A liberating moment in a famous 2009 interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu led to this moment of departure five years later, outgoing Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson said at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills last night, during a celebration of his show.
Ferguson, whose last night hosting the CBS late-night program airs this Friday, won a prestigious Peabody Award for that 2009 interview with the Nobel Peace Prize winner. The Peabody selection committee cited the critically acclaimed interview as proof that “one of the silliest hours on television (what with the trademark hand puppets and skeleton robots) could also be one of the smartest.”
Ferguson said Tutu told him during a commercial break, “I think you’re crazy.”
“This is a man who talked to some crazy motherf****rs,” Ferguson said. “He said to me, ‘You’re crazy – I don’t mean to be rude.’ I said, ‘I thank you, Father Tutu.’ He said, ‘No, you are crazy, but the type of crazy we need.’ And, this is not your agent, you know, he’s not like, ‘Keep doing the crazy thing!’ It’s Desmond Tutu saying ‘Be as authentically crazy as you are.’ It was kind of like God saying ‘Just be as crazy as you like.’ I felt weirdly released by that.”
When Ferguson became host, “Peter [Lassally] and I spent a lot of time discussing whether or not I should wear a tie. And it was important at the time. I celebrated the format. I loved the format. But, for me, it’s constrictive. It has a limit…I’ve reached all the corners of this box and I have to change boxes.”
“CBS and I are not getting divorced, we are ‘consciously uncoupling,’ but we will still spend holidays together and share custody of the fake horse and robot skeleton, both of whom we love very much,” Ferguson said when he announced April 28 that he would leave the show.
After the announcement, Bill Maher tweeted that he thought CBS and the media had treated Ferguson “shabbily,” while Dave Letterman praised Ferguson’s program, saying, “I’m telling you, to be unique in the world of television – virtually impossible.”
But viewers who had expected Dave to in some way acknowledge that Ferguson made this show for Letterman’s Worldwide Pants production company for many years came away baffled; Dave appeared to be detached, mostly reading from a prepared statement written on a cue card, delivered as if he were unfamiliar with the particulars.
It’s been reported Ferguson will next do a half-hour first-run comedy talk show for Tribune Media that will air in prime access. Ferguson plans to take his robot skeleton Geoff Peterson sidekick with him — and Josh Robert Thompson, who does the robot voice.
Last night, Ferguson praised the comic for turning the robot – originally a snarky statement about the uselessness of late-night talk-show sidekicks – into the practically perfect late-night talk show sidekick. Also expected to join Ferguson in his new show: Secretariat the pantomime horse, and his longtime showrunner Michael Naidus. It’s expected that the new show, which will target a fall 2016 launch, will be shot in Los Angeles.
Ferguson famously stopped using prepared questions for guests, he said, after “I realized I was glassing over as people were talking. It wasn’t that they weren’t interesting, it was just that I wasn’t asking them questions I was interested in the answers to…asking what it was like working on this movie. I didn’t f***ing care.”
Dumping the safe questions meant many potential guests had to get over their fear of his interview style, but eventually they warmed to it, he said.
“I think that took while for people to understand,” Ferguson said. “I think I’m a very good hooker — I get a lot of repeat customers.”
Ditto the extensive notes producers gave him about that night’s guests.
“The truth is, I think I’m a very impatient person and not good with preparation. They used to give me three pages on a guest and I said, ‘I’m not reading this Russian novel – just print out the Wikipedia thing’.”
“Over time I realized I didn’t fit, and, in trying to fit, I was making myself uncomfortable.”
The storyline of the new late-night show host who had dreamed of getting the gig since childhood “is not my story,” he said. “I’m not a very good actor. To continue to tell a story about yourself that isn’t true – I was just, ‘Oh, f*** it.'”