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6 March 2014

Letter from America: feeling right at home in la-la land

The Scots-born US TV host, stand-up and writer on life with two passports.

By Craig Ferguson

It’s winter here in Los Angeles and the locals are freezing. Angelenos are huddling around their lattes for warmth, teeth chattering and buttocks clenching, trying to remember the last time they were this horrifically cold. For it is 17°C. And sunny.

It’s not uncommon for people here to look frozen, usually because of the Botox, so this doesn’t worry me. What worries me is that I’m freezing, too. I shouldn’t feel cold: I’m from Cumbernauld, Scotland, birthplace of the icicle (allegedly).

My first steps, my first shags, my first psychedelic drug experiences were all under a frigid Scottish chill. But I’ve lived in LA for 20 years now and I find myself reaching for a jumper (usually something stylish in cobalt blue, to match my eyes) as soon as the mercury drops below room temperature. I’ve heard it said that my blood’s gone thin. Is that even medically accurate? If my blood’s gone thin, why is the rest of my body fighting so valiantly to be un-thin?

I host a television show called The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson. It’s on in the middle of the night, a favourite of insomniacs, students and, if the advertising executives are to be believed, men with chronic prostate conditions. Occasionally I’ll hear from a fan directly, usually in the form of a passing “You suck” when I’m out in public. And when I do, it warms my 51-year-old cockles. It reminds me of home.

I moved to Los Angeles (or, more precisely, “f***ed off to America”) in the 1990s and was immediately seduced by the warm weather and the glittering teeth. After soaking in the sun for a while, not to mention a lot of disease-filled Jacuzzi water, I began to think of Scotland as a dark, depressing place.

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In March 2012, I returned to Scotland with a staff of 50 people and a pantomime horse to tape a week of shows. Most of the production staff had never seen Scotland before, and for once I saw my homeland through their eyes. It dawned on me that Scotland isn’t a dark and depressing place after all: the only thing dark and depressing about it was me.

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In 2008 I became an American citizen. A year later, I wrote a book called American on Purpose. I’m an American but I never stopped being Scottish. The two are not mutually exclusive. After taking the American citizenship test, I was given a pack of gum, a Garth Brooks CD and eventually an American passport. No one asked me to abandon my UK passport and I haven’t.

I thought having two passports would make me feel like a secret agent, but it’s not that exciting. Instead of having one passport always in danger of being forgotten at home, I now have two.

Having two passports is a bit like being a shark. Bear with me. Sharks have two organs; ichthyologists call them “claspers”, but to all intents and purposes they’re penises. You might think that two penises meant double the pleasure for all involved. But sharks can’t use both penises simultaneously; it’s one or the other – just like my passports. I use my British passport to enter Britain, and my American passport to enter America. It doesn’t do anything more than save me time at airports, but I feel proud to have them both. Just as I imagine having two claspers makes a gentleman shark very proud indeed.

I return to Scotland frequently, with my American-born family, and my fear of being called a sell-out by crowds of Francis Begbies has subsided. Meanwhile, no one in America mistakes me for a natural-born citizen; Cumbernauld leaks from my pores. I’m not yet ready to call myself an Angeleno.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a pressing engagement at the Botox clinic.