Very much in the vein of such irreverent, envelope-pushing holiday entertainments as Christmas With the Crawfords and Santa Claus is Coming Out is the indispensable comic actress Jackie Hoffman's own contribution to the genre: Jackie's Kosher Khristmas. The third edition of this annual rite (or is that "wrong?") will be flung at the theatergoing public this Sunday, December 9, at 8pm at the 45 Bleecker Theatre.
Hoffman, who recently won an Obie for her performance in The Book of Liz, is a veteran of Chicago's famed (or is that "notorious?") Second City troupe and has also been seen on Late Night With Conan O'Brien and on Comedy Central's Strangers With Candy and TV Funhouse, in addition to her many Off- and Off-Off-Broadway credits. I spoke with her last week about her plans for this year's Khristmas celebration.
THEATERMANIA: The full title of your show is Jackie's Kosher Khristmas 3, so I guess this is the third time you've done it, but it's news to me. How did the other ones go?
JACKIE HOFFMAN: Fabulous. It's a Kosher Khristmas miracle, Mike!
TM: What's the dynamic of this annual get-together?
JH: It's kind of like a Hollywood-style variety show--something you never see anymore--with me as the hostess. Of course, I work to cram as much of my shtick into a couple of hours as is humanly possible, and the audience laughs it up. What happened was that Kevin Malony, the director of the Tweed Company, approached me a couple of years ago and said, "I want to do a Christmas special with you." I said, "Well, wouldn't I be doing a Hanukkah special?" And he said, "No. A Christmas special." I thought, "Oh, my God--me and Christmas? It's genius!"
TM: Can the show be viewed as counter-programming to The Nutcracker, A Christmas Carol, and other traditional holiday fare?
JH: Yeah, you could call it that. That's a gentle way to put it. It can be pretty irreverent and foul. People know what to expect by now. Once I enter the stage, they're ready for the hatred.
TM: You're going to have at least three of the funniest people in the world on stage this year: you, Charles Busch, and Julie Halston.
JH: Thanks. We have different guests every year, plus some regulars. Adorable little Jodi Lennon, who was on a Comedy Central show called Exit 57--she's been with us every year. So has David Ilku, who is half of the Dueling Bankheads. This year, he's flying solo! And we have Paul Dinello from Amy Sedaris' series Strangers With Candy. He's delicious.
TM: I missed The Book of Liz, and I'm sick about it. But I've seen a lot of your other stuff. I'll never forget when you were playing the Mother Superior in that camp version of Agnes of God at the Washington Square Methodist Church and a cell phone went off in the audience...
JH: I'll never forget that, either.
TM: I believe what you said was, "In a house of God? Turn it the fuck off!"
JH: That was perfect: irreverence in a church. This Khristmas show is the same kind of thing. We bring a little bit of Jewish-self-loathing charm to the material. It's great! We just let loose and do whatever we want.
TM: Is it new material or familiar stuff?
JH: Everybody writes something special. I write an original opening number every year. Last year, the show was on December 18, right at the peak of all the election nonsense, so the opening number was [singing] "They kept the Jews out of the White House..." I'm not going to tell you too much about this year's opener; it's a surprise. But, you know, it's me framed by two dancing boys. It doesn't get any better that that. And I usually close by singing "White Christmas" in Yiddish.
TM: Then you do sometimes use traditional songs or melodies?
JH: Yeah. We think of our show as a tradition in itself. I wrote a song about how much I loathe children that's become enormously popular, kind of a trademark for me. It's so appropriate around the holidays! I also do a segment where I go through letters that I get from various charities, asking for money: I make snide, nasty remarks about the charities and rip up the letters. That's been tremendously successful, so we've left it in every year.
TM: I still think of you as one of the best kept secrets of downtown New York theater, but I was happy to see you on that commercial for Cosmo.com not too long ago. I hope it brought some decent money your way.
JH: Not much. Scale.
TM: Have you tried the Hollywood thing? You would be so terrific in your own sitcom.
JH: Yeah, well, everybody wants me to have a sit-com--everybody except for NBC, CBS, and ABC. Thanks for your support but, unfortunately, your opinion is getting me nowhere. Make a few phone calls!
TM: I don't think I can help you there. But I did want to give some publicity to the Khristmas show because it sounds like a hoot.
JH: So, you'll announce it on the little website? People will see it, they'll click, they'll go?
TM: Hopefully. I know that I'm really looking forward to it.
JH: Me, too!