Craig Ferguson's Adventures As An 'Unlikely Patriot' When Craig Ferguson dropped out of high school at age 16, he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. In his new memoir, American On Purpose, Ferguson chronicles the story of his life, from Glasgow, to big time comedy, to becoming host of CBS's Late Late Show.
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Craig Ferguson's Adventures As An 'Unlikely Patriot'

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Craig Ferguson's Adventures As An 'Unlikely Patriot'

Craig Ferguson's Adventures As An 'Unlikely Patriot'

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Craig Ferguson dropped out of high school at the age of 16 with no idea what he wanted to do in life. I wanted to be a rock star, he writes in a new memoir, lauded and adored and worshipped, drunk, laid, gorgeous and dead by the age of 25. But that was too Byronic and romantic for a Protestant working-class boy. So I put that idea on ice for a while and went for something similar but more in my price range — I became an apprentice electrician. Craig Ferguson actually achieved one of those goals early in life. He became a spectacular drunk. Since sobriety, he's achieved a great deal more, including another of his life's ambitions, to become an American citizen.

He tells the story of his life, from Glasgow to big time comedy, and the host of CBS TV's "Late Late Show" in a book titled "American On Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot." And we want to hear from those of you who are also American on purpose. What brought you to this country? 800-989-8255 is our phone number. The email address is You can also join the conversation on our Web site, that's at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, acclaimed director Peter Sellars on his new production of "Othello." But first, Craig Ferguson joins us from our bureau in New York. And it's nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. CRAIG FERGUSON (Host, "Late Late Show;" Author): It's very nice to be here. Thank you for including me in something a little bit classier than I'm normally associated with.

CONAN: Oh, well.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FERGUSON: No, it's the truth. I could - the mean I heard the…

(Soundbite of fake trumpeting)

Mr. FERGUSON: …music I knew I was in - somewhere where I belong.

CONAN: Well, we're going to ask your opinions on foreign policy and in the AIDS vaccine in just a moment.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: But I - I wanted to ask you, growing up in Glasgow, in a - in a, you know, tract housing outside the city, perhaps the ugliest town in Britain, you say…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FERGUSON: Second ugliest town in Britain. It was voted the second worst town in the UK.

CONAN: Right. You dispute that though.

Mr. FERGUSON: I do - the city of Hull in England actually got the - the worst city on Earth. And I've been to Hull, and there's no doubt it's a terrible place. But it's in no way as awful as where I grew up.

CONAN: Well, anyway, growing up in that awful place, how did you first develop the idea of America?

Mr. FERGUSON: Well, it came to me very early on. I actually - my first memory of it is - is watching the moon landing. It was was the middle of the night for us. I mean, it was primetime for American audiences but we were woken up, I was seven years old, to watch the Americans landing on the moon. And from that point on I guess it was - it was always around growing up. My father's brother, my uncle James, had immigrated here in the 1950s and so it was part, he had, you know, he had done well for himself.

So, it was part of our kind of family legend that America was the place, the great land of opportunity. It was - it was something that, you know, we could aspire to. And the moon - and also my parents, you know, even in Scotland, my parents' generation had seen the GIs over during the Second World War.

So America has - has, and I think still is, well loved by - in that part of the world.

CONAN: Well, you seem to admire us mostly for our dentistry.

Mr. FERGUSON: Well, that certainly was something. The - when I first came here in 1976 I was 13 years old and the teeth were shocking. I really, it took me a couple of weeks to actually realize that they weren't all dentures. The only time I saw a teeth that good was usually on very old people with good, you know, good dentists who would - who would get them their dentures for free.

CONAN: Later in life, you've come over on a tourist visa and decide to overstay and immediately go to work.

Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah, I was working in a - a construction site in Harlem. And during the day and at night I danced in the American…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FERGUSON: …it was - very unwisely a dance company gave me a job. I think it's because the director quite fancied me. So they gave me a job as a dancer. I was a dancer at night, experimental modern dance and - and doing construction during the day. So I was in great shape but insane.

