My Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson Experience
During the week of September 1st 2013 my wife, Lisa, and I went to Los Angeles, CA to attend live tapings of three late-night talk shows over four days. This is the first part of our journey…
Much like a third or fourth child, attending The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (LLS) on Monday, September 2nd was a happy accident. Months earlier, while planning our trip to LA, I didn’t think any of the late-night shows would be working on, of all days, Labor Day. Fortunately I then recalled that LLS had aired a new episode on that very same day last year. So I figured what the heck, I’d take a minute to visit the ticket website and see if maybe, just maybe they were going to do it again.
Turns out they were, and the ability to request tickets had just recently been made available.
Now, this thing in my brain called “instinct” told me to jump on this lucky break and immediately request two tickets. At almost the exact same moment, however, this other thing called “reason” threw up a giant red flag. You see, our six day LA vacation already consisted of three days of shows, Conan on Tuesday and Thursday and The Tonight Show on Wednesday, and three days to enjoy the area. It was a good compromise for me, someone who isn’t a big fan of traveling to foreign lands and “doing stuff”, and Lisa, someone who isn’t a big fan of late-night talk shows. Was adding a taping of LLS, while a rare opportunity for someone living in Ohio, worth disrupting the balance between show and non- show days and possibly annoying the one woman who has ever agreed to live in the same house as me?
Yes, I decided, it was. Reason be damned, I went barreling forward with my instinct at the helm and reserved the tickets.
Plus, it’s not like I was buying non-refundable plane tickets. These suckers were free and I could cancel at any time if I sensed the slightest hint that sleeping on the couch was in my future.
Luckily for me I have an awesome wife who was cool with adding one more late-night show to our schedule. I slept on the couch that night anyway, but for a totally unrelated screw up. I’m kidding. I snuck back into bed around 1:30 AM. Again, kidding. It was more like 1:45, and I returned to the couch in the morning before she woke up. Don’t tell her.
Fast forward to Labor Day in Los Angeles. The tickets suggested arriving 30 to 45 minutes ahead of the 3:30 PM check-in deadline. Lemme share some advice with you that I learned a long time ago: when you have free tickets to a general admission show in which no one has a guaranteed seat and not all the seats have good views of the action on the stage, you should plan to arrive at least two days earlier in order to secure a reasonably good place in line. Lisa wouldn’t let me do that, so we pulled up to the security gate at the CBS studio lot at 1:45 PM.
I’m happy to report that no one was already waiting in line when we arrived. The reason for this, however, was because security wasn’t letting anyone in to take advantage of their free covered parking until 2:15 at the earliest. Damn. After driving around aimlessly through a tiny sliver of Beverly Hills for a while we returned to CBS at 2:10 PM with hopes that they’d let us in five minutes early. They did, but not before having let fifty other people in first, most likely starting at 1:46. Double damn.
Once Lisa and I were parked a mere twenty feet away from the studio, we, like everyone else before and after us, were required to leave the lot and stand outside the gate in a single file line under a very hot sun for an indeterminate amount of time. I know this sounds stupid. It was stupid. But it was also not up for debate if you wanted to eventually see the show. Fortunately, someone in the LLS accounting department had approved a bulk purchase of umbrellas, and someone in the LLS marketing department had approved sharing them with us.
Although we all looked like idiots to everyone who drove by, the umbrellas were really helpful, as it was close to two hundred degrees that afternoon and at least one dummy wore black clothing.
Around 3:00 PM we were allowed to re-enter the lot, walk over to the studio and go through security. Now, full disclosure, I had known for over a month that the LLS tickets specifically warned us not to bring any electronic devices such as cell phones, tablets or cameras, but I had blown this off as an empty threat. The Late Show and Late Night had put similar warnings on their tickets, but in both cases when I passed through security and handed over my phone for inspection it had been immediately returned to me without a second glance.
Not this time.
