There are much worse things

I love “A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All,” Stephen Colbert’s parody of Christmas specials, featuring Elvis Costello, Willie Nelson, John Legend, Feist, Toby Keith, Jon Stewart and George Wendt. The past couple of years, Comedy Central has only run this gem in the middle of the night; they did so last night, and fortunately I’d thought to look for it in advance and caught it on my DVR.

The special is not for all tastes; some would certainly be offended by Willie’s musical number, a “Little Drummer Boy” parody referencing a substance with which Willie is passing familiar. But I find the show wonderful, irreverent in the good sense of that term. Feist’s song, sung from the perspective of a call-waiting angel who tells you that your prayer is important to us and will be heard shortly, is hilarious, and Keith pokes fun at his own country conservative image with a song about the War on Christmas. I think it should be noted that the real Stephen Colbert (not the eponymous egomaniac character he plays on TV) is a devout Catholic who teaches Sunday School, or used to.

The entire cast (save Stewart and Wendt) sings a cover of Costello’s “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?” which you think is going to be the finale. But the special actually ends with this, a really lovely duet between Costello and Colbert:

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A Colbert Christmas: Colbert/Costello Duet
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Professional therapist

I used to love Comedy Central’s 90s-era “Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist,” a weirdly computer-animated show in which standup comedians did their acts as patients on the couch of Jonathan Katz (in real life, Katz was a standup as well). I remember seeing Ray Romano as one of Jonathan Katz’s patients long before “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

Jonathan Katz and the show’s creator/animator, Tom Snyder (not the talk show host, who passed away in 2007) have a new web series, “Explosion Bus,” and are promoting it, which is how they wound up as the primary guests during the same week on the two comedy podcasts I listen to most regularly: “Jordan, Jesse, Go!” on Monday, and then “Sklarbro Country” on Friday. (Both contain strong language, particularly JJGo.)

Katz has the same soft-spoken, playful personality as a guest that he had on the show. He delights in silly little one-liners, and his joy when he finds an opportunity is infectious.

I have to say, though, “Explosion Bus” is a little – awkward, and not in a good way. Katz is as funny as ever, but the premise – a group of 30-somethings on a bus traveling around the country on some sort of online talent search – doesn’t seem to work. On the one hand, the characters are traveling around in this ratty looking bus, but yet in the second episode, they’re apparently supposed to be well-known enough that teenagers at a high school have crushes on (some of) them and invite them as celebrity prom dates. It makes no sense, even in a fun or larger-than-life sort of way.

But maybe I’m overthinking it.

All glory to the hypno-toad!

DirecTV, which is my primary home TV provider, and Viacom, the parent company of Comedy Central and a variety of other networks, are playing a game of chicken.

These standoffs, involving a variety of cable and satellite companies and programming providers, have become more and more common in recent years. Each one is basically a business negotiation between two companies.—DirecTV is offering X amount of money for Viacom’s channels, while Viacom insists that the channels are worth Y. If they can’t haggle out a price by the time the current contract expires, the channels may end up being taken away from DirecTV viewers, at least temporarily.

But the companies try to play a blame game and bring public opinion into the matter. Each side – using ads, TV screen crawls, websites and what have you – tries to tell consumers that the other side is trying to take away the consumer’s favorite channels. One side sometimes tries to urge consumers to call the other side and complain.

The fact of the matter is, I’m not a TV executive. I have no idea whether the price DirecTV is offering or the price Viacom is asking is closer to fair. Frankly, I get a little annoyed that both sides try to pull me, the innocent viewer, into their dispute.

I do hope something can be worked out. It’s true that I can watch “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report” for free at their respective websites the day after they air. In fact, that’s what I did a few weeks ago when my TV wasn’t working. But we’re currently in the middle of a new season of “Futurama,” and I’m not sure whether that’s online anywhere for free.

What–me worry?

“Mad” on Cartoon Network is not to be confused with “MadTV,” the sketch comedy show which used to air on the Fox network and was then rerun ad infinitum on Comedy Central. Both were supposedly inspired by Mad magazine, but  “MadTV”’s only real connection to the magazine was that Alfred E. Neuman appeared in its opening credits for the first few years. (When the show first went on the air, there were also some interstitial “Spy Vs. Spy” cartoons.)

Cartoon Network’s “Mad” is aimed at older kids but certainly enjoyable for adults with a goofy sense of humor. (I’m not the only adult I know who watches it.) It’s much closer in spirit and style to the magazine, and even has some of its animation in the style of “Mad” legends like Don Martin. Yes, there are also “Spy Vs. Spy” cartoons. The show is an animated sketch comedy, sort of “Robot Chicken” for tweens. It’s mostly cel animation, or JibJab-style manipulation of celebrity faces, but has other types of animation mixed in.

Tonight’s second season premiere, by way of example, included a skit of “Thomas the Unstoppable Tank Engine,” in which a JibJabbed Denzel Washington must try to stop a CGI Thomas, who has been turbocharged by Sir Topham Hatt but whose new brakes aren’t scheduled to arrive for another week. (Sadly, in a cameo appearance, Lightning McQueen and Mater stop in a railroad crossing to exchange pleasantries. The result isn’t pretty.)