The Immigrant

I’m not sure what to think of Craig Ferguson, but my old friend Radio Steve* sent me this clip, which I found pretty interesting.

I’ll confess that I haven’t watched Ferguson very much. If I’m up at that hour, and up for more comedy after Stewart & Colbert, my usual fare, I’ll watch Conan. Ferguson’s too cute, too frenetic, too dependent on being liked, for my liking. I don’t mean that he comes across as desperate for our approval; it’s just that his appeal is based on personality, rather than material or a particular comic point of view. To borrow Eric Idle‘s useful categorization, Ferguson is a “red nose” comic, as opposed to the “white face” types we’re used to seeing as late-night hosts.

…the White Face is the controlling neurotic and the Red Nose is the rude, rough Pan. The White Face compels your respect; the Red Nose begs for it. The Red Nose smiles and nods and winks, and wants your love; the White Face rejects it. — The Road to Mars,† pg. 7

Stylistically, Ferguson is pretty different from the other network late-night guys, who hew more closely to the Johnny Carson model (Carson being the epitome of a reserved, aloof, “White Face” comic). But the substance of what he says in this clip is in line with what we’ve heard for years on late-night shows: the media is concerned with the wrong things, “both sides” are equally silly, etc.

Until the end, that is. It requires no blinding insight to say that voting is NOT sexy, glamorous, or cool, but a democratic duty. But it needs to be said, and it needs to be heard. Especially since late-night mostly tells us that voting is hopeless, and lame, albeit not that explicitly.

Ferguson is of course an immigrant. He’s shared his quest to become a U.S. citizen with his television audience, and I’m probably not the only one who finds it heartening that the idea of becoming an American can still inspire such enthusiasm. That passion comes through in this monologue.

But the enthusiasm is of a piece with his usual performances. It’s not as if this monologue sticks out like a sore thumb because he’s talking about something important—he’s always this hyper. That’s not a criticism; it’s just that, in this case, Ferguson’s “Red Nose” style lets him do something Leno, Letterman, and Conan can’t. Their “cool” style doesn’t allow them to flirt with such square sentiments.

* Nobody calls him “Radio Steve”; his name is Steve, and he works in radio. But the nickname sounds “bloggier.”

The Road to Mars is not a great novel, but it contains some very interesting thoughts about the nature of comedy.


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