While the media turned Spears into a laughing stock after she shaved her head in front of dozens of paparazzi, Ferguson refused to do the same.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on February 10, 2021. It has since been updated.
Former "Late Late Show" host Craig Ferguson's 2007 monologue explaining why he wouldn't make any Britney Spears jokes after the popstar's much-publicized meltdown is now going viral on social media. The clip resurfaced on Twitter following the release of the New York Times-produced documentary "Framing Britney Spears," which explores the Princess of Pop's life, hounding by the media and battle for control of her estate. While the media turned Spears into a laughing stock after she shaved her head with electric clippers in front of dozens of paparazzi, Ferguson refused to make fun of her in what is now a legendary late-night moment.
"Framing Britney Spears functions as a kind of time capsule of all the casual sexism that we, as a society, thought it was perfectly okay to hurl at young girls in the early 2000s." https://t.co/ntz5XJM91j— Vogue Magazine (@voguemagazine) February 8, 2021
The Scottish-born Peabody-winning television host asked for sympathy and understanding for Spears in a nearly 13-minute monologue where he expressed regret for his previous celebrity-based jokes. "It's been happening in the media and press recently," Ferguson said, comparing the media scrutiny to watching "America's Funniest Home Videos": "You'd be laughing at the kid falling over, and then you'd go, 'Wait a minute, put down the damn camera and help your kid! What the hell is wrong with you?' People are falling apart! People are dying! That Anna Nicole Smith woman died!"
Why the fk did they laugh when he said Anna Nicole smith died???? pic.twitter.com/SYnY6Lr6Zi— 𝕎𝕖𝕒𝕣 𝕐𝕠𝕦𝕣 𝔾𝔻 𝕄𝕒𝕤𝕜 (@jubilantsleep) February 9, 2021
When the studio audience laughed at his mention of former Playboy playmate Anna Nicole Smith—who passed away from a drug overdose at the age of 39 just weeks before Spears' infamous meltdown—Ferguson immediately responds: "It's not a joke. It stops being funny. I'm starting to feel uncomfortable about making fun of these people. For me, comedy should have a certain amount of joy in it. It should be about always attacking the powerful people — attacking the politicians, and the Trumps, and the blowhards. Go after them! We shouldn't be attacking the vulnerable people!"
We had a conversation about this moment a little more than a year ago. https://t.co/kkmtWZ4lVG— Robert Lloyd (@LATimesTVLloyd) February 9, 2021
"And this is a mea culpa, this is just for me, I think my aim has been off a bit recently and I want to change it a bit. So tonight, no Britney Spears jokes," Ferguson announced. While the audience appeared to anticipate that the comedian would switch gears and begin mocking Spears, Ferguson surprised them by reflecting on his own history of alcoholism and suggesting that perhaps the "Toxic" singer needed help. "The kind of weekend she had, she was checking in and out of rehab, she was shaving her head, getting tattoos, that’s what she was doing this weekend," he said.
Never forget when Craig Ferguson refused to make fun of Britney Spears. pic.twitter.com/r8AuiNPW0L— Britney Fan 🌹 (@BritneyHiatus) February 9, 2021
"This Sunday, I was 15 years sober. So I looked at her weekend and I looked at my own weekend and I thought, 'You know, I'd rather have my weekend,'" Ferguson added. "This woman has two kids," he said later in the monologue. "She's 25 years old. She's a baby herself. She's a baby." Ferguson later admitted to the Los Angeles Times in 2019 he feared he'd be sacked from the show for his stance on Spears. "I happened to be away doing stand-up that weekend, and I started seeing news reports about what was happening to Britney Spears. And I remember feeling kind of shocked at the kind of glee that seemed to accompany them," he recalled. "I don't know Ms. Spears and I'm not a doctor, but to all outward appearances, it was some kind of psychotic episode. It didn’t look like she was having a good time at all."
Craig Ferguson is making headlines for taking a stand in 2007 when he finally drew a line in the sand for Britney Spears amid all the news and tabloid attackshttps://t.co/a0oWAh3p8j— The Hollywood Reporter (@THR) February 9, 2021
"When I got to work Monday, the writers were all very happy because they assumed it was a 'Dick Cheney shooting his lawyer in the face' sort of event. A lawyer gets shot, nobody dies, Dick Cheney's absolved — that's a mine of comedy! That's great! But I didn't feel that way about the Britney Spears thing," Ferguson added. "I thought at the time that I was giving my resignation monologue. I thought, 'They're going to fire me for this.' And actually, the opposite happened, and everyone seemed to be very happy about it. I never heard anything negative from anybody at the network or [production company] Worldwide Pants. But I was convinced at the time that I was getting into trouble."
"I remember the audience were a little uncomfortable. When I mentioned Britney's name they kind of laughed, because everyone had seen the news, and I think they expected me to do what my job was, which was to make fun of the news," he continued. "And I thought, 'Keep going.' But as I say, my overwhelming sensation at the time was, 'They're going to can me after this. This is not what they hired me to do.' But I thought, 'It doesn't matter, something will turn up.' I felt like I was doing the right thing. I wanted to put myself in the position of what Ms. Spears had been in that weekend, [to show] that I understood, that I identified with her discomfort. And because I had done that, other people identified with me too. It feels odd to talk about because I don’t want to aggrandize myself. I didn’t mean to do it. It just felt right at the time."