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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Amanpour and Company.” Here’s what’s coming up.
A different kind of prime minister. I speak to Iceland’s down-to-earth left-wing leader about her unique style.
Then, a serious conversation with a funny man, Craig Ferguson, from hosting “The Late Late Show” to writing a memoir, “Riding the Elephant.”
Plus, the first youth poet laureate of the United States. 21-year-old Amanda Gorman sits down with our Alicia Menendez.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I’m Christiane Amanpour in London.
Now, we all remember Iceland and the famous unpronounceable volcano whose eruption brought all of Europe and much of the world’s airspace to a
standstill, that was a decade ago. And of course, the financial crisis of 2007 that brought Iceland itself to its knees.
Since then, however, this tiny nation in the North Atlantic has bounced back and holds big ambitions like becoming carbon neutral by 2040 and
leading on climate policy.
That though takes political will. And Iceland’s prime minister, only the second woman to win that office, is bringing a unique style of leadership
to the table. Prepared to discuss issues over a plate of spicy chicken wings with a reporter. Trying to buck the politics of division and
populism seen elsewhere by experimenting with a coalition of left-wing greens and conservative parties to bridge the political divide.
Street activism propelled this prime minister into politics, and I’ve been speaking to her about leadership, about the art of the compromise and about
Iceland’s unusual lack of family names.
Prime Minister, welcome to the program.
KATRIN JAKOBSDOTTIR, ICELANDIC PRIME MINISTER: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: You know, just as an icebreaker, I want to ask you about names in Iceland.
AMANPOUR: Your name is Katrin Jakobsdottir.
AMANPOUR: Am I getting that right?
JAKOBSDOTTIR: Yes, you are.
AMANPOUR: And I hear you don’t have last names. That’s not really a last name. It’s — you’re Jakob’s daughter.
JAKOBSDOTTIR: Yes, yes, yes. It means daughter of Jakob. And if you’re a man, you are the son of your father. Some people use their mother’s name.
So, then I would be the daughter of Sikni (ph), which was my mother’s name.
AMANPOUR: I mean, it’s interesting. There’s nowhere else —
JAKOBSDOTTIR: It’s a beautiful tradition, I think so. Because I studied Icelandic language and literature in university and it’s a beautiful and
unique tradition. And what we say is, “My name is Katrin, that I am Jakob’s daughter (ph).
AMANPOUR: You were an activist.
JAKOBSDOTTIR: Yes, before.
AMANPOUR: And you came to politics and you became prime minister sort of from the grassroots up. How did that happen? What made you become an
activist? How was that journey?
JAKOBSDOTTIR: Well, I come from a very political, from a very left-wing family. I began really just by demonstrating because of environmental
interests. So, that was my first move in politics and I never intended to become a politician. It wasn’t exactly my dream. I wanted to be some sort
of a cultural person. So — but I went into politics and I’m still there. But I can always turn to culture later.
AMANPOUR: How does the activism inform your politics?
JAKOBSDOTTIR: Well, I think, of course, it’s very different to be an activist who comes to demonstrate. But it’s very different to be in
politics and you have to learn that within the system you have to make compromises. But it’s good to have these roots and embrace activism when
you meet it.
Now, young people in Iceland like around Europe are demonstrating because of climate. And I think it’s actually something that we should embrace and
listen to them.
AMANPOUR: Yes. I mean, I must say, it has taken the world by storm. Obviously, it’s incapsulated in the figure of this small young Swedish
Greta Thunberg, only 16 years old and starting with this lone protest and inspiring millions of people around the world.
Does that give you hope for movement on this particular issue, the environment?
JAKOBSDOTTIR: Well, I think a lot has changed. When I — I was elected to Parliament in 2007. And most generally, politicians weren’t talking about
climates and they weren’t talking about gender quality either. So, I will mention two of the themes that have been prominent in my politics.
Things have changed. Political parties have all some sort of a position when it comes to climate or gender equality, and that’s a good thing. But
it’s also very important that policies will not just be words on a paper but also will become actions.
AMANPOUR: Your party’s been described as a — it’s like a new breed of Nordic left-wing parties. You link democratic socialism with
environmentalism, feminism and anti-militarism. But how does that translate into a political party?
JAKOBSDOTTIR: These are the four pillars of the parties — of the party. And actually, when I entered this party, it was in 2002, and we
were considered to be doomed for opposition at all times. So, people said, “You can’t really be in government with the Left-Greens because they are
impossible to work with, cooperate.”
AMANPOUR: That’s you?
JAKOBSDOTTIR: That’s me.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Impossible to work with?
JAKOBSDOTTIR: Impossible. But then, of course, the 2008 crisis created conditions in Iceland because —
AMANPOUR: The 2008 crisis, the financial crisis?
JAKOBSDOTTIR: Yes, the 2008.
JAKOBSDOTTIR: Yes, the financial crisis. So, then we actually first went into government with the Social Democrats. And of course, that’s — that
changes a party to go into government. And of course, we were under heavy criticism being in government, having to make compromises. But I think we
have managed to keep the balance between being able to make compromises. But remember also, our strong roots in these four pillars.
It’s a kind of an innovative politics. Can we bridge the gap between right and left when the circumstances are like they are in Icelandic politics?
