After starting his career in Britain with music, comedy and theatre, Ferguson moved to the United States where he found success in the role of Nigel Wick on the ABC sitcom The Drew Carey Show (1996–2004). He has written and starred in three films, directing one of them, and has appeared in several others, including several voice-over roles for animations. Ferguson has also written two books: Between the Bridge and the River, a novel, and American on Purpose, a memoir. He was naturalised as a United States citizen in 2008.
Ferguson was born in Stobhill Hospital, in the Springburn district of Glasgow, to Robert and Janet Ferguson, on 17 May 1962, and raised in nearby Cumbernauld, growing up "chubby and bullied". When he was six months old, he and his family moved from their Springburn flat to a council house in Cumbernauld. They lived there as Glasgow was re-housing many people following damage to the city from World War II. Ferguson attended Muirfield Primary School and Cumbernauld High School. At age sixteen, Ferguson left Cumbernauld High School and began an apprenticeship to be an electronics technician at a local factory of American company Burroughs Corporation.
His first visit to the United States was in 1975 when he was 13 to visit an uncle who lived on Long Island, near New York City. When he moved to New York City in 1983, he worked in construction in Harlem. Ferguson later became a bouncer at the nightclub Save the Robots.
Ferguson's experience in entertainment began as a drummer in a rock band called Exposure. He then joined a punk band called The Bastards from Hell. The band, later renamed "Dreamboys", and fronted by vocalist Peter Capaldi, performed regularly in Glasgow from 1980 to 1982. Ferguson credits Capaldi for inspiring him to try comedy.
After a nerve-wracking first appearance, he decided to create a character that was a "parody of all the über-patriotic native folk singers who seemed to infect every public performance in Scotland". The character, "Bing Hitler" (actually coined by Capaldi as Ferguson started under the name "Nico Fulton" but admittedly later stole the name for his "own nefarious ends"), premiered in Glasgow, and subsequently became a hit at the 1986 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. A recording of his stage act as Bing Hitler was made at Glasgow's Tron Theatre and released in the 1980s; a Bing Hitler monologue ("A Lecture for Burns Night") appears on the compilation cassette Honey at the Core.
After enjoying success at the Edinburgh Festival, Ferguson appeared on television in Red Dwarf, STV's Hogmanay Show, and the 1993 One Foot in the Grave Christmas special One Foot in the Algarve. In 1990 a pilot was broadcast The Craig Ferguson Show, a one-off comedy pilot for Granada Television, which co-starred Paul Whitehouse and Helen Atkinson-Wood. This was followed by Ferguson's own 1992 show 2000 Not Out. In 1993, Ferguson presented a series on Scottish archaeology for Scottish Television entitled Dirt Detective. He travelled throughout the country examining archaeological history, including Skara Brae and Paisley Abbey. He will return to UK television for the first time in 25 years in a guest role in BBC Scotland's comedy Still Game in 2017.
Ferguson also found success in musical theatre. Beginning in 1991, he appeared on stage as Brad Majors in the London production of The Rocky Horror Show. In 1994, Ferguson played Father MacLean in the highly controversial production of Bad Boy Johnny and the Prophets of Doom at the Union Chapel in London. The same year, he appeared again at the Edinburgh Fringe, as Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple.
Ferguson moved to Los Angeles in November 1994 after his soon-to-be agent Rick Siegel saw Ferguson during the Edinburgh Festival and suggested he come to America. His first US role was as baker Logan McDonough on the short-lived 1995 ABC comedy Maybe This Time, which starred Betty White and Marie Osmond.
His breakthrough in the US came when he was cast on The Drew Carey Show as the title character's boss, Mr. Wick, a role that he played from 1996 to 2003. He played the role with an over-the-top posh English accent "to make up for generations of English actors doing crap Scottish accents". In his comedy special "A Wee Bit O' Revolution", he specifically identified James Doohan's portrayal of Montgomery Scott on Star Trek as the foundation of his "revenge". (At the end of one episode, though, Ferguson broke the fourth wall and began talking to the audience at home in his regular Scottish accent.) His character was memorable for his unique methods of laying employees off, almost always "firing Johnson", the most common last name of the to-be-fired workers. Even after leaving the show in 2003, he remained a recurring character on the series for the last two seasons, and was part of the two part series finale in 2004.
