Friday, March 4, 2011

Craig Ferguson's autobiography

American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot 

Acknowledged that this may seem to be a left-field choice for a biz book review but upon closer examination, maybe not. Two reasons: first, some of the best business advice comes from life itself, not just unambiguously mercantile situations. Second, in many ways, this really is a business book: Craig Fergusons' story is an archetypal tale of the pursuit of the American dream . . . and not just in terms of achieving success by owning a house with a wife and 2.6 kids.

Unlike most memoirs of CEOs and other biz whizzes, Ferguson isn't quite the faultless hero of his own story. In fact, he lopsidedly portrays himself in a pretty poor light, mostly due to his alcoholism, which took hold at an early age. He's also currently on his third marriage, so he made a number of bad choices that may not have been solely attributable to substance abuse. Regardless, his bracing, self-effacing autobiography is replete with examples of product development, innovation, networking, human resources and other business practices.

Ferguson grew up in Scotland and describes, with humor and love, his parents, their community, its poverty and their determination to improve themselves and support their children. His father started as the equivalent of a telegram delivery boy and steadily rose through the ranks to run the Glasgow city post office. Mother became a teacher and rode herd over two daughters and two sons.

When young Craig and his father visited relatives in the U.S., he was smitten with our open society and boundless possibilities, vowing to return. And so he did, but first, he drummed for several punk bands in Scotland, dropped out of school, tried stand-up comedy and became a raging alcoholic. When he married, the young couple moved to America.

In the early eighties, New York's burgeoning punk and alternative art scene captivated Ferguson, and he succumbed to many of its temptations while working construction by day and attempting a stint on the off-off-Broadway stage at night. Unsuccessful and broke, he returned to the U.K., the marriage failed, and he started a new career as a comedian with the unfortunate name, "Bing Hitler.''

Despite his ferocious alcoholism, he enjoyed modest success but fell into debt and depression. In despair, he planned suicide, but was distracted by an offer of a glass of sherry — a very large glass of sherry. After finally committing to rehab and embracing recovery, he moved to Los Angeles on a whim, hooked up with an agent he'd met during the Bing Hitler days and wound up with a recurring role on The Drew Carey Show.

Along the way, Ferguson honed his craft, wrote screenplays (and filmed a couple), became a novelist and replaced Craig Kilborn as host of The Late, Late Show on CBS following David Letterman, whom he may eventually succeed. He became a U.S. citizen last year.

Craig Ferguson was attracted to this country's openness, which can still be a function of race, class and socioeconomic status. But it's far less stratified than where he came from, and it afforded him, as others, the opportunity to begin again, which is probably the real American Dream.

Originally published in The Miami Herald

1 comment:

Uncle Ash said...

hmmm, ya know?
... "Ferguson said that he "used to be a bouncer at a cool club in New York called 'Save the Robots'." ...

He's always seems "familiar" - I may of run into him back then in NYC/STR. or was it back in Glasgow '82? Hmmmmm?

*Scotland - a nation of comedians. (Billy Connolly)