Monday, March 01, 2010

Comedy show field trip: Craig Ferguson

craig_ferguson_01 CIT took another field trip this past weekend, this time up to the Winstar Casino in lovely Thackerville OK, to see CBS Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson. This served as the front end of our Celtic-themed weekend, with the back being the Dropkick Murphys at House of Blues on Mon night.

One thing to get out of the way straight off: Some of you out there, esp those of you who are more familiar with the local happenings, may be thinking to yourself, “Oi, Mudgey. I thought you was skint.” Or, you know, less Cockney words to that effect.

Well, skint I am, no doubt. But I am deeply, and far more than monetarily, indebted to a number of friends who have very generously helped me get out and do some very cool stuff lately. The list is long, you all know who you are, and I am so very grateful to you one and all. I am fortunate indeed to have friends like youse guys.

So, on with the report.

First, let’s talk about the venue: The extremely huge, extremely cheesy Winstar Casino.

What. A. Slag-heap.

I don’t even know where to start on this place. All night, I felt like I was in the remake of Walking Tall (the one with The Rock). From the moment the massive, brighter-than-10,000-suns marquee loomed out of the mist on I-35, I got the distinct impression Thackerville had sold its small-town soul to attract this low-budget Den of Iniquity.

You pull into the 40,000 acre parking lot (at least) and get a look at the massive, gaudy facade of the joint, and you can’t help but throw up in your mouth a little. Part of it is supposed to resemble the Coliseum in Rome, some of it a sort of French castle, some of it who-knows-what-but-it-sure-is-big-Ethel. Blinking LEDs embedded into the machined brick walls (magical twinkling, I guess), no windows anywhere, fire exits right off the back of the Spotsylvania Mall, it may be the ugliest building ever built.

Once you walk up to the door (I think the front door, but who the hell really knows?); past the thousands of dualie pick-up trucks, knackered mid-90s domestic compacts, and peeling minivans; you walk in and immediately get the good news from 20,000 (rough estimate) cigarettes. My eyes watered and I aged 10 years within the first fifteen feet.

While navigating the mile and a quarter (no kidding) around to the theater, you walk past rank after rank after rank of slot machines. The entire world’s supply of slot machines. I saw maybe 10 gaming tables in the entire place. The rest was slot machine after slot machine after slot machine. There was a fitting representation of the entire bottom third of the socio-economic food chain from across the Big XII present, smoking, rubbing their bulging bellies through their soiled T-shirts, pushing trucker caps back on their greasy heads, inhaling oxygen through tubes under their noses, staring, unblinking, at the rotating numbers and symbols on the screens in front of them. The sound is nonstop, droning, no doubt scientifically proven to remind the listener of winning. I didn’t see anyone win anything, but maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention.

As you walk thru the joint, you move from “Rome” to “Versailles” to “China”. The signs tell you so, and I guess the goldish-textured foam decorations and sculptures sort of change in keeping with the local theme. The fast-food stops along the wall, all with minimal cafeteria-style seating, seem to keep up with the current “country” – the pizza place was in the “Rome” area, at least.

The fast food is terrible, over-priced, and terrible. And did I mention it's terrible? And over-priced? And terrible? The sit-down restaurants - I counted two, one being the “Toby Keith America-Will-Punch-You-In-The-Nuts-You-A-Rab-Jerk-Face Bar and Grill” or somesuch, the other might have been “Shite Sandwich”, but I could be remembering that wrong - were crowded and looked and smelled at least as bad as the fast food.

The fit and finish of the entire place screamed “Centex” to me. Lots of flat mauve paint, glossy Snowflake White basic crown molding, hollow-core doors, and industrial carpet. A good, strong wind would likely blow the place to smithereens.

Throughout the evening, I couldn’t shake the mental image of, somewhere in the center of the complex, a secret door which opened onto an irregular-shaped hallway, glowingly red-lit, with moisture dripping down the rounded, pulsating walls. In my mind’s eye, the hallway led to a huge open space ringed by computers attended by geeky drones wearing dark slacks, white short-sleeved dress shirts, and skinny black ties. In the center of the space sits a huge, horned, red-skinned and slimy Creature from the lowest depths of Hell, bellowing with demonic laughter and snacking on the severed limbs of degenerate gamblers and slow waitresses.

I couldn’t tell if I was reminded of Dawn of the Dead, Idiocracy, or WALL-E more. I was literally embarrassed to be an American while I was there.

In other words, I really didn’t like the place.

Fortunately, we weren’t there to see it, nor to gamble, nor to have dinner. We were there for a comedy show.

The theater was the world’s biggest banquet room. It could probably have been subdivided into 200 small break-out rooms. The problem with banquet rooms is they have flat floors. Trying to pack 2,000 people (I’m guessing, but I’d bet I’m pretty close), sitting on lousy stackable banquet chairs, into a room the size of flight deck on a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier means the people in the back aren’t going to be able to see jack. There was a home-made-looking 2X4-and-chipboard riser for the very back, but I’m sure a lot of people only got a rumor of the visuals in the show.

There was some spare opener, some poor schlub who got to go warm up the crowd. He wasn’t terrible, did a number of homophobic jokes which clearly resonated with the audience full of Ed Earls and Darlenes, and was gone pretty quickly.

Ferguson himself was outstanding. He ran around the stage and absolutely killed for a good hour, maybe longer. Cussing, Scotland, booze, TV, celebrities, relationships, sex, and cussing (and a bit more cussing) – all got the treatment. Ferguson is a pro, has great writers, and has timing like few others. Neatly timed call-backs to earlier parts of the monologue (“Magic Baby Door” was a frequent reference) set up and joined a wide range of topics. Ferguson kept “trying” to come back to a joke he wanted to tell, and the payoff there was worthwhile. It’s a tribute to the guy’s skill that I think a good deal of his act was made up on the spot, but I just can’t be sure. It seemed spontaneous, but he had so few misfires it seems difficult to believe he was ad-libbing.

Whatever. He killed. I laughed a LOT. I was a fan before. Now, I’m ready to hero-worship. He single-handedly saved the evening and made the drive to Thackerville and the visit to the Wal-Mart of casinos worthwhile. We’ve adopted Craig Ferguson as both the Official Stand-up AND the Official Late Night Host of silly little CIT.

And that, my friends, is the highest praise I can gin up.

No comments: