By Betsy Rothstein - 04/21/08 03:51 PM EDT
Craig Ferguson has a special way of preparing himself for a performance.
“I wear my lucky underpants,” the Glasgow, Scotland, native said in his thick brogue during a phone interview with ITK late last week. “They are pink and fluffy. It’s not lucky for you, but I feel lucky wearing them.”
Undergarments aside, in the past, some who have keynoted the famed Washington Correspondents’ Dinner have had no limits.
Examples include radio host Don Imus in 1996, who beat the Clintons to a bloody pulp. Or comedian Stephen Colbert, who in 2006 pounded President George Bush with jokes so offensive that the audience was stunned into many awkward silences, the first of which came at the beginning when Colbert remarked on how glad he was to be in such close proximity to the president. “Somebody pinch me,” he said. “Somebody shoot me in the face.”
Last year, comic Rich Little bombed — his act consisted of impersonations of presidents who had left office decades earlier. His star impersonation was of Richard Nixon, who hadn’t been in the White House in more than three decades.
Don’t expect Ferguson, who is this year’s entertainment, to anger anyone. He won’t say which party he favors, and he never sets out to offend. “I just do my gig,” he said. “Being funny is more important to me than being controversial.”
Not everything is fair game. “Some things are not funny and I will not talk about them,” he said.
The late-night host said he stays away from political types but has met his senator — Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) — because he has a vacation home in Vermont. “He smells delightful,” Ferguson said, “and he has got a firm handshake.”
Another one of his favorite lawmakers is Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “He’s kind of like a sexy professor,” Ferguson said. “His tie is a little loose and he’s a little crumpled.”
Craig is excited about being the comedic act at this year’s dinner. But let’s not go overboard. “I don’t think that I’ll be excited on that day because it’s a little nerve-racking,” he said. This weekend’s act will be partly planned, he said, but primarily, “we’ll wing it.”
Thanks to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, Ferguson landed the role after Dowd convinced Ann Compton, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, that he was the right choice.
“What happened, I believe, is that Maureen Dowd, who is a pretty good friend of mine, talked to the lady who runs the dinner,” said Ferguson, who recently became an American citizen. “Everyone thought it might be an OK way to go.”
Ferguson keeps current with politics but hasn’t been studying. “I don’t know anything,” he said. “So in that way I’m like most senators.
“News? I’m much like the president. I get it from my writers, pretty much Perez Hilton and al Jazeera [TV]. It keeps me comprehensively covered.”
In a cover story for Capitol File magazine, Ferguson called the dinner the “single most dangerous corporate gig in show business.”
Was he serious?
“I’m never serious, I’m a comedian,” he said. “I think I probably lied. I lie all the time. I just make crap up and I say it in a loud voice. I’m like Fox News.”
For a preview of Ferguson’s act, ITK asked him to respond to names and phrases, kind of like a Rorschach test. “In terms of the Rorschach test, whatever you put down I’m going to say, ‘Vagina,’ ” he warned.
With that in mind, here we go:
English-only laws: “I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question. In what language are you speaking?”
Pro-life or pro-choice: “Not a chance I’m talking to you about that.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): “Venerable.”
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.): “Venerable.”
Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho): “Gorgeous.”
Ann Coulter: “Sassy.”
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.): “Beautiful.”
Laura Bush: “Sexy.”
Jon Stewart: “Sultry.”
Stephen Colbert: “Also sultry.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.): “I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question.” He added, “Fragrant.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.): “Vulnerable yet masculine.”
George Bush: “Tall.”
Karl Rove: “Machiavellian.”
Patriotic crisis averted in basement of Capitol
Last week in the basement of the Capitol, Democratic Reps. Chet Edwards (Texas) and Bart Gordon (Tenn.) were strolling to a caucus meeting, speaking confidentially when two passing pages dropped an armful of stacked boxes.
The lawmakers, deep in conversation, didn’t initially move to help the pages until they realized the labeled boxes contained American flags. Gordon sprang into action and helped pick up the boxes while Edwards provided comforting words: “The flags did not touch the ground. They were in the box.”
During times of battle, a person could never let the flag touch the ground. If the flag hit the ground, it was considered a dishonor.
A faux Sen. Craig wins drag contest in Aspen
Though Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) has been displaying a stern, serious image as of late, his past continues to haunt him.
At this year’s annual Aspen Gay Ski Weekend, they had a drag contest.
The winner? A guy skiing down in a bathroom stall, with a suit and tie, slacks down at his ankles, tapping his foot.
Craig’s office declined to comment on the matter.
Capitol Police encounter heroin user
U.S. Capitol Police came upon a vehicle stopped at a red light at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 2nd Street SE by the Madison Building last Monday. The vehicle stayed still when the light turned green, so officers approached it — only to find its driver “shaking violently in his seat with a needle in his hand.” The arresting officer said he saw a small bag of white powder on the seat next to the driver, which was tested and confirmed to be heroin. The driver was arrested and taken back to headquarters for processing.
Flip-flopping in the Capitol
Flip-flops took on new meaning last week as a female reporter was thrown out of the Speaker’s Lobby for wearing a black pair in addition to a black overcoat. Both flip-flops and overcoats are Speaker’s Lobby no-no’s.
The reporter told Capitol employees that she did not want to remove her coat because she had on a flimsy T-shirt.
“It’s just common sense,” an employee said.
The reporter refused to comment except to say, “I don’t want to be in a story just because I wore the wrong shoes to work.”
The scene brought back memories for another Capitol employee, who recalled a female reporter who once wore a tank top into the Speaker’s Lobby. When approached, the woman looked dumbfounded by the employee’s obvious lack of fashion sense, saying, “Uh, it’s Armani?”