Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Christmas TV has a long tradition of campiness

Rosie's flop variety special took full advantage of Christmas silliness

You’d think no one had ever seen a lesbian host a variety show, but Rosie O’Donnell’s attempt to one-up Ellen Degeneres’ daily success with a lavish, one-hour live variety show on NBC on Nov 26 was met with horror.

TV Guide critic Matt Roush wrote, “If the TV variety format weren’t already dead, the ghastly ego trip of NBC’s Thanksgiving-eve turkey Rosie Live would surely have killed it…. The entire hour landed with a sickening, sad, ill-conceived thud.”

The special was one of the lowest-rated shows of the night.

The Los Angeles Times’ Mary McNamara wailed, “Rosie, Rosie, what on earth were you thinking? Were you thinking camp?”

Well, yes Mary, that’s exactly what she was thinking. Rosie’s special was stacked with old-school, gay-friendly performers like Kathy Griffin, Alanis Morrisette, Clay Aiken, Gloria Estefan, Harry Connick Jr and Liza Minnelli — a lineup that their host could only get away with during the holiday season.

The British have an expression, “as camp as Christmas,” and it’s well-earned. In the same way Halloween allows straight football jocks to become drag queens for a night, Christmas lets anyone camp it up for a while.

Even the most devout homophobes are suddenly covering their homes in rainbow lights, listening to Barbra Streisand, dressing up their dogs in little costumes and adding rum to everything. Relatives who refuse to acknowledge our relationships suddenly find themselves sitting across a dinner table from our same-sex partners — and it’s the sex part they’re picturing.

Despite being the birthday celebration of a religion that oppresses us, there’s an inherent, inescapable silliness to Christmas of which gay people take full advantage, like the RuPaul holiday album or yes, Rosie O’Donnell’s variety special.

Sure, it flopped but she attempted to add to a long tradition of gay holiday TV. In 1993 Melissa Etheridge and Erasure’s Andy Bell hosted Camp Christmas, a successful special recently ranked number 14 on a list of the 100 Greatest Christmas Moments by Channel 4 in the UK.

Christmas TV has included Pee Wee Herman bringing kd lang and Grace Jones to his Playhouse, Scott Thompson rescuing uncle Rip Taylor and the boozy women of Ab Fab tracking down Edina’s gay son in New York. On his special, satirist Stephen Colbert offered to kiss rightwing country singer Toby Keith under the mistletoe.

There’s just something about the holidays that brings it out of people. It must be the eggnog.