Tales of an unlikely American patriot

Scottish comic Craig Ferguson, doing well as host of the steadily rising “Late Late Show,” hasn’t always been in such a comfortable place.

The funnyman, whose combination of ad-lib, topical and self-deprecating humor has lit up late-night monologues on CBS since 2005, details his struggles and successes in his new autobiography, “American on Purpose.”

Published by Harper, the memoir — which he’s promoting in an appearance today in San Francisco — showcases his wit, but also delves into dark places and touches on his rebellious spirit.

In a recent phone interview, Ferguson chatted from outside a tattoo parlor on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip, where he was about to get new permanent artwork, at least in part to remind himself he can be independent, even in the world of television.

“I like having these tattoos underneath the suit, every now and again when I’m putting on the white, pressed button-down shirt to get ready for the talk show,” he says. “I see the tattoos in the mirror and it kind of helps me remember I’m not their [pawn], and that’s the same thing that stand-up does.”

He started his book when he became an American citizen and recently had spoken at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in the last days of what he calls “the Bush-Cheney regime” — a great time for comedy and terrible for everything else.

He adds, “But it was a good time for me — it kind of felt like an inventory process in a way.”

The book covers his childhood in the suburbs of Glasgow, days as a punk-rock drummer, battles with alcoholism and subsequent sobriety, success in the U.K. and his American breakthrough — a role on “The Drew Carey Show.”

He says, “The truth is, I think going over the memories wasn’t that bad, because in a way, there’s a certain kind of catharsis involved in writing them down, it’s almost like you can release them a wee bit — and from now on, I’ll probably remember it the way I wrote it, which may or may not be accurate, who knows?”

As for his fresh, edgy improvisational comedy style on TV, he says, “I got tired of reading jokes I didn’t think were funny. It’s very difficult to get people to laugh at a joke if you’re not laughing at it yourself — some people possess that ability, but I don’t. I don’t think I’m very good or very professional,” Ferguson says, laughing, “and I think people are comfortable with that.”

IF YOU GO

Craig Ferguson

Where: Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. today

Tickets: $20

Contact: (415) 392-4400, www.cityboxoffice.com

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