I spent some time today catching up on TV that I’d recorded earlier in the week, including Craig Ferguson’s show. His monologues are consistently one of the most entertaining segments of the day because, as I have written before, he’s not in the joke-telling business a la Jay Leno and others. Ferguson riffs on a topic or two at length, sometimes a news item, sometimes a story from his own life, and wraps it all into a very entertaining opening to the show, a cross between Regis Philbin and Jack Paar.

On Monday’s show (2/19), he spent several minutes talking about why he wasn’t going to make fun of Britney Spears for her head-shaving, tattoo-getting, in-and-out-of-rehab weekend. He explained that he recognized in her the same sort of desperation he endured before deciding to quit drinking 15 years ago, and that it was obvious she needed help, not ridicule. While still drawing a few chuckles from the audience, he told a very personal and serious story about his alcoholism and bout with suicidal depression.

It was the kind of soul-baring and intimate monologue no one else in contemporary television would dare do, yet Ferguson pulled it off because of his immense likeability and honesty.

Take a look:

Later, he explained to CBS News that he was astounded to discover that his decision to not make fun of a celebrity qualified as a news story.