Christmas with Letterman: Cher in a Muff, the Lone Ranger, and Darlene Love

Christmas with Letterman: Cher in a Muff, the Lone Ranger, and Darlene Love

Tonight marks the 27th time powerhouse rock/gospel singer Darlene Love sings, nay, belts “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” on Late Show with David Letterman. (The only year since 1986 she hasn’t performed this was 2007 because of the Writers’ Strike.)

What follows is a post I wrote four years ago to inform the kiddies out there (Letterman’s words, not mine) about this great, silly, and poignant TV tradition, which features two stories (one from Paul Schaffer, one from Jay Thomas), some tree-decorating, some tree-destroying, and then Love’s singing what might be the greatest Christmas song ever. Since nothing changes from year to year—seriously, aside from the second guest (after Thomas), Letterman and crew put on the same show every December before their Christmas hiatus—the post should hold up…well, except for the part about Letterman’s sex scandal.

[Originally posted December 23, 2009]

To put it mildly, David Letterman hasn’t had the best year. Yes, his ratings (finally) surpassed Conan O’Brien’s and Jay Leno’s. And yes, he did land an interview with President Barack Obama. But the host also inadvertently made headlines when he joked that Sarah Palin’s teenage daughter got “knocked up” by baseball player Alex Rodriguez. Then he made the news again when he apologized for the entire misunderstanding (i.e., he was poking fun at the governor’s eldest daughter, not her 14-year old): “It’s not your fault that it was misunderstood, it’s my fault,” Letterman said. “So I would like to apologize, especially to the two daughters involved, Bristol and Willow, and also to the governor and her family and everybody else who was outraged by the joke.”

But the big shocker came in October of this year when Letterman admitted on-air to having “sex with women who work with [him] on this show.” And if that wasn’t enough of a surprise, we learn that the host was being blackmailed for $2 million because of his behind-the-scenes activities. Furthermore, while some women supported Letterman during this time (Barbara Walters and Martha Stewart, in particular), others like Today‘s Ann Curry and Kathie Lee Gifford as well as representatives from NOW (the National Organization for Women) loudly criticized Letterman and the alleged “objectification of women in [his] workplace.” And for about a month, on and on it went.

Again, not the best year for Letterman…

Paul, Cher, and “the Muff”

But despite all the turmoil, all the shocks and surprises, we can happily count on one bit of stability from David Letterman: The Late Show‘s Christmas show. For those who are newcomers, five traditions occur around Christmastime at The Late Show:

Paul Shaffer narrates a story about Cher and then impersonates her singing “O Holy Night” as she warms her hands in “a muff.” Yeah, wait for it; the word muff will be mentioned, and Letterman will make a deadpan face resembling Buster Keaton‘s.

The Decorating of the Christmas Tree

Mujibar and Sirajul, former neighbors of the show, walk onstage with a small statue of the Empire State Building, which they place atop The Late Show Christmas tree. Next in line to decorate is Joe G (of Joe G’s pizzeria), who gently lays a large pizza pie atop the tree. Finally, Rupert Gee walks over from the Hello Deli and jabs a softball-sized meatball onto Mujibar and Sirajul’s Empire State Building. Sauce usually accompanies the meatball. (NOTE: Sometimes this occurs earlier in the week.)

Jay Thomas and the Lone Ranger

Now, it’s time for the traditional “Christmas” story, told always by Jay Thomas. It’s an true-life anecdote involving Thomas, a Volvo, some marijuana, and Clayton Moore (aka., the Lone Ranger). Listen to it yourself, and prepare to laugh.

The Throwing of the Footballs

After the Lone Ranger story, Thomas and Letterman rise from their seats, take off their jackets, and throw footballs at the Christmas tree. Their goal: to knock off Rupert’s meatball. Childish, yes. Goofy, yes. But hey, it’s a tradition.

Darlene Love and “Christmas”

Finally, it’s time for Dave’s “favorite part of the Christmas season”: Darlene Love sings/nails the song “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” In recent years, Love has been backed by an orchestra, a full gospel choir, and gobs of snow and confetti.

What a performance. After 24 years (yeah, that’s right, 24 years) it never gets old. See below.

That’s it: The Late Show at its finest, silliest, and most memorable. Hope you tune in and make it a tradition too. You won’t regret it.