role call

David Krumholtz Answers Every Question We Have About The Santa Clause

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photo: Buena Vista Pictures

There was a time when few saw the story of Santa Claus falling off a roof and being replaced by a toy salesman as the kind that would endure beyond the 1994 holiday season. But John Pasquin’s The Santa Clause, starring Tim Allen, became an unexpected Christmas classic anyway. It has lived on not thanks to its sequels or some unique yuletide message — no, it’s mostly because of David Krumholtz, who plays Bernard the Elf.

According to the internet, Krumholtz’s performance as the sarcastic, maybe-Jewish, grumpy head of Santa’s workshop turned him into a sex symbol for a generation of weird and, often queer, young adults. It was a phenomenon rarely acknowledged until 2014, when Alexis Nedd wrote a Buzzfeed listicle detailing Bernard’s part in her own sexual awakening. What was meant to be an eccentric piece of holiday content instead triggered mass understanding: it turns out everyone was “Hard for Bernard,” as proud fans started putting it on t-shirts and tote bags. “I never told a soul,” remarked one commenter.

It was a secret I kept myself. Like those who’d read Nedd’s piece, I’d never spoken of my childhood infatuation with The Santa Clause’s Head Elf. It wasn’t just that I wanted to date Bernard the Elf — I wanted to be him. In coming-of-age films, there’s usually a moment when the protagonist sees the target of their affection. Everything slows down and something like “Boys Wanna Be Her” by Peaches plays. As a child, the person I pictured in this scene was Bernard the Elf. He was the epitome of cool — everything I wanted and wanted to be.

When I ran into Krumholtz at VultureFest in November, he was happily taking pictures with fans who were ecstatic to talk to him about Freaks and Geeks or any number of projects he’s worked on over the years that are actually cool. I, however, could only mumble, “It’s Bernard the Elf” to my confused friends. “I don’t know, the elf that made me queer?” I could not explain what I was talking about, so I turned to Twitter:

Again, I found a community of almost 17,000 weirdos across the gender spectrum who all said, “Absolutely.” And, well, that’s just too many people with a shared attraction to an elf. I had to figure this out. So I spoke to Krumholtz about being a formative part of so many childhoods, working with Tim Allen, and Bernard’s mysterious disappearance from the third film.

Have you seen this type of excitement over Bernard around the Christmas season before? This year, a lot of people online are calling him a queer icon, claiming that he made them wake up to things. Why do you think that is?
It’s ratcheted up a bit. The first signal I received was a Buzzfeed article a few years ago about it. And I thought, ooh, that’s strange, because so many people commented on the article saying, “Yeah, me too. I had that experience too with him!” How do I explain it? I don’t know. I mean, he’s in charge. He’s a boss. But he’s got a really good heart. And he loves the kid. And he’s very safe, obviously, too. He’s also very safe. Something about maybe the dreadlocks? I don’t know. I’ve lost track of why. And it’s not like I haven’t thought about it. I will tell you that. I had no idea when I was making it what the hell I was doing, you know, relative to who I am as an actor now.
I’d done a couple movies prior and then this one. And I was just happy to be there. And for the most part, you know, perhaps I had a swagger when I was 16 years old. I don’t know. But I look at it now, and I kind of see what it might be. I was a kind of handsome kid doing like, a thing in a Bernard elf outfit. Christmas is heartwarming shit. And that was my M.O. in the movie. I don’t know why it’s become a sexualized thing, though.

People who didn’t grow up with The Santa Clause mentioned other characters of yours they had a similar experience with. Maybe it’s not just Bernard, David, maybe it’s you. There’s Freaks and Geeks, 10 Things I Hate About You….
You know what? [Laughs] I’ve been told a few times before that I was born to play sexy. And so it wouldn’t surprise me. Not in the least. And at the same time, what can one say? You’ve put me in a position here where I’m sort of left only to toot my own horn or throw myself off the balcony. I’ll just put it this way: I pop on screen. But you know, it is weird. I will say it is very peculiar to really think about why the character is so popular in a sort of sexual perspective. It proves one thing: that any gender can perv out.

Yeah, across the gender spectrum, everybody was kind of into it.
And that’s not to say kids that watched the movie who felt a certain way are pervs or were perverted at that time. But what is this thing they were feeling there to begin with? Watching a movie, cozy with their families together and then I came and made something special happen for them, I suppose is what I’m being told. Yeah, the phrase “sexual awakening,” it’s so strange.

How did it feel to kind of outshine Tim Allen?
I don’t think that’s what happened by any stretch of the imagination.
Nobody’s remembering him from the film.
Come on, leave Tim Allen alone! He was under a tremendous amount of stress. He had just finished a full season of a show. Now he’s flying to Canada to shoot this thing, where he’s in hellish prosthetics for a good portion of the film, and, you know, working very, very hard. I just admired his work ethic. But, he wasn’t above being grumpy Santa sometimes. Because it was hard. I felt bad for him. It wasn’t just the prosthetics, it was the fat suit. He was just hot the whole time. It was the summer of that year that we shot. He was constantly overheating. So, I’d be grumpy too. I did a thing with prosthetics and it drove me out of my mind. And on the second movie, he was lovely. We had a good time. It was a lot of fun.