During production of The Drew Carey Show, Ferguson devoted his off-time as a cast member to writing, working in his trailer on set in between shooting his scenes. He wrote and starred in three films: The Big Tease, Saving Grace, and I'll Be There, which he also directed and for which he won the Audience Award for Best Film at the Aspen, Dallas and Valencia film festivals. He was named Best New Director at the Napa Valley Film Festival. These were among other scripts that, "... in the great tradition of the movie business, about half a dozen that I got paid a fortune for but never got made."
His other acting credits in films include Niagara Motel, Lenny the Wonder Dog, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Chain of Fools, Born Romantic, The Ugly Truth, Kick-Ass, and as a voice-over actor, How to Train Your Dragon, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Brave, and Winnie the Pooh.
Ferguson has been touring the United States and Canada with a comedy show since the late 2000s, including a performance at Carnegie Hall on 23 October 2010 and a performance at Radio City Music Hall on 6 October 2012. He has performed two stand-up television specials on Comedy Central, both released on DVD: A Wee Bit o' Revolution in 2009 and Does This Need to Be Said? in 2011. His third comedy special, I'm Here to Help, was released on Netflix in 2013, garnering positive reviews on 4 out of 5 stars on Netflix and peaking at number 6 on Billboard top comedy albums. It also received a 2014 Grammy Award nomination for Best Comedy Album.
Ferguson was awarded the Peter Ustinov Comedy Award by the Banff World Media Festival on 11 June 2013.
In December 2004, it was announced that Ferguson would be the successor to Craig Kilborn on CBS's The Late Late Show. His first show as the regular host aired on 3 January 2005. By May 2008, Ben Alba, an American television historian and an authority on US talk shows, said Ferguson "has already made his mark, taking the TV monologue to new levels with an underlying story. But he is only just starting ... He is making up his own rules: It's the immigrant experience."
The show was unique in that it had no "human" sidekicks such as Ed McMahon on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson or Conan O'Brien's Andy Richter. He had a remotely operated robot skeleton named Geoff Peterson and two silent performers in a pantomime horse costume that were added in 2010. His monologues were conducted within a few feet of the camera versus the long distance that Johnny Carson kept from the camera and audience.
The Late Late Show averaged 2.0 million viewers in its 2007 season, compared with 2.5 million for Late Night with Conan O'Brien. In April 2008, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson beat Late Night with Conan O'Brien for weekly ratings (1.88 million to 1.77 million) for the first time since the two shows went head-to-head with their respective hosts.
By the end of 2009, Craig Ferguson topped Jimmy Fallon in the ratings with Ferguson getting a 1.8 rating/6 share and Fallon receiving a 1.6 rating/6 share. By 2014, Ferguson's ratings had faltered, trailing those of Late Night with Seth Meyers with an average of 1.35 million viewers versus 2.02 million.
On 28 April 2014, Ferguson announced he would be leaving The Late Late Show at the end of 2014, with the final episode airing on 19 December. His contract was set to expire in June 2014, but a six-month extension was agreed on to provide a more graceful exit and give CBS more time to find a replacement host. He reportedly received US$5 million as part of his contract because he was not selected as the replacement for David Letterman's Late Show. Ferguson made the decision prior to Letterman's announcement but agreed to delay making his own decision public until the reaction to Letterman's decision had died down. CBS Entertainment Chair Nina Tassler said, following the announcement, that in his decade as host Ferguson had "infused the broadcast with tremendous energy, unique comedy, insightful interviews and some of the most heartfelt monologues seen on television." CBS continued the franchise with James Corden as the new host.
Craig Ferguson has made guest appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Rachael Ray, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, The Howard Stern Show, The Daily Show, The View, Loveline, Real Time with Bill Maher, The Soup, The Talk, The Price Is Right, Kevin Pollak's Chat Show, The Dennis Miller Show and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. He also co-hosted Live with Regis & Kelly with Kelly Ripa and was guest host on the April Fools' Day episode of The Price Is Right in 2014.
