Men's Journal

Life Advice from Craig Ferguson

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What adventure most changed your life?

Not long after I got sober 16 years ago, I was filming a low-budget BBC thing in Portugal and had three days off. I was dating the drummer of an all-female rock band, so she flew over from London. When I picked her up at the airport I asked if she wanted to go for a swim, and she said, “No, let’s road-trip to Africa.” I said, fuck it, all right. What’s the point of dating a drummer from an all-girl rock band unless you’re going to listen to her? So we drove a crappy Renault rental car across southern Spain, took the car on a ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier, Morocco, bought a giant bejeweled scimitar, and then back to Portugal in time for me to start filming again. It’s a round-trip of about 1,500 miles, and I realized that had I not gotten sober, I probably would’ve spent those three days in a bar. Sobriety didn’t have to be endless penance for my past: It could be more of an adventure than drinking.

What skill should every man have?

To be able to clean a fish. I’m icked out by it, and there’s stuff inside a fish that you have no business eating, but it’s a survival thing. You should be able to go out in a boat, catch a fish, and eat it.

What one thing should every man know about women?

They’re ruthless. If they decide they want something, they’re much more single-minded than men.

What’s the biggest bet you ever made?

I’m Scottish, and we don’t do gambling. The whole idea of, "Hey, I’ll give you money and you might give me some back?" Fuck you.

Do you have a recurring dream?

I used to have a dream every night in which I’d see an atom bomb go off. The dream would always be different up to that point, so I never knew it was coming, then I’d see a mushroom cloud. It was probably because growing up in Scotland we used to hear American B-52s flying overhead to patrol the edge of Soviet airspace. The dream went away after the Berlin Wall came down.

Do you have a scar that tells a story?

I have a scar on my right hand, about two inches long. Depending on how I feel I’ll either tell you I was stabbed or I punched a window or I pulled a baby from a burning building.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

When I was in my early 20s I was doing a theater variety show with an old vaudeville comic. I found it terribly difficult to do this slapstick scene in which I chased a big sausage around and got a custard pie in the face and seltzer sprayed down my pants. The old comic said my problem was that I was trying to do it too fast, before I was ready. In his Cockney accent, he told me, “Hurry up and take your time. In fact, do that in your whole fuckin’ life and you can’t go wrong.”

What’s the best advice you ever gave?

I saw a car flipped over on the 101 freeway, so I stopped and ran over. This guy was upside down, and there were two kids in the car, but nobody was really hurt. The guy said, “Get my kids out first,” but it was a two-door car. I tried to explain that we couldn’t get the kids out until he was out, but he seemed to be in shock and kept saying, “No, no, I’m okay.” So I said, “Dude, you are upside down on the 101. You’re a long fucking way from okay. Get out of the car.”

What song do you have to hear once a week?

“Neat Neat Neat,” by the Damned. It’s the first punk song I heard that sounded like a fight. It still adrenalizes me. I remember seeing the Damned back in the day at the Glasgow Apollo, and I considered them rock gods. Then I met them when we had them on the show and they were quite small, which was weird.

How do you make your favorite drink?

I put tea into a pot, pour boiling water over it, and let it sit for a while. Then I pour milk into a cup and I pour the tea on top. It’s my shame as a naturalized American that I still drink tea.

What’s the best cure for a hangover?

For me, either keep drinking or go to rehab. I’m an all-or-nothing type of guy.

Do you have any tattoos you regret?

I’ve got one tattoo that I don’t regret. It’s my family coat of arms on my right shoulder. I got it in remembrance of my father. My father hated tattoos. It’s the Celtic paradox: Get a tattoo in memory of someone who hated tattoos.

What skill do you wish you could master?

I’m trying to master flying an airplane. Aviation is the complete opposite of show business. In show business, you live by bullshit. In aviation, you bullshit, you die. —interviewed by Steven Russell

This interview first appeared in the March 2009 issue of Men's Journal.