Craig Ferguson, I Love You But This Needs To Be Said!

DVD REVIEW

Title: Craig Ferguson: Does This Need To Be Said?
Studio/Distributor: Comedy Central
Director: Keith Truesdell
Principle Cast: Craig Ferguson, Jeff Arnold, Chris Saladin
Length: 65 minutes
Released: 2010
Stars: 3.0

Well Craig, as a fan of over ten years, and someone who has watched The Late Late Show regularly for seven seasons since you’ve been the host, I’d say that most of what you deliver in Does This Need To Be Said?, (Comedy Central’s stand-up special featuring you) has already been said by you before.  I’ve seen your stand-up show twice and the material on this DVD is nothing new.  However, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t funny and entertaining.  Fresh, it isn’t.  Charming, you definitely are!

Being able to play your dancing & lip-synching performance of Oops! I Did It Again by Britney Spears over and over again at the end of your routine is worth the price of the DVD alone.  In fact, I wish you’d release a DVD collection of all your dancing & lip-synching performances with the puppets and staff that you’ve showcased on The Late Late Show because they’re awesome!  They make us grin from ear to ear, laugh out loud, and want to sing along all at the same time.  And while I have this opportunity, it’s time to get rid of that freakin’ robot already!!

Okay, now where was I?

Does This Need To Be Said? opens with Craig receiving a standing ovation from a packed Nashville theatre, while he prances around the stage to the song I’ve Got The Strangest Feeling and Chris Saladin (a.k.a. “Gunther”), in a white pseudo-bondage ensemble, fingers a flute as the classy Jeff Arnold swings his saxophone.  Ferguson’s first words to the audience are his signature, “It’s a great day for America everybody!”  After which he makes up for not being able to say f**k on his show by cussing incessantly in his charismatic way.  Sadly, it’s true that Ferguson is losing the edges of his celebrated burr and now sounds more American than Scottish, but that doesn’t detract from his delivery.  It’s just that if he’s not the Scottish comedian we’ve all come to know and love, who is he (an actor, a writer, a minion of CBS)?

Craig tells the audience that he’s there to tell them a dirty joke and he does, but not before taking 60 minutes to review his wayward youth, in which he was a member of a heavy metal band called Stag.  He riffs about the Pope; talks about talking to his 9½ year old son about sex (who carries a swear jar around after his father, in which he’s raising his college tuition); comments on Charlie Sheen; and describes how two toads taught him everything he knows about sex education.  He also offers a series of comedic vignettes on famous celebrity sex scandals including Tiger Woods, Kevin Costner and his boss, David Letterman.  Craig revisits the best day he ever had at work: when he heard that Dick Cheney had shot his lawyer in the face; the reason why Kate Winslet will never be on his show; the tale of Fabio getting hit in the head by a goose; proof of the existence of God (Siegfried & Roy – say no more!), why he loves Larry King; the horror of realizing that his balls are leaving him; the complexities of the Internet; what it’s like to be married to a woman from a posh Yankee family; and recounting his life as an alcoholic.  Did I laugh?  Hell, yeah!

The extras on this DVD – a short film of Craig arriving in Nashville and an unknown fan’s rap session about him – are boring and didn’t need to be included, but that’s not why you’d buy Does It Need To Be Said? The Full Concert Experience anyway.

As other people have said before, Craig is a positive comedian who doesn’t hurt or offend people with his humour (at least most of the time, but then there was that incident with Kevin Costner!) and yet still manages to come off as a boisterous, swearing, somewhat perverted middle-aged man.  But he pokes fun at himself more than anyone else and we can definitely see the humour in that.

What I know to be true about Craig Ferguson is that he is a wonderful, highly intelligent, multi-talented man who has the ability to move people in many different ways but for some reason he’s choosing to lean on what’s worked for laughs in the past and hasn’t created anything new and exciting in a while.  And I think it’s time for him to do that.  This man has so much heart, soul and brain power that he should have won every performance award out there by now.  Even with the same old lame gags on The Late Late Show, he’s still one of the most interesting people on television.  If you saw him interview Archbishop Desmond Tutu or Dr. Cornell West, you’ll know what I mean.  So imagine what he could do if he sat down and wrote some new material!

I’d like to see Craig take a risk and push the envelope more with his comedy.  I know he’s as much of a fan of Billy Connolly as I am, and I’d like to see him be as daring with his presentation.  His swearing doesn’t bother me, because as he said, he’s a friendly cusser and swears in good humour, but it’s the resting on his laurels that does bother me.  Craig, don’t be afraid to attract a wider audience.  While I love a double entendre as much as anyone, you’re not just a foul-mouthed Scotsman and I don’t want you to dumb down your act for the masses.  Be true to yourself and let your intellect shine!

