[25 November 2008]
McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)
A COLBERT CHRISTMAS: THE GREATEST GIFT OF ALL! 3 stars Cast: Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, Elvis Costello, Toby Keith, Willie Nelson, John Legend and Feist Distributor: Comedy Central/Paramount Home Entertainment Not rated
Stephen Colbert, the political satirist whose Faux’Reilly send-up of a well-known conservative Fox News host has made his “Colbert Report” required nightly viewing for many, goes the Faux’Williams (as in Andy) route in his holiday special, “A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!”
The one-hour special, which aired this past Sunday night on Comedy Central, is out on DVD this week with additional bonus features (Paramount Home Entertainment/Comedy Central, $19.99, not rated). A portion of the DVD sales will go to Feeding America, a hunger-relief organization.
“I’m broadcasting legend Stephen Colbert,” our host announces at the beginning of his show, sitting in his rustic mountain cabin in upstate New York and looking appropriately corny in his red turtleneck shirt and white cardigan sweater. He promises a Christmas special featuring all-new songs (because he doesn’t want to have to pay royalties to perform more famous and familiar tunes), “goats dressed as reindeer” (because “you can’t tell the difference on camera”) and special guest Elvis Costello (“an older, male Avril Lavigne.”)
With a surprisingly pleasing voice Colbert launches into “Another Christmas Song,” which seems to be all about wanting to make a lot of money by writing a popular Christmas song. (All of the new songs in the special were written by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger, who composed the songs for the Broadway musical “Cry Baby.”)
As Colbert is about to travel back to his New York City studio to tape his special, he opens the cabin door and comes face-to-face with his nemesis - no, not a liberal politician, but a large and menacing bear. (Colbert fans are familiar with their hero’s fear of bears.)
Gripped with fear and unable to leave his cabin, Colbert is then visited by a variety of guests, all of whom perform a song. Country star Toby Keith shows up in a red plaid jacket with matching hat and an automatic rifle to sing “Have I Got a Present For You,” a very funny diatribe against those who favor a separation of church and state at Christmastime. And from the opposite pole of country music, Willie Nelson - as one of the “four” wise men in Colbert’s nativity diorama - performs “Little Dealer Boy,” a holiday ditty with a pro-pot message.
Before long, Colbert gets visited by old pal Jon Stewart, who apparently has his own cabin nearby and with whom Colbert performs a duet about Hannukah; R&B singer John Legend, as a forest ranger who sings a sexy, soulful ode to nutmeg in a song about eggnog, and indie rocker Feist, playing a tiny angel perched on top of Colbert’s Christmas tree.
Finally, even Costello shows up at Colbert’s cabin, for a duet on “There Are Much Worse Things to Believe In,” followed by just about everyone returning for a stirring ensemble rendition of Costello’s hit (written by Nick Lowe), “(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.” And the bear figures in all this as well, in ways we cannot mention.
The DVD’s bonus features include a “Book-burning Video Yule Log,” which is, well, a pile of books burning on a Yule log fire; three alternative endings for the special; a bonus song, in which the cowboy-clad Colbert sings “Cold, Cold Christmas,” and a Video Advent Calendar, in which you click on a date and watch Colbert doing or saying something silly, like gobbling up M&Ms while dressed as Santa Claus, hawking his DVD or arguing that Santa must be an American, because he’s obese.
It almost goes without saying that “A Colbert Christmas” is not “The Greatest Gift of All,” and it certainly won’t replace “Bad Santa” as a satirical response to phony holiday cheer. But it will make a good little present for the Colbert Nation and anyone else with an offbeat or skewed attitude toward the holiday season.