I, like many others, was shocked to discover that when I gave the security guard my cell phone, I did not, in fact, get it back. Instead, I received a little pink ticket with a number on it and text telling me I could get my phone back after the show was over. Surprisingly, I was able to keep my machete and sawed-off shotgun.
In addition to stripping us of the machines that make us whole, we still weren’t allowed to enter the air conditioned studio. Instead, we had to sit on covered benches in front of the building for another forty-five minutes. Officially, I’m guessing, this was done so that the show’s staff could get everyone through security, give us instructions as we all huddled together away from the sun’s deadly rays and deal with any nut jobs before allowing them to run around inside. Unofficially, I’m positive, this was done so that we would be so bored and hot that we’d feel we had no choice but to buy all the overpriced merchandise, drinks and snacks conveniently placed in front of us. I bought a shirt.
Finally, after draining our wallets dry and instructing us to laugh and clap as much as possible, they let us into the studio. As with my previous two late-night audience adventures, the slow single file hike from the front door to the yet-to-be-determined seats was the most stressful portion of the entire experience. For a lot of people, it’s about sitting as close to the floor, and thus the host and the guests, as possible. For me, it’s about sitting where I can see everything that’s happening without being obstructed by the cameras when as they move around the set.
It turns out I didn’t really need to worry. The LLS set is large enough to be comfortable, but small enough that close to everyone in the audience should expect to have a reasonably good view of the show. Most importantly, the audience section is raised high enough off the floor that most rows aren’t blocked by the cameras when the circle the desk and couch. We ended up in the third row of the center section. We were almost directly behind Michael Naidus, the producer who sits behind the podium and gets cussed at by Craig a lot. I was quite pleased with our location. Here’s an excellent shot from the show so you can see where I’m talking about:
After everyone was seated and everyone ate their candy (did I mention that we each got a piece of candy when we first entered the studio?), the warm-up comedian, Chunky B, came out. I liked him. I thought his self-deprecating, slightly dark and edgy comedy was very funny. He told quick, corny jokes, long story jokes and picked on an audience member or two. He definitely made the time before the show started enjoyable.
Then it was time for LLS to begin. As most of you already know, when the show airs at 12:37 AM it begins with a cold open. The first segment that’s actually filmed in front of the audience, however, is the monologue. This makes sense if you think about it. We’ve been waiting hours, days and months to see Craig live, and the show would much rather have us release our initial excitement over seeing the host during the monologue than at a low-key cold open.
This time, though, the cold open had been taped earlier in the day, so they had us watch it before the show started:
I have to admit that I was a little heartbroken when I saw that the cold open had been previously recorded. Craig’s cold opens are unique in the late-night universe, and I had been denied the chance to see one live. This was the first show of Craig’s tenth season, and the first new show after a three week hiatus. Instead of going big and celebrating his return, he chose to perform alone in minty green pants.
When that was over they started the opening music, Chunky B announced the star, Craig walked out the same way he always does and we all got up and clapped. It was pretty awesome, and it made me forget about my frustration about the cold open. Here’s a decent shot of the crowd’s reaction, staring yours truly (and Lisa):
Once we all settled down Craig began his monologue. Unfortunately, this brought about the second disappointment with the show. Unlike other late-night hosts, who stand a good eight to ten feet from the camera and present their jokes in view of everyone in the audience, Craig stood so close to the camera that we couldn’t see his face unless we looked up at the television monitors. I was really bummed about that. He was there right in front of me. I wanted the pleasure of observing him do his act on stage, not be forced to watch it the same way I do when I’m at home.
The silver lining, of course, is that you can experience the monologue the same way I did while knowing that you didn’t have to travel thousands of miles to do it:
Did the monologue seem short to you? That’s because they cut a minute and a half out of Craig swearing three times at Michael. It was pretty funny and unfortunate that they didn’t leave it in.
After back-to-back defeats I’m happy to report that the comedy segment, Tweetmail, was great:
Personally, I thought the best part came at the very end when Lisa and I made our final cameo:
On the previous Sunday I had looked on the LLS website to find out who the guests were going to be, and was happy to learn they would both be from shows that I watch: Kunal Nayyar from the Big Bang Theory followed by Angela Kinsey from The Office. You can understand my confusion, then, when the monitor told us that Angela Kinsey was going to be the first couch guest. Apparently, I surmised, Kunal couldn’t make it for some reason.