In 2009, Ferguson made a cameo live-action appearance in the episode "We Love You, Conrad" on Family Guy. Ferguson hosted the 32nd annual People's Choice Awards on 10 January 2006. TV Guide magazine printed a "Cheers" (Cheers and Jeers section) for appearing on his own show that same evening. From 2007 to 2010, Ferguson hosted the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular on 4 July, broadcast nationally by CBS. Ferguson was the featured entertainer at 26 April 2008 White House Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington, DC.
Ferguson co-presented the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama with Brooke Shields in 2008. He has done voice work in cartoons, including being the voice of Barry's evil alter-ego in the "With Friends Like Steve's" episode of American Dad!; in Freakazoid! as Roddy MacStew, Freakazoid's mentor; and on Buzz Lightyear of Star Command as the robot vampire NOS-4-A2. He was the voice of Susan the boil on Futurama, which was a parody of Scottish singer Susan Boyle. He makes stand-up appearances in Las Vegas and New York City. He headlined in the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal and in October 2008 Ferguson taped his stand up show in Boston for a Comedy Central special entitled A Wee Bit o' Revolution, which aired on 22 March 2009.
British television comedy drama Doc Martin was based on a character from Ferguson's film Saving Grace – with Ferguson getting writing credits for 12 episodes. On 6 November 2009, Ferguson appeared as himself in a SpongeBob SquarePants special titled SpongeBob's Truth or Square. He hosted Discovery Channel's 23rd season of Shark Week in 2010. Ferguson briefly appeared in Toby Keith's "Red Solo Cup" music video released on 10 October 2011.
In September 2013, Ferguson guest-starred on the season finale of Hot in Cleveland as a priest/tabloid journalist who turns out to be the father of Joy's (Jane Leeves) son. The show reunited him with former co-star and frequent Late Late Show guest Betty White. Ferguson reprised the role for several episodes when the show returned in March 2014.
In October 2013, it was announced that Ferguson would host the syndicated game show Celebrity Name Game, produced by Coquette Productions, beginning in late 2014. Ferguson's involvement in the project dates back to 2011, when it was originally pitched and piloted as a CBS primetime series. As of April 2014, the series has an initial order of 180 episodes. The syndicated series began airing on 22 September 2014. Ferguson won Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Game Show Host for Celebrity Name Game in 2015 and 2016. On December 2, 2016, it was announced that the series would end after three seasons.
Ferguson signed in 2015 to play Prentiss Porter in The King of 7B, a comedy pilot for ABC. However, the show was not picked up.
On 18 February 2016, Ferguson began to host a historical talk show on History titled Join or Die with Craig Ferguson. The title is a reference to a Benjamin Franklin political cartoon published in the Pennsylvania Gazette on 9 May 1754, which Ferguson had tattooed on his forearm after becoming an American citizen. Ferguson and a three-guest panel of comedians and historians conduct a humorous discussion of a different topic on each episode, such as the most doomed presidential campaign, greatest Founding Father and greatest invention, with viewers invited to share their opinions via Twitter.
On February 27, 2017, Ferguson launched The Craig Ferguson Show, a two-hour talk radio show on the Comedy Greats channel and Faction Talk on SiriusXM Satellite Radio.
Ferguson's novel Between the Bridge and the River was published on 10 April 2006. He appeared at the Los Angeles Festival of Books, as well as other author literary events. "This book could scare them", he said. "The sex, the violence, the dream sequences and the iconoclasm. I think a lot of people are uncomfortable with that. I understand that. It was very uncomfortable to write some of it." The novel is dedicated to his elder son, Milo, and to his grandfather, Adam. He revealed in an interview that he is writing a sequel to the book, to be titled The Sphynx of the Mississippi. He also stated in a 2006 interview with David Letterman that he intends the book to be the first in a trilogy.
Ferguson signed a deal with HarperCollins to publish his memoirs. The book, entitled American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot, focuses on "how and why [he] became an American" and covers his years as a punk rocker, dancer, bouncer and construction worker as well as the rise of his career in Hollywood as an actor and comic. It went on sale 22 September 2009 in the United States. On 1 December 2010 the audiobook version was nominated for a Best Spoken Word Album Grammy.