CONAN: That was in the role of Telemachus Clay.

Mr. FERGUSON: "Telemachus Clay," yes. It was a play written by Lewis John Carlino and because I had a Scottish accent they thought I would, you know, I would be theatrically branded as an innocent. And I think that was unwise because actually the part is - is of, you know, is of someone who comes from the Midwest and not many people have been in the Midwest many times since -hardly anyone talks like me in the Midwest. Nice people, no doubt, but they don't talk with me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: No, they don't. You've come to learn that, I think, probably first hand, but I wanted to ask you about a few other names that come up in your book, and that includes the name of Tubby.

Mr. FERGUSON: Tubby, yeah. I was a fat kid. So I was called, you know, with the - the fantastic imagination of cruel schoolchildren I was called Tubby. I hated it. I - I think, by the way, if you're fat kid, you're always have a fat kid. I suspect like - I suspect Trump was a fat kid. Do you know I mean? I think that - or Ahmadinejad was probably a fat kid. I think you become a bit of a bastard if you're fat kid, and I - I wrestle with that.

CONAN: Here's another name for you, and that is Adam Eternal.

Mr. FERGUSON: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Well, that was - that was a name that I chose for myself. Well, everybody was changing their name in the 1970's to sound more kind of punky or glamorous, you know, and people were calling themselves like, you know, Bob Booger(ph) and all that kind of stuff. I didn't want that. So I chose the name Adam because my great grandfather was called Adam and I'm supposedly very like him. My grandmother said I was very like him. And he was killed in the First World War. And I chose the name Eternal because - because it sounded cool when I was 16.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FERGUSON: Ah dear.

CONAN: And another name that I think people will be slightly more familiar with, and that is Bing Hitler.

Mr. FERGUSON: Oh yeah. Well, Bing Hitler was a character that I came up with during the - there was kind of an alternative comedy circuit going on in - in the UK, really, in the late 1970's, early 1980's. And Bing Hitler, I wanted a name that had a marquee, shock marquee value and…

CONAN: I think you found one, yeah.


(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FERGUSON: (Unintelligible) I must be specific though, there was no - there was no kind of fascism or crooning involved. It was in no way descriptive of what I was doing. It just was name that was shocking.

CONAN: We're talking with Craig Ferguson, the comedian and the author of "American On Purpose," and we want to hear from those of you who are also American on purpose. Why did - what brought you here? 800-989-8255. Email us We'll start with Bruce. Bruce with us from Denver.

BRUCE (Caller): Hi, yeah. Thanks for taking my call. I just wanted to let you know that my father and mother both came over from Scotland. My dad's from Scotsdon and Glasgow, worked on the River Clyde on the ships but always wanted to come to America. He's a citizen now and every time he opens the trunk of his car with his little remote he says is this America or what. He absolutely loves it here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, it's nice - it's nice that the - the little things can keep him pleased.

BRUCE: I think it's more than that, but he - he distills it like that.

CONAN: Craig Ferguson, you call America the land of first, second, third and I think 176 chances.

Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah, for me it was - I kind of notice that when I - I started watching my son playing baseball, which, of course, was a game I never did - I never played baseball as a child, but my son's in Little League, and as I watch all these young American children fail to hit the ball over and over and over again, but being encouraged to keep trying, I realized that baseball is one of the reasons why this is, philosophically, the best idea anyone ever had for a country because what you - what you do here is you fail until you succeed, and that's encouraged. If failure is seen in America as a necessary by-product of attempting to succeed, that you - that if you can swing and hit the ball one time in three, you'll make it to the Hall of Fame.

And where I grew up, failure was seen, I think, and maybe I'm wrong, and I'm sure there are Scottish people that disagree with me, but the idea that I got is that failure was disgrace. And that - I think in America that's just no one entertains that notion at all.

CONAN: Bruce, thanks very much and wish your father the best.

