He’s the Scot who doesn’t golf and the straightforward comic whose favorite stand-up act in Las Vegas is Carrot Top.
Craig Ferguson likes to keep his fans guessing, to be sure. The host of the “Late Late Show” on CBS, which follows “The Late Show” with David Letterman each night, is back for three nights (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) at the Venetian Showroom.
Ferguson is a recurring Las Vegas headliner, having played the Orleans and MGM Grand’s Hollywood Theater over the past several years before settling into a rotation of comics at the Venetian that includes Joan Rivers, David Spade, Tim Allen and main headliner Rita Rudner.
Highlights from a phone interview with Ferguson conducted last week:
Johnny Kats: How do you like performing for Las Vegas audiences? That’s a fairly common question we have for entertainers, especially comedians, who have performed at various locations because a crowd in Las Vegas usually comes from all over the country and often doesn’t have a great attention span.
Craig Ferguson: For the most part, I like ’em. I mean, every now and again you get people in who are only at the show because it’s a part of a casino package, and if you’re used to people hanging on your every word, then that might be a little difficult. But I’m not that used to people hanging on my every word (laughs), so I’m all right. I actually like the feeling of playing in Vegas.
J.K.: You’re at a pretty high-end hotel at the Venetian, in a very comfortable and audience-friendly showroom that has had all sorts of performances. Is it good for comedy?
C.F.: I have to say, the theater -- and no disrespect to anywhere else I’ve played -- the theater in the Venetian is a really good room to play. It’s kind of why I keep going back. Other rooms I’ve played have been difficult. The Orleans, actually, is a really sweet room to play. But I think the best room I’ve found for stand-up in Vegas, so far, is the one I play at the Venetian.
J.K.: Your monologues in your talk show are consistently very funny, and you spend a lot more airtime on them than any traditional talk-show host would. How do you arrive at the material you use in that particular segment?
C.F.: Well, it’s pretty much a decision that’s made at 10 o’clock every morning with myself, a gentleman called Ted Mulkerin and another gentlemen called Jonathan Morano. These guys are the two head writers on the show, and we only have five writers on the show. What we do is we get together in the morning, we talk on the phone, and we look at news stories on the wire and decide what we’re going to talk about, if there’s enough of a subject to lead us into something. For example, tonight there is some kind of gossip breaking in the news about Bob Barker not being invited to “The Price Is Right” (40th anniversary) party, so we’ll talk about that, and that will lead into talking about game shows.
The way that a lot of people do it, they have a subject and move on, they have a subject and move on. What we kind of do is we have a subject and stay with that subject and go deeper into it. It’s a different way of looking at how to deal with material, and it’s a method that evolves over time.
J.K.: It’s obvious that you have the final authority over what you say in that monologue segment.
C.F.: Yeah, I’m not good at doing jokes that I don’t want to do. I’m not good at doing jokes like, ‘Hey, did you guys see the hoops last night?’ I don’t give a (expletive) about the hoops, you know? So it’s very hard to sell the joke.
J.K.: The fact that you refer to it as "hoops" is the first indication that you don’t care about the topic.
C.F.: Exactly (laughs). It’s hoops, right? I don’t know. Hoops, basketball, whatever it is, it’s not going to happen. I can do football jokes because I watch football. But I can’t do a basketball joke because I don’t watch basketball.
J.K. In your stand-up act, do you just borrow from the best moments of your monologue?
C.F. No, that tends to be much more of a personal thing. It comes over time. The stand-up act is never, ever written down. It’s in my head. This act, I’ve been doing for about 12 months, so it’s at the end of its cycle. Any time I shoot a special, I ditch whatever I’ve been doing. I’m shooting a special in November (Nov. 16, specifically), so this material will go away. But it’s basically a bunch of subjects that I started talking about onstage, and I usually do a boot-camp run in Denver, at a little club called the Comedy Works. I go there for a week, I do two shows a night, and I talk about what I want to talk about, and the act takes shape in front of the audience, and then every night’s different, and the act takes shape in that period.
J.K. Some comics headlining on the Strip like to duck in on some of the clubs in town to do a few minutes. Do you have any plans to do that?
C.F.: Yeah, I might do that. But I’ll tell you what I really want to do is play golf. Very recently I turned 50 (on May 17), and I decided that when I turned 50, I would take up golf. I’ve avoided golf my whole life because I’m Scottish (laughs), and everybody I knew played golf. You couldn’t walk to school without getting hit by golf balls, so just to be contrary, I avoided it. But now that I’m 50, I’m playing. I started playing a month ago, and now I’m obsessed.
J.K.: What are you shooting?
C.F.: Oh, we don’t even add it up. I’m not at that level yet. Right now I’m just trying to get around the course without (ticking) anyone off. … I will definitely try not to play golf near anyone’s house until I get better.