.‘Twisted Christmas’ returns with the Gift of Gauche

Twisted Christmas Live! is back, but not here to stay! 

This much-beloved semi-sort-of-annual Christmas event is hitting the stage for the last time this holiday season and is set to stun the audience with irreverent and humorous holiday tales. The performance list is stacked high with notable Bay Area comedic figures, and there will be no shortage of downright funny people to laugh with (and at) at this year’s Twisted Christmas performance.

The first Twisted Christmas was produced in 2003 by Dan Zastrow, Julia Lander and David Templeton and has since amounted to a grand total of 11 shows over the past 15 years. Among the show’s regular performers was comic legend Will Durst, who suffered a stroke in 2019. To help Durst cover the costs of his ongoing treatment, the producers are bringing Twisted Christmas back one more time as a benefit event.

“Will is a legend,” said Templeton, this year’s Twisted Christmas host and Bay Area journalist/award-winning writer/playwright. “In the ’70s, he was a big part of the San Francisco comedy scene. He’s a political satirist, and his stuff always took a political bent, but he’s very classy, very thoughtful, clever and a well-read comedian. People just adore him and have for a long time. He and his wife, Debi, have done a lot to help other standup comedians. He’s the real deal, and he’s just super duper kind.”

This year’s Twisted Christmas Live! show will include a performance by satirical singer-songwriter Roy Zimmerman, a sprinkling of short Christmas-skewering films and the ceremonial tossing of snowballs (the edible kind) into the audience. This fits in line with past years of Twisted Christmases entertainment, which featured hula hoop dance numbers, singing zombies and much, much more.

“Before the first Twisted Christmas, I said maybe it may be fun to make a fundraiser off of Christmas stories, and Will said we should do it, so we did,” exclaimed Templeton. “That first year, all the stories that were read were things that I had written. Then, over the years, we read hundreds of stories. Now, this year, we’re back to stories only I have written (most of them are new too). 

“I’ve said in the past that [Twisted Christmas] wasn’t going to happen again and it’s happened again, then I’ve said it won’t happen again and it’s happened again. So, on that trend, it may happen again—but only if it’s right.”

Act one begins with Santalicious, a short film by John Harden, followed by introductions, explanations and warnings. Then comes “The Night Before Christmas, Interpreted,” performed by Geoff Bolt and Michael O’Brien. This comedic duo is best known as the hosts of their own unscripted and improvised podcast, O’Brien & Bolt

Diane Amos is next to hit the stage with her performance of “Santastic Voyage,” which will be followed by a musical interlude with Roy Zimmerman, an American satirical singer-songwriter and guitarist, and a special recorded message from Durst. Following the musical interlude and Durst’s message, act one will conclude with a performance from Debi Durst, Will Durst’s wife and longtime Twisted Christmas participant, who will read “Grandma’s Christmas Ham,” a tale of dubious Christmas cannibalism.

Intermission is set to feature an amusing slideshow of photographs of items on store shelves that no one wanted to buy during the Christmas holidays of past years, taken a few days after Christmas. The audience can watch this visual treat and get in a few lighthearted laughs before delving into act two of these twisted tales of Christmas.

Act two of Twisted Christmas opens with a video compilation created by Anderson Templeton entitled “Twisted Moments from Holiday Movies.” This video shows short clips of out-of-context scenes from holiday movies, highlighting the absurdity (and possibly disturbing nature) of a fair few Christmas classics. 

Next in the entertainment lineup for act two is “Mistletoe,” performed by esteemed guest, Jeff Bodean, AKA Vincent Van Dahl of Creature Features. Van Dahl is a former front person for a ’90s metal band, Prince of Darkness, who retired from music to pursue a quiet life in Bodega Bay just a few years ago. 

This famous horror persona will be followed by an additional musical interlude with Roy Zimmerman. “Crumbs at Midnight” is the last reading of the evening and will be performed by Johnny Steele, who read this in the very first Twisted Christmas show in 2003. After Steele’s reading is finished, wrap-ups, farewells, apologies and goodnights follow.

Templeton explains his thought process behind the creation of his newest story, “Mistletoe.” 

“The new story I just finished a few days ago is called ‘Mistletoe’ and is set in an alternative version of Victorian England where they celebrate a gourd king and mistletoe has taken over the city of London,” explained Templeton. 

“It’s pretty vicious stuff—as the characters become enamored and kiss, the vines come up, entwine them and drain them of their life. So, there are just children left in these mistletoe orphanages, and the story itself is told from the point of view of a policeman who is explaining to the child what happened. It’s fun, cool and very creepy.”

Each of Templeton’s Twisted Christmas tales features unique, dark storylines, which promise to bend the traditional Christmas spirit into a much darker spiel. For those who are tired of the same old, jolly, happy-ending holiday stories featuring talking reindeer, warm fires with predictably stuffed stockings hanging above and, of course, lovable snowmen who just won’t melt, then this is the Christmas event that just can’t be missed.

Twisted Christmas is always tons of fun to do, and I’ve been in all of them,” exclaimed Debi Durst. “All of the stories are written by David—he’s got a wonderfully twisted mind, and this show is going to be fabulous because we’ve all known most of the people in it for 30-something years. I’ve known Diane since she was 19! I’ve known Johnny Steele since he had hair! It’s just too much fun, and I always love reading a story that David wrote because it’s always so twisted!”
David Templeton’s ‘Twisted Christmas Live! No. 12’ takes place at 7pm, Tuesday, Dec. 6 at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael. Tickets are $20, and all proceeds support Will Durst (other opportunities to contribute will be available at the show). To buy ‘Twisted Christmas’ tickets, visit rafaelfilm.cafilm.org or purchase them at the door while availability lasts.

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