Thursday, December 30, 2010

Craig Ferguson, American On Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot, 2009.

I’m not sure what attracted me to Ferguson’s autobiography: I’m a fan neither of celebrity autobiographies nor of addiction memoirs, but something made me want to read this one. I’m glad I did. Ferguson’s self-deprecating humour and wry observations combine with a level of candour and openness that make for an engaging personal history. We meet his parents and his family, and learn of his yearning to be American (with a very sweet NASA story along the way), before following him into a descent into alcoholism and drumming. Fans of The Late Late Show won’t be surprised that he learns that he loves to make people laugh, leading to a career in both stand-up and film before getting sober with the help of some friends, with a first American sojourn along the way. (It is astonishing to read of both the depths of his alcoholism and his ability to remain employed.) Finally, he finds his way to LA and projects in both film and television, before landing his current gig. There’s a sweetness to the book and its stories, even when Ferguson is sharing his fear of ducks brought on by a bad acid trip (a story that’s changed and reworked in his novel, Between the Bridge and the River, blogged about here). There’s also no shortage of can-do American Dream-fulfilled optimism that shapes the telling. What you’ll read is entirely congruent with the voice you may have experienced when the sandman’s at your door and you’re watching his show anyway, and it will entertain you even as it speaks revealingly about addiction and how Ferguson has addressed it in his life.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Craig Ferguson, Between the Bridge and the River, 2006.

Ferguson’s first novel is a road-trip good-time, a weird and wacky series of pastiches that is strongly reminiscent of the work of both Douglas Adams and Tom Robbins. Ostensibly the stories of two Glaswegians who were once friends, the story careens off into strange asides and amusing characters that one might well meet in Ferguson’s comedy (and bits and pieces from Ferguson’s own life, as you’ll discover in my next blog post on his American on Purpose). We follow George, a defence lawyer dying of cancer who falls in love, and Fraser, a disgraced televangelist seeking escape at a conference of his brother televangelists in the deep South. Along the way we meet the morbidly obese and extensively depraved Saul and his brother Leon, the singer cum actor. We meet crack-heads, anorexics, and snake handlers, and are reminded that bumblebees shouldn’t be able to fly... and yet they do. Oh, and Carl Jung and Virgil are key figures, too. It’s a wise-cracking tour de force that touches on sex, suicide, addiction, sex, the stories that trap us, sex, and a deeply humane view of what it should mean to us to lead our lives. From chase-like sequences in RVs to the retelling of the story of St. Francis of Assisi, Ferguson’s writing is deeply entertaining and moving, never stepping away from a sharp comedic outlook while sharing interesting asides on myoclonic twitches and the etymology of “cutting to the chase”. The book is at its best in the set pieces, and three morality tales are particularly strong. It’s well worth a read: you’ll not regret it, in your own time between the bridge and the river.