When Scottish-born comedian Craig Ferguson traveled to the United States for the very first time, his destination was Long Island.
“You know the Blydenburgh Estate, now Blydenburgh [County] Park?” asks Ferguson, his penchant for history, which will soon be showcased in his all-new History Channel show, Join or Die with Craig Ferguson, coming through as he describes the Smithtown landmark. The property used to be a private estate, and Ferguson’s Uncle James was the groundskeeper. “So in the 1970s, I came out and visited,” he says.
The Emmy-nominated, Peabody Award-winning television host, formerly of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, will return to Long Island on Friday, September 25, when he brings his New Deal standup tour to the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center.
“My standup is like a wise-ass Irish guy in a bar. It’s the Celtic storytelling tradition,” says Ferguson of his comedic style, which has been widely recognized and lauded for feeling conversational and off-the-cuff.
“The thing is, if you’re talking to an audience for an hour and a half, it’s that weird one-sided conversation. I’m not going to recite stuff at you…I think I would get bored if I did that.”
Ferguson’s ability to think on his feet and engage guests in honest conversation earned him a very successful stint on The Late Late Show, where he won a Peabody Award for his 2009 interview with South African social rights activist and staunch apartheid opponent, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The show “went in a direction I didn’t expect,” says Ferguson, a testament to his ability to let conversational banter flow. “After we talked about what he had done in South Africa with Nelson Mandela, [Archbishop Tutu] steered the conversation toward how mad I was, and then him telling me how he approved of how mad I was…I felt like I was getting endorsed by a higher authority.
“I really felt engaged. When you meet someone like that, who is a world and historical figure and then you find yourself in a genuine conversation with someone who will be remembered for a very, very long time, it’s fascinating.”
The show exemplified what Ferguson has always known about comedy: That is doesn’t have to be cruel. “If [comedy is] not cruel, if it’s not trying to make someone look stupid…then you can talk about most things, and the conversation can have a lightness and a reality to it because most conversation have lightness and reality,” he says. “With Desmond Tutu, we were talking about very serious and horrible things, but we were also talking to a man who has a great joy of life. It would be inaccurate of me not to report that, not to celebrate that.”
Ferguson is currently the host of the syndicated Celebrity Name Game. And his new debate-style show on the History Chanel will explore historic topics from an approachable perspective. “Sometimes in academia, pomposity is mistaken for knowledge and I wonder if that doesn’t always have to be the case,” Ferguson says. “I think the idea of doing the History Channel show probably was born right about the time I did the show with Father Tutu,” he continues. Join or Die with Craig Ferguson will explore a number of historical topics, as Ferguson admits that he’s interested in a large number of time periods.
“I think that ultimately history is the story of our species, it’s the story of everyone,” says Ferguson. “So I think that an understanding of history can’t help but eventually breed tolerance, which wouldn’t be a bad thing.”
Will the show incorporate Long Island history?
“It’s entirely possible,” Ferguson says.
Craig Ferguson at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, 76 Main Street, Westhampton Beach, September 25 at 8 p.m. For more info, call 631-288-1500 or visit whbpac.org.