Craig Ferguson, host of The Late Late Show, doesn’t sound like your average American. He boasts a thick Scottish accent he takes no effort to hide.
But there’s something remarkably American about his life story, the tale of an immigrant eager to take advantage of what the U.S. has to offer.
American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot lets Ferguson tell his own story while saluting American prosperity.
“I didn’t flee a dictator or swim an ocean to be an American like some do. I just thought long and hard about it,” he writes in the preface.
Conservative readers will grit their teeth through the book’s opening pages, during which Ferguson glibly labels former Vice President Dick Cheney “evil,” falls for the “Bush is dumb” meme, and calls MSNBC‘s Keith Olbermann “mighty.”
But the memoir quickly falls back on Ferguson’s formative years. He grew up in a poor neighborhood near Glasgow, Scotland, a blighted parcel of land whose initial promise never materialized.
Ferguson’s comic gifts took time to take hold. He played the drums for a few rock bands and worked some blue-collar gigs while sorting out his career prospects.
One thing he learned at relatively young age was that he loved getting drunk.
His late teens and early to mid-20s are a blur of blackouts and binge drinking. Only when he hit rock bottom, a valley that incurred a mountain of debt and regret, did he wake up from his alcoholic slumber.
Even at his soggiest state he dreamed of coming to America., a vision enriched whenever he looked around at the religious infighting and habitual poverty of his peers.
Like a favorite Gillette commercial of yore, he longed to be “the best a man can be.” That meant becoming an American. But he had drank too much, hurt too many people, and disappointed anyone foolish enough to put their faith in him.
He eventually started a comedy career, earning some attention in his homeland playing a character called Bing Hitler before finally making a home in the U.S.
In the midst of all that he found the time to make rehab work for him, and he never looked back.
Not every gig pre- or post-sobriety panned out as expected. He’s brutally honest about a sitcom he starred in featuring Marie Osmond, a woman for whom he shares nothing but kindness.
“I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut about how awful I thought [the show’s scripts were], nor could I stop making suggestions to improve it,” he writes.
By the time he landed a prime gig on The Drew Carey Show, Ferguson’s personal and professional redemption was well underway. But even then he wasn’t creatively satisfied, even though the sitcom paychecks kept coming in.
He’s equally blunt about his brief exchanges with David Letterman. The veteran talker wasn’t rooting for a relative unknown like Ferguson getting the late-night gig, and it doesn’t sound like a mentor-student relationship ever bloomed.
American on Purpose doesn’t read like every other comedian’s attempt to jump from stage to print. Ferguson previously wrote a novel, Between the Bridge and the River, and he’s quite comfortable letting his stories tell themselves. He also doesn’t pepper Purpose with glib set-ups and punch lines. None of the material sounds like a stand-up routine.
Ferguson’s prose is witty and clever; he brings a singular voice to a very personal project. His life is truly extraordinary, both in its blinding stupidity and its affection for the author’s homeland. Some of the most touching passages recall the health decline of his parents and his attempts to spend time with them in their final years.
He’s also more than angry about certain facets of his professional life, a venom which comes as a shock given the self-deprecating tone set throughout the book.
Some won’t find his alcoholic adventures amusing, and there’s plenty of material here that will cause family values proponents to blush. But his approach to sobriety and appreciation for the gifts America has bestowed upon him reveal a man who learned from his mistakes and has something to offer his new fellow citizens.
The comedian doesn’t ladle on the rah-rah American spirit. He simply shares how the country allowed him to pursue his dreams, only asking that he work his tail off to make them a reality.
“America is the land of the second third and 106th chance,” writes Ferguson, who became a U.S. citizen last year. The talk show host needed a few less than that, but his life’s story remains a fractured tribute to the healing power of the American dream.
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