PLAYBOY: What felt different about it?
FERGUSON: It sounded like a fight, and at that time I enjoyed that sort of activity. Listening to that song was literally the turning point in my life—one of them, anyway. If there are staging posts in your life, hearing “Neat Neat Neat” was one of the big ones for me. I was like, Whatever this is, I’m going this way. Not just the Damned but this type of music in general. Punk rock, for me, was the beginning of everything. I think it was John Lennon who said, “Before Elvis, there was nothing.” I understand that thinking. I feel the same way about punk rock. Before punk, there was nothing.
PLAYBOY: Do you have a favorite memory from those years, when you really felt as though you were living the punk rock dream?
FERGUSON: There was a night in Glasgow when I was in the Rock Garden pub. The Clash was playing in town, and Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon came into the bar. Me and a few other guys in my band at the time were standing at the bar, and they came up and said, “Hello, boys. What’s going on?” We were like, “Fuck, it’s the Clash!” We got to talking to them, and we ended up drinking around Glasgow with them all night. They left with some girls, and I got a girl, and everyone went their separate ways. When Strummer died 10 years ago, or whatever it was, I remember thinking, Did that really happen to me? That was bizarre. It seems like somebody else. Guys like me don’t hang out drinking all night with the Clash.
PLAYBOY: Do you wish you could go back?
FERGUSON: Sometimes, sure. I don’t miss all of it, but there was a weird freedom about it. I heard a guy speak at a [makes air quotes] “meeting” that I [air quotes] “attend” on a fairly regular basis. [laughs] This group has a tradition of not talking to the media about what we do, and I’d like to honor that. But I did hear a guy at one of those informal gatherings of friends that I like to go to who said that just before he got sober, he’d been living out of a van and had nothing—no wife, no kids, no job, no money—and that’s how it was. And now here he was, 30 years sober, with a wife and kids and grandkids and a big house in the Palisades, and he said, “I’ve got to be honest with you. Sometimes I miss waking up just me in a van.” I kind of understand that. Being a poor kid in a punk rock band was gnarly and dirty, but I was 18 and it was fun. I sometimes miss being 18. Usually before coffee in the morning.
PLAYBOY: After The Drew Carey Show ended, in 2004, you said you were thinking about giving up show business. Would you have gone back to drumming or tried something else?
FERGUSON: I wasn’t really serious about that. I just didn’t know what I wanted to do next. I ended up writing a novel, which was the right thing to do.
PLAYBOY: Was it just a transitional thing, or would you do it again?
FERGUSON: No, I’ll do it again. [groans] In fact, I’ve started work on another book, but it’s going to take a while.
PLAYBOY: You don’t seem happy about it.
FERGUSON: I’m happy, but it’s fucking hard work. You just have to put your head down and focus on the page in front of you. Fuck, just thinking about it is making me sick. I don’t know where it’s going. I don’t know how long it is. I know it’s a book; that’s all I know for sure. I’ve written enough of it to know it’s a book, so now it kind of has me.
PLAYBOY: You don’t have to finish it, you know. Failure is always an option.
FERGUSON: [Laughs] Very nice, yes. Used that one against me, didn’t you? I suppose you’re right, but from my experience, writing a novel is like having sex with a gorilla. You ain’t done till the gorilla’s done. You might think, Well, when I’m done, I’ll be done. But you’re not done. The gorilla’s still going.
PLAYBOY: Your first stand-up gigs were at a dance club in Scotland. Was it as horrible as it sounds?
FERGUSON: It really was, yeah. There were no comedy clubs, so the only place you could perform comedy was at a disco. They’d stop the music, and the DJ would say, “And now here’s some guy who thinks he’s funny.” They’d be heckling before you reached the microphone. The first time I did it, I was wearing a kilt. It was a big Scottish punk festival. I walked out there and my knees were shaking, and these girls standing near the front of the stage saw it and started chanting, “Iz knees are knockin’, iz knees are knockin’!” When you’re faced with that much hostility, you develop a certain aggressive style. It thickens your skin. It’s a great boot camp in a way, though it didn’t feel like it at the time.
PLAYBOY: Are those skills still applicable today? You never seem particularly aggressive on The Late Late Show.
FERGUSON: I try not to be. No, it’s not the same thing anymore. Back then it was a job or it was something I was trying to make a job. Today it’s just who I am. My pulse doesn’t change from talking to you to taping a show. Adrenaline in comedy is not your friend. It’s certainly not for me. You can be excited, sure, but when you’re in fight-or-flight mode, that’s not good.
PLAYBOY: What about your home life? You have two sons, Milo and a newborn named Liam. What type of dad are you?
FERGUSON: On our refrigerator door we have something called the Swear-O-Meter, which my son Milo came up with and constructed himself. He doesn’t swear at all, and he doesn’t like it when I do, so he put a tariff together. Depending on the cussword, you have to pay a certain amount.
PLAYBOY: What’s the price scale?