BRUCE: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye, bye. Let's go next to - this is Eileen. Eileen with us from San Antonio.

EILEEN (Caller): Hi, what a pleasure to talk to you. I had two comments. My family was Irish. I'm first-generation, and so we had the bad teeth, as well -but I wondered what you thought about making people who wanted to run for national office take the citizenship exam? I doubt many of them could pass it.

CONAN: Oh, how did you do on the citizenship exam?

EILEEN: I did not have to take it.

CONAN: No, I was asking Craig.

EILEEN: I'm first-generation American, but I'm sure Colin had to take it, right?

CONAN: Craig, yes.

Mr. FERGUSON: I think Colin Ferguson was someone who killed people on the Long Island Railroad, and I've never done that.

EILEEN: Oh, I'm sorry.

Mr. FERGUSON: No, I didn't - I had to take the citizenship test. I think I did okay. I'm here.

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. FERGUSON: I'm a citizen.

CONAN: Well, there's a great moment in your book, right at the beginning, in fact, and Eileen, thanks very much for the call. In fact, you were just two months a citizen, and you were asked to give the speech, supposed to be a humorous speech, at the White House Correspondents Association dinner. Of course the president and the vice president are in attendance, and there you are before the event begins, and well, the room's cleared out. The Secret Service has been through, and you find yourself suddenly alone in the room with President Bush.

Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah, I was, and I kind of - it was in a very odd position because I didn't agree with just about everything that President Bush had stood for during his tenure. And I knew I was going to meet him, and what happens is that everybody talks to you, and they know you're going to meet him, and everyone says this to him, and say that to him, and you do this, and you do that, and you make sure you tell him. And then I found myself standing with the president of the United States, and he was very affable and friendly and cheerful and open cordial, and I think it might be the slightest bit, you know, patronizing and arrogant to start grilling the president of the United States on his own Constitution.

So I just said hello and talked to him about Scotland a little bit - but he was very nice to me, very friendly.

CONAN: You also met the vice president of the United States.

Mr. FERGUSON: I did, yeah. He scared me a bit, Dick Cheney. He's much more your classic Bond villain. You know, I felt that if he was stroking a cat, it would have been perfectly appropriate. He's got that kind of so, Mr. Bond, type vibe about him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FERGUSON: If he had some kind of odd, mid-Austrian accent, I wouldn't have been at all surprised.

CONAN: Well, there was no table that you were strapped on with a saw spinning maliciously toward you.

Mr. FERGUSON: Well, not during the dinner, but later on when I was relaxing just a little bit.

CONAN: But sometimes, performing in front of that crowd I assume can seem a little like that.

Mr. FERGUSON: I don't know that if you perform in front of that crowd or you just try and survive in front of that crowd. I mean, it was a very eclectic mix of people, though. It was like the Jonas Brothers and Pamela Anderson and Salman Rushdie and Christiane Amanpour, and it's a very odd collection of people. It was kind of like a dream, you know, really like a dream where odd people are collected together in a strange - and it really wouldn't happen in real life - sort of a way.

CONAN: We're talking with Craig Ferguson of late, late fame. More in a moment. The book again is title "American on Purpose." Also more of your calls. What brought you to this country? 800-989-8255. Email us, Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Our guest today is Craig Ferguson of "The Late, Late Show" on CBS. He's very funny there. He's a bit more serious in his memoir about stand-up, alcoholism and his own American dream. The book is titled "American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot." You can hear him read from it on our Web site. That's at Just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We want to hear from those of you today who are also American on purpose. What brought you to this country? 800-989-8255. Email You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at Just click on TALK OF THE NATION. Let's go next to Angelo(ph) from Charlotte in North Carolina.

ANGELO (Caller): Yes, hello?

CONAN: Go ahead, you're on the air.

ANGELO: All right. Thank you for having me.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

ANGELO: Yes. I came here from Haiti 10 years ago, exactly 10 years ago, and I became a U.S. citizen last year.

