Heard the one about the unknown alcoholic comedian from the Cumbernauld estate? By Philip Sherwell in Los Angeles They were gathered to celebrate the latest landmark in the remarkable career of Craig Ferguson, a Scottish comedian little known in Britain but who has become one of the most familiar faces on American television.
Comic, actor, director, talk-show host and, as of last week, novelist, Ferguson, 43, is one of Britain's most successful showbusiness exports. It has been a long and unconventional journey from the council estate in Cumbernauld, Lanarkshire, where Ferguson grew up, to the Tropicana Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard.
He was also downing a bottle of vodka a day and was a heavy user of marijuana and cocaine. After splitting from his first wife, he had a six-month affair with Fiona Fullerton, the former Bond girl, but he never made the big time in his homeland. Then he cleaned up his act he has not had a drink in 13 years and moved to LA, where his career soon took off. Following a number of television and film roles, he was invited to audition for the vacant host slot for The Late Late Show and landed the job full-time from January During a rocky start, he was panned by critics, but he changed the format, boosted the audience to a record 2.
His trademark phrase - "cheeky wee monkeys" - is gaining cult status. Now he has added a novel to his CV. Between the Bridge and the River is a rambunctious and unconventional book following the path of Fraser, a hard-drinking, self-obsessed Scottish television star who embarks on a journey of discovery across America after being exposed in a tabloid sex scandal.
It features the secret love children of Frank Sinatra and Peter Lawford, an array of American extroverts and freaks, lurid murders and sexual deviance, and telling exposes of the religious Right and the superficial excesses of Hollywood. Sprinkled throughout are Fraser's mental encounters with Carl Gustav Jung, the father of dream analysis, and caustic allegories about modern life.
The story is, as one character observes, a mix of the sacred and the profane. Ferguson's comments about the town he has made home give a flavour of his writing. Picture taken, he returns seamlessly to the contents of a book that, among its targets, lampoons Hollywood. Yet a year ago, in the early months of his tenure at The Late Late Show, critics were writing his professional death notices. He ditched the neck tie and the scripted jokes, switched to an opening minute monologue reflecting his British comedy club roots and re-invented himself as one of the hottest properties on US television.
The same could be said of his private life. He and his second wife, Sascha, divorced last year but, after what Ferguson has called a "very Californian" split, they live next door to each other and share custody of their five-year-old son, Milo.
The now single Ferguson has been linked to some of Hollywood's leading ladies, including Sharon Stone, with whom he flirted on his show. He has recently been reported to be seeing the actress Amy Yasbeck. Back at the party, Miss Collins said she was going home to read the book, but gushed about Ferguson's prospects.
I love going on his show, he's just so funny and talented. Britain's loss is America's gain. I thought 'these flakes are my people' - and I was right.