(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding

A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All
Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, and George Wendt
With musical guests
Elvis Costello, Toby Keith, Willie Nelson, John Legend, and Feist
Original music by
David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger

Ah, it’s that most wonderful time of the year. As we prepare our sweatered bellies for a hearty influx of bird, local merchants toil for our minds and spirits — specifically, the gaunt ones haunting our meager savings. Shelves are lovingly festooned with artificial trees at full festive illumination, cushioned by glittered fabrics meant to evoke thoughts of the first snowfall (of receipts!). Ribbons and bows coil tear through their packages and coil ’round wrists, pulling their otherwise resistant owners wallet-first into the commercial plunge. “But it’s not even Thanksgiving yet!” the shoppers shout. Malcontents, malcontents, malcontents, all! Have they forgotten the wisdom once whispered to the Virgin Mary one mystical night so very long ago? “It’s never too early to celebrate.” Baby Jesus clucked his approval. Joseph could only beam and hope for parking.

Taking a cue from their mercantile brethren, Comedy Central decided to celebrate the holidays a little early too: Sunday night, a full month and two days before Santa’s final descent. It began with the sacrificial repeat of Jeff Dunham’s Christmas, which nobody watched because they were all nestled all snug with their FOX, where visions of Jack Bauer danced and pistol-whipped guerrillas for two hours straight in a very special 24 extravaganza meant to sate appetites for the January 2009 season premiere. With a peculiar harmony rarely witnessed beyond well-practiced caroling, the movie and its new-season teaser ended just as A Stephen Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All crackled to chestnuts-roasting life.

Mr. Colbert (as The New York Times calls him — respect!), sartorially dapper and beloved captain of The Colbert Report, looks resplendent in a red turtleneck and white knit button-down, much like the homey hosts of the holiday shows of old. Gone unnoticed except by the most trained eye is Bob Hope winking, sparkling, avuncular, from Heaven. The ghost of Bing quietly sneaks a cup of Kentucky-flavored eggnog from the fridge.

In the foreground Stephen entertains from his cabin piano with a hearty belt of “Another Christmas” (all songs are written by Daily Show producer David Javerbaum and the go-to quill of Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger), then dons his wintry apparel for what we assume is a sleigh ride to his New York studio to tape what sounds like a spectacular yuletide extravaganza, if the breathless account of Elvis Costello — linked to Colbert by phone and garbed alternately as a nutcracker and jack in the box — is to be believed. (A minor mishap occurs later when offscreen the Jonas Brothers tumble during an ice show and are swept out to sea.)

Colbert, sadly, encounters a problem that leaves His Truthiness housebound for the duration of the show. A hungry bear, Stephen’s greatest fear, waits outside, itching to suck the stringy meat off the poor host’s bones. Not to worry, however: the entertainment comes to him, first in the heroic hunter-jacketed form of country legend Toby Keith, the former loutish target of Natalie Maines’ ire. He grouses that everybody’s forgotten the true meaning of Christmas, which he then explains in “Have I Got a Present For You,” a rollicking country curlicue where a patriotic Santa resolves apathy by dropping bombs on heathens and letting real Americans hall-deck to their hearts’ content.

Willie Nelson arrives via organic vision, willing himself into a Nativity scene diorama as the fourth of the three wise men. “Stephen,” he tells the incredulous host, “right now I’m so high, you’re hallucinating.” His stirring “Little Dealer Boy” stands in relaxed contrast to Keith’s jingoist anthem, relaying an alternate history of that night under a followed star — one that involves a religious experience achieved naturally.

Speaking of alternate and religion, Jon Stewart pops through the front door to educate Stephen on “Hannukah” (and in surprising fine voice too!), leaving his fake-news cohort with a dreidel and potato pancake, which soon conspire to swindle his riches in a goyim game of chance. A knock at the back door sends a panicked Colbert to the ornamental swords adorning the cabin wall — turns out they’re light sabers! Luckily, his visitor lacks the requisite fur of his sworn enemy but compensates with a voice guaranteed to keep the ladies warm: John Legend, moonlighting as a forest ranger. The grateful captive offers Legend an eggnog, which the singer accepts — but not before lecturing his host as satin smooth as possible on the necessity of “Nutmeg.” “Nutmeg is what gives eggnog its hmmmmm and its heyyyyyyyyy,” Legend helpfully explains over an ivory-built boudoir.

Despite its spirit-lifting melody, “Nutmeg” fails to wrest Stephen from his funk. After all, the clock is ticking. He drops to his knees and prays to God for a successful Christmas special. His entreaties are beamed to the angel, sweet angel, atop his tree, who magically transforms into salaciously four-alarm indie siren Feist. She puts his heartfelt wishes in a holding pattern with “Please Be Patient,” adding sweetly, “An angel will be with thee shortly.”

Once her breathy lungs settle she appears at full size and sprinkles divinity over the host’s weary bean. Wish granted! Elvis Costello materializes outside his window, still on the phone, acclimating himself nicely to his snowy surroundings. Too bad he’s spotted by the bear and torn to Declan MacManus tatters! Devastated by the loss of his sardonic musical friend (and his seraph’s subsequent exeunt), Stephen plummets to his couch, tinsel atop his sadness. Lips aquiver, he begins to sing.

As I walk through…this wicked world…
Searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity…

I ask myself…is all hope lost…
Is there only pain and hatred and misery…

Struck curious by the heartfelt clamor, Stephen’s predator creeps in — as much as a full-sized animal can creep on uneasy hind legs — through the back door and surprises his breathing dinner. But instead of delivering the final blow, the mortal enemies lock in harmony, one in a voice that sounds suspiciously like a certain bespectacled troubadour.

And each time I feel like this inside
There’s one thing I wanna know
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understandin’
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understandin”

Unfortunately, the bear reacts deliriously to a mistletoe kiss. “Oh, no!” Colbert shouts, “I forgot: I’m delicious!” Pre-Thanksgiving Christmas tragedy is averted when Santa Claus (George Wendt, Norm Peterson himself!) dispatches the beast with a hunting knife, cuts him open, and frees Elvis to partake in what little remains of the holiday special. The jolly old elf presents the emcee with, indeed, the greatest gift of all, a DVD copy of A Stephen Colbert Christmas, currently in progress but available tomorrow at discerning video stores and online emporiums for whatever good Christians deem a fair price.

But there’s an even better surprise: Santa yanks his beard down to reveal…Stephen! Which means that Stephen is Christmas, and we are Christmas, and we are Stephen (except Elvis, who surpassed Stephen-hood long ago), and Stephen is us. Oh, it’s gonna be the best holiday ever! But it’s still a month away, so this Stephen’s gonna bring it one day closer by heading to bed — where delectable sugarplums dance for dream-Benjamins four shows a night — and suggests the rest of you Stephens do the same. Together, we’ll bring the season to its knees!


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