December 2008 was a much more peaceful time. Obama just won his first election. The Tea Party was not yet born and Trump wasn’t even considering a run for the presidency. But there were shadows of those right wing things yet to come. Stephen Colbert played a version of himself as a right wing blowhard after The Daily Show on Comedy Central A parody of the Bill O’Reillys, the Sean Hannitys and the other right wing talking heads of the day. It is funny because those at pro-Trump news channels Newsmax and One America News today are unwittingly self parodies. They don’t even practice “Truthiness”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truthiness
It was in this climate that the uneven but hilarious A Colbert Christmas Special: the Greatest Gift aired on Comedy Central. This special takes place at Stephen Colbert’s winter cabin where he gets trapped in by a wild bear. Because of this, he can’t make it to NYC to tape his big Christmas musical spectacular with Elvis Costello. The special is about him wanting to have a Christmas special. That is just the beginning of the meta-weirdness of it all.
The first musical number, “Another Christmas Song”, is a hilarious take on crass commercialism. Colbert can’t use any of the usual Christmas songs because then he would have to pay royalties, that is not the Stephen Colbert way. So he makes up his own. “Make it a part of your holiday canon, make it part of my retirement planning.” This is crass commercialism at its Christmas finest, but that is the point. His fun is infectious.
As A Christian, I find the next song both hilarious and offensive. I laugh and cringe at the same time. Toby Keith’s war on Christmas song, “Have I Got a Present for You”, is a right wing country western anthem, a call to arms to fight the godless liberals who want to end Christmas.
Toby Keith sings his song while Christmas cartoons, bits from the film Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and violent stock footage plays in the background. Two of the most violent lyrics in one of the most violent Christmas songs go like this, “Separate church and state some lawyer said, (With A picture of Thomas Jefferson and the Constitutionin the background) I think it’s time we separate him from his head.” And also “You may call me unChristian but that’s not true. Have I got a present for you.” There is a gun shot, a house exploding and even a nuclear explosion as a visual exclamation point.
I am sick of all this “war on Christmas” hogwash. It is coming from insecure Christians who care more about a holiday and their persecution complex than actually following Who the holiday celebrates. This ultra violent, ultra conservative song undermines the whole point of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace But I think that was the point of the song. I hope that Toby Keith was in on the joke. I think that Toby Keith was using this song as satire to show how stupid this war on Christmas really is.
I like Willy Nelson. I may be old fashion but “Little Dealer Boy”, a song about giving baby Jesus weed, is borderline blasphemous. But it is also remarkably hopeful. The fundamentalist in me hates the song but the rest of me finds the lyrics comforting and finds this a beautiful song about Baby Jesus. Lyrics such as “Like the child in the manger. This herb is mild yet it is strong. And it brings peace to friend and stranger
Good will to men lies in this bong.”, “And let mankind not bogart love.”
Even Stephen admits that pot isn’t an appropriate gift for Baby Jesus. But the song is true. Jesus is mild, Heisn’t pushy, He isn’t aggressive. But He is also very strong. He took everything the evil world could shove at Him for us. And we as humans often don’t show love for our neighbor. We hoard and bogart it and sometimes showing it to ourselves, our family, and very close friends.
I also always laugh when Stephen Colbert sings in a high falsetto voice, “You’re really high, I’m going to tell your savior.”
John Stewart and Stephen Colbert sing a lovely duet about Hanukkah, “I’m trying to see myself as a Jew. I’m trying really harder. But I believe in Jesus Christ so it’s a real non-starter.” Stephen Colbert is a devout Roman Catholic. We can differ on theology, I am a Presbyetrian, but he is a believer, he taught Sunday school. You can see through his comedy a real prophetic voice. His A Late Show With Stephen Colbert has really helped me through these past five years. Satire is a balm for the soul. Also one of my favorite quotes about American Christianity came from him….
A wonderful homage to Jimmy Stewart’s prayer from It’s a Wonderful Life leads to folk darling Feist, dressed up as an angel, singing a song about “prayer technicians” on hold. Angels We Have Heard on High is one of my favorite Christmas songs. I remember as a kid belting out Glooooooooria in Excelsus Deeeeeeeeeeeeio, much to my mom’s amusement and sometimes frustration. Turning part of the song into Muzak is inspired.
Feist brings Elvis Costello to Colbert’s cabin and he is quickly mauled and eaten by a bear. Sweet and irreverent, that is Stephen Colbert in a nutshell. Angel Feist can’t help as she explains, “I have no power over bears, they are godless killing machines.”
The next musical number is one of my favorites. I love “What’s so Funny About Peace, Love, and Understanding.” I have never heard this song before this special and I thought it was an original like the others. But in fact it was written by Nick Lowe in 1974 and covered by “Elvis Costello and the Attractions” in 1978. But having all the guests except John Stewart singing this song together was beautiful.
I was thinking that this song is what we need to hear as the year 2020 slowly dies. https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/elviscostello/whatssofunnyboutpeaceloveandunderstanding.html It does feel like we are walking through a wicked world “looking for light in the darkness of insanity.” all hope feels lost. This year with Covid, The killing of unarmed people of color by police, the election that seems to never end, does make it feel like there is “only pain and hatred and misery.” “WHAT IS SO FUNNY ABOUT PEACE, LOVE, AND UNDERSTANDING!” That is what the world needs most of all, right now.
My spirit was so downhearted this year, particularly the last five months, that I thought of giving up on my dreams. I thought that if I had no dreams, I would have none dashed, and thus no depression. Thankfully God and my friends and family pulled me out of that. That and watching Hallmark Channel’s The Shoe Addict’s Christmas. Thank you mom.
This special is at times poignant, at times silly, and at other times off the wall nuts. Santa arrives and kills the bear and cuts out Elvis Costello “You gave me the gift I wanted most, not being digested by a bear.”, Costello says in gratitude. Santa gives Stephen his Christmas special in DVD form in a nice nod to the “When does this happen in the movie ” scene from Spaceballs.
For the last musical number, Colbert and Costello, sing “There are Much Worse Things.” This is one of my favorite Christmas songs. I could write a blog on this number alone. Wait, I did. https://2timothytrump.blog/2017/12/25/there-ae-much-worse-things-than-my-number-one-christmas-song/
I watch this every year. I smile every year. I laugh my ass off every year. And yes I even yell, “What the F was that?” every year. It is a yearly tradition and I thank Stephen Colbert, Elvis Costello, Toby Keith, John Stewart, Feist, John Legend, Willy Nelson, the bear and all the writers who made this possible.
You can buy this special on Amazon Video and on ITunes and I recommend you do.