AMANPOUR: So, it’s a bit of an experiment?
AMANPOUR: I mean, populism hasn’t really hit Iceland the way it has Britain —
AMANPOUR: — and other countries. And we’ve just seen this week, for the first time. a very far-right party getting seats in the Spanish Parliament.
How — why do you think Iceland has been somewhat immune?
JAKOBSDOTTIR: Well, it’s difficult to answer. Sometimes we have just been a little, you know — often, tendencies (ph) come later to Iceland than
other European countries, to be totally fair. But I also think that we have seen a left-wing government after the crisis, we have seen a right-
wing government and I think there was a strong demand for more political stability. We’ve had five elections since 2007. And also, demand that the
parties really set out to make compromises and be able to talk together in spite of not being always on the same line.
AMANPOUR: And you’re the second elected female prime minister in Iceland.
JAKOBSDOTTIR: Yes, yes.
AMANPOUR: And, you know, you talk about feminism being a major plank of your party. And Iceland is always coming up as, you know, really good on
the sort of gender equality scale and you’re very keen on talking up, you know, your gender parity as well.
But for whatever reason on the World Bank, it doesn’t come up as, you know, one of the first top six countries in this regard.
JAKOBSDOTTIR: Well, it’s — you know, when you look at different measurements, you see other results for the World Economic Forum. We have
been number one for many years on The Global Gender Gap index. So, I guess you have to look into what’s being measured.
But I think the reason that we’re doing pretty well when it comes to gender equality, but we definitely can do better, is that we have had political
policies that have mattered, universal child care, parental leave that’s shared between parents, for example. I should think those two political
policies have, for example, for me, as a female politician, been absolutely vital because they create equal grounds for men and women to participate
and have their careers.
But, of course, there are many things. You know, if we were perfect, I would be number 33 and not number two, for example, as a female prime
minister. And also, we have a lot to do, and that’s actually highest on the feminist agenda of the government when it comes to gender-based
violence, gender-based discourse and harassment. So, that’s where we were actually forming our new plan.
AMANPOUR: I mean, you’ve got one of the highest reported rates per capita in Europe. Why is that do you think?
JAKOBSDOTTIR: Well, I think gender-based violence in Iceland, that’s in many other countries, has been something that we haven’t talked too much
about. It’s not being measured always when you measure gender equality. So, that’s why maybe it was a shock to many when the #MeToo Movement
happened in Iceland and we had all those women stepping up and telling their stories.
AMANPOUR: You said that women do things differently and work things out differently. What do you mean women do things differently?
JAKOBSDOTTIR: Well, I think, you know, we — obviously, the history of Western politics is the history of man, male politicians. And they have
created the structures. They have created the way we do politics. And obviously, because gender affects the way we are, women do things
differently. Of course, there are individuals who are different — of different sexes, obviously.
But I think my experience, anyhow, is when you have both men and women at the table you change the discussion. And it’s not enough just to be the
only woman at the table because you need to have other women because it changes the way — you know, we know that, that men and women network
differently. We interact differently.
When we’re talking about the environment, it affects men and women differently. When we’re talking about how to build up our transport
system, men and women have different needs. When we’re talking about education, men and women are different. So, we need to have this
AMANPOUR: And you just talked about the environment. I mean, we have another you know, graphic like this.
AMANPOUR: We’re going to get to this in a moment because it shows the Arctic Circle and where you are in relation to this very, very fragile and
endangered part. But for whatever reason, you are the highest CO2 emitter —
AMANPOUR: — per capita in Europe. Why is that? Because environment is so close to your heart and there’s so much renewable and sustainable
JAKOBSDOTTIR: Well, some things, when it comes to the environment, we have been doing well. You know, we are using electricity because we have
renewable energy. We’re heating our houses with geothermal. But what we have been using our renewables to do is the core issue here because we have
a lot of aluminum industry, it is one of the three pillars, could you say, of the Icelandic economy. And that’s where we see the biggest emissions
alongside with aviation.
And we haven’t really been reacting to climate change until now. We have proposed that we won’t import any diesel or gasoline cars after 2030 at
latest. We are switching over to electricity but also increasing the (INAUDIBLE) on public transport run by electricity or other renewable
energies. And then, we have also a plan about how we can increase carbon binding.
AMANPOUR: Do you think, as you’ve said, that your country can be carbon neutral by 2040?
JAKOBSDOTTIR: We’re heading there, and I think we can because I don’t think — because we must. I think there is a great urgency in this matter.
And we have actually all the opportunities, we’re a rich country, we have the renewable energy, we can, for example, enter this energy shift in
transport because we have the energy and it’s an economically very sound policy.
But we also, being a small country — you know, sometimes people think we really don’t matter because we’re so small there. But we actually can make
a difference by changing our ways, decreasing consumption and emissions, but also entering this energy shift.
AMANPOUR: I mean, you’re a country of, I think, something like 360,000 people. That’s not very much.
AMANPOUR: And you get 1.8, nearly 2 million visitors per year and soon that’s going to increase. I mean, that’s a huge factor above your actual
population. I mean, some people are even saying the tourists are complaining about how many tourists are there. How does that affect the
infrastructure, your capability, the environment?
JAKOBSDOTTIR: Well, it has. You know, what happened really was in 2010, after the crisis, we had a volcanic eruption.
