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Sunday, February 24, 2019

Book Review: American on Purpose the Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot by Craig Ferguson

American on Purpose the Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot by Craig Ferguson

Browsing through the shelves of your favorite bookstore, you would probably pick up this book because of its very interesting title. The writer in you would be mentally applauding, whispering kudos under their breath; at the same time, you’d be envious of somebody who listed his really unique experiences and put them down on paper.

Odds are you’ll probably be halfway hooked by the time you note that its author is Craig Ferguson. Yup! He’s that Ferguson—the host of “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson” from January 2005 to December 2014.

He was an irreverent one, always straddling the border on being on tawdry and actually sprinting to cross it a couple of times. He probably wouldn’t be in with the #MeToo crowd. I, too, watched it with pre-#MeToo eyes, though.

And I honestly remember that I wasn’t so much offended as I was particularly amazed. He was just so sexually-preoccupied. (And if that were a crime, half of the earth would be behind bars.)  What I mean is that everything his guests said he could easily associate with something sexy. Even more amazing was how his guests played into his hands. All of them seemed to always say something that was suggestive or could be misinterpreted as such.

Maybe it doesn’t reflect well on me to express interest in a book written by such a man. Because that seems to say that I reached out for the book expecting it to be an extension of his defunct program, for his book to have that same tone.

Well, if you feel the same way, you’ll be in for a disappointment.

Don’t get me wrong. American on Purpose is hilarious. But just in a few places. It’s definitely not a laugh-a-thon.  What it is, however, is a breather. Full of the Craig Ferguson we have almost forgotten in the four years since he left his late-night show in 2014.

Back into play with this book was the intelligence and sensitivity that Ferguson displayed while interviewing Desmond Tutu on his show, a feat which earned the show a Peabody Award in 2009.

In getting the crowd — of a late-night talk show — geared up for that interview, he implied that he did ask the good bishop if he would wear an actual tutu (the bishop apparently refused). He took advantage of the laughs he got here to talk about apartheid and colonialism (an “old-fashioned term for “stealing stuff from countries that don’t belong to you.”)

Ferguson used this same technique to prepare readers of American on Purpose. For those who are joining him on his trip down memory lane, he fortified them with his introduction.

In it, he has a sweet anecdote-cum-reflection about his son playing baseball on a bright day filled with nakedsunshine and children’s laughter. It was a reminder that no matter how dark and heart-wrenching his own journey would be in parts, his son would be at the end of the tunnel.

American on Purpose, takes you back to the mean streets of Glasgow, Scotland where Ferguson came from. It leads you through the labyrinthine roads he has had to take in his journey to escape from there. It talks about detours to drugs and alcoholism, punk rock, women, and his road to drug & alcohol treatment.

I think Ferguson tried to present his life story as honestly as he could. But it didn’t really cross all the way to being grim, which is where alcoholism and drugs can take you. But that’s completely understandable. He was a comedian after all. Besides, the result is a quick peek into a man’s life that started out not so different from yours or mine.

Ferguson talks about reading books with a flashlight at night. Something we’ve all done before though for most it was mostly comic books or girly magazines. His takeaway was just a bit different. He just didn’t see the happy ending, he also saw the evil characters. Recognized them in fact from the own characters in his life.

He talks about breaking up with his wife via a phone call because he got sidetracked by his drinking buddies on his way to see her. He talked about a woman who convinced him to turn his back on his decision not to take any more drugs. He talks about almost jumping off the Tower of London but getting distracted by a glass of sherry offered by a friend.

And there are more anecdotes about drugs and drinking. These are the grim parts that never really got to be that dark.

He talks about these experiences frankly. He didn’t paint himself as a saint. He was just a guy who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And, yes, with the wrong people. And most of all, there were moments when he made the wrong decisions.

But then he picks himself up to make amends. I love the parts where he becomes introspective. There was one part where he was looking in the mirror and realizing he didn’t like what he saw.  Cliché, right? But Ferguson made it sincere.

In fact, American on Purpose shows us that his musings are similar to what any one of us might have on any given Sunday. Nothing earthshaking at all. He’s just one of us. All we have to do is get up. But what Ferguson also says that it’s not going to be easy. And he is a man who can preach about determination. Twenty-six years of being sober (since 1992) is not a mean feat.

Finally, you know those tell-all books when you read about scandalous back stories of famous people or events? In American on Purpose, Ferguson falls into the same trap. He took advantage of his book and made it into his own platform. However, it wasn’t to expose a dirty secret. And never to shame or embarrass anybody — well, maybe just himself.

Instead, he took advantage of the book to apologize to the people whom he had hurt while he was being his own personal wrecking ball. It was a love letter to his family, his ex-wives, his current wife, and his friends. And if I were any of these people, I would love him even more.

American on Purpose was a great distraction and a great inspiration. It says that you don’t have to be brandedas particularly good looking or smart to succeed in life. I think this book is very apt for millennials who sometimes get worried about the wrong things. Plus, we don’t have a keen sense of focus and there’s no need to memorize plotlines because each little snippet stands alone.

You’d think about passing this book on to your friends or to your mom. I wouldn’t recommend that. Personally, for having me and my brothers, I think my mom deserves all the laughter she can muster from the world. But I also think that this is not a book to read just once. The anecdotes could stand another pass. And they will be funny again after a few years. Or even just after a couple of months.

What I’m saying is, that you should get your mom her own copy. But tell her upfront that just because a standup wrote it, it’s not a comic book. It’s inspirational and, well, more of a self-help book. The Craig Ferguson way.
- review from Patrick Bailey 

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