Sad state of late night TV (and salvation)

The situation with late night comedian/talk shows has reached an all time low in my estimation. Leno’s stock in trade was stand-up and he was funny but his 11:30 PM schtick was highly scripted and predictable, probably crafted by the same corporate structure that brings us such gems as “The Bachelorette” and “Two Broke Girls”.

Yes, Leno’s and Letterman’s monologs are usually funny until you see the Que cards. Then you see the line of film personalities all only there to hawk their new film or other media masterpiece. Letterman is clearly tired and bored, long past time to quit. I haven’t even bothered to watch the Kimmel clone. Seth Myers wasn’t funny for the 30 or so years Saturday Night Live hasn’t been funny and isn’t funny now. Poor flash in the pan Conan got the short end of the stick and now reposes on a cable site no one watches. Jimmy Fallon isn’t inherently funny. He’s a Saturday Night Live relic and tainted by it. He tries but tries too hard.

Then, a night of temporary insomnia and a thunderbolt out of the blue. The Late, Late show on CBS with Craig Ferguson. It was a bolt of lightning and a stone at my feet engraved: “salvation”.

Cut to the chase, Craig Ferguson is quite possibly the most spontaneously funny human on the planet.  The funniest the fewest humans on the planet have ever seen. Sitting comfortably at the table with Richard Pryer, Robin Williams and Steve Martin, but improved on all the former.

Richard Pryor was and continues to be the platinum standard of stand-up comedy in his prime (1980 or so). He blew audiences away. There was no one one remotely in his league. Then he got bogged down in bad film roles, drugs and faded way too soon. Difficult to know if his white-hot talent could have lasted much longer than it did.

Robin Williams was brilliant for about the same length of time as Pryor then he burned out from the necessity to become more frenetic to hold audience’s limited attention span. Crowing from the rafters and the audience moved on. Now endless “guest appearances”.

Steve Martin was brilliant in that he figured out that the audience was bored with frenetic comedy and was ready for “silly”. His late 70s stand-up was brilliant, “happy feet”, “cat handcuffs”, “Getting small” and “cruel shoes” are simply brilliant.  Then he got bogged down with really bad movies “Father of the bride” (1991) and now occasionally appears on Letterman offering a pale clone of his former brilliant self.

Ferguson is a fresh amalgam of Prior, Williams and Martin. He has no cue cards and no scripts. He paces back and forth aimlessly as spontaneous quips flow freely. Who could have possibly thought up a gay robot skeleton as a co-host and a silly full sized puppet circus horse as a foil. And who could have possibly believed these things “work”.

Ferguson has been effortlessly charming the pants off viewers for something like 7 years now. His signature tossing away of his note cards when a guest sits down is a pointed slam at other late night hosts. The talk stays focused on and is the master of simple conversation rather than pre-digested research.

Craig doesn’t need an audience. He barely needs guests. He is what he is and it works. Ferguson is thoroughly engaging long before before he brings out a guest.  He clearly enjoys himself and it shows. He can speak intelligently about anything. He can occasionally dive into a personal, soul-searching monologue demonstrating he’s a “real” person without becoming maudlin.

It’s difficult to imagine what it must take to deliver a totally spontaneous diatribe that’s simply hilarious and brilliant without so much as a pause. Ferguson is not just the undiscovered king of late light, he’s Richard Prior incarnate, warts and all, peripherally mention multiple marriages, substance abuse and therapy. Somewhere Richard must be smiling.

Why Ferguson is not properly recognized for his contributions to spontaneous, brilliant comedy is something that is beyond logical comprehension.  He’s truly the quirky alternative to the formulaic crop of talk shows with the word “late” in them. That alternative is simply genius. He has no peer in the realm of the simply funny.

Highly recommended by me.

Here are some quips that highlight his talent:





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