CONAN: Congratulations.

ANGELO: Thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ANGELO: So what brought me here was, like, when I was growing up, as a little kid, the feedback I used to get from my cousins who (unintelligible) who used to live here, whenever I asked them for something, like they used to live in Chicago. They'd just send me some things, you know. You know, when you're a little kid, that's all you need.

CONAN: What kinds of things? Books or toys or stuff?

ANGELO: No, I'm talking about, like, sneakers and jeans, and I'm getting all those, like, so easy from them, and I'm, like, basically (unintelligible) be to, if you can get them that easy.

CONAN: So that ease of getting those things, and have you found it to be easy after you got here?

(Soundbite of laughter)

ANGELO: Not at all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ANGELO: Not at all. I came here in '99, and I went to school, had a scholarship, but I was working in the supermarket, you know, picking up cages outside in the snow when I used to live in Connecticut. Then I really had a tough time, but I'm doing good. This is the place to be, and I'm living here in peace. I don't have to worry about the army taking over everything. You know, we have that political unrest in Haiti almost every year. So this is the place to be, and I can own a house now. I'm doing my masters at UNCC.

CONAN: Well, good luck to you. Congratulations again.

ANGELO: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Craig Ferguson, did you worry about military coups in Glasgow?

Mr. FERGUSON: Not military, but there were certainly people you would be worried about taking over your neighborhood. It's nice to hear that. It's nice to hear that gentleman's story. I kind of like that. I think sometimes it's very - this is a human condition, you know. If you live somewhere, if you live in Paris, you probably very rarely go anywhere near the Eiffel Tower or anything like that.

I think sometimes in America, because the most American thing you can do is probably voice your dissent. I mean, that's what we do here. That's very important that you voice dissent here, but sometimes I think that can lead to a slight lack of appreciation of the luxury of being able to voice that dissent, and I think the gentlemen talking there puts me in mind of that a little bit.

There was a lot of sectarian violence where I grew up, and I know that certainly there's that kind of thing that exists in America, of course there is, but it's not legislated into the Constitution here, which I think makes a huge difference.

CONAN: Here's an email from Vivi(ph) in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Born in communist Hungary, grew up in then-Western Germany, we would watch television shows like "Dynasty" and "Dallas," "Rip Tide" and "The Streets of San Francisco." I thought to myself I want to see these places and desperately wanted to come to America.

My parents gave me the opportunity to do so, for which I am grateful without end. So I came to Wisconsin as an exchange student and loved it there, graduated high school there, went to Germany to finish my studies, then made the move to America.

This was nearly 16 years ago, and I love it here. Yes, I love going home to visit family in Europe, but this is my home now. I love being an American on purpose.

CONAN: And I wonder, do you get perspective? I assume you go back to Glasgow from time to time.

Mr. FERGUSON: Sure I do, yeah, I mean, and I certainly - I don't think you become - I certainly feel I've become less Scottish by becoming an American. I think that - I mean, America is not an ethnicity. America is - for me, America is a decision. America is a statement of intent. It's a belief system, if you like, and I'm fiercely patriotic about being an American, but you know, I'm a Scotsman who became an America.

You know, the gentleman who spoke before was a Haitian who became an American. I'm sure he would say the same thing. You know, it's - you don't put, you know, who you are aside. You add to it by becoming an American.

CONAN: This is Mark(ph), Mark with us from Los Gatos in California.

MARK (Caller): Hello, Colin, how are you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FERGUSON: I'm fine, thank you, how are you?

MARK: Yeah, I'm an Englishman, lived in - went to boarding school in England, but the reasons I came out here were sort of more educational. I'm about 49 years old and found that when I was at boarding school, university was really if you wanted to become a doctor or a lawyer, and I was certainly not going to become any one of those.

So I came out to the States because, as somebody has mentioned in their email, everything I knew about America is what you see on television. And I managed to get myself a good education in engineering, and I certainly wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't come to the States.

