Meliora Weekend tends to be known for ho-hum comedians — understandable, as the organizers have to try and please such a wide range of people, but disappointing nonetheless. However, on Friday, Oct. 12, in the Palestra, comedian Craig Ferguson broke this tradition with a brief but genuinely funny performance.
The show kicked off with Josh Robert Thompson, an American voice actor/comedian, as a warm-up act. Thompson, who voices and operates the gay robot skeleton sidekick Geoff Peterson on CBS’s “The Late Late Show,” which Ferguson hosts, was met with some apprehension by the audience — after all, though Ferguson fans would understand why he was chosen, he’s never really appeared as himself on the show and has no recognizable standing in comedy. However, Thompson overcame his no-name status and the overwhelming tradition of terrible warm-up acts to give the crowd a rousing performance complete with voice impressions of everyone from Ferguson himself to Regis Philbin.
He did a particularly good Morgan Freeman impression, and seemed to genuinely enjoy doing it, at one point even saying “I could be taking a crap and if Morgan Freeman was narrating it, it would be a thing of beauty.” His actual narration of someone taking a crap, in the voice of Morgan Freeman, may not have been beautiful, but it was laugh out loud funny.
Thompson explained that there are a few questions that often emerge as a voice actor, and one of the most common (which, he noted, almost always comes from men) was if he uses the voices in bed, to which he responds, “Hey man, hey . . . You bet your ass I do.” His selection of celebrity voices he’s used in the bedroom range from an overly chatty Robert Downey Jr. to Liam Neeson, both of which he demonstrated for the audience before finally concluding the joke with the quickest way to get a woman out of bed: Arnold Schwarzenegger, coupled with his iconic grimace from “Total Recall.” Thompson’s set, though short, was exceptionally funny and left the crowd well-prepared for the night’s headliner.
Ferguson was all charm from the very beginning, wearing a UR shirt and virtually refusing to say “Meliora” correctly, occasionally just referring to the weekend as “the bee festival.” He went on to say that wearing the shirt was difficult for him, because, as he exclaimed, “ . . . I’m a Gryffindor!” Anything and everything was fodder for his jokes — quips about his family and his struggles with drugs and alcohol all made an appearance. While such sensitive subjects might have been difficult for another comedian to make light of, Ferguson did it with grace by being completely upfront about it. He even started the show with an announcement that he was thrilled to be at UR and insisted that he was being completely honest when he said that “there’s a 19-month-old baby living in my house, so you know I am fucking happy to be here!”
Ferguson was also more than happy to poke fun at the restrictions of comedy itself, stating there are only two groups a comedian can safely make fun of all he likes: Nazis and Canadians. Nazis because, well, most won’t be leaping to their defense anytime soon, and Canadians because they’re apparently clever enough to realize that it’s a joke, and “quite frankly, they’re just happy to be included.” However, he spent far more time on the latter. He joked about how Canadians are generally friendly, lovely people, until they are given hockey sticks.
“I don’t know why they bother giving the Canadian army tanks and guns and shit,” Ferguson quipped. “Just give them hockey sticks and tell them ‘here you go guys, the Taliban has the puck!’”
Ferguson managed to take material that, for some comedians, might have felt a bit too personal, crass or even just too mundane to be funny, but when mixed with Ferguson’s brash Scottish charm, was absolutely hilarious. It’s this kind of performance that illustrates how important personality is for a comedian. After all, a performer can have the best material in the world, but without the personality to back it up, it would be useless. Ferguson’s personality fit right in here — a perfect addition to “the bee festival.”
Howard is a member of the class of 2013.