No matter the age of the audience, Emmy-winning actor-comedian Craig Ferguson’s Scottish charm and wit are unmistakable. And he’s bringing the funny to the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center this Saturday, September 10, at 8 p.m. with “The Fancy Rascal Tour.”
More mature audiences may remember his roles on TV shows like The Drew Carry Show; films like Saving Grace (which he co-wrote) and I’ll Be There (co-wrote and directed); and as the host of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Younger audiences, or animation fans of any age, will recognize his voice from How to Train Your Dragon, the 2011 Winnie the Pooh and Pixar’s Brave.
We had the pleasure of picking Ferguson’s brain about his first tour since the pandemic began.
Graig Ferguson on Comedy, Scotland and More
How does it feel to finally be back on the road for a new tour?
It’s such a relief. I had, like everyone else, been stuck at home for a couple years. I thought I would be OK with it — and I was quite OK with it. I was lucky that I was quite happy to be home, and then I was really ready not to be home. I missed doing shows; I love doing them. …
I just did five shows in Denver. I always start every tour in Denver, Colorado, because I figure if I can do it at altitude, then I’ll be able to do it no problem. That’s what I do, and it’s just nice to be back doing what I love to do, really.
What do you enjoy most about the act of touring versus doing comedy specials?
Touring is a different beast. I came in to do what I do for a living through being a drummer in punk rock bands and rock and roll bands. It got into my DNA very early — I was still in my teens when I was trying to get to sleep on top of amplifiers in the back of sh*tty vans … It’s something I’ve been doing my entire adult life, touring, I like it. There’s a sense of freedom and spontaneity that comes with it. It lacks, for the most part, any kind of corporate involvement. It feels more rock and roll, feels more circus-y, and that appeals to me more. It’s an environment in which I feel comfortable.
I don’t know, there’s just something about traveling that feels like such a privilege, especially after the last couple years, it really does feel like a privilege.
Absolutely. It makes sense you’d want your first big post-Covid project to allow you to see the world again.
Yeah, I think that’s how I felt anyway, and it’s like I doubled down on it after the lockdown and all that kind of stuff.
Why “The Fancy Rascal Tour?” Is that a nickname you call yourself or have been called?
No, not really. It’s just something that has a slight whiff of riverboat gambler, and I’d like to think that — actually, maybe I should’ve called it “The Riverboat Gambler Tour” — but I always like to think that had I been in the era of riverboats on the Mississippi that I would’ve a gambler. Truth be told, I probably would’ve been a f*cking waiter, but I like the idea that I would’ve been a gambler — a sort of rakish gentleman with a big hat and a fabulous moustache.
I’ll be very excited if your next tour is called “Riverboat Gambler” — it would be quite the scoop.
Well, you know what, it might be. Maybe we’ll change the name of this one. …
This isn’t your first time performing in Westhampton or visiting the area. Have any Hamptons or Long Island observations ever made it into your standup?
Yeah, years ago, Long Island was the first place I ever visited in the United States. … My dad’s little brother and his wife raised their family in Smithtown. When I first came to America in 1975 when I was 13, I stayed in Smithtown, Long Island at what’s now Blydenburgh Park — it was Blydenburgh Estate — and my uncle was the groundskeeper there. He was Groundskeeper Willie. …
Can the Westhampton audience expect any of that l0cal material this time around, or have those stories been told?
The truth is, I don’t know if those stories have been told, because the way I do this kind of job is I don’t really have a very rigid (set) — I have a bunch of things I’m going to say — but it’s not particularly rigid. If something comes to mind as I’m driving in, then that’s what I’m going to be talking about, for at least some of the time. Or if you have an interaction with someone in a coffee shop, then maybe that’s what you talk about.
I like to keep it loose. And there’s stuff, there’s material that I’m going to do … but “I don’t know” is the answer. And if I remember something, then yes. There’s usually something, no matter where you go, especially if I have a little bit of history of the place, and I do have a little bit of history …
Also, I will wear the appropriate espadrilles on stage; I will definitely do that. … Proper attire, proper attire.
How would you describe your personal sense of humor, and how similar is it to the standup you present to audiences?
If I can answer it the other way around, it’s exactly the same. My sense of humor in my standup is my sense of humor. I can only do stuff if I think it’s funny — if it makes me laugh. A lot of the time, I’ll catch myself laughing on stage, because it’s the first time I’ve heard it as well, which I enjoy.
I like the organic nature of feeding off the energy of audience and the fact that each show, particularly live shows in theaters, if you’re a performer on your own — there’s no actors worried about cues — it can be a very spontaneous one-off event. There’s no filming it. It’s not been through the corporate lawyers. It is a thing which is pure. … So it is my sense of humor, and how I would describe it is organic and spontaneous.
