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Lauren Lapkus and Paul F. Tompkins’ chemistry has been perfected on countless Comedy Bang Bang recordings and live appearances together. They’re two of the podcasting world’s most ubiquitous, beloved, and consistently funny comic geniuses and their collaborations as a foul-mouthed, suspiciously culturally savvy Santa Claus and Ho Ho the Naughty Elf are perennial Yuletide favorites.
For the duo’s latest exploration of foul-mouthed dysfunction up at the North Pole, they’ve decided to do something a little different that, in keeping with Yuletide tradition, is also very much the same. In an instant classic episode of With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus, Tompkins and Lapkus have turned the tables on the Tim Burton cult classic beloved by sad teen goths for generations with “The Christmas Before Halloween.”
The idea is to reverse the dynamic of The Nightmare Before Christmas by having Christmas, as embodied by Santa Claus and Ho Ho, invade Halloween’s turf. It’s a kooky but oddly perfect juxtaposition highlighted by sound design that combines haunted house organ-filled Halloween spooky sound effects with the reassuring Christmastime jingle-jangle of sleigh bells. Of course the North Pod episodes of With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus already feature a Halloween-friendly element of darkness, dysfunction, and free-floating mischief in the form of Ho Ho, who Lapkus plays as a figure of pure menace, a pan-sexual imp who runs the gamut from Dennis the Menace naughty to evil personified, from mischievous to downright demonic.
Santa Claus and Ho Ho bring out the less gentlemanly side of PFT. His appearance here opens with an extended attempt at sinister laughter and then a flurry of frustrated profanity and even more frustrated attempts at Crypt-Keeper-style wordplay. In her introduction, Lapkus says that the podcast goes off the rails almost immediately, but when Tompkins’ Santa says the goal of the episode is to “intrude on Halloween with a bunch of Christmas shit” he’s establishing a loose enough framework for even a completely improvised, delightfully ramshackle podcast like this to follow.
Before Ho Ho can fuck things up, however, we meet Lapkus’ Ebony the suicidal goth elf, who delivers gifts to all the goth girls and boys (hoodie tightener, hair gel, spiderwebs), and is bummed because they don’t want them, and also bummed because she’s a goth in a world of Christmas cheer, or at least she pretends to be. Ebony is eventually revealed to be Amanda, a boring girl whose greatest wish is to deliver presents to all the Basic girls, like pumpkin spice lattes and hair straighteners.
Then Ho Ho invades the proceedings gushing of her love of Harvey Weinstein and men who “do whatever they want” and talking about how excited she is to deliver gifts to him and other naughty adults. When Lapkus-as-Ho Ho says, “When you’re a bad kid, you don’t get shit. When you’re a bad adult, you get whatever you want,” it feels less like an appropriately bleak bit of dark comedy than ugly, brutal truth. In the age of Trump, it sure seems like the wicked get rewarded endlessly while the virtuous are cursed to forever receive lumps of coal .
Some of the funniest moments in this episode come when these two seasoned old pros break character, like when Lapkus-as-Ebony seems genuinely surprised and aghast when Tompkins’ explains that Jeff Dunham’s racially problematic ventriloquist dummies are named Señor Jalapeño on a Stick and Achmed the Dead Terrorist. As someone who has both seen and written about the direct-to-video animated film Achmed Saves America I personally can vouch that Achmed is all too real, as is Dunham’s horrifying popularity.
The only thing funnier than imagining Santa Claus saying of Dunham “He’s been a very successful club comedian for quite some time” is imagining Santa saying it in Tompkins’ sonorous, fatherly cadences. I don’t know whether to thank or curse “The Christmas Before Halloween” for forcing me to imagine the “Cash Me Outside” girl of Dr. Phil, tabloid infamy fame, and lowest-common-denominator hip-hop fame as one of Jeff Dunham’s offensive yet deeply unfunny dummies.
Later, Lapkus-as-Ho Ho gets a huge transgressive laugh when she tells Tompkins’ Santa that she could draw a flattering portrait of him with O.J Simpson and Harvey Weinstein because “I don’t believe the women!” before catching herself and saying that, even in a ridiculous comic context like this, in a purposefully shocking and profane conversation between two mythological creatures involved in the supernatural gift-giving world, it’s still essential to believe women.
The many references to Harvey Weinstein and O.J Simpson’s new freedom indelibly mark “The Christmas Before Halloween” as a product of a very specific cultural moment, but it’s funny and audacious and memorable enough to become a new holiday podcasting comedy classic. The only question is whether the holiday in question is Christmas or Halloween.
Nathan Rabin is a father, the author of 5 books, a columnist and the proprietor, owner, Editor-in-Chief and sole writer for Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place, which can be found at nathanrabin.com.