It’s the holiday season — a time for joy, cheer and togetherness. In the spirit of this festive time of year, I’ve gathered three comedians I am proud to call my friends — George Awad, Marlene Thompson and Greg Benge — to participate in one of comedy’s most time-honored holiday traditions: complaining about the holidays.
Fun fact: Complaining is the second-most popular activity among comedians. It trails (just barely) behind doing bits relentlessly until everyone gets tired. So please enjoy these yuletide jokes in your favorite sweater (ugly or not) and with whatever nog you feel is appropriate.
And of course, if you were a part of the war on Christmas, thank you for your service. Though we tried our best, the holiday keeps gaining ground; reconnaissance reports decorations have pushed all the way into October this year.
Eric: For me, it doesn’t truly feel like the holidays until I see the old Rankin and Bass TV movies. Every year I look forward to seeing my old Claymation pals — Yukon Cornelius, the Heat Miser and that snowman in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer who won’t stop singing (and looks kind of like Col. Sanders). I feel like it’s high time Asheville got its own cast of holiday characters. With that in mind, what Claymation weirdos would you like to see in Asheville’s own TV movie?
George Awad: Maybe I’m just cynical, but the local Claymation weirdos we’ve had for the past several holiday seasons seem to be packing up and heading for much more affordable places like Dubai. But you can still imagine clay versions of the Patton Avenue guitar god, the just-moved-to-town aerial artist who hasn’t quite landed on Earth yet and the couple who relocated here from Aspen to fulfill their dream of opening a food shop with the word “gourmet” in the name.
Marlene Thompson: I’m pretty partial to the 2003 classic Christmas movie Love Actually. My best friend and I watch it together every year via phone call. We giggle all the way through with the help of some rosé. Is it a good movie? Opinions vary. Still, I’d still write a modernized script of Love Actually with an Asheville spin. Vignettes about a big city transplant who lives in West Asheville and falls for the rare barista who actually grew up in Western North Carolina. Or maybe a version starring the boomer Florida couple living by Biltmore Village who find that their marriage would be more complete if they “opened it up to new experiences.” And yes, I know what you’re thinking: Of course, it would be narrated by a snowman Claymation version of Thomas Wolfe.
Greg Benge: Coincidentally, I’ve been working diligently on an animated holiday feature for the past five years! With nearly 23 seconds completed, the pitch is simple:
Claire is a successful business opossum visiting her hometown of Asheville for the holidays. Donovan is a laid-back raccoon running a secondhand shop out of a dumpster in West Asheville. Thanks to a double-booked Harebnb, they are forced to share the same gingerbread house at the Omni Grove Park Inn for the winter. Will they be able to scavenge food and evade animal control while tolerating each other’s personality quirks? Find out in this niche romantic holiday classic: A Christmas Critter Cuffing.
Eric: Keeping with the established “fill-in-the-blank-Miser” formula that Rankin and Bass established, I propose we adopt the Leaf Miser. Every fall the Leaf Miser runs out of money, so he changes the colors of all the leaves to draw in tourists, and, of course, their money. Unfortunately, he eats most of the money, which is why nobody in the service industry gets any. The old Leaf Miser eats and eats, and eventually goes into hibernation, waking up briefly at the holidays to eat some of the Biltmore Estate Christmas tourism dollars. Every spring, the Leaf Miser awakens to repopulate the mountains with fresh new leaves and to look for a new apartment further out of town. The rent keeps going up, and it’s hard out there. Even for Leaf Miser.
Eric: With the weather turning colder and the holidays creeping ever closer, a lot of people will be dealing with the wintertime blues (which sounds less grim than seasonal affective disorder). With all this holiday darkness looming like that Mariah Carey Christmas song, what do you like to do in town to bring a little light to the season and keep your spirits up? (Don’t say hiking. We get it: It’s Asheville. Besides, it’s too cold.)
George: What always kicks off the holiday season for me is the first sighting of those old-style glass jars of Homestead Creamery’s eggnog in my grocer’s dairy section. Creamy and satisfying, it is the perfect vehicle (the only vehicle) for nutmeg. At about 1,200 calories a sip, the viscous dairy delight slowly sludges down your throat like magma in hot (cold) pursuit of fleeing villagers. Once I spot ’em, I bring a bottle to the register, plunk down the $3 deposit (extortion) and run (well, drive) to my friend’s front porch. He’ll come out with fresh nutmeg and pull a Microplane from his holster, grinding the aromatic herb that centuries of human beings (pre-McCormicks) died trying to find, into a shallow glass of nog. We’ll then sit back, slowly indulge in the joyous medley of eggs, heavy cream and sugar, and begin speaking German with abandon.