AMANPOUR: Everybody remembers that. Planes were grounded —
AMANPOUR: — all over the world because of the volcanic eruption.
JAKOBSDOTTIR: Speaking in a foreign language]. Yes.
AMANPOUR: Excuse me, what was it again?
JAKOBSDOTTIR: Well, people like to say that, [speaking in a foreign language]. OK. So, it’s erupted and it erupted and went on. And I
remember because I was the Minister for the Education and Culture in the left-wing government. That we had a crisis meeting, how are we going to
save the tourism? But then, I don’t know whether it was the eruption or the doing stuff, the government and the tourism sector, but it grew
exponentially. And —
AMANPOUR: You mean, people might have been attracted by this volcanic island?
JAKOBSDOTTIR: Certainly, everybody knew where we were. So, we kind of put ourselves on the map. The glacier put us on the map. So — but I think we
must be frank that we didn’t build up the infrastructure as fast as the tourism grew. So, that’s a fact.
But what we’re seeing now is a much greater emphasis on sustainable tourism. And I could mention because we’re talking about energy shift and
tourism. But just last week, we were announcing a new plan from the government but also the local communities and private sector and actually
making it possible to travel by electric vehicles across the Icelandic highlands. So, you’re not going to be driving there over emitting a lot of
AMANPOUR: And what about this picture here that we have?
AMANPOUR: This is you right there hovering just touching the Arctic Circle.
AMANPOUR: And, you know, the ice is melting, obviously, and it’s exposing whole new trade routes and exposing new natural resources, it’s redrawing
the map of this area. And it looks like the Chinese are really interested in the Arctic Circle, really interested in areas around Iceland, including
what they call a Polar Silk Road. How destabilizing is that going to be or not?
JAKOBSDOTTIR: Well, it’s not just the Chinese. You know, you sense a political interest in the Arctic coming are really from around the Arctic
and for our self. And what we’ve been saying is that, “What happens in the Arctic is not just the private issue of us around the Arctic. It’s a
And it’s very important to — you know, I have spoken very openly that we need to keep the Arctic as demilitarized as possible. And we
need to think about the environments. And we are actually sharing the Arctic Council for the next two years.
One of our main — let’s say that all our main focuses are connected to the environments in the Arctic. And the ocean is one of our key issues. You
know, we are throwing 8 million tons of plastic in the ocean every year. And we are seeing also the effects of climate change already in the ocean
around Iceland. When I’m talking (INAUDIBLE) of the ocean. So, this is something that we need to react.
AMANPOUR: And you’ve been in touch with the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, right, regarding —
AMANPOUR: — this Arctic Circle?
AMANPOUR: And of course, everybody knows that the president wants to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord.
JAKOBSDOTTIR: And then, you know, it’s not enough to do an agreement. We need to have actions, as I said earlier. A definite disappointment as I
actually said to Mr. Pompeo since you mentioned him.
But then again, you see a lot of local action in the United States, which is important. And I think we have to also — well, at least I have some
hopes that the cooperation within the Arctic Council has actually been very good. And I do hope it will continue to be that because you have a lot of
big players there around the table. But, still, the cooperation has been very good.
AMANPOUR: Now, I can’t let you go, Prime Minister, without asking you about the famous Nordic noir.
AMANPOUR: And you are a big fan of Nordic crime fiction. You even go out — even your day job as prime minister, you’ve been out and you’ve done
readings of various authors and books for people. What is it? What do you get out of the crime fiction?
JAKOBSDOTTIR: Well, you know, I loved crime fiction as a child. You know, I began reading Agatha Christie as a child in Icelandic translation. But
it was really all a coincidence. I studied Icelandic literature and language. As I’ve told you, I never intended to go into politics. So,
I’ve always, you know, kept active. And I read fiction every day, actually. It’s my psychotherapy. It’s very important to have some
psychotherapy when you’re in politics.
AMANPOUR: Well —
JAKOBSDOTTIR: Crime fiction if a very good section (ph).
AMANPOUR: And that is a very good place to end. Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, thank you very much indeed for joining us.
JAKOBSDOTTIR: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And now, from the fiords of Iceland to the highlands of Scotland. Comedian, Craig Ferguson, is something of an American TV
institution, having hosted “The Late Late Show” for nine years.
He left that in 2014 and was replaced by James Corden, he of the carpool karaoke fame. But Ferguson is back in the public eye now with a memoir
called “Riding the Elephant.” From robot skeletons to dive bars in Australia. The book is an honest look at his own life. And I found out, a
reminder of how hardship can, of course, produce great comedy.
Craig Ferguson, welcome to the program.
CRAIG FERGUSON, COMEDIAN AND AUTHOR, “RIDING THE ELEPHANT”: Thank you very much, Christiane. Very lovely to talk to you again.
AMANPOUR: Well, it’s lovely to talk to you again. It is, obviously, the table is being turned since I had the opportunity to be on your show.
We’ll talk about that in a moment, or rather your show.
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.
FERGUSON: 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 love 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 a, you know, welcome creative outlet.
FERGUSON: Yes. Yes. I had to go through the difficulty as it were. And I liked it. Actually, I’m very proud of that show. I think it worked very
well. I don’t know that I would be able to do it in the current climate. I think because — A, because Dave has gone through that — that kind of
layer of protection was going away. And, also, everything has a polemic now.
