Craig Ferguson on How Hardship Can Produce Great Comedy

Craig Ferguson, an American late-night TV institution, looks back on his life so far, and how hardship can produce great comedy, as discussed in his new memoir, “Riding the Elephant.”

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: But first, let’s talk about your memoir which is coming out next week. And it’s called “Riding the Elephant.” And you — it’s been described as having a sort of a range of emotions, rewarding, frustrating, difficult, easy, immensely satisfying, soul searching, crushingly dull, hilarious depressing. That is the lens through which you look at late-night TV, which you, you know, hosted for so long.

CRAIG FERGUSON, COMEDIAN AND AUTHOR, “RIDING THE ELEPHANT”: No. When you say “crushingly dull,” that’s what I say —


FERGUSON: — in the book. That’s not what people are saying.

AMANPOUR: No, I said that’s your range of emotions.


AMANPOUR: It says that you have “no rose-tinted glasses about what you were involved in.” Including, let’s just say it again, “crushingly dull.”

FERGUSON: Well, don’t you find that sometimes when you’re interviewing people that it can get crushingly dull?


FERGUSON: Not when I was interviewing you.

AMANPOUR: Never, never.

FERGUSON: That was never crushingly dull. But sometimes — I think if you — anybody that has a job for a long period of time, you know, it’s not always a great day. So, I didn’t love it all the time. I loved it a lot of the time. But I was very happy — I’m proud of that show, and I’m glad I did it, but I’m very happy not to be doing it anymore.

AMANPOUR: OK. So, what did you love about it?

FERGUSON: I think I loved the freedom of whenever I had anything to say, I could just go ahead and say it. I also was — I loved that I was very lucky to be in a period of time in television that was very unusual and I don’t think it will ever exist again. It was a time period that was owned by David Letterman, because of the way the deal had been done in the 90s to get Dave to go to CBS. He owned the time period. So, I was protected by Dave from the pressures of the mighty CBS Corporation, which I’m very grateful for.

AMANPOUR: You said that actually one of the most nerve-racking things and one of the things you had the most initial challenge with was the opening monologue.

FERGUSON: Yes. It was very difficult at first for me because what I would do to go out is, you know, the writers would write a bunch of jokes, and I would read them off cue cards that were held off camera and I tried to do that for a while, but the results were intermittent at best. And really, the early reviews were accurate in their cruelty. And I decided not to do that. I decided to get rid of that. I thought if I’m going to fail at this, I’ll fail on my own terms as it were. I’ll just kind of do what I know, to kind of be myself if you want to talk in the modern parlance of Starbucks To-Go Cups. So, I kind of just did that and that’s what seemed to work. So —

AMANPOUR: And you say you went through —

FERGUSON: — I kind of went through it.

AMANPOUR: Yes. And you say you went through this sort of transformation whereby it was unnecessary chore to, you know, a welcome creative outlet.

About This Episode EXPAND

Christiane Amanpour speaks with Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the Icelandic Prime Minister; and Craig Ferguson, late-night TV host and author of “Riding the Elephant.” Alicia Menendez speaks with Amanda Gorman, the first National Youth Poet Laureate.