Why do you think your organic, spontaneous brand of comedy resonates so well with American audiences?
You’d have to ask them. I’m just grateful that they come. But I think what it is, is that I’m quite upfront about it. Like, they know who I am by now. If you don’t think I’m funny, don’t come, and it’s cool. Not everyone is going to love what you say, and that’s totally fine. I’m totally OK with that. …
Since moving back to Scotland, have you performed there much, maybe testing some of your less spontaneous material in the area?
No, I don’t do that actually. I don’t really do shows in Scotland anymore. I have done them — I think I did a show there for a festival a few years ago, and I enjoyed it very much — but I found that half of the audience were Americans who were on vacation anyway. I think my artistical (nature) … and really my life is American. Even when I’m in Scotland, I feel like an American in Scotland a lot of the time.
My wife’s American, my kid’s American, my mother-in-law’s American, the dogs are American, the horses — everybody’s American. … I’m still Scottish, obviously, and I am Scottish, but I’m Scottish-American, I suppose.
As far as trying out stuff there, no, I haven’t really done that. Nobody knows who I am there anyway. I’m just this sort of cranky old guy over there who goes to America all the time.
Do you wish you were more known in Scotland, or do you enjoy the anonymity?
I’m quite happy with the way my life goes, both there and in America, but … I spend a lot of time here. I’m not over there, and I just come here occasionally. The longest period I’ve been away from America was during the 2020 lockdown, and obviously everybody was kind of shut down. No, I don’t spend a lot of time away from America. And anyway, you only have to talk to the IRS to know that it doesn’t matter where I go, I’ll be an American no matter what part of Earth I try and hide in. They’ll be coming after me for the usual donations.
Between your various performance genres — acting, voice acting, music, standup, etc. — which comes the most naturally to you?
I think probably standup, because it’s a very pure, very specific sort of thing to do. Even if I’m writing, I still stand up and walk around the room to do it. I think it is the one that I feel most at home with. I like standing in front of a bunch of people and doing that job. I love the sound of people laughing at what I’m doing. It never gets old, it really doesn’t. …
And is there one genre that took a little more effort to develop proficiency in?
I think probably Late (Late) Night. I think if you look at the early late nights shows — or even the reviews of the early late night shows — (you’ll see) that was a little tricky at first because it’s a format that’s actually very strict. And it took me a while to realize that I didn’t care about the format, but a lot of people do.
I had to balance respect for the traditions of that genre of television, which to be honest, I knew nothing about before I went into it and still kind of do know nothing about it. But I had to find a way through it for myself, and that took a while. I think in all honesty, it took over a year for me to figure that one out.
It’s interesting that standup comes easiest but Late Late Night was trickiest. They seem so related, especially with how many comedians are hired to host late night shows.
Yeah, you hire comedians, but the way I do what I do is probably not the best (for the genre). Some comedians, I think, would work really well for late night, and others, it’s a harder thing to make it happen. For me, the difficulty I had was the formulaic nature of it. I was very lucky in the sense that I had a producer who was a genius — a gentleman by the name of Peter Lassally.
Peter had been Johnny Carson’s producer … and he produced David Letterman, had worked with Jon Stewart, and he worked with a lot of different people. He really is the mastermind of that type of television. He guided me through the format so that it could work for me. There was no way I would’ve been able to do late night television without Peter.
What do you find most rewarding about being a comedian?
The autonomy of it, really. … If I have an act together, I can go from town to town and exist on my wits, and I like that. There’s a lot of executive involvement in show business — which is necessary and I’m not complaining about it, and I’m happy to get involved in it from time to time — but as I get older, what I really like is the autonomy of taking my own counsel on where I play, when I play and what I say.
Do you find it harder to say what you want to say in today’s — and I hate to use this term — cancel culture?
No, I don’t find it hard, actually. I like it. I like that lots of things are happening. I think what it really is, is that the young want things changed, which is as it should be. That’s how human society works. Young people come along and change things, and God bless them for it. No, I don’t find it more difficult.
I think the rules are what they always were, for me, which is a joke-by-joke, sentence-by-sentence, laugh-by-laugh basis. I don’t have a manifesto of “I should be able to say this,” or “I have to say it this way,” it just doesn’t occur to me that way. So no, I don’t find it difficult, I think it’s OK.
Also, you could say, “You can’t say that, Craig,” but people have been saying that about comedy forever. There’s nothing really new about any of it. It’s fine.