And while that’s fine and that’s the way things are, I think I would — I’d get bored trying to do that every night. It would — because I’d have to
hit the same note every time and I don’t think I’ve got the attention span for that.
AMANPOUR: But your successor, James Corden, seems to be making a run of it. Again, another one from the British isles.
FERGUSON: Yes, absolutely. Yes. I actually think James should have been — as successful as he was, but he should have waited a little bit longer.
I think it was bad manners for him to do so well so quickly. But, you know, everybody has to do what they have to do.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you this, because your show — look, it was serious, but it also had its sort of sometimes silly moments. You had a, you know,
robot skeleton, you had two men dancing in a horse suit. And a couple of times you had — well, many times, some very prominent global figures, for
instance Desmond Tutu —
AMANPOUR: — who is the great —
FERGUSON: Desmond Tutu, yes.
AMANPOUR: — archbishop of —
FERGUSON: Let’s point out, Desmond Tutu never danced in a horse suit or a —
AMANPOUR: No, he didn’t. He didn’t.
FERGUSON: And the night he was there, the robot skeleton got the night off.
FERGUSON: I felt that it might — it may have been disrespectful.
AMANPOUR: Well, let’s play a soundbite of him from that night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DESMOND TUTU, SOUTH AFRICAN ANGLICAN CLERGYMAN: I’m just glad to be here. But I think you’re crazy.
FERGUSON: You think I’m crazy? Whatever gave you that idea? You’ve met some crazy people. That was crazy. I —
TUTU: No, no, a different kind of crazy.
FERGUSON: Yes, yes, yes.
TUTU: I mean, you send them to asylums.
TUTU: No, not you. We want you.
FERGUSON: Oh, really?
TUTU: We want your craziness.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: He was a perfect guest, wasn’t he?
FERGUSON: Oh, yes. Absolutely. I — and also, when he said, “We want your crazy,” which was — it was a big moment for me because I thought
that’s like sort of divine endorsement to be as mad as you want to be. So, I’ve taken him at his word.
AMANPOUR: Well, that divine endorsement did actually lead to you getting a Peabody Award. A very coveted Peabody Award for this show. So, I mean,
there was a lot of important serious stuff going on as well. And I wonder what you think of —
AMANPOUR: — you know, since you’ve left “The Late Late Show,” you’ve seen how, particularly under the Trump administration, late-night talk hosts,
whether it’s Stephen Colbert or Seth Meyers or, you know, the whole gamut – –
AMANPOUR: — have really taken on sort of a massive space in the political space of American life.
FERGUSON: Yes. But I think what they’re doing is quite rightly, they’re following the zeitgeist of the times, they’re working in the environment
that is current. I left late-night in December of 2014, which was, you know, before the current political climate. So, it was a different time
and a different thing.
I don’t know how I would do it now. I’m kind of glad I don’t have to because I don’t know how successful I would be with that. But I think
that, you know, times change and the needs of these shows change and people are doing — you know, I think that’s what you have to do. You have to
read how the world is and adapt accordingly.
AMANPOUR: I want to talk to you about the climate today because there is such hostility from the White House and from all the White House officials
to the press and even, obviously, to the late-night comedians.
I’m going to play a little bit of your 2008, you know, spoof at the White House Correspondent’s dinner and then we’ll play —
AMANPOUR: — a little bit from this year’s.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FERGUSON: I haven’t been in Washington very long, But I’ve been here long enough to know that it’s full of people who disagree on everything, from
how to balance the budget, to what tie (ph) is the most patriotic. You people can’t agree on anything. The president doesn’t like the press, the
press doesn’t like the president. Everybody hates Cheney, Cheney loves that, he thinks it’s cool. I mean, that’s weird. I mean, that’s pervy, if
you don’t mind me saying so.
But that — what I’m saying is this, I knew that when I came here that this room would be full of contentious and contrary people, people who argue all
the time. May I remind you as a new American, we need that. That’s what this place is all about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: You know, that was really — I mean, you were being very funny and you grabbed, you know, Cheney. And of course, there was George W. Bush
and it was, you know, at the height of his post Iraq war second, you know, election.
AMANPOUR: There was some very, very troubled times. I wonder if you can – –
AMANPOUR: — remember the atmosphere under that administration when we are still kind of absorbing the atmosphere under this administration.
FERGUSON: You know, it was — the White House Correspondent’s dinner, I found to be — it’s a difficult gig to do if you’re a comedian because, you
know, everybody kind of is a little paranoid at that show and there’s a real kind of confluence of worlds.
I felt that I was bulletproof that year because I had just become an American citizen. So, whatever I said was going to be — you know, it was
going to be backed up by that. I had — you know, I had laid that out.
Also, I think because it was the final year of George W. Bush, there was a certain amount of relaxation about it because he was — the administration
was finished. It was over. You know, it was in the lame duck period in the lead up to the election. So, I didn’t feel like — I didn’t feel it
was necessary to get in there and take everybody to task for their policies. I don’t think that was my job there that night.
Also, because I had just become an American citizen, I felt to talk that night about what was wrong would kind of like be, you know, like to come
into someone’s house and then starting to complain about the drapes and the furniture, it would been kind of bad manners in the — well, that’s what it
felt like to me.
