In the history of TV Christmas specials, perhaps the oddest musical pairing was a 1977 Bing Crosby special in which Der Bingle crooned “Little Drummer Boy” with David Bowie.
That is until now, with “A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All,” Stephen Colbert’s satirical take on the annual celebrity fests of holiday cheer, airing at 10 tonight on Comedy Central.
Fans of “The Colbert Report” won’t be surprised to see him singing, and doing so passably. Colbert was brash enough to sing along with Crosby, Stills &Nash when they performed on his show earlier this year.
Colbert has nestled his conservative TV talk show host persona into a snow-draped mountain cabin. Problem is, he’s due in New York for his Christmas special, but his mortal enemy, a grizzly bear, bars the way to the best Christmas ever.
Colbert can’t get out, but very special musical guests apparently can still come and go.
In one of several duets, Colbert notices he has four wise men in his piano-top Nativity scene. A closer look shows the fourth magi to be Willie Nelson. “Stephen, right now I’m so high, you’re hallucinating,” Nelson explains.
Nelson, of course, has brought his own gift for the Christ child as he sings “And Let Not Mankind Bogart Love,” about his gift of an herb that “smokes more sweetly than either frankincense or myrrh.”
You were expecting “John Denver and The Muppets: A Christmas Together”? Just to be clear here: No, this isn’t a special that you want to watch with the kids as you decorate the Christmas tree.
But there’s plenty to bring adult cheer. Listen carefully, and you may hear a familiar refrain; Colbert’s inquiry of Nelson — “Are you high?” — borrows liberally (sorry) from the Crosby-Bowie duet.
It continues on in that spirit with several very special musical guests, including John Legend, Toby Keith, Feist, Elvis Costello and “late-night basic cable’s” Jon Stewart.
The special’s obligatory interfaith moment comes as Stewart asks Colbert, “Can I Interest You in Hanukkah?” Colbert’s musical reply? “I’ll keep Jesus, you keep your potato pancakes.”
And so on.
Keith’s country battle cry “There’s a War on Christmas,” warns that “if you say I can’t deck my halls, then I’ll deck you myself.”
When Colbert offers Legend a cup of eggnog sans nutmeg, Legend reminds Colbert that serving eggnog without the spice is “like serving a turkey without a duck and a chicken inside it,” and then proceeds with his smooth and blue ballad “My Nutmeg.”
Feist, sitting atop Colbert’s Christmas tree, warbles “Please Be Patient, an Angel Will Be With Thee Shortly,” after Colbert gives his best George Bailey prayer to save his Christmas special.
All of it is sung sweetly, but with a sprig of holly through its heart.
Only once does Colbert flirt with tossing his satirical edge on the yule log as the company sings Costello’s “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?” The atmosphere of universal harmony is broken only when Costello’s voice erupts from the grizzly bear. Elvis, what big teeth you have.
Santa, of course, arrives to save the day, and little Stephen gets his Christmas special.
Fans of Colbert will get it, too.
The greatest DVD of all
If you miss “A Colbert Christmas,” the DVD will be in stores Tuesday ($19.99) with extras, including an optional laugh track, a book-burning Yule-log video, three alternate endings (dream, death-by-bear and death-by-Jon Stewart), a bonus song (Colbert singing “Cold, Cold Christmas”) and a 25-day video Advent calendar (Colbert on Dec. 2: “Wow, I am out of ideas. Oh, God, this was a mistake. I’ve got nothing.”).