Maybe you just need to have some new experiences to share…

Billy by Pamela Stephenson

Book Review
Title: Billy
Author:  Pamela Stephenson
Publisher: UK General Books
Released: August 15, 2002
Pages: 304
ISBN 10 – 0007110928
ISBN 13 – 978-0007665457
Stars:  3.0

As a big fan of the genius that is Billy Connolly, I have been wanting to read his 2001 biography simply titled Billy written by his wife, Pamela Stephenson, for a long time and I finally got around to it.

Glasgow, Scotland’s Billy Connolly, born November 24, 1942, is one of the most famous comedians in the world and in my humble opinion, the funniest. I saw his live stand-up show for his Erect for 30 Years tour in Toronto in 2000 and I laughed so hard I thought I had burst a blood vessel in my head and at the end of it, left with a massive headache. No one has ever made me laugh as hard. Connolly is also a very talented, accomplished and acclaimed actor who was the star of the sitcoms “Head of the Class” and “Billy”; was nominated for a BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild Award and Golden Globe for his portrayal of John Brown in the film Mrs. Brown; and has appeared in such movies as The Boondock Saints, Still Crazy, An Everlasting Piece, The Last Samurai and The Man Who Sued God to name just a few. In 2003, Billy won a Life Time Achievement BAFTA and he most recently appeared in The X-Files: I Want To Believe.

Billy, a.k.a. The Big Yin, had a torturous childhood in which he was abandoned by his mother and raised by his father who sexually molested him (between the ages of 10 and 16) and two aunts, one of whom had a severe personality disorder and was sadistic and cruel to him (she later ended up in a psychiatric hospital) and his sister Florence. He began working in his late teens as a welder in the Glasgow shipyards, spent a couple years in The Territorial Army Reserve with The Parachute Regiment, and in his 20’s decided that he wanted to be “windswept and interesting”, and above all, a tramp. Fascinated by the sound of the banjo, he started playing it and not long after was getting gigs as a folk singer with his friend Tam Harvey. Together they formed The Humblebums but after recording one album, Harvey was replaced by Gerry Rafferty. It was during those years that Billy began to develop his comic routines while on stage with Rafferty.

What came next, over a 30 year period, was no less than world domination as a comedian for this innately, furiously funny man. “His observational comedy is idiosyncratic and often off-the-cuff. He talks about himself, who he is, where he’s been, what he thinks and how he reacts to the world around him. He has outraged certain sectors of audiences, critics and the media with his free use of the word “fuck”. He has used masturbation, blasphemy, defecation, flatulence, haemorrhoids, sex, his father’s illness and his aunts’ cruelty to entertain. By exploring these subjects with humour, Connolly has done much to strip away the taboos surrounding them. Yet he does not tell jokes in the conventional way.”

Connolly’s rags to excess riches story is a fascinating one but I was somewhat disappointed in Billy as so much of the book focuses on his early life and his career as an actor was simply skimmed over very quickly. Pamela Stephenson morphed back and forth throughout the book from the present (2001) to the past and I felt that she was holding back from disclosing anything really personal about her life with Billy and their five children (the two eldest, Jamie and Cara are from Billy’s first marriage to Iris Pressagh). She disclosed a few fun tidbits about his escapades with some of his famous rock star and actor friends while he was still drinking heavily – he quit in 1985 – but never went into much detail. For someone who has been married to the man for almost 20 years and with him for longer than that, Pamela’s description of Billy as a man, friend, husband, father, comedian and actor comes off as being somewhat clinical and lacks any real passion or convincing emotion. The snippets from Billy’s journals that she quotes from are extremely tame and don’t reveal much about what he was really feeling at the time nor include the year of the entry date. This is in fact, a beige, one-sided account of his life and would have been much more interesting if some of his closest friends had been interviewed for the book. That being said, Pamela wrote a follow-up called Bravemouth about Billy in 2003 and I now want to read it as well to get the rest of the story.

Stephenson, a.k.a. Pamela H. Connolly, Ph.D., once a comedian/actress herself who is most recognized for her work on the BBC comedy series, “Not the Nine O’Clock News”, is now a practising psychotherapist (which would account for her detached writing style). She analyzes Billy’s character like this:

“A highly combustible mixture has been bubbling away inside Billy his whole life. A huge dose of abandonment pain, a dollop of existential fury, a giant scoop of performing talent plus a massive portion of hell-bent-on-vengefulness has whirled around inside him since infancy,” catapulting him from tenement to ‘tinsel town’ in five extraordinary decades. It is the kind of volatile compound that could have exploded at any time, and it is the containment and alchemy of those elements that constitutes his most admirable work.”

This is an interesting book for Connolly fans (I didn’t know he had his nipples pierced in his fifties!) and you will learn what Pamela believes makes Billy tick, but it’s not a definitive biography and if you read Billy’s Desiderata in the Epilogue, you’ll get almost as much out of those two pages as in the 381 pages preceeding them.

For those of you who would like to discover some of Billy’s finest work, I highly recommend the video Billy and Albert: Billy Connolly at The Royal Albert Hall (1987), Billy Connolly Live In New York (2006) and all of the movies I mentioned above, as well as a trip to his official website at billyconnolly.com.