A lot of people wonder why Bernard isn’t in the third film. I believe you were filming a TV show? Do you ever feel as though his story was left unfinished?
Well, the story about my scheduling is true, but somehow also untrue. Yes, I feel that way. Bernard was in the third movie. They sent me the script, I had a pretty significant role. We did work out the schedule, which was going to be hellish on me, but I was going to make it work. And it was all set to go. But I would say that the character got devalued a little bit and I couldn’t in good conscience do it. The third one, I’ve tried to watch. It’s not the same. I think the first two are really special. The first one’s a classic, obviously. It’s wild to be part of something that’s lasted this long, that plays every single year and has become tradition in people’s homes. I could never have imagined that I’d be having this conversation years later.

I think it appeals to the weird kids because it is like a dark Christmas movie. Santa Claus dies. 
I guess so. I never saw him as dying. He falls off the roof, hurts himself badly and disappears magically. I don’t know, you call that dying?

As a kid I was like, he’s dead. And we got a sad single dad and child abandonment at the end. 
I love that it’s about divorce. It’s really about divorce at its core. I thought that really grounds the film. So no matter what you see in it after that point, once the film earns its foundation as a divorce comedy, then it becomes okay to have animatronic reindeer and little Jewish elves running around

After that, you did Freaks and Geeks and 10 Things I Hate About You. Was there an effort to build on Bernard and push your image as a teen sweetheart? Did they try to get you on the cover of Tiger Beat or anything?
No, there never was. And I didn’t carry myself with any sense that I was attractive. In fact, I thought the opposite. I thought I was quite unattractive for a very long time. I thought, Oh God, I look like Nosferatu with hair. And now I look back at it. I’m like, Oh, I was pretty handsome. And I didn’t know the whole time. So I didn’t carry myself that way. I didn’t want that kind of stuff. It was only when Numbers was on that there was this mention of sexiness and what have you. It’s a different kind of pressure. It’s embarrassing more than anything else to have to play to the sexiness. But if you can do it, you can do it. So, I strongly feel that … yes, I’ve made a major sexual footprint on society at this point. That my face, it’s practically been sewn into the great American pop culture quilt. [Laugh]

How do you view Bernard as a character now?
I try not to think about Bernard too often. Although, the truth is that I do feel a lot of pride in that. And I think it’s kind of fun to mess with people around Christmas time and make their Christmas. I have no shame about it. But for the most part, I hide Bernard. What was Bernard but a role in a movie that was a job? I had a tough time making the second movie. I had anxiety issues. I was eight years older, and I had to dress up as an elf again. I kind of blew my shot at the Disney World Christmas Parade, but that’s a story for another time. I have a lot of regrets about Bernard. As well as pride.

Have you had any bad Bernard-related interactions with people?
Yeah, I had one woman hug me at an event and not let go for a while. While making noises. I also got bit by a woman once. It was the second year of SXSW in Austin, Texas. A woman came up to me after the premiere of a small indie that I made. She was quite a bit older than me. I was 23. She must have been in her mid-50s, not that it matters. But she came with a friend who had a camera on the ready. She said, “Hey, if you make out with me, my friend will take a picture of us making out.” And she was very drunk, mind you. I said, “No, that’s not gonna happen.” And she didn’t, but she threatened to lift up her shirt and goes, “How about I pull my boob out and you grab it and my friend will take the picture?” And I said, “That’s most certainly not happening!” And I was amused, but it started to get a little creepy. And when I turned her down for the boob shot, she dropped to her knees, lifted my shirt up and bit me on the belly. And her friend took a picture. So, somewhere out there, there’s a picture of me with a woman attached by the teeth to my belly and me, horrified. What I’m saying is that being Bernard, The Head Elf, has its penalties. I’ve paid for this. This has been difficult, being a sexual icon that’s an elf.

Maybe people need to calm down a bit.
Yeah, look, I get the Legolas thing, he’s a hot elf. I’m a bloody Christmas elf. That’s where everyone needs to take it down a notch. And perhaps stop admitting it publicly.

Let’s go back to keeping it to ourselves.
Yeah. Perhaps the secret you have about lusting after a small Christmas elf — a white boy with dreadlocks? Yeah, maybe keep that to yourself. Don’t admit that in every comment section.

Not to kink shame anyone.
Not to kink shame, I didn’t even know that was a thing. But I respect your love of Bernard. I just see him as a cherubic little glint in the eye of Santa. It’s a nice thing that Bernard was around. And as an answer to the question you asked earlier (laughing), about whether or not I would go back and kill Bernard if I could, I haven’t not thought about it. There are many methods. It’s hard to kill a little Christmas elf. No, I would never. That’s terrible. I feel bad.

What do you think your career would look like if you had never played that character?
I don’t think it’d look any different. I don’t think my performance in that movie matters much to the industry. But certainly, it’s a nice little thing now, I guess, because I can sort of lean back on it. But at the same time, I have to avoid controversy. Because it’ll always be, “David Krumholtz, Bernard From The Santa Clause Arrested For Public Indecency!” Then on social media, it’ll be like, “Oh, my God, Pervy Bernard, I had such a crush on him as a kid, now look what happened! What a tragedy!” That would be bad. But I will say, I do carry the spirit of Christmas in my heart. I’m dead serious. And I do love being Bernard and having some association with something that people really cherish every year and a holiday that’s associated with family and gratitude. So, in all truth, I am Bernard the Head Elf. I’m proud of it. Just maybe take the perviness for him down.

Don’t assault him. Look at him with respect.
Yeah, stop looking at my Christmas ass.

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David Krumholtz Answers Everything About The Santa Clause