In July 2009, Jackie Collins was a guest on The Late Late Show to promote her new book Married Lovers. Collins said that a character in her book, Don Verona, was based on Ferguson because she was such a fan of him and his show.
Ferguson is a fan of Scottish football team Partick Thistle F.C. as well as the British television show Doctor Who. He has five tattoos which include the Join, or Die political cartoon on his right forearm; a Ferguson family crest with the Latin motto Dulcius ex asperis ("Sweeter out of [or from] difficulty") on his upper right arm in honour of his father; and a Celtic cross with the Ingram clan motto Magnanimus esto (Be great of mind) on his upper left arm in honour of his mother. He has often stated that he has his Join, or Die tattoo to signal his American patriotism.
Ferguson holds an FAA private pilot certificate issued 31 July 2009.
In February 2016, Ferguson disclosed that he had been "vegan for almost three years."
In an episode of The Late Late Show that aired 8 December 2008, a somber Ferguson talked about his mother, Janet (3 August 1933 – 1 December 2008). He ended the programme by playing her favourite song, "Rivers of Babylon" by Boney M. Ferguson eulogised his father on-air on 30 January 2006.
Ferguson has two sisters (one older and one younger) and one older brother. His elder sister's name is Janice and his brother's name is Scott. His younger sister, Lynn Ferguson Tweddle, is also a successful comedian, presenter, and actress, perhaps most widely known as the voice of Mac in the 2000 stop-motion animation film Chicken Run. She was a writer on The Late Late Show until July 2011.
Ferguson has married three times and divorced twice as a result of what he describes as "relationship issues". His first marriage was to Anne Hogarth from 1983 to 1986, during which time they lived in New York. His second marriage was to Sascha Corwin (founder and proprietor of Los Angeles' SpySchool), with whom he has one son, Milo Hamish Ferguson, born in 2001. He and Corwin share custody of Milo, and live near each other in Los Angeles. On 21 December 2008, Ferguson married art dealer Megan Wallace-Cunningham in a private ceremony on her family's farm in Chester, Vermont. Ferguson announced 14 July 2010 on Twitter that they were expecting a child. He wrote: "Holy crackers! Mrs F is pregnant. How did that happen? ... oh yeah I know how. Another Ferguson arrives in 2011. The world trembles." The child, a boy named Liam James, was born 31 January 2011.
Ferguson is a recovering alcoholic, sober since 18 February 1992. Ferguson said he had considered committing suicide on Christmas Day 1991, but when offered a glass of sherry by a friend for celebrating the holiday, he was distracted from jumping off Tower Bridge in London as he had planned.
During 2007, Ferguson, who at the time held only British citizenship, used The Late Late Show as a forum for seeking honorary citizenship from every state in the US. He has received honorary citizenship from Nebraska, Arkansas, Virginia, Montana, North Dakota, New Jersey, Tennessee, South Carolina, South Dakota, Nevada, Alaska, Texas, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, and Indiana, and was "commissioned" as an admiral in the tongue-in-cheek Nebraska Navy. Governors Jon Corzine (New Jersey), John Hoeven (North Dakota), Mark Sanford (South Carolina), Mike Rounds (South Dakota), Rick Perry (Texas), Sarah Palin (Alaska) and Jim Gibbons (Nevada) sent letters to him that made him an honorary citizen of their respective states. He received similar honours from various towns and cities, including Ozark, Arkansas; Hazard, Kentucky; and Greensburg, Pennsylvania.
Ferguson became an American citizen on 1 February 2008 and broadcast the taking of his citizenship test as well as his swearing in on The Late Late Show.Live at the Tron (as Bing Hitler). Jammy Records. 1986. Catalogue number JRLP 861.
Mental; Bing Hitler is Dead? Polydor. 1988.
A Big Stoatir. Polydor. 1990.
Nobody But the Moon and Me 2008
I'm Here To Help. New Wave Dynamics. 2013.