But having said that, I don't see myself dying out here. I have five brothers and sisters back in the U.K. and other parts of the world, and I still feel part of that family. And my dilemma is raising children out here, and if they don't get introduced to the rest of the world as a place to live, then I won't see them as much because they'll be living here.

CONAN: Your children, do they think of themselves as Americans, Craig?

Mr. FERGUSON: I have one boy. Yes, he's an American for sure. He thinks of himself as an American. He is an American. He was…

CONAN: Born and bred.

Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah, kind of.

CONAN: Mark, when to plan to head on home?

MARK: I don't know. I've done very well here, but I, you know, I'm trying to wind down a little bit. I think that the social systems of Europe will, you know - will take care of me better as I get older. I get a little concerned about that. Being out here, I think that - I do find myself, when I was in the U.K., I considered myself Tory and right wing, and I came out here and found out right wing take on a whole new meaning. And so I find myself a lot more Democratic, and if I was to vote, that's what I'd vote. And it's quite interesting, that sort of dilemma.

I mean, I don't know about you, Craig. I mean, are you from Glasgow or from Edinburgh?

Mr. FERGUSON: I'm from Glasgow.

MARK: Okay, okay. So you're a Billy Connelly kind of guy?

Mr. FERGUSON: I was - I don't know what that means.

CONAN: Making a lot of money.

Mr. FERGUSON: I'm making - I'm doing okay.

CONAN: Billy Connelly does okay, too.

Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah, I think so, yeah. So does Donald Trump. I'm a Donald Trump kind of a guy. He makes a lot of money.

CONAN: He certainly does and manages to write a lot of it off, too, somehow. Anyway, Mark, thanks very much for the call.

MARK: No worries, cheers.

CONAN: Okay, this is from Nigel in San Francisco. Craig, I'd like to know if you knew about the Glasgow gang called the 68 Guns? Apparently, they used to roam the streets wielding swords back in the '60s. My band, The Alarm, wrote a song about them.

Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah, I knew a lot about - there was - actually, there's a story in the book about a guy with a sword.

CONAN: Yes, there is.

Mr. FERGUSON: There was a lot of knife play and swords around at that time. There was actually story that was actually in the British medical journal, The Lancet, and the story was called "Just an Ordinary Sword," and it was about a British doctor, an English doctor who went to Glasgow because his area of expertise, what he liked to study was medieval war wounds, and his best chance of examining them in a contemporary environment was to go to Glasgow. And so he would go there, and he went to an ER room, and he was talking to someone who had been attacked by, I believe, one of the 68 Guns and said to the guy: Did you see the weapon that was used on you because it's a very interesting wound? You know, the guy had been stitched up.

And he said no, no. Well, I did. I saw the weapon. He said, and what kind of sword was it? And he said it was just an ordinary sword. The idea of a sword and being attacked with a sword would be ordinary. It's nothing like that in Glasgow now, I believe, but back in the '60s, it was extremely violent there.

CONAN: The picture you paint of the schools you went to is terrifying and almost medieval, the kind of punishments: being belted, holding your hands out to be smacked by leather belts by your teachers. And yet you and your sister, your sister works on your television show, she's a great success, you are, too, but your older siblings apparently did well, too. How did that happen?

Mr. FERGUSON: Well, I think a lot of people do well from - I don't think that the fact that you do well, you know, is anything that really excuses the behavior of these people. I mean, Frank McCourt did well, and look what happened in his childhood.

It's not - I think it's also a sense of perspective a little bit, or how you saw it at the time. I mean, I remember talking to Frank before he died about "Angela's Ashes," and he said he thought it was funny that when - he was going back to Ireland to get an award because the book had done so well, and when he got there, there was a whole bunch of people outside the place in Dublin he was going, protesting, saying it was nothing like that at all, and they remember it, and it was nothing like that back then.

