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Article

Bad Santa, Good Ventriloquism

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First, thanks to all of you who responded to my Help A Guy Enjoy Bones More post yesterday. I received a lot of solid tips on episodes, seasons, and key character traits that are invaluable in my ongoing research into Bonesology 101. So, a tip of my wooly cap to all of you who wrote in!

Now, then: Merry Christmas! And what better way to celebrate, after the presents are unwrapped and copious amounts of food and grog are consumed, than to scan the prime-time listings and see that Comedy Central is providing just the right 8-11 p.m. programming block of oddity this evening.

First, there’s Bad Santa (8-10 pm, EST), the 2003 dark comedy starring Billy Bob Thornton as a grumpy, frowsy, cynical, profane, and alcoholic department-store Santa. It is, of course, the saga of Thornton’s Willie and his little-person pal Marcus (Tony Cox, in a finely calibrated performance of great comic hostility), along with tip-top performances from Cloris Leachman and the late John Ritter and Bernie Mac. (Special music note: it’s not too late to run out and get the new release by Billy Bob Thornton’s band The Boxmasters, Christmas Cheer: cool Yule tunes.) If you ever watch/listen to the DVD commentary for Bad Santa, you’ll hear director Terry Zwigoff apologize publicly for not giving the lovely Lauren Graham much of a role to play, but that doesn’t prevent Bad Santa from being a superb achievement in low-down comedy. (Warning: this clip has bad language as well as a bad Santa.)

And speaking of comedy, if you’re anything like me (and are you, really? It will be interesting to see, as this blog proceeds), you can get behind a little ventriloquism courtesy of Jeff Dunham and his Very Special Christmas Special

(10-11 pm EST). I approach people who make wooden dummies talk on two levels: with leftover childhood wonder that anyone is able to perform this way, and with grown-up goof-on-it campiness that a ventriloquist can still be popular in the 21st century.

Either way, Dunham is an excellent example of this much-maligned profession: he’s a smooth, even slick, ventriloquist, and he’s got a bunch of dummies, each infused by Dunham with fully formed personalities. The best of them is Walter, whose constantly sour mood is just the thing if you’ve reached your limit of Christmas cheer.

Happy viewing!