AMANPOUR: And —
FERGUSON: So, I thought, how can I tell the truth and do something that’s patriotic but at the same time that it’s not something that sycophantic and
try and kind of navigate that line?
AMANPOUR: And thread that needle. I mean, of course, this year for the umteenth time, the White House’s — you know, the president has not gone
and there were — I think no White House officials this year.
AMANPOUR: And in fact, there was an unusual speaker because it wasn’t a comedian, it was the historian, Ron Chernow. And he actually spoke about
some of the social media complaints he was actually getting from the comedians to the fact he was going to be there. Let’s just listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RON CHERNOW, HISTORIAN: There’s been some squawking from the comedians and I’m sorry about that. Frankly, I thought that those folks would have a
little more of a sense of humor about my selection. After all, they are comedians. But we need them now more than ever during this surreal
interlude in American life. As Will Rogers once observed, people are taking their comedians seriously and their politicians as a joke, and that
certainly describes our topsy-turvy moment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Can you relate to that, people taking their comedians seriously and politicians as a joke?
FERGUSON: Well, it is — it’s always — there’s kind of nothing new in this, I don’t think either. Like, the year I did the White House
Correspondent’s dinner, “The New York Times” did not attend. They boycotted the dinner because they felt it was getting too cozy with the
I mean, this kind of push and pull, I don’t think is a product of the Trump administration. I think it’s been going on for a long time.
AMANPOUR: So, tell me, you have now moved back to Scotland. You’ve got this new memoir out. Where are you today? What are you thinking about?
What did you want this memoir to say about your life and where you are now?
FERGUSON: I think what it is, is this is a very kind of — it’s quite — it’s a very honest book in the sense that I did that kind of Steinbeck
thing of start writing and find out what it is.
And I started writing a series of short essays about subjects which or stories which I couldn’t really tell in standup because they
weren’t that funny or they were too long or they were meditative or they were — and I couldn’t do them on television because they were too dirty or
they were politically — well not too much politically actually, but certainly unsuitable for broadcast television.
So in writing the stories, you have more time to kind of explore it and express it and examine the subject. And in the writing of these stories,
the book took shape. So it is a kind of non-linear storytelling. But it – – what I wanted to do — I didn’t even want to do anything, it’s already done.
I finished it and here it is. I think what I’m doing now in talking about it is kind of letting people know it’s there.
I mean if you like me, you’ll like the book. If you don’t like me, then it’s definitely not a book for you. And if you’re on the fence about me or
don’t know who I am, then it’s up to you.
AMANPOUR: Yes, read the book.
Yes. Read it if you want and don’t if you don’t.
AMANPOUR: Look, you grew up in Scotland. You talk about how that shaped you and the roots of your upbringing. I mean you’re really proud of your
upbringing but you talk about sort of resentment, a little bit self- loathing, even guilt.
You say you grow up in the post-war new town of Cumbernauld. And here’s a quote.
AMANPOUR: All standup comedians, in fact, most people involved in the arts who I admire, seem to have forged their creativity in some form of
childhood trauma. So I suppose I have to thank the soulless modernist town planners of post-war Britain for my life today.
I mean that’s a fancy way of putting it. How did it shape you?
FERGUSON: Well, I think what it was is that — it’s complicated because it was a very grim time. I mean, you know, Britain was in reconstruction
Well, really, after the Second World War. There was — it was — economically, it was very difficult. There was a change going on.
And these — the new town in which I grew up and I think it was a decent idea. I think it was borne from an altruistic place but it was just a bad
idea. It was a lot of houses which I’m sure looked very good on expensive paper but looked terrible in the real world.
I think it’s very Freudian to say, I think, that everything is borne in early childhood trauma. And I don’t really subscribe to that, I don’t
think, but it does seem to have resonance of truth that everyone — in order to create humor, I think — I’m not talking about economic hardship
necessarily but just to get out of the bad feelings. Isn’t that what humor is? It’s a coping mechanism.
So in order to develop that coping mechanism, it would make sense to have something unpleasant early on that would lead to the flourish — almost
like the dung that makes the plant grow. Do you know what I mean?
AMANPOUR: Since you have used that metaphor, let me just, with trepidation, move towards it. I mean there was quite a lot of dung in your
life. You became an alcoholic, right?
FERGUSON: Well, it wasn’t a career choice.
AMANPOUR: No. But how–
FERGUSON: It definitely — I don’t know — I’m not sure to this day whether I became an alcoholic or I was born that way and it just kind of
developed. I think it’s probably a bit of both or it varies from person to person.
But certainly, I drank alcoholically for, you know, my 20s basically. I started drinking in my early teens. And I got sober when I was 29-years-
old. So I’ve been sober for a very long time, but about twice as long as I drank alcohol.
But I still identify myself as an alcoholic because I think it is a — when you become one — stopping drinking, doesn’t make it go away. If it did,
then I would immediately start drinking again which brings you full circle I suppose.
I think it’s — I think nowadays I describe myself as an alcoholic because I think it’s a personality type maybe. Maybe that’s what it is. It’s who
I am. It’s my identity I think.
AMANPOUR: And you had what Oprah might call an aha moment when you went into a bar and the young bar girl behind sort of suggested to you that you
were drinking too much. How were you able to take what she said on board at that time?