So I guess, you know, you can take, you know, two children to the beach, and one of them will run out at the waves, and one of them will run away from the waves. Maybe it's just in how you perceive it yourself, but I loathed school. I loathed the education.

CONAN: And you never went back after you dropped out at 16?

Mr. FERGUSON: No. And it took me a while to realize that actually that's not how - that's not how education was run. That actually, you know, it could be very supportive and nurturing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FERGUSON: I had no idea. I mean, I watch my son at school and the way this kind of lovely Kum Ba Yah school he goes to and I envy him, you know?

CONAN: Let's get another caller on. This is Robert(ph) with us from Cheyenne, Wyoming.

ROBERT (Caller): Hey. Yeah, my name is Robert. I'm from Cheyenne. And I was listening to you. I'm a big fan of Craig Ferguson's. Just simply I was watching his late night show one day, and I actually watch it all the time now. And he came out, you know, as an alcoholic in the Britney Spears thing and I was like - it was huge for me because I've kind of done some work around Wyoming and I'm a recovering alcoholic myself. And it just kind of, you know, brought out what the true meaning to be an alcoholic is and it's about second chances. It's about us being able to say, you know what, I'm - it's okay. It's okay that I messed up in my life and now here's my second. And I'm actually on, like, my fourth chance right now. You know, I've been clean and sober for five years and I just envy the fact that he's able to do that on national TV and just be okay with it and not worry about everybody else's judgment. And I just wanted to give him, you know, a big pat on the back for that.

Mr. FERGUSON: That's very nice of you. Thanks very much. But you must not assume that I don't worry about other people's judgments. I do, but I don't let it stop me, you know? I get it. You know, I'm human. I worry that people will say mean things about you on Internet and stuff like that. But I don't let it ruin my life.

CONAN: People say mean things about people on the Internet?

Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah, I'm sorry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FERGUSON: Is that - I'm sorry. That's a bit of a shock to hear that the first time, isn't it?

CONAN: You've crushed my illusion.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Robert, thanks very much for the call.

Mr. FERGUSON: Thanks, Robert.

ROBERT: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Here's an email from Melon(ph) here in Washington. When Hugh Laurie took the stage on your show and said, Craig Fergusson, my old show business friend, what did he mean?

Mr. FERGUSON: Oh, well I've known Hugh Laurie for a very long time. I knew Hugh when we both lived in London. I used to date a girl that had gone to college with him. And - so we've known each other for a very long time. We knew the same people. That was basically it. And that and the fact that we were lovers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And did he learn his American accent from you?

Mr. FERGUSON: Certainly. No, I've got a terrible American accent. If by, you know, American accent, you mean that, you know, that kind of - I don't know, whatever that is. Not my accent. I'm not good at it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FERGUSON: I can basically do me, Dracula, and James Bond.

CONAN: That's it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FERGUSON: That's it.

CONAN: And just the…

Mr. FERGUSON: Just the Sean Connery James Bond.

CONAN: …Sean Connery James Bond.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FERGUSON: And that's…

CONAN: Not the English ones. That's right.

Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah, that's it.

CONAN: All right. We're talking with Craig Ferguson who is, of course, the star of CBS TV's "The Late Late Show" and the author of the new book "American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

CONAN: And let's get Finley(ph) on the line. Finley calling from Jacksonville.

FINLEY (Caller): Hey. How are you doing, fellows?

CONAN: Go ahead.

Mr. FERGUSON: Hello, Finley. How are you?

FINLEY: Good. Good. I've got an interesting perspective. My wife, who isn't here or she will speak for herself, is American by choice because she married me, a U.S. Marine, lo these 38 years ago. And there are, I think, a lot of people who are American by choice who did that. And she didn't have to, but she eventually got her citizenship.

CONAN: And besides from the shockingly poor judgment of marrying you, she's decided to stay and make a life of it?

