Hollywood to Hillhead
He used to be Bing Hitler, then he presented a music show, but let’s not mention that. Now Craig Ferguson is back with a six-part comedy series 2000 Not Out.
Tom Lappin listens in.
Sixteen months can be a long time in television. Back in May 1991, Craig Ferguson was enthusing about his latest role as presenter of Channel 4’s music show Friday A: The Dome. ‘It’s a show made by fans,’ he said. ‘Like any show, you only want to do a programme you would watch yourself, and I thought it sounded like a nice idea.’
October 1992, and that dire, short-lived series is a bitter memory. Ferguson is in Glasgow promoting his latest venture, a comedy sketch show, 2000 Not Out, produced by BBC Scotland. He’s equally sanguine, although probably with more cause this time around. ‘The reason I was attracted to doing it was because while I was down in England doing fucking pish like Friday At The Dome, the Comedy Unit up here was quietly making the best comedy on the telly at the moment. I wanted to do something that was a laugh but with good production values. And I feel this is my best work to date.’
Well he’s right about the Comedy Unit. Colin Gilbert’s thriving little Queen Margaret Drive department has developed something of a Midas touch when it comes to half-hour slices of on-the-nail gags, both for the home market and the network. Ferguson’s show is the latest product, to be tried out on Scottish audiences first. with the hope ofit being picked up by BBC2 for national screening.
‘What we’re doing is a look at history using the year 2000 as a punctuation mark,’ explains Ferguson, ‘and trying to predict what will happen, in a kind of not very serious away. Not serious at all, hopefully.’ In the process, Ferguson takes his customarily skewed look at everything from Stone Age man to the culmination of civilisation as we know it, the invention of the Ronco Buttoneer.
Ferguson links the sketches with studio monologues and streams of consciousness. Doesn’t sound a million miles away from Alexei Sayle’s Stuff does it? ‘I think a more accurate comparison would be the old Dave Allen shows,’ Ferguson suggests, ‘with that mix of monologue in the studio every week and sketch material done on location. I guess the theme, if there is one, is to look at the bigger subjects, time or death or sex, areas which present enough scope for us to be
funny with. It’s my view of the world, my Weltanschauung.’
Don’t remember Dave Allen using words like that, but never mind. The idea was mooted by producer Philip Differ and director Caroline Roberts. It came just at the right time for Ferguson who was keen to getback into TV work. ‘Philip approached me last year and asked if I wanted to do a show, and I did, but wasn’t sure what. 2000 Not Out was an idea they came up with, and I felt happy to work with it, but it developed a lot from the early concept. Ifwe looked back at some of the early suggestions we‘d be horrified. The original idea was to do a pastiche quiz show, but then at the
I wanted to do something that was a laugh outwith good production values. And lleel this is my best work to date.’
moment, I suppose everyone‘s original idea is a pastiche quiz show.’
Ferguson’s previous TV appearances have been limited to one-offs or guest slots. The demands of a six-part series could have been cause for concern because of the amount of material required. He recently took a break from live performance because he felt he was coming up with enough new lines. A TV series would presumably be even more labour-intensive, even ifother writers are providing material. ‘The thing is that it’s happened very gradually,’ he says. ‘I’ve been writing material for the show since April. It builds up slowly and you don’t ever notice the real scale of it.
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Craig Ferguson approaches the millennium.
If I‘d sat down and thought about it, it might have seemed a daunting prospect, like a huge amount of work.’
The new show doesn‘t necessarily mean a permanent move back to Scotland for Ferguson, who moves around according to the availability of work. ‘For a long time I thought I must get a base, but in my job that’s nearly impossible, so what I do is just follow the work. I would like to make a more permanent commitment here. but it depends on how the show is perceived by the public. It’s the punters who decide whether it’s a hit show or not. They’re the people who are in the driving seat.’
For the last couple of years Ferguson has been spending plenty of time in the USA, attempting to carve out a career in American television (well it worked for Billy Connolly). Things haven’t gone entirely to plan. ‘I was working with CBS on a show called High, which was an hour-long TV drama which I had the lead in. We did a pilot of that which was OK, it was alright but they called it a TV movie. And then CBS lost $50 million on the American football deal, so I’m afraid the young Scotsman’s show was a bit of a casualty. And that was that.’
And the young Scotsman bought a ticket from Hollywood to the rather less glamorous Hillhead.
the best comedy practitioners in the country, and with a live tour to follow late in the year. there’s plenty ofwork on the horizon. No need to consider a second series of Friday A! The Dome just yet.
2000 Not Outslarts on BBC Scotland on Monday I 9 October.
The List 9- 22 October 1992 65