With Stephen Colbert channeling the ghosts of Perry Como and Bing Crosby right down to the bright red sweater, “A Colbert Christmas” is not only a fabulously zany hourlong ad for the “A Colbert Christmas” DVD but also reinforces what a truly remarkable talent its host is. Comedy Central sire “The Daily Show” might be consistently funnier, but Colbert’s ability to improv within his smug, bombastic TV personality is one of primetime’s most dazzling highwire acts — and here he exhibits a sweet singing voice on top of that. Nation, you are in for a treat.
Although Bill O’Reilly provides a touchstone for Colbert’s self-absorbed, flag-waving (literally, come to think of it) nightly news/talk host, the Christmas program gets in touch with the comic’s inner “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” loosely built around the bizarre premise that a murderous bear is preventing Stephen from exiting his winter cabin to tape a holiday special with Elvis Costello. (Not quite known for his acting chops, Costello rather maniacally gets into the spirit.)
Fortunately, as was so often true with those vintage Christmas specs, Stephen’s “friends” keep dropping by to join him for some yuletide cheer, performing extremely clever holiday ditties written by “Daily Show” producer David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger (who combined on the Broadway version of “Cry Baby”). The almost-surreal lineup includes Willie Nelson crooning about an herb unrelated to frankincense, John Legend’s double-entendre-laden R&B ballad “Nutmeg,” and Jon Stewart singing (poorly) “Can I Interest You in Hanukah?” Seriously, haven’t the Jews suffered enough?
Each guest is greeted by a torrent of fake applause and has the awkwardness of finding themselves under the mistletoe as Colbert leans in, while the host earnestly delivers lines like, “I’m so excited right now I’m sporting a Yule log!” Based on the highly irreverent tone, “The Colbert Report” audience should eat it up — and the satire-challenged folk at the Catholic League might be advised to seek their merriment elsewhere.
Despite an opening number titled “Another Christmas Song” in which Colbert stresses how everything’s about him, a portion of the proceeds from the digital album and DVD will benefit the charity Feeding America — typical, obviously, of those do-gooding, liberal show-business types. Given that, let’s say “the word” for “A Colbert Christmas” is “Gifted” — a term that clearly applies to its talented namesake in more ways than one.