for a Canadian winter that has overstayed its welcome, “with weather conditions not meant for humans to live in“, titters Ferguson.

Before taking the stage, the show opened with funny man Josh Robert Thompson, better known as the voice of Geoff Peterson, the robot skeleton sidekick who appears regularly on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Tonight, however, it was Thompson’s turn to come out from behind the curtain and strut his own comedy routine. A great deal of his routine was focused on his outstanding celebrity voice impersonation, namely that of Morgan Freeman, which he tells the audience he uses as a super power. He’s been used as Freeman’s voice double, but adds, “mainly just for grunts and groans,” which he proudly demonstrated. Other voices included those of Liam Neeson, Arnold Swartzenegger, and Robert DeNiro. All in all a great routine, and a great start to the evening, having successfully warmed up the audience for the feature act.

If you’re like me, you were introduced to Craig Ferguson by way of his late night talk show. And if you’re like me, you only had to watch a single episode to become an instant fan. Once I started digging deeper, I found this naturally funny human being to have quite a past, and a list of achievements a mile long. From his beginnings in the rough streets of Glasgow, Craig naturally turned to the arts seeking refuge from the doldrums of suburbia life and the less than adequate treatment at school. He became a self-taught drummer and soon joined a punk band initially called The Bastards From Hell, firing up an enduring friendship with lead singer, Peter Capaldi.

Craig attributes Peter as the one who planted the first seed of encouragement by telling him he had the gift of making people laugh, and if developed properly, was regarded as an art form. Stand-up comedy became the safer choice to beating on drums for a living. He took himself out on the road with a character he created, Bing Hitler, an obnoxious and opinionated ranter, which brought him the recognition to catapult his new career in comedy. However, his longtime addictions to alcohol and drugs became the toxic cocktail which fueled his performances, yet set him on the road to certain self-destruction. After hitting rock bottom, and nearly succumbing to suicide, a successful attempt at rehab in February of 1992 turned his life around. He has remained sober ever since.

Craig developed his writing skills, then took the big leap to America where he found work doing his stand-up routines, as well as in television, eventually landing himself a role as Nigel Wick in The Drew Carey Show (1996-2004). He later went on to write and star in three of his own films, The Big Tease (1999), Saving Grace (2000), and I’ll Be There (2003). He has also penned two books, Between The Bridge And The River (2006), and American On Purpose: The Improbable Adventures Of An Unlikely Patriot (2009).

In 2005, his gravy train came in when he was offered the opportunity as host of The Late Late Show, formerly held by Craig Kilborn at the time. Craig Ferguson became an American citizen on February 1st, 2008, even televising his taking the citizenship test, as well as his swearing in, on The Late Late Show. Throughout all these achievements, he continues to return to the comfort of the stage, where it all began. He has released three stand-up comedy specials: A Wee Bit ’o Revolution (2009), Does This Need To Be Said (2011), and I’m Here To Help (2013).

During his show at Centrepointe Theatre, Craig Ferguson delivered his free form style of comedy, laced with refreshingly naughty bits, a devilish playfulness, a glint in his eye, and a Cheshire grin, like a delinquent who has just gotten away with something underhanded. This is a man who can walk onto any stage, and feel at ease with the audience, packing a punch with his self-written material that is seamless and unrehearsed. He strutted from one side of the stage to the other in his Converse sneakers, mic in one hand, and a steady flow of hand gestures with the other.

During his act, he makes reference to a near movie making experience with Mick Jagger, which is also mentioned in his book, American On Purpose (which I actually took the time to read just before the day of the show). He was nervous meeting Jagger for the first time, and was surprised at how small in size the man was. Before he could stop himself, the words: “Ohh . . . you’re adorable!”, came tumbling out of his mouth.

Ferguson’s impersonations of the Rolling Stones band members were spot on, as were many others he would pull out of his hat. What he did really, was tell a string of colourful stories of his life experiences, perhaps some slightly exaggerated, and kept the audience roaring with laughter for an hour and a half. I loved it, as everyone did, and like anything that’s really good, ended way too soon. It was like being at a family gathering with that favorite uncle – the one who makes everybody laugh – and you have to wait until he’s finished his hilarious spiel before you can take a bite of your food . . . or it’ll come out your nose.