Andy Richter Reveals a New Meaning of Christmas in His Holiday Special

Comedy Features Andy Richter
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Andy Richter Reveals a New Meaning of Christmas in His Holiday Special

Andy Richter calls himself a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas specials, but there are certain traditions he believes are best left in the past. Take the kind of cornpone family Christmas spectacles that used to be prevalent on network schedules for decades, the sort hosted by grandparent-approved performers like Andy Williams, Perry Como and Lawrence Welk. Richter is no fan.

“When you look at them through a modern day lens, they’re just dripping with that kind of showbiz phoniness,” he says. “You’ve got Andy Williams talking about how important family is, and then you think about how many times he was divorced. You just know the story that you’re getting is not the story that’s really going on with most of these showbiz reprobates.

“And the commodification of people’s families is also a bizarre thing to me,” Richter continues. “‘Come in to our home with our family!’ It feels like you’re basically pimping out the birth of Jesus with your family for a profit and to get your name out there. It’s a fairly crass endeavor to do.”

If you were hoping for a pleasant, old-school Christmas special from Andy Richter’s Home for the Holidays, which is now streaming on Seeso, clearly you’re set to be disappointed. It’s not a loving send-up of those old variety shows, but an absolute skewering that punctures their insincerity through absurdity, darkness and good-natured filth. The family that Andy introduces, including a wife, mother and son, aren’t his real family, but comedy pros like Lauren Lapkus, Betsy Sodaro and Diona Reasonover. Guests include Seth Morris as his character Bob Ducca, Jon Daly as the drunken British Christmas tree Sappity Tappity, Eddie Pepitone as Santa, and Matt Besser doing his Bjork impression. If those names make you think this might be related to the Upright Citizens Brigade, you’d be correct. “It’s basically like a comedy revue of UCB material being held in a basket called Andy Richter’s Family Holiday Special, or whatever,” Richter says.

The UCB connection runs deep throughout the show. It was conceived and co-written by Besser, one of the company’s founders. The cast is made up of UCB regulars, and it was shot at UCB’s theater in Los Angeles. It’s streaming on Seeso through UCB’s deal with NBC Universal, as part of a broader portfolio of UCB shows that exists on the platform. It might not be an Andy Richter family Christmas special, but it’d be fair to call it a UCB family Christmas special, especially since Richter considers himself a member of that family. “It was Matt’s idea and we’ve been friends for a million years and UCB is family to me,” Richter says. “They could’ve paid me less and I still would’ve done it.”

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In parodying a genre of holiday special that Richter holds in disdain, the show shares an irreverence with Richter’s favorite Christmas special of all time: Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special. “What I love about the Pee-Wee special is that it sticks to that sort of [classic] format,” he says. “Pee-Wee learns a valuable lesson about selflessness at the end and everyone is playing it really straight and really earnestly but it is really bizarre. Pee-Wee’s really an asshole through the whole thing. He’s a selfish prick. But he’s our selfish prick. And what’s great about it is it’s really gay. It’s the gayest Christmas special ever.”

Before shooting the special, Richter went back and watched some of those old specials for research, both the ones that he liked and the artificial old Hollywood ones that he can’t stand. The special’s writers also did some research, and together they found an obscure Christmas special that provided some surprising inspiration.

“The end part of my special, where I tell the story about the meaning of Christmas, was actually inspired by a televangelist one,” he says. In that special the televangelist tells “a long story about an extended family and a man who lost his job and lost his faith in God. He loaded his entire family in the car in the garage and asphyxiated his entire family, and that was because he lost faith in Jesus. And that was pretty much it. That was the story. So we were trying to reach something like that. Like now I’m going to tell everybody a story and it’s going to be something chilling and horrible.”

It sounds like Linus’s scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas about the true meaning of Christmas has a new rival.

Andy Richter’s Home for the Holidays is now streaming on Seeso.

Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games, comedy and wrestling sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.