Friday, March 4, 2011

A bit of Hugh Laurie: Laughter among friends

Hugh Laurie / Our Dr. House

I watched a delightfully funny interview this week with Hugh Laurie on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, CBS-TV's really late late-night show that follows The Late Show with David Letterman.  Mind you, I didn't stay up late to watch it. I'm a morning person.  I taped it and watched it at a much more convenient hour, enjoying it while eating dinner last night.

Late night TV is a competitive battleground. Various late night shows (The Tonight Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, not to mention The Late Show with David Letterman) covet interviews with TV and movie stars ~ and, more lately, indie musicians ~ who usually have nothing more to bare than a few quick minutes, long enough to shill their latest acting project or sing their hit song.

Imagine my surprise, then, to see Hugh Laurie, who is among my favorite actors on either side of the pond (going back to his early comedic roles in Jeeves and Wooster and A Bit of Fry and Laurie), appear on late-night TV with Craig Ferguson.  I figured he was making the rounds to say a few words about this season's House, M.D., which airs Monday nights on Fox (8 p.m. ET/PT).  Silly me for assuming rational thinking exists on TV ~ late night or prime time.

Imagine my surprise, too, that Ferguson did not depend upon any staff-prepared note cards during his interview bit with Laurie. He didn't need to ~ he's a good ad-libber and interviewer ~ and it was very enlightening to see him rely on his own comedic instincts to guide the conversation with Laurie.

However, perhaps the biggest surprise was this:  There was no mention of House, M.D., either by Ferguson or Laurie, during their chat.  Oh, sure, there was a very brief clip to set up the introduction.  Instead, what viewers like me were treated to was something special.  There was 15 minutes of wonderful bantering and repartee between a couple of witty U.K. chums (Ferguson, 48, is Scottish; Laurie, 51, is British) enjoying a bit of camaraderie in between sipping their tea.  Best of all, Laurie got to speak in his natural British voice (he speaks with an American accent on House) ~ and he told some extremely funny and self-deprecating stories about himself.  It made for great TV.

I particularly laughed hard at Laurie's observations about being a collegiate rower while attending Cambridge, even though he's from Oxford:

Ferguson:  You rowed?
Laurie:  I rowed.
Ferguson:  But no horses.
Laurie:  I believe over here it's called crew.
Ferguson:  Oh, right. You crewed over there?  Or do you like to cruise?
Laurie:  I cruised. Yeah.
Ferguson:  Yeah? You cruised up and down ... ?
Laurie:  I hate either side of that word.
Ferguson:  Well, that's lovely.  Do you still crew?
Laurie:  No, it's a miserable sport.
Ferguson:  Is it really?
Laurie:  Absolutely miserable!  I will say, though, that the great thing about it is there's nothing like winning a rowing race.
Ferguson:  Or anything.
Laurie:  Winning a rowing race is not like anything else.
Ferguson:  Really?  Explain.
Laurie:  OK, it's an intense thing. ... Here's my theory:  My theory is you're racing backwards.  So, you see, you're looking at the people you're beating!
Ferguson:  You're right!  Exquisite!
Laurie:  Runners always have that slightly panicky "Are they coming for me?" look.
Ferguson:  Yes, they do.
Laurie:  (Mimicking exasperated runner:) "I'm so relieved.  I thought you were going to come pummeling after me. " ... But rowing is just great.
Ferguson:  You don't do anymore of that?
Laurie:  No.
Ferguson:  You look in excellent shape, apart from your bad leg (Ferguson's humorous poke at Laurie's character on House, who walks with a limp and uses a cane).
Laurie:  No, I'm not in shape. ... I box a little bit.  Hardest thing I've ever done!

(Below is a YouTube link to the first half of Ferguson's interview with Laurie.  The rowing tale comes about 2 1/2 minutes into the conversation.)

All of this reminded me of watching the old Dick Cavett Show, which aired late nights in the early 1970s on ABC-TV.  The New York-based Cavett engaged in freewheeling, thought-provoking and, sometimes, humorous interviews with interesting guests like John Lennon, Gay Talese, Groucho Marx and Katharine Hepburn, none of whom you would likely see on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.  The closest thing we have to a Cavett-like program today is Charlie Rose on PBS.

During a live Q & A chat session with Washington Post TV critic Lisa de Moraes earlier today, I was curious to find out why we don't see more engaging interviews like Ferguson's with Laurie on late-night TV.  She answered: "Excellent question!  Though, fact is, you do get more of it on Ferguson's show than elsewhere. ... That said, we should acknowledge Laurie just being on the show is plugging House, which has a Very Special Storyline in the works."

And here I thought I was just watching a chatty conversation between a couple of old friends, that TV had indeed turned a corner in the right direction.  Not quite.  Silly me.

1 comment:

  1. This man is beyond words. The most profitable actor in the history of telvision, a best selling author and a blues singer. Yep, I'd surely stick his picture under 'Multi-Talent' in the dicotionary.