Rating: **** (4 out of 5)
Background: I first heard of Craig Ferguson when a friend of mine came back from visiting her family in the USA and heartily recommended that I watch his show. Being from a country where hardly anyone even pays attention to American late night shows, where, if you’re lucky, you can catch Conan O’Brien or Jon Stewart on cable with about a month’s delay, I searched Youtube for Craig Ferguson. It didn’t take long for me to get addicted. His fresh, honest, witty style, his unscripted monologues and spontaneous interviews were a great change from the sometimes monotonous and unsurprising world of talk shows. You won’t find any of the politically correct fluff in his show. He’s also not afraid to talk honestly about serious topics. I watch his show everyday, and was absolutely thrilled when my brother gave me this book for Christmas.
Here is a particularly enjoyable clip from his Late Late Show:
Review: Craig Ferguson has always given a few hints at his past life during his shows. He is always candid about his fight with alcoholism, his past marriages and his experiences with drugs. Nevertheless, his book still manages to be surprising, even for someone who follows his work on a daily basis. Since most people only see him being funny, you might think the book is the same – dark, honest, but very funny. I certainly did. And that is true, in a sense, but definitely not in the way I expected it.
The thing is, this isn’t a companion for the show. There are hardly any references to his present life, except of course towards the end. Instead, this is a story that, in my opinion, he would want to tell eventually, no matter where his life ended up. It follows his life chronologically, starting with his childhood in the mean streets of Glasgow, his tumultuous relationship with school and establishment and the beginning of his addiction to alcohol. It goes along as he tries to figure out, as a young man, what he wants to do with his life, trying to make it as a drummer, as an actor, as an entertainer, sometimes succeeding, more often failing miserably. He describes his fatidic trip to America which made him think of the country as the promised land, and made moving there his ultimate dream. We follow him from Glasgow, to London, to Portugal (I smiled when I was reading this part!), to New York, to Canada, to Paris, back to London, and all the way to the promised land of Los Angeles, where eventually, after many more turns of fate, he found his fortune as an actor in the Drew Carey Show and, eventually, as a successful talk show host.
He manages to take the potentially damaging events of his life and turn them into hilarious episodes with a bittersweet taste. Many parts, like for example, the description of his last acid trip, are pure comedy gold that actually made me laugh out loud.
Along the way, he introduces the reader to the “characters” in his life, some very famous, others unknown, who become close to us as we read what they did with him and for him. In fact, my only complaint about his book comes from that. I’m not sure if he’s just being humble or grateful, but he presents everything positive that ever happened in his life as something he owes to the fantastic people in his life. In fact, the book sometimes reads as an extensive thank you note. This may be just my opinion, but I find it very hard to believe that so many people would be so very generous to a (then) exceedingly problematic individual without him showing that he deserves the chances he’s given. And I think it’s quite obvious to everyone that Craig Ferguson is incredibly talented (though, I admit, it might not be that obvious to him), so I found myself at times wishing he would be more proud of himself and his abilities. But, in the end, it’s a testament to the quality of the book that I am actually nitpicking like this.
I confess that I haven’t read many memoirs in my life, and I tend to be suspicious of people who write them early in their life, for reasons that, I hope, are obvious. But I understand that some people write them to come to terms with their past life, to close a chapter in their lives and make room for a new one, while hopefully spreading he message that things can actually turn out ok. I really enjoyed reading this book, not only because it’s very funny and touching, but because its ultimate message is that failing isn’t as bad as we usually think it is. It’s something everyone goes through on the road to success. In his own words:
“He will know from an early age that failure is not disgrace. It’s just a pitch that you missed, and you’d better get ready for the next one. The next one might be the shot heard round the world. My son and I are Americans, we prepare for glory by failing until we don’t.”
I’m glad I read this book at a time in life when I’ve just had to start learning how to deal with things going in a different direction than planned. I hope Craig keeps his position in the Late Late Show for a lot longer, though I’m sure that, with his inquisitive and adventure seeking personality, he will eventually want to move on to another challenge. Still, if you’re a fan of his show, get this book. You won’t regret it.
What’s Next: His other book, Between the Bridge and the River, a novel, is now on my wishlist.
Next on my reading list is Irrationality by Stuart Sutherland and, of course, I am still reading Dune (a hard book to read, particularly since I have a small paperback version and the tiny font doesn’t agree with my insomnia-ridden eyes).