I’m Sorry I Missed This Last Night: Craig Ferguson Celebrates Black History Month By Inviting Dr. Cornel West and George Clinton to “The Late, Late Show”
There are just nights that I cannot stay up late, and I am sorry that I missed this show on the night of February 1 with Craig Ferguson talking with Cornel West and having as a musical guest, the one and only George Clinton. The interview with West took up much of the hour
, but CBS won’t release the segment for a couple of days.
Let me say that this is really how we should be discussing things.
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(February 8, 2011: This is the full episode with Dr. West and George Clinton; enjoy.)
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It was a genuinely extraordinary and often very funny conversation about race, kids, sex, history — everything from whether it made sense to sanitize the language of Huck Finn (West called it a futile attempt to “deodorize the funk of the text” and proposed instead good teaching to place it in some historical context) to whether Elvis Presley was a rip-off artist. They talked about the blues (with West including Tennessee Williams, Stephen Sondheim, and Lil Wayne in his list of bluesmen), they talked about slavery, and they talked about the importance of possessing the ability to choose to change your mind.
One of the things that makes Ferguson such a compelling and effective host for discussions with really smart people (he won a Peabody Award for his discussion with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and he spent a spellbinding hour with Stephen Fry last year) is that he’s one of the few talk-show hosts who can behave with humility and be convincing. It’s partly the willingness to both laugh at and express embarrassment about his own past (he notes in this clip that he was “a blackout drunk for 15 years”), but it’s also the fact that he seems to like this job, and doesn’t seem to be trying eternally to get a different job.
So he uses here the fact that he only became a U.S. citizen a few years ago to say to West that he doesn’t know very much about Black History Month — or, really, about U.S. history — and he’s curious about it.
And he acts curious. He doesn’t do the half-turn where the host sort of faces the guest but really is playing unendingly to the audience. He watches, his brow wrinkles; he is listening. It is a conversation between two extremely smart men who have very different backgrounds who are genuinely, intelligently listening to each other.
West, meanwhile, bubbles over with historical tidbits so fast that it’s hard to keep up (pointing out, for instance, that we had more Black U.S. senators during the Reconstruction than we have now), offers quotable and provocative ideas again and again, and repeatedly tries to bring this discussion, which is partly about race, back to — as he keeps saying — humanity.
If Craig doesn’t watch it, he may yet become the Jack Paar of this time, and even surpass the old guy. And that would be wonderful. Let him continue to do what he does best, and slip priceless interviews like this one into the mix. And above all, let him continue to be seeking, respectful, and listening. I don’t have to remind you about the Archbishop Desmond Tutu interview that won him a Peabody Award, do I?
Sometimes transplanted Europeans and those who become Americans have a better idea, a better feeling, about what goes on with Americans than we do. And we are born and live here.