FERGUSON: Well, I think that particular story, which is in the book, it has to be in context. I mean this was an early — a bar that was open
early in the morning in a rough part of Melbourne, Australia.
So if a barmaid in a bar that’s open in the morning in a rough part of Melbourne, Australia, tells you, “You drink too much”, this is a person who
sees a lot of people who drink too much.
And I think because she just happened to say it, it wasn’t a frothy appeal to my better nature. It was just someone who was kind of noticing and it
landed with me. I don’t know why it landed.
I was lucky enough — that wasn’t the end of my drinking by any means but it was the first time I remember thinking this is a very important piece of
information. And somehow it landed.
It’s only through the lens of perspective through time that I look back and think, yes, I think that was the — to paraphrase Churchill, it was the end
of the beginning.
AMANPOUR: It was very serious for you. It had a very big impact on your mental health. And it practically, you say, drove you to suicide.
And we are in a state of terrible mental health issues, particularly with young people these days, particularly with young boys. And I just wonder
whether they might get some real information and help out of this book. And just by your experience and what you might say to people who, you know,
is suffering today.
FERGUSON: I think — you know, look, I hope that anything that I can — I mean I think any human being, anything you could do to help someone who is
in mental anguish, only a monster would not do that. If I do anything that helps anyone, you know, get out of that or move past it, I, of course,
would do it.
I would say to anyone who is thinking of hurting themselves or destroying themselves that as someone who has experienced that emotion very vividly,
it is not permanent even though it feels like that at the time. And it feels like the only way to end suffering is to destroy yourself and
everything around you or yourself, really.
And I think that if somehow you can reach into the tunnel of that suffering and pull someone out, you would do it. I don’t — I’m not qualified to do
that other than to say I have been in that tunnel and it is a tunnel, it is not a cell. So you can leave.
AMANPOUR: I think that’s really interesting. It’s a tunnel and not a cell. That’s really, really important. You’ve put that behind you
certainly 29 years ago.
What makes Craig Ferguson happy today? Where is the light at the end of your tunnel?
FERGUSON: I think I’m happy in my family life. I have a solid marriage to a woman I love. I have children that I adore and spend time with.
I’m lucky enough to be able to do the work that I want to do largely. And I think that the key to happiness for me — and I don’t mean this in any
Pollyanna way or in any Evangelical way for anyone else, but the key to my happiness is when I remember to be grateful for what I have.
And sometimes it’s necessary for me to be around people who are having difficulty in order to remember that. So when I can, and when I’m given
the opportunity to perhaps reach out and help maybe alcoholics who are not in the same place as I am right now or who are still drinking or want to
escape from that, or to say to you or to say on this television right now that it is a tunnel and it’s not a cell.
That’s what makes me happy. That’s what brings me happiness, is that it’s not what I thought it was. When I was a kid, I thought it would be things
and stuff and money and kudos and success.
And in various times, I’ve kind of had that. And it doesn’t really work. I’m sad to say.
AMANPOUR: Yes, certainly not. Not in isolation. Craig Ferguson, thank you so much indeed for joining me.
FERGUSON: Thank you, Christiane. It’s lovely to talk to you.
AMANPOUR: Our next guest has also used her personal experiences to inform her writing. At only 21-years-old, Harvard student Amanda Gorman is
already a published author and the first national youth poet laureate.
In this role, she’s spoken at the Library of Congress and all over America. She’s also an activist. She founded an initiative in her hometown, Los
Angeles, to promote literacy through creative writing.
Amanda sat down with our Alicia Menendez to discuss youth culture, her own poetry, and social justice.
ALICIA MENENDEZ, CONTRIBUTOR: What’s so wild about your story is the leap from the way you grew up and the way you were treated in our
education system to all of these accolades that you have acquired.
AMANDA GORMAN, ACTIVIST: Right. It was really wild. I remember when I first got the title, I was like if I could tell, you know, 7-year-old me,
very skinny, has a speech impediment, terrified of reading her poetry, also continually because of the color of her skin, because of her gender,
treated lesser than.
If I could tell her that one day she’d have this type of role, my eyes probably would have rolled in the back of my head.
MENENDEZ: Well, you were dubbed a special needs student?
GORMAN: Right. I have a twin. And both my twin and I were born early. So that led to a few developmental delays.
For me, the most kind of central of which in my life was that of having a speech impediment. And so what that kind of entailed for me is that I had
to basically teach myself English and language in a way that my peers around me did not.
But I think in the end, it made me a stronger poet because I had to work so hard to make that leap from someone who couldn’t say her last name or say
the school in which she got into for college, to make that leap to being a youth poet laureate performing at a place like Library of Congress. I
think having that type of journey made me appreciate having the voice.
MENENDEZ: You have trouble with your Rs. Harvard is a cruel irony.
GORMAN: Yes, it’s a cruel irony. I can tell you that. I remember when I first got in, I like immediately whipped out the Harvard flash card with
that word on it and was practicing it because I knew I’d have to tell people that’s where I was going.
MENENDEZ: Talk to me about the jump from writing your poetry down on paper to then becoming a spoken word poet and having to say those poems out loud.