FINLEY: She's…

(Soundbite of laughter)

FINLEY: Yeah. I'm a working musician. I'm also a public radio - a classical music announcer, and she's got the really good job. That's why she's not here right now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I was just going to say you've really think two professions are going to rocket you into the upper tax bracket?

(Soundbite of laughter)

FINLEY: Yeah. But she's got a really good job. As a matter of fact, she's working for the Marine Corps out of Camp Lejeune. But I have a lot of friends - I'm retired Marine Corps and Navy. I have a lot of friends who married women, and women who married men overseas, and they became American by choice. By doing that - I think a lot of people do that.

CONAN: I suspect you're right about that.


CONAN: Not an option that was open to you, was it, Craig?

Mr. FERGUSON: I don't know. I've - some of those Marines are very handsome, and I would have taken them up for it, but I don't think it's legal for me to marry any of them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FERGUSON: I actually was, at one point, married to an Americans - married to an American now, but that was before I was an American.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FERGUSON: It's long and complicated. Anyway, what you need to know is I didn't do it that way, but, yes, I could have.

CONAN: All right. Finley, thanks very much and we wish your wife the best.

FINLEY: Okay. Take care.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go to Cameron(ph). Cameron with us from Tucson.

CAMERON (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

CAMERON: Hi. I'm calling from Tucson. I came to United States as a refugee over about 26 years ago. This was right after the revolution in Iran when Khomeini came and things were kind of hard. And because of the religious persecution, my parents - actually, I was 18 at the time, my parents decided that I should be leaving. So, I left that time and it took almost a year to get to the United States. But once I get here, I was a refugee. So - and people were very, very kind and nice to me and I have had a wonderful life here. So I appreciate all the people in this country. And I just appreciate what they have done for me and - really.

CONAN: Well…

CAMERON: And I love your show.

CONAN: Thank you very much. And I'm sure he's talking about yours, too, Craig. But how did things work out for your parents?

CAMERON: Oh, well, not - my mom was arrested and she spent about four months in prison. She was released later but many of the people who we knew that she was in prison with her were executed.

CONAN: Oh, I'm sorry.

Mr. FERGUSON: So it's been a tough time. My parents - my father passed away a couple of years ago, but overall, it's been good here for me.

CONAN: You hear stories like that, Craig, and it reminds you of other traditions this country stands for, too.

Mr. FERGUSON: Yeah. I mean, it's very - it's - I'm very sorry to hear the gentleman's story, but at the same time, I think it was Barack Obama who said, you know, you can tell how well a country is doing by how many people are trying to get into it. Right now, it's kind of interesting. I'm in New York City and it's the United Nations. You know, there's all sorts…

CONAN: General Assembly, yeah.

Mr. FERGUSON: …of people here, yeah. And, you know, and of course, there's a couple of speakers recently at the podium in the U.N. - Gadhafi and Ahmadinejad - people are scoundrels. I mean, there's not - I can't believe that, you know, who's going to defend these men? And yet, we give them a podium because that's what we do, you know?


Mr. FERGUSON: And I also think what the previous caller touched on as well, which I think it's very important and it - and Americans don't give themselves enough credit for that. It's just how welcoming they are. I mean, the society here - and it crosses societies. If you're an immigrant, in my experience as an immigrant, is how welcoming people are. And I'm not just talking about my socioeconomic structure, but I'm talking about, you know, everyone that I run -if we hear an accent or you hear a difference, you know, people are interested and people connect with you. I like it.

CONAN: Cameron, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it. We'll end with this email from Nancy(ph) in Lawrence, Kansas. Craig, I've loved and watched your show from the beginning. The most memorable serious episode was your plea to get out and vote in the presidential election and how fortunate we are as U.S. citizens to have the right to vote. I loved it that a comedian took the time to prod us on.

We thank you for taking the time to join us today.

Mr. FERGUSON: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

CONAN: Craig Ferguson's new book is called "American On Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot."

Coming up, looking for new meanings in "Othello" in the age of Obama. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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