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Craig Ferguson's American kilt

November 16, 2009 |  9:33 am


Last week, Craig Ferguson beat Jimmy Fallon in the late-night race for the first time. What put him over the top? Could it have been his recent memoir, "American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot"?

Eh, probably not.

Nevertheless, the book is a charming read. Unlike some in Hollywood, Ferguson writes his own books -- he published a novel, "Between the Bridge and the River," in 2006. And this memoir is, not surprisingly, full of the same humor Ferguson displays on "The Late Late Show."

"I don't say this to impress you, but I was a bed wetter until I was around eleven years old," he writes, continuing:

Then I stopped, but not for long. I started drinking alcohol regularly when I was in my early teens, at which point I returned to intermittent bed-wetting until I was 29. I haven't peed myself since the 18th of February, 1992, the day I got sober. Therefore I suppose I was a bed wetter until I was almost thirty. But I did stop before I was thirty, and I think my family and the people of Scotland should take a great deal of pride in that.

Ferguson outlines his childhood in Scotland (in a grim suburban development), his school years (undistinguished) and his career as a punk-rock drummer (intermittently successful and dissolute). Then came the comedy, which took off with his inappropriate character Bing Hitler.

Although this isn't a recovery memoir, there is a lot of drinking, because he did a lot of drinking. There are wild tales interspersed with nights (or weeks) where he has nothing to tell because he'd blacked out. He manages to avoid the trap of seeing his drinking as tragically glamorous, portrays it (without nostalgia) as both disastrous and fun. He survived it -- he might not have -- but his first marriage did not.

If Ferguson appears more candid about his early failures and successes than he is about his current late show life, it may be because he's so open about his past. He's self-deprecating without being self-pitying and shows little nostalgia for what's left behind. About his present, he details some public events -- including the decision to eulogize his father on his show, a risk that endeared him to many viewers -- but he's a bit quieter about the decision to switch agents or the daily task of putting on the show. He probably shouldnt' say too much -- he's still working in Hollywood.

And he's a true Southern California immigrant. "I proudly took the Oath of Allegiance and received my citizenship," he writes, "at Pomona Fairgrounds in Los Angeles in January 2008 along with three thousand other new Americans from Mexico, and no others from Scotland."

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Mark von Holden / Getty Images