JFL Toronto Review: Craig Ferguson

Filed under: Reviews, Festivals

Going to a Craig Ferguson show is like going on a walk with a Scottish family member. I know this because I am married to someone who is only once removed from this, and watching Craig Ferguson's set is like chatting with my wife. Meandering, tangential, but funny and fun, and much deeper than it would at first appear.

Craig started as only Craig could, a techno dance remix with bagpipe accompaniment. He then went straight for two of the festival's favourite targets, Pearson airport and the JFL Toronto ticketing system. Both have been prime targets the entire festival for obvious reasons, and it feels like a social nicety at this point that if you travelled and if you're the headliner you have to speak on them.

After the almost perfunctory dunks, we got to the meat of the matter: Craig is a progressive wrapped in the crusty shell of an elder punk. He introduced the core thesis of his show very early on that there are jokes you can't tell because of the young, but it -- like any conversation with my wife and her father's side of the family is wont to do -- meandered. It took a stroll over the brambles of medical trauma and body horror. It strayed into the thicket of drug use and jauntily stepped over to the podium of Geoff Peterson.

Over the pandemic, I took an online course with a former Late Late Show monologue writer, and he discussed how when Craig took over the show he had to learn new skills fast. Craig would take the monologue and essentially stick it in his pocket and go for a stroll with the audience. That's the beauty of a Craig Ferguson show: it's dirty and naughty and totally unexpected. No two shows are alike. There's core material that's very carefully considered, but the path you take to get there is randomly generated in the moment. Craig reads the room, feeds the room, and prunes the errant limbs of the room's tree limbs, shaping it into an organic and beautiful experience.

Another joy of seeing Craig, for those of us married to Scottish people or the children of Scottish people, is watching and hearing the laughter of our loved ones when there's something that we think of as quaint, and they think of as a secret only a select club of tartan-clad individuals would know. At one point the character of Craig's aunt was introduced to the story (the turning point on the journey of the night). Her response to nonsense had my wife in stitches because it was the exact kind of thing her grandmother would have said. I knew this because she says them (often slipping into her grandmother's Glaswegian burr) and this was something I would have expected to hear when I was being a particular dumbass.

In the end, we learn (to quote a musical act) "the kids are all right" and we go out with the joke that is so not okay to tell because nothing stops Craig. It was a street joke but over the course of the journey, he finds a way to fix it so, like the kids, the joke is all right.

Tags: Craig Ferguson, JFL Toronto, Queen Elizabeth Theatre, stand-up comedy, Toronto, Scottish

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