FERGUSON: Motherfucker is at the top. It’s a $2 cussword in my house.
PLAYBOY: Is that because it has mother in it?
FERGUSON: I don’t know. You’d have to ask Milo; he invented the tariffs. So it’s $2 for motherfucker, a buck for a fuck. And after that I think it goes down through shit, asshole, all that. Retard is a swearword. You can’t say that. And then H-E double hockey sticks is 50 cents. That kid is making 20 bucks a week out of me right now. And that’s just what he hears. I used to cuss a lot more than I do now. I try not to cuss at all around him if I can help it.
PLAYBOY: Because you can’t afford it?
FERGUSON: No, not just that. Because he doesn’t like it. It’s a mark of respect. If he doesn’t like it, I don’t do it. In all my life, all the teachers and TV executives and publicists, everybody who tried to get me to stop cussing, the only one who could do it was my son.
PLAYBOY: You’re on your third marriage. Why does this one work while the others didn’t? Have you changed, or have you finally found the right woman?
FERGUSON: I think it’s a little of both. My wife, Megan, and I know it’s corny to say this, but she’s my best friend. We have an open communication. I’m not hiding anything from her. If I’m away from home, I can call her and say, “I need you to go into my desk drawer and find something for me.” The freedom of that is fantastic.
PLAYBOY: She’s not going to find any phone numbers scrawled on matchbooks?
FERGUSON: She might have if she was married to me 10 or 20 years ago, but not today. I think until I met Megan I wasn’t at a place in my life where I was capable of being with a woman like Megan. She’s a spectacular individual. And besides, I’m too old to date. I don’t want any part of that. “Hey, do you like puppies? I like puppies. Do you like cheesy biscuits? I like cheesy biscuits!” Fuck that. If Megan ever leaves me, I’m done.
PLAYBOY: Is it just dating you don’t like or all social situations?
FERGUSON: All of it. I don’t care for being out in public if I can help it. It’s a product of being happily married, I think. The only reason I ever went to parties was to get laid, so what’s the point of going? If I go home, I’ll get laid. This is just wasting time.
PLAYBOY: What about dinner parties?
FERGUSON: Only if I absolutely have to. Success has encouraged in me a certain social isolation. I partied for a long time when I was younger. I feel I hit that spot pretty hard. Chris Rock has this great bit in his stand-up routine when he says, “You don’t want to be the old guy in the club.” I totally agree with that. I don’t want to be one of those guys driving up and down Sunset Boulevard in a convertible with dyed eyebrows.
PLAYBOY: Are you afraid of growing old?
FERGUSON: Not at all, but I want to get George Carlin old or Pablo Picasso old. You know what I mean? That’s the way to grow old.
PLAYBOY: That’s not as easy as it sounds. You’re in an industry that’s very youth-centric.
FERGUSON: Not to me it ain’t. It’s youth-centric if you let it be youth-centric. It’s youth-centric if you buy into it. I don’t give a shit. I don’t give a shit about who the Kardashian or Lady Gaga of the moment is. It doesn’t matter to me. I don’t care if the people watching my show are 16 years old or 65 years old. I don’t make the show for any particular age group. I was very clear on that when they gave me the show. I told them, “We’re not going after a demographic.” The first thing I did when I got the job, I said to the writers, “Don’t give me any jokes that will make middle-aged women feel bad about themselves.”
FERGUSON: Because I watched my predecessor and all he did was rag on middle-aged women. I don’t understand that at all. Why is it a bad thing to be a middle-aged woman? Some of the best times of my life have been spent with middle-aged women.
PLAYBOY: How many more years do you want to host The Late Late Show?
FERGUSON: I don’t know, man. That’s a good question. That’s one I’m asking myself.
PLAYBOY: How much longer do you have on your contract with CBS?
FERGUSON: I’ve got a few more years, so it’s nothing immediate. It may not even be my choice whether I keep the job. So there’s always that. [pauses] I don’t see the show as being the only career option for me. I’ll do it a little longer, and then maybe I’ll do something else. It’s not the be-all and end-all for me, and it never has been. At least for now I’m really enjoying it. You were asking me before whether I’m afraid of growing older. I don’t dwell on it a whole hell of a lot, but there are things I like to do that I’ll miss when they’re over or I’m too old to do them anymore or I’m dead. And that’s the whole point of living, isn’t it?
PLAYBOY: You’ve come a long way from that guy who wanted to jump off a bridge 20 years ago.
FERGUSON: I don’t understand that guy anymore. I don’t relate to him. I don’t understand the desire to not experience what you’re experiencing. “I don’t like my life. I’ll jump off a bridge.” “I don’t like getting older. I’ll dye my eyebrows.” Well, you can do that, I suppose, or you can just deal with it. What was that great quote by Bette Davis? “Getting old is not for pussies.”
PLAYBOY: We’re pretty sure she said sissies.
FERGUSON: Was it sissies? Well, I think she meant pussies. That seems more accurate.