Let me tell you about Craig Ferguson.
A couple of weeks ago my wife and I were in Los Angeles for a conference she was attending. We’re big fans of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. So we decided to stay an extra couple of days to play tourist and see if maybe we could get tickets to the show. I’ve never been to a live show like that before. I learned a few things I didn’t expect.
One thing I didn’t expect was the standing around. They tell you to get there early, because the audience has to be seated 30 minutes before the show starts at 3 PM, and if you’re not there early enough, you might not get in. Makes sense to me. So we got there about 1:30, about ninety minutes before the show. We weren’t the first ones there, but close. What they don’t tell you is that the line forms on the sidewalk outside the studio. Every once in a while, someone comes out to tell you they’ll be bringing us in soon, or to explain what’s going to happen, which isn’t what actually happens. But mostly it’s just a bunch of strangers milling on the sidewalk like we’re waiting to see Star Wars in 1977.
Lined up on the sidewalk across the driveway were the people waiting to get into Dancing With the Stars. They were much better dressed than we were. Dancing has a much stricter dress code. Some people got kicked out of the Dancing line. They came to watch Craig with us. The Late Late Show dress code seems to be, no shirt, no shoes… well at least you’re wearing pants.
So here we are still waiting on the sidewalk at 3:10, about forty minutes after the audience is supposed to be seated with the rest of the 150 hobos. Someone comes out and tells us that they’ll be taking us in just a minute. Really, just a minute. Seriously, it will be just a couple of more minutes.
Finally they really did start letting us in.
On the way in, not one, but two people checked our IDs. They were very clear that everyone needed a photo ID. I’m not sure what that was about. They didn’t type our names into a computer to see if we were on the no-fly list. They didn’t even compare our IDs with a clip-board to see if we were actually on the ticket list. Maybe they just wanted to confirm that we weren’t vampires and could actually be photographed. Or maybe they just want to make sure they can quickly identify the bodies if the studio caves in.
Next, we went through the metal detectors. I don’t know if they actually care if you’re carrying weapons. But they were very serious about no cell phones in the studio. If you had a cell phone, they seriously took it away from you until, but you could get it back after class. This part I really understand. Can we get movie theaters to start doing this?
At this point, they assembled us in an area that looked like the line to get on a ride at Disneyland, complete with the captive audience souvenir stand. Nothing there from Ferguson’s show mind you. But all of the CSI: New York gear you could ever want to have. We’re still outside the studio. But at least we’re off the sidewalk.
At this point, another intern comes out to yell a bunch of rules and instructions. One of them was, make sure you laugh at the jokes, even if you don’t get them. Another one was, if you have weird laugh, don’t laugh too loud.
Now they turn it over to the warm up comedian. He’s like the cheerleader of the show. He’s the comedy show version of a fluffer. He’s a middle-aged man with three days of beard stubble who describes himself as a mediocre comedian. He shouldn’t have said that. He set the bar too high. So he tells us about five minutes worth of bad jokes so that we can practice laughing loudly at jokes we don’t get or aren’t funny, and finally, it’s time to go inside.
They run us up five flights of stairs to some sort of staging area. They line us up along three lines of colored tape on the floor so that they can tell us some more rules. Actually, they were the same rules. I guess some of us don’t pay much attention.
I’ve never been in a TV studio before. I don’t know if they all look like this off-stage. This one looked dark and dreary, with a bunch of equipment sitting around that looked like it was probably high-tech in the 60s, but hadn’t been used in years. It reminded me of the janitor’s equipment room in elementary school. It would have seemed very cool if I was seven years old and wasn’t supposed to be there.
Finally, they take us into the studio. They actually tell everyone exactly where to sit. I felt very honored when they asked me to sit in the middle of the front row. The most notable thing is how small the studio is in real life. Remember those multiplex theatres that sprouted up in the 70s and 80s? Remember how they had some bigger theaters for the big new movies, and some tiny theaters that they would use for the for the movies that had been out for a month? Imagine one of those little bitty theaters. Then cut it in half. I don’t know how they make it look so big on TV.
Once we’re in the theater, the warm up comedian tells us a few more bad jokes. Then gives us a well-rehearsed speech about how we are not the audience. We are actually part of the show. We are “show enhancers.” He actually tries to guilt us into laughing at all of Craig’s jokes, even if we don’t understand them. And this actually works, for a while. He actually tells us that he doesn’t understand most of Craig’s jokes because of his accent. Craig Ferguson is an American, damn it! We don’t have accents.
Finally, about 4:00, the show begins! Craig comes into the studio, and we all stand up to cheer, on cue. Yes, we were instructed to give a standing ovation.
I’m so excited because I’m in the middle of the front row, and Craig is going to be standing five feet in front of me doing his monologue! So Craig walks to center stage, and the camera moves into position. Between me and Craig. If you go to a live TV show, and they invite you to sit in the center of the front row, don’t feel honored. It means they don’t like you. The only thing I got to look at was the TV monitors and the back of the camera woman’s head. I didn’t actually get to watch the show until I got home and watched it on my DVR.
They don’t do many shots of the TV audience. But I was on camera twice during the show, both times from behind. I’m the guy with the bald head looking to left so I can see the TV screen while everyone else is looking directly at Craig.
As I mentioned, I’m a big fan of Craig’s. I’ve read his book, which I recommend. I watch his show just about every night. It’s one of the few shows I record automatically on my DVR. But there are two things he does on the show that I hate. One is when he plays his harmonica, or, mouth organ, as he puts it. The other is when he uses his puppets, especially the potty-mouthed rabbit puppet. So, you guessed it, he played the harmonica. And he did, not one, but two segments with the rabbit puppet. I don’t think I’ve ever seen two rabbit segments on the same show.
Craig’s first guest was Mindy Kaling from The Office. Craig clearly has a huge crush on Mindy. I’ve seen her on the show twice before. I can’t think of anyone else I’ve seen on his show three times. The interview goes something like this: “You look amazing. I hope you’re not offended.” “Why would I be offended?” “How did you get into such great shape?” “It took a lot of work.” At which point lovely Mindy explains her workout routine.
I actually watched a re-run sitting in a live studio audience.
The second guest was some documentary reporter from some television show that I’ve never heard of probably on some cable network that I don’t get. I can’t remember the name of the show. He seemed bored to be there, Craig seemed bored to have him there, and the best part of the segment was watching a camel chewing on his arm in the video clip.
Geoff Peterson was definitely the high point of this particular show. I love the robot skeleton, and he and Craig had one of their longest exchanges that day.
By the way, there’s no free chicken.
It may not sound like it, but I did have fun. I don’t regret going, but I don’t know if I’d do it again. I’m still a big Ferguson fan, but , I admit, some of the magic is gone. Sometimes, “Don’t look at the man behind the curtain” is good advice. If you’re a Craig Ferguson fan like me, I recommend you try it. Even if you’re not a Craig fan, but you’ve never seen a TV show recorded in person, I recommend that you try the Late Late Show. At least you don’t have to get dressed up.