If fans of former late-night host Craig Ferguson arrived at Seneca Niagara Hotel and Casino on Saturday expecting to hear 90 minutes of the PG-rated monologue material that earned him a decade of success on late-night television, they left shocked.
Ferguson, who held down the desk at “The Late Late Show” from 2005 through 2014, returned to his roots on the stand-up circuit, packing the house for the latest stop on his 2015 “New Deal Tour.”
Dressed in black and bathed in red lights, Ferguson wasted no time establishing that he is much more than the silver-tongued Scotsman who charmed scores of A-list entertainers with his affable style and quirky humor. Ferguson 2.0 plays fast and loose with both his language and his topics and it made for a sidesplitting night of comedy.
While much of his material would make a sailor blush and a reviewer face unemployment for repeating it, Ferguson did visit plenty of timely topics during his 75-minute set. From Donald Trump to Bill Cosby, Ferguson mocked the mockable and ranted about social media, smartphones and the evening news.
But it was his ability to travel well-trodden ground and still leave the audience in stitches that made for an outstanding show.
On Trump: “I don’t know what his politics are – I’m not even sure he knows what his politics are ... but he writes his name on everything like he’s an 8-year-old girl. ... He’s like a cat peeing to mark his stuff.”
The highlight of the evening was his masterful ability to weave in his host city and the unique people of Western New York seamlessly. (That’s not true. The highlight of the evening was a bladder-emptying bit on the exotic features of public bathrooms in Japan, but you’ll have to track that one down on YouTube. You’ll be glad you did).
Plenty of comedians come to town and grab the low-hanging fruit. The tired jokes about snow and chicken wings. Ferguson passed on all of it and instead genuinely connected with the audience.
Sure, it began with mocking the City of Niagara Falls, saying, “I’ve never been here before, it’s a … surprise,” before mouthing silently, “What happened?”
Throughout the show he peppered in local jokes and plenty of interplay with the audience in a way that felt unusually fresh and genuine.
Mocking the woman down front who committed the cardinal sin in a comedy audience – she dared to rise to use the bathroom – was old school, but no one was safe. Those who cheered, those who jeered and even the man with an ill-timed yawn – Ferguson made them all part of the show, and the show was better for it.
Exiting the Event Center, an older woman commented to her friend on the heavy amount of local humor, describing it as, “Comedy 101.” Well, if talking about the city you are in (and making it funny) is Comedy 101, Ferguson has a Ph.D. in it.
Between the local laughs, Ferguson managed to cover an astonishingly wide range of topics. From his extensive drug use in his youth (“I had to do a lot of drug to handle my mother’s interior decorating”) to becoming a vegan (“I blame it on Netflix and their documentaries. I watched one and it felt like eating meat was eating a bag full of kittens”), he was crude, crass and brilliant.
Late-night television’s loss was the world of comedy’s gain.
Complimented with a 20-minute opening from Canadian comic Mark Forward, who offered up an over-the-top take on why Americans are so angry, the evening was as pure a night of comedic brilliance as you’ll ever see.