Film & Video
3 min

Television’s gayest Christmas specials

Lady Gaga, Twisted Sister and other exuberant holiday variety shows

RuPaul's Christmas Credit: RuPaul

RuPaul’s Christmas Ball

Oh yes, honey, RuPaul has a Christmas special — and it’s fabulous. RuPaul’s Christmas Ball features tons of celebrity guests, including Boy George, Eartha Kitt, Elton John, La Toya Jackson and, strangely enough, Nirvana.  This 1993 special is filled to the brim with drag queens, musical numbers, skits and fake infomercials — including RuPaul’s Tic Tac diet and the buttocks-toning Tushy Terminator. A highlight of the show is a skit featuring Jackson as RuPaul’s sister, Rupauleen (“the younger, prettier one, as you can plainly see”).  

Judy Garland’s holiday special

Christmas isn’t complete without a little garland, so it should come as no surprise that Judy Garland has a holiday special — after all, she was the first person to sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Garland hosted her holiday show in 1963 and it featured her children, including a 17-year-old Liza Minnelli. The special includes a few cringe-worthy moments, but overall it’s a fun holiday spectacle. The special was recreated in 2011 in the TV series Glee as part of its “Extraordinary Merry Christmas” episode, hosted by gay couple Kurt and Blaine.

Pee Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special

While Pee Wee’s sexual orientation has never been revealed, this is one of the gayest Christmas specials we have ever seen. The show had it all: sexy dancing soldiers, afro-tastic divas in glittery gowns and a comical number of fruitcakes. The premise of the show revolves around Pee Wee setting up for Christmas, finding himself constantly interrupted by a slew of celebrity friends stopping by and calling in to wish him well during the Christmas season. Some of the more notable guests include kd lang, Little Richard, Oprah, Grace Jones and Cher. There’s also a bit involving shirtless construction workers doing renovations on the playhouse — because why not?

Lady Gaga's holiday specials

Every year, pop stars and celebrities battle to try to dethrone the queen of Christmas — Mariah Carey. For the past two years, rather than entering the Christmas fray, Lady Gaga has chosen a road less travelled, instead hosting Thanksgiving holiday specials on ABC. Last year’s A Very Gaga Thanksgiving garnered 5.4 million viewers and included appearances by Tony Bennett, Katie Couric and Art Smith.

The Artpop singer’s newest special, Lady Gaga & The Muppets’ Holiday Spectacular, was far more energetic than her previous jazzy special; however, its viewership was only 3.6 million. The special featured performances by RuPaul, Elton John and, of course, the Muppets. The handsome Joseph Gordon-Levitt also makes an appearance for a role-reversed duet of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

Twisted Sister’s A Twisted Christmas

The 1980s metal band, whose members were known for their outrageous drag attire and rock anthems such as “I Wanna Rock” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” reunited in 2006 for the release of A Twisted Christmas. The album featured the Sisters’ signature sounds on renditions of holiday classics, including “Heavy Metal Christmas” (“The 12 days of Christmas”), “We Wish You a Twisted Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” which features additional vocals by The Runaways’ Lita Ford. While released as a studio album, the special was also released on DVD, with A Twisted Christmas Live: A December to Remember, in 2007, which features Dee Snider and the band dressed in their best festive gear. The DVD is difficult to come by but, thankfully, is available to view online. The band later performed a secondary Christmas show in 2012 in Vegas, recorded with better audio and camerawork than the original release. This version is also more readily available than its predecessor.

Star Wars holiday special

Yes, this actually happened, even if George Lucas and cast like to pretend it didn’t. Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) once famously dubbed the show “the horrible holiday special that nobody talks about,” and Lucas himself quipped, “If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it.”

The special aired only once, in 1978, before being pulled off the airwaves forever, but thanks to the power of the internet, it is readily available on YouTube (be warned, the first 15 minutes are almost entirely in Wookie dialect — with no subtitles). The special features the original cast — including Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher — as well as a celebrity guest appearance by Bea Arthur as Ackmena, a gruff bartender at the Cantina. Arthur sings the song “Goodnight, But Not Goodbye” to cheer up her bar patrons.

In a related note, a nine-track Star Wars Christmas CD was released in 1980, titled Christmas in the Stars. Maury Yeston, a Yale music teacher who later won a Tony for his Broadway productions Nine and Titanic, wrote most of the tunes. The album also features the first professional recording of singer Jon Bon Jovi, who sings the lead vocals on “R2-D2 We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”