The interview was good. Angela was friendly, lively and told some interesting stories. The segment is quite long, made possible by the shortened monologue. Here’s the interview:
David Feherty was the second couch guest. He is a former professional golfer and the host of the show Feherty. The interview was great. David was mellow, dark and told some amusing stories. I don’t care about golf, but found myself really enjoying their conversation and humor about the subject. Here’s the interview:
The closing segment was ok. I remember having liked it a lot more when I was there, possibly due to the fact that this was my last chance to see him perform:
And with that the show was over.
But, it turns out, not the experience.
For you see, unbeknownst to us until that moment, LLS was taping two episodes that day, which they are sometimes wont to do. I’m sure they figured we’d all be fine with not telling us earlier and then making us hang around for another hour or so, and they were right. We were all more than happy to see two shows for the price of free. Well, 1.75 shows actually, but I’ll get to that.
As they were preparing the cameras for the second show we learned two additional facts. First, the episode is scheduled to air on November 18th. Apparently Craig and the rest of the LLS crew are planning to take an extended Thanksgiving break. Second, because it was so far in the future, Craig wasn’t going to bother to change his suit, or even his tie, because, at most, only about two hundred people watching the show in November would even notice.
So, after a few more minutes spent re-attaching Geoff’s hand, they started the opening music again, Chunky B announced the star again, Craig walked out the same way he always does again and we all got up and clapped again. We did the best we could to be as excited as we were during the first show. I think we mostly pulled it off. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
You can always tell when a new episode of The Late Late Show has been pre-recorded days, weeks or, apparently, months in advanced because the entire monologue is a deep dive into one or two topics unrelated to recent events. I don’t want to spoil too much for you, but November 18th is the day Latvia declared its independence from Russia.
Then, they recorded the show’s cold open. It wasn’t puppets, half-naked male dancers an interview of audience members, but since they had bypassed this segment entirely the first time around, I was satisfied with what we got.
The comedy segment was, as always, Tweetmail. Since there were no mechanical malfunctions to distract him Craig actually answered a few.
Hey, remember earlier when I mentioned that Kunal Nayyar from the Big Bang Theory was supposed to be on the first show but didn’t make it? Well, that’s because those sneaky bastards made him the first guest on the second show. The interview was fine. Lisa enjoyed it more than I did. I’ll talk about it more after it airs.
There wasn’t a second couch guest, which is why I said we technically only saw 1.75 shows. They didn’t say who was going to fill that space, but if I had to guess I’d say it’ll be a musical guest that will perform after another episode is taped.
The closing segment was kinda weak. I think by that point everyone on the show was pretty tired and wanted to go home. The audience was pretty worn out too. Either that or I’m just old and tire easily.
Craig took a second to thank us all for being in the audience before taking off. Chunky B then quickly introduced the two people who wear the Secretariat costume, followed by Josh Thompson who does the voice of Geoff Peterson. While I completely understand that everybody at LLS wanted to pack up and go home, I wish we had had more time with these guys. They’re a huge part of the show and deserve more than just five seconds to wave to the crowd.
And with that, four hours after arriving at the CBS lot, we were allowed to pick up our phones and leave.
Overall, it was wonderful to see Craig Ferguson live and experience The Late Late Show as an audience member. I want to thank everyone at LLS for working on a holiday so that Lisa and I could have the opportunity to see the show.
Thanks for reading.
**UPDATE** It is now 11/18 and I have just watched the show with Kunal Nayyar. He ended up being the only guest, so we did, in fact, see full two episodes of The Late Late Show that day. I’m not entirely sure that’s anything to brag about, however, as the second show wasn’t actually very good.
Want to read about my other late-night audience member experiences? Well, if you ever change your mind, here they are: