Craig Ferguson aims for intimacy in stand-up docuseries

By Ben Hooper
Comedian Craig Ferguson said the difference between delivering comedy on late night TV and in a live stand-up show is like the difference between telling a story to his grandmother and telling a story to friends. Photo courtesy of Comedy Dynamics
1 of 2 | Comedian Craig Ferguson said the difference between delivering comedy on late night TV and in a live stand-up show is like the difference between telling a story to his grandmother and telling a story to friends. Photo courtesy of Comedy Dynamics

Nov. 12 (UPI) -- Craig Ferguson's latest stand-up special, Hobo Fabulous, takes the unique form of a six-part documentary series, and the multitalented comedian said the format was born of a desire for more intimacy with the viewing audience.

Ferguson, 57, best known as the host of CBS' The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson from 2005 until 2014, told UPI in a recent interview that he and writing partner Joe Bolter set an unusual goal when they were writing the Hobo Fabulous stage show: create a 90-minute stand-up act with "absolutely zero politics."


"The reason being we wanted to see if we could do it. We did do it, and it became a show that I was very happy with," Ferguson said.

Hard to translate

The performer said he noticed that banishing politics left him with a stage show that was composed largely of "intimate, anecdotal and personal type of material," which he said seemed difficult to translate from a live show to a taped special.


"The show is different every night, and there's a sense of intimacy with the live audience that's not going to work in a special because you can't cut it down to an hour and have it make sense," he said.

Ferguson and Bolter devised the idea of doing the special as a docuseries, with each episode featuring stand-up segments from various stops on the Hobo Fabulous tour interspersed with behind-the-scenes footage and interview segments with Ferguson, members of his crew and his family back home.

He said giving viewers a look at what his life is like on the road was an attempt to "redress the lack of intimacy that happens when you're not part of the live audience."

Each half-hour of Hobo Fabulous, which was directed by Bolter, is arranged around a certain theme. The second episode, The Bowie Joke, details a little-discussed aspect of a stand-up comedian's job.

"Every comic I know has a joke they like that the audience doesn't like," Ferguson said. "And every time I write a show, I write a joke that I think is going to work, and it doesn't really work. And the Bowie joke was that joke in this stand-up."

In the third episode, Casino Jokes, explores the differences between performing the same show in a traditional venue versus a casino.


"Everybody I know who tours does least one casino date on the tour. You never show a casino date when you're doing a stand-up special," he said, because casino audiences have more distractions and are less engaged than audiences at theaters and other venues.

The documentary format also allowed Ferguson to simply "experiment and see what would happen," he said.

"Some experiments you discover penicillin, and some experiments you just make a bad smell," he said. "And I think we're somewhere between a bad smell and penicillin."

Future plans

Ferguson said the Hobo Fabulous tour, which wrapped up in October, might have been his last.

"Never say never, but I don't know if I want to tour as much as I've been touring. It may be time to slow that down a little bit," he said.

Ferguson said his feelings toward touring might be colored by exhaustion from his 100 dates, and he conceded that he might change his mind later.

"Maybe in 18 months, I'll think differently, or maybe my family will be like, 'You know what, dad, it's time for you to get out on the road again,'" he said. "But right now, I'm feeling kind of over it. Not for the performance, I never feel like that for the performance, but the traveling gets old."


Ferguson said he has similar feelings toward taking on another talk show. He said rumors that he's in talks to host a show for British network ITV are unfounded, and he isn't sure he would want to host another talk show if one were offered.

"I can't see any way that I'd want to do it. I kind of feel like I've done it. I'm not saying I wouldn't do it. Just right now, I can't see a way into it for me," he said.

Ferguson said he is looking into projects that ended up "on hold" during his tenure as host of The Late Late Show and his subsequent comedy tours.

"I put a lot of stuff on hold, but I am talking to someone right now about directing a film next year, which I think I might do. I mean, you never know with films, because the money always falls apart, but I'd be keen to do it," he said.

Purity of stand-up

Regardless of what projects might come up, Ferguson said he has no plans to give up stand-up comedy.

"There's a sense of well-being for me, as a performer, doing stand-up," he said. "I feel comfortable doing it. I also feel like, as a performer, it's the most intimate way of dealing with an audience. It's not a movie camera, it's not a television camera, they're right there and you're right there, and you're just talking. It has a purity about it."


He said there's a marked difference between performing stand-up on stage and delivering jokes as the host of a TV series.

"Television, for me, feels like I'm in your house. So say you're my grandma. I go to your house, I'm not going to tell you the same story that I tell my buddies," he said. "Or, if I tell the same story, I'm going to tell it in a way that my grandma's not going to get upset.

Ferguson said one aspect he likes about stand-up comedy is the subjective nature of humor, something that occasionally lands comedians in hot water when a joke is perceived to have crossed a line.

"I think stand-up comedy is like music," he said. "If it goes too far for you, it's not for you. If you don't like thrashing guitars, then Motorhead isn't really going to be the band you're going to like."

Ferguson clarified that he doesn't think the subjective nature of comedy means people shouldn't voice their opinions when they find a performer's work offensive.

"I kind of quite like that people voice when they're offended, I think it helps," he said. "I kind of enjoy it, because I think it makes you think about how you're approaching the joke. I actually think it's quite healthy. It's useful."


Craig Ferguson Presents: Hobo Fabulous is available Tuesday from the Comedy Dynamics network on streaming and on-demand platforms.

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