GORMAN: Right. For me, it’s always — not only the question of is what I’m writing as powerful as it can be, and then there’s also the question of
how am I going to physically perform this to someone who still to this day struggles heavily with sound with enunciation.
And for me, it was a lot of practice makes perfect. Part of that included the flashcards of practicing words, but also interestingly enough something
that I do sometimes to help me with my speech impediment is I will watch and listen to other great orators and try to embody them.
MENENDEZ: Like who?
GORMAN: Like Barack Obama who’s great. Martin Luther King, I’ll watch his speeches because he’s the phenomenal orator. But even like the cast of
Hamilton, like there’s so many Rs in that. Aaron Burr, sir.
And so I’ll practice that song before a performance and it really helps me work on what I need to work on.
MENENDEZ: Why poetry? How did you find poetry as your medium?
GORMAN: I think poetry really found me because it’s something that I’ve been doing since I could remember. I don’t remember a time before when I
wasn’t fascinated by stories, fascinated by writings.
I think a lot of us are first engaged at poetry in a classroom. It’s hot. Somebody is talking about Robert Frost. Poetry seems like this old
artifact, The Land Before Time.
And for me, I think poetry is so exciting and so it’s bringing into those spaces and into those conversations that people traditionally do not
connect the dots with.
MENENDEZ: Would you read me one of your poems?
MENENDEZ: There’s one called We the People that I would love to hear, at least a piece of.
GORMAN: Yes. We the People. We the people live in a less than perfect union that accuses the vulnerable and never the top class and race. When
children are illegal and intolerance bans human, I wonder who we the people are in the first place.
We the people meant all lives matter but all whites’ lives living coincidence when if you’re not male or pale, you get destroyed for
demonstrating dissidence. When the color of a skin gets a killer assumed innocence, but still, we will rise up advocate and activate with the
Let’s speak names to we the people so they’re not lost in executive orders’ lines, protects them from prick, of tweet, pen, bullet or steeple. Sturdy
our signs to keep making signs and reading the signs. It’s hectic, apocalyptic, the skeptics, but we can be united for what makes America
great is diversity and democracy reignited.
MENENDEZ: Wow. What specifically motivated you to write that poem?
GORMAN: This was kind of after the kind of big emotional psychological political shock that I had after Trump won the election. And I heard a lot
of language around we the people about, you know, what the American democracy stands for.
And I felt it was important to try to delineate the legacy of how much America has questioned who counts as the people, who counts as the populace
of the democracy. That has not been anything that’s been stable and has not been something that’s been traditionally inclusive.
And so trying to return to these words that we so often call forth in the American democracy and actually question what is its basis?
MENENDEZ: This is not your first foray into these questions. By the time you were 16, you were a community organizer. Can you tell me a little bit
GORMAN: I’ve been an activist for a very long time. All of a sudden it became cool and hip to be a feminist. I remember being in class and the
teacher asked if anyone was a feminist. I raised my hand and people looked at me like I was a psychopath.
But around 16, that’s really when activism started kicking off for me. That’s when I started my community organization, One Pen, One Page.
And for me, what was critical about starting an organization such as that was not only to try to increase literacy through workshops, to giving this
to underserved kids but it was to connect literacy to the project of democracy. To fundamentally see reading and writing as instruments for
social change. And that was a type of lineage I really wanted to establish.
MENENDEZ: When you go to an institution as storied and as privileged as Harvard, what is the process of grappling, not just with the privilege
you’re surrounded by, but also the privilege that you yourself now have?
GORMAN: Right. I think for a lot of students at Harvard, and I’ll just speak for myself, you arrive and all of a sudden you’re bestowed with a
type of privilege that people around the world, you know, would give so much for.
I remember a distinctive memory when I was walking past a wide library, which is this gorgeous library. And I was just seeing all of these
tourists with their faces pressed against the glass. You know, it’s this moment of I’m the one behind the glass. I’m the one with the power that
this line of children visiting want to have access to.
And for me, it was a question of now that I’m here, now that I have this access, what am I going to do with it? And for me, it doesn’t just stop at
my own education and my own degree. It’s taking the historical legacy of Harvard and what it represents and the type of power that it holds and then
translating that into my own work as an activist in the library.
MENENDEZ: You often get called the voice of a generation, which I would contend with a generation this diverse and large, there can be no single
voice of a generation.
GORMAN: Yes, exactly.
MENENDEZ: What do you think your generation gets right about advocacy and what do they get wrong?
GORMAN: I love as we call it Gen Z because they’re relentless and they’re highly critical. For example, especially now in the age of social media,
we’re very good at catching false activism for what it is.
For example, the word feminism has been commercialized to the point that it’s on t-shirts, it’s on pens. But the money that you spend for those
types of objects and commercialism doesn’t always go back to the cause.
And I feel that Gen Z is very good at catching those types of false inserts of activism into that type of sphere. Case in point, the Pepsi commercial.
MENENDEZ: You mean the one with Kendall Jenner?
GORMAN: Exactly. The Pepsi commercial with Kendall Jenner, somehow it protested scenes because she has a bottle of Pepsi. If only one with the
chain would have known, that’s all he needed to be.
And so that’s a case in point where I think we are very adept at recognizing profound activism when it’s there and when it’s not. One thing
that I think we could improve on is understanding historical context in legacy.
