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A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All (2008)

by on 2010/12/17

“Without Christmas, there’s nothing to calm me down after Halloween.  Those ghosts are scary.”

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Jingoistic, self-absorbed, Sam the Eagle-made flesh, Stephen Colbert debuted this absolutely ridiculous Christmas special in 2008. During the 60-minute runtime, Colbert rolls out and roasts the old Christmas special chestnuts we all grew up watching during those Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Tom Jones and (shudder) John Denver holiday extravaganzas.

I know. I saw them all.

Fake-looking mountain cabin sets, bad editing, cheesy guest star intros, clunky musical numbers, animals with antlers stapled or otherwise glued to their skulls, and some kind of misunderstanding involving Santa –  it is all here in all of its hilarious splendor in A Colbert Christmas Special.

Before I go into the review proper, I want to say a few words about Elvis Costello – or as he’s introduced by Colbert: Declan Patrick Pippy Go Merry Buttons. This “older, male Avril Lavigne …who sings songs about people dying in shipyards,” sacrifices every last shred of human dignity on the comedy altar.

With more costume changes than a Diana Ross concert, Costello is dressed as a jack-in-the-box clown, a nutcracker solider and finally a crappy-looking black bear. Elvis gives his alt-rock, sardonic all in this special, screaming during a bear attack so convincingly that you can see the backs of his molars, and finally delivering the definitive line: “Thank you Father Christmas. You got me just what I wanted most: the gift of not being digested by a bear.” Freshly-hobbled Tiny Tim would be proud.

I don’t usually use the word “hero” to describe a guest of a Christmas special but Elvis Costello is the greatest hero of all time.

Now to the review. For the purposes of the “plot,” Colbert finds himself trapped in his remote cabin by his recurring nemesis, an angry bear. While trapped inside his hideaway beside a blazing big-screen TV playing a Holiday Fireplace DVD, he is visited by a motley assortment of  special guests stars including Willie Nelson, Feist, John Legend, Jon Stewart and Toby Keith.

Each guest spot is notable, profoundly eccentric and amusing in its own right.

Sporting hunting flannels and a camouflage machine gun, Toby Keith rages against the “atheists and judges” trying to take Christmas away from, um, Americans or something. The accompanying music video features clips from the Christmas gem Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and disjointed fragments from Canadian TV. Mr. Keith offers a final gift of a festively-coloured mushroom cloud with a smiley face for all the folks out there who have replaced their  “Merry Christmas” greetings with “Happy Holidays.”

Willie Nelson plays a sparkly-eyed wise man in Colbert’s miniature nativity scene atop a piano in the musical number “Little Dealer Boy.” Willie explains that he’s “so high” that Colbert is hallucinating. Offering the baby Jesus the gift of a herb that “smokes more sweetly than any frankincense and myrrh,” Willie and Colbert do a send-up of Bing Crosby and Davie Bowie’s famous holiday duet, “Little Drummer Boy.” Hilariously blasphemous.

Jon Stewart stops in from his neighbouring cabin “half hour earlier” er, away from Colbert’s. Stewart’s plaintive “Can I Interest You in Hanukkah?” musical number shows the Daily Show star producing potato latkes and wooden dreidels from his ski jacket and explaining that Hanukkah is “not my least unfavourite time of year” in an attempt to persuade Colbert that Christmas isn’t the only holiday of the season.

In one of the most obscene songs ever sung about a spice, John Legend pays tribute to the eggnog topping in “Nutmeg.” With lyrics like “lick nutmeg off my ladle, …only residue I want you wiping off your face,” and “grab my seed and grate it” this song isn’t necessarily fun for the whole family.

Canadian indie singer Feist sings an angelic hold message in “Please Be Patient,” Stephen Colbert french kisses a black bear, and finally all the guests unite in singing Costello’s “Peace, Love and Understanding.” Whew.

There’s strangeness for everyone in this holiday special. As Elvis, my hero, and Mr. Colbert tell us, don’t join the “legions of dispassionate dyspeptics” and learn to love this holiday special. There are much worse things to believe in and er, watch out there.

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Unrated but contains adult situations and Willie Nelson

60 minutes

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