Greg: Like a certain West Asheville raccoon, I’m a big fan of secondhand clothing. Whether it’s a curated outfit from rEvolve Mercantile or digging deep for gold in the Goodwill bins, some cheap retail therapy raises my spirits all year round. Like a diligent squirrel or thrifty hamster, I spend the year gathering layers of cardigans, hoodies, long underwear, jackets and coats to survive the cold winter. After a hearty Thanksgiving feast, the great layering begins. Sock after sock and sleeve after sleeve, I bury myself in a cozy sartorial nest. The pressure of wearing an entire closet begins to slow my pulse. Safe from predators until spring, I sleep.
Marlene: Much like Greg, I love a good secondhand sweater and enjoy finding thrift store treasures. But if all the goodies are gone by the time I get to Goodwill, I know I’ll be binging all the Oscar-nominated movies and shorts. If it’s streaming, I’m watching. If the shorts are playing at Grail Moviehouse, I’m going and buying a large popcorn. My birthday is also right in the middle of winter (yay, February). I’m a few years shy of the big 4-0, so maybe in 2024, I’ll finally treat myself to what I’ve always wanted: Botox. Will it remedy wrinkles AND seasonal affective disorder? I’ll find out!
Eric: I have a method for getting through the holidays that’s a little unorthodox, but it’s been working for me. When I’m not busy making tens of dollars doing comedy all around town, I work my real job in the service industry. So being in the criminally underpaid and understaffed service industry, I simply work a dangerous amount of overtime. There’s never enough help, and management never has a plan to deal with the rise in business. That means unlimited overtime. Time both slows and speeds up at a breakneck pace as I disassociate. And I disassociate so hard to deal with all the hours I’m working that I simply cease to exist during the holidays. I become a festive ghost, desperately trying to survive the workweek. I’m my own Christmas spirit, forging my own chains in life. So when people ask me if I had a good Christmas, I give them a small smile and simply say I don’t know and try not to flaunt the extra $55 (after taxes) that I made for 20 hours overtime that week.
Eric: We all know O. Henry’s classic Christmas story “The Gift of the Magi,” in which a wife sells her hair to buy her husband a watch chain, and her husband sells his watch to buy her a bunch of fancy combs. Yet another classic story of a Christmas ruined by couples not communicating. Did you know O. Henry lived in Asheville for a while? Don’t believe me? Go check out the watch sculpture on the sidewalk on stop No. 4 of the Asheville Urban Trail. Also, he’s buried in Riverside Cemetery. With O. Henry’s spirit in mind, what would you like to see Asheville give up for you, and what would you be willing to give up in return? Bonus points if your answer is superironic.
Marlene: I’d love to see Asheville give up its pseudo-liberalism and skyrocketing rent, but I know the tourism dollars won’t let that happen. So I’d settle for a good 24-hour diner that’s not Waffle House or Cook Out. I want a place that’s open past 9 p.m. where I can get mozzarella sticks, a side of mashed potatoes and a slice of cheesecake. That’s my ultimate gift. In return, I’d give up making fun of parents who bring their kids to breweries. But only for 31 days. Call it a dry January.
Greg: I’ve been told that, when it comes to gift giving, it’s the thought that counts. Which is why I’m giving up a personal treasure of mine. That’s right, a half melted sea salt and vanilla candle that I received from Baltimore at a white elephant exchange in 2007. In return, I expect Asheville to dig deep and find an affordable apartment I can move into next year. But what will my new apartment smell like? This regifting of the “Magi” might be more of a “Monkey’s Paw” situation.
Eric: All I want for Christmas from Asheville is some funding for the arts. We have a whole city full of creative people just looking for spaces to do things. I want venues, grants, opportunities for the creatives I love and admire who work in this town. Come on, Asheville: Give up some money. Nobody should have to drive to Charlotte to do their art. Have you been to Charlotte? It’s awful.
In return for this, my fondest Christmas wish, I will give up an appropriate and truly ironic thing: I will vow to stop using my secret parking spot where they never tow downtown. That’s right, my ace in the hole for every time I’m running late to a show. I am willing to give that up if it means comedy can flourish here, and for the record, I LOVE that parking spot. Sometimes I’ll park there even if I don’t need to go downtown. That’s how much I love it. I will give it up if that means we can get a dedicated comedy club in town. Preferably on O. Henry Avenue somewhere, you know, for bonus irony points.
George: Damn, I really like Eric’s answer. But because you wanted to hear from four different people, here’s mine: After the Asheville City Council begins generously funding the arts, they should approve a half-percent increase in the local sales tax to fund a standalone karaoke bar; actually, a palace to karaoke! I mean, who doesn’t want the opportunity to sing into a microphone much to the chagrin of passersby? This karaoke Shangri-La would have a bunch of rooms people can rent so they can sing drunkenly off-key to their friends and a big old stage where wasted bachelorette parties from Shreveport can cluster around a microphone and try to woefully rap along with pre-flute Andre 3000. It would be karaoke every day and every night! Plus, there would be a small kitchen cranking out karaoke-compatible hors d’oeuvres like bacon-wrapped anything and racks of lamb. It would be great for locals, great for tourists, bad for glass trying to stay intact. In exchange, I will concede nothing. Karaoke is a human right.