For example, Gen Z, millennials, feminists, all love to use the word intersectionality. It is the buzz word.
MENENDEZ: The word of the moment.
GORMAN: The word of the moment. And this fascinates me because I will actually go to Google trends data and look at when the use of
intersectionality spikes. It always happens, of course in the women’s march, but the thing is historically the word intersectionality has been
here since 1989 from Kimberly Crenshaw, an amazing scholar who first coins the term.
But I can tell you a lot of the times if you’re talking with not only Gen Z but other age groups about intersectionality, they might not be as aware of
that type of history and what the word was used for originally. And I think it’s important not just because I’m a nerd and I like history, but
because if we’re not on the same page of the words that we’re using to build a movement, how then are we going to use those words to help the
I love the speech by Abraham Lincoln where he basically says “By freedom, we do not all mean the same thing. By feminism, we do not all mean the
same thing. By intersectionality, we do not all mean the same thing.”
MENENDEZ: I want you to read another poem.
MENENDEZ: This one is called “We Rise”.
GORMAN: This one I wrote the day that Dr. Ford gave her testimony.
It’s no longer fearing because while there’s a lot to lose, for once, this we choose. There’s a lot at stake, but making a difference always takes
great courage so we choose to encourage a woman who dares stare fear square in its face.
Somewhere, someplace, someone might have used violence to silence a woman’s screams. But now it seems he can’t quiet his own when
the truth is shown. Because when one woman stands, she is never alone.
Change is achieved when we believe survivors. Because lies can’t survive their spirit and believers when they hear it. We’ve all heard the game of
she said, he said. But today we came to let it be said that lights will be shed when a country is led by survivors of all genders who engender not to
keep the truth a secret but who have the courage to speak it.
We’ll respect her not just because we list her as a man’s sister, daughter, niece, wife, but because she’s simply someone. A life. We respect a
woman’s truth not because we know her in such but because we owe her that much.
MENENDEZ: We talk a lot, especially most of our guests are older than you are, about how Me Too has trickled down into the workplace. But I wonder
what the conversation looks like on college campuses?
GORMAN: For so long, sex-based, gender-based of violence has kind of been seen as mutually inclusive with the college experience. Meaning that it’s
the danger of employment as a student in that space.
And with Me Too, I think we’re Seeing this ferocious and also justified critique that no, it should not be normally expected in my college
experience, that this amount of women will go and experience some type of sexual-based violence. That is unacceptable and that is horrendous.
Particularly at Harvard, there’s been a couple of steps that have been taken to ensure that Title IX is being upheld. I think a lot of that work
happens with administrations but also with students demanding more from the people in power at the educational institutions.
MENENDEZ: Do you feel like other people take you as seriously and your ideas as seriously as you take yourself?
GORMAN: Some people. And some people, no. For example, I think it’s interesting because once you get a title like you’re the poet laureate to
the United States, you might think that an orb of, you know, this golden orb surrounds you and people respect you for your work and for what you do.
It’s not always the case. Especially when I’m in rooms with white men where people ask me if I want to make it as a poet. I’m like, what do you
mean make it? Am I not a poet right now? I’ve been told by white men in my classes that my writing is too confident, et cetera, et cetera but —
MENENDEZ: Wait, wait. Stop. Too confident?
GORMAN: Too confident. That’s what I said. And I leaned back and I’m like, this is a workshop on poetry, not on my character.
MENENDEZ: What do you believe that too confident is code for?
GORMAN: Too confident is code for I’m not comfortable for a black woman who is using her voice with a pen to be existing in the same classroom.
That’s what it was code for.
But what I did is — this is a tip I have for any woman who’s in that type of space. When something like that pops out of a man’s mouth and he
doesn’t realize that it’s trash, you just ask questions. You don’t say anything. You don’t call him out for it at first.
I just said what do you mean by it’s too confident? And he goes, “Well” and keeps stuttering. And you just keep asking questions and by three,
what do you mean by that and he leans back and he goes, “You know what? Never mind. What I said was kind of idiotic.” And I was like, yes, it
MENENDEZ: You have previously stated that you intend to run for president in 2036?
GORMAN: Yes, correct.
MENENDEZ: Still the plan?
GORMAN: Still the plan. I just thought if I start the campaign now, by the time we get there, a lot of the heavy lifting would have been done. So
I’m thinking of like hashtags which might be like #commandainchief. I’m still working on them.
MENENDEZ: I wonder though, when you first said that, did you — I think the people thought would be further along in 2020 than we’re finding
ourselves. Do you think that that gap will close between now and 2036 for you specifically as a woman of color?
GORMAN: I think the gap is already closing. And it’s difficult to numericize it. Because until we have someone in the White House who
identifies as women, it will always, once you — if you can’t see it, you can’t imagine it.
So we’re at this tipping point where we don’t have something to visualize and then project. But I can tell you we have a woman president coming
soon. And I think once we reach that, it will be the tipping point.
All of a sudden, we’ll have girls around the country who will see an image that they can identify and that it will make the gap all the smaller.
MENENDEZ: Amanda, thank you so much.
GORMAN: Thank you so much for having me.
MENENDEZ: Thank you.
That’s it for our program tonight.
Thanks for watching Amanpour and Company on PBS and join us again tomorrow.