An ‘American Shaolin’ in the presence of the unbelievably charismatic Craig Ferguson
Craig Ferguson hosted CBS’s The Late Late Show for nine seasons. In spite of low ratings, the follow-up to The Late Show with David Letterman was a critical darling that netted an unprecedented Peabody Award for the Scottish comedian’s razor wit conversing with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a South African human rights activist. As a three-time author — Between the Bridge and the River [a 2006 novel], American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot , and Riding the Elephant: A Memoir of Altercations, Humiliations, Hallucinations, and Observations  — Ferguson is among the rare breed of TV hosts possessing a legitimate rapport with writers.
In the second installment of a thorough profile — access “Steve McQueen and Bruce Lee: Complicated Tinseltown Frenemies” to catch up — Bruce Lee: A Life wordsmith Matthew Polly engagingly relives his sole late night appearance. Understandably scared to death having never been in front of a national audience before, Polly was asked to participate because of the buzz surrounding the impending publication of American Shaolin. The martial arts sage’s debut tome amusingly detailed the two extraordinary years he spent studying kung fu under the tutelage of Shaolin monks in Henan, China, during the early ‘90s.
The Matthew Polly Interview, Part Two
What’s the lowdown on your April 13, 2005, guest spot during the debut season of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson?
One of The Late Late Show producers read in Variety that American Shaolin had been optioned by Fox Studios. He knew that Craig was into martial arts and wanted to book more interesting guests than your average TV actor.
I remember that they flew me out, put me up in a fancy hotel, had a car pick me up, brought me to a nice room with gifts and an open bar, and the entire time people were thanking me for coming. I was like, “Dude, thank you for asking me!” I didn’t want to leave when it was over. I told the production assistant, “Can you have the driver wait 15 more minutes?”
Did you get to meet Craig before your official interview?
Honestly, it was such a whirlwind that I can’t remember if I met Craig before the show. I think he might have stopped by briefly to shake my hand, but it is possible he did not. The producer definitely came in and prepped me while I was getting my make-up put on — another first.
What insight can you share about Craig’s personality?
Obviously he is very smart, quick, and funny, but the most distinctive thing about Craig Ferguson of any interviewer I’ve ever met is his unbelievable charisma. I felt like I was locked into his charisma field, and there was nobody else besides him and me in the room, even though there was an entire studio audience.
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