The Xmas Bash!!! has become an annual tradition around here, but I realize now that its purpose (and appeal) might be a bit unclear to folks who haven’t attended. For those who have, you know what it’s all about. For those who haven’t, it probably seems like this impenetrable oddity that I don’t shut up about for 30 days out of the year.
What’s the deal with the lousy Christmas specials? Why in the world would anyone give up their night for that? And what’s with the money you’re collecting?
All valid questions that I’m sure many readers have asked themselves. Which is why I want to take some time to talk about the event. Even those who have made it out to all three years (the true Noiseless Chatter veterans who deserve your respect and pity) might not know entirely what it is, how it came to be, or why it’s important to me. So here’s a brief history of The Bash!!! and its development.
And please do comment below with any questions or suggestions for the future. If anything it’s an organic, evolving beast, and I want every year to be the best year yet.
The Xmas Bash!!!, like so much of modern entertainment, owes its genesis to ALF. No, really; it does. Three years later it amuses me deeply that this whole massive event is technically a spinoff of the ALF reviews, but it is.
In 2013, I started reviewing every episode of that often insane, periodically troubling puppet show. I posted a review every week, and at some point I realized that my review of “Oh, Tannerbaum” (the show’s first Christmas special) would be posted a week after Christmas.
That was fine, but it was so close to Christmas that it seemed like a missed opportunity. I considered shuffling up the order, just that once, so that I could get that review live within the appropriate week, but ultimately I decided not to. (Chaos theory in action: had I started reviewing ALF just one week sooner than I did, the Xmas Bash!!! would not exist.)
Instead I decided that it would be fun to screen “Oh, Tannerbaum” together, with all of my readers and whomever else decided to show up. That way we could all watch it before Christmas, even if the review wouldn’t be posted until afterward.
That’s it. That’s the entire genesis of the Xmas Bash!!! I just wanted a way to get “Oh, Tannerbaum” in front of people during the right week.
From there, I thought it would be fun if we all riffed on it together. We wouldn’t just watch ALF; we’d review it as a group. I wrote my review ahead of time so that I wouldn’t have my opinions tainted or changed by anything anyone said, but the idea of everyone commenting on it in real time was appealing to me, so I found a streaming site that offered live chat: Twitch.
I tested the stream out a few times with a friend (J.P., who has served as my technical troubleshooter all three years), and it seemed like it would work. It was something that could actually happen, and I was excited.
Fleshing it Out
Of course, screening “Oh, Tannerbaum” would take all of 23 minutes, and asking people to tune in just for that seemed…silly. Especially if we ended up having fun. What would happen after the episode ended? We’d just say goodnight and find other things to do? Nuts to that.
So I figured I’d find a few other Christmas specials — preferably corny ones — to follow it up. I had Hulu Plus at the time, and since that was my source for “Oh, Tannerbaum” I thought I’d comb through their other offerings and find a few more that way. That’s how I ended up with shows like Major Dad and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.
Those aren’t shows I ever would have thought about otherwise, but they set the precedent for the kind of thing I’d look for in the future. It’s also how I stumbled upon the great Lassie Christmas episode, which opens with the titular dog being creamed by a careless driver. I’d never even heard of that episode, and I had no idea what happened in it. It was just a show I remembered watching as a kid, and it had a Christmas episode. Fate brought that one to us, and it’s still one of the funniest Xmas Bash!!! memories for me.
I found as many episodes as I could and realized I could make a whole night out of it, so that’s what I did.
The only problem was switching between episodes. I could just leave the screen capture running and let people watch me navigate Hulu finding the next special, and that would have been fine (if damned clunky), but I really wanted something to fill that dead space between episodes.
That’s when I figured I’d host the show, and give the night some structure and narrative.
Sure, we could just watch a bunch of disconnected Christmas specials…but as long as I had dead space to fill, why not give it a purpose? The idea of watching and riffing on Christmas specials was obviously in line with Mystery Science Theater 3000, so I decided to provide similar breaks from the chaos in the form of host segments.
The host segments had to be simple, since I was filming this stuff the day it aired. Beyond that, I didn’t really have much of an idea for them.
My humor tends toward the dark and self-effacing, and I figured that would make for a good counterpoint to the sap and syrup we’d likely get throughout the night in the Christmas specials. I made a list of a few sad things the holiday season could bring out in someone (being lonely, remembering traumatic Christmases past, eating shitty candy), and improvised around those.
I’ll be the first to say that they should have been more tightly scripted or edited. I wanted it to feel natural, but I probably went too far in that direction. I know first hand how difficult it is for the joke to be “this guy isn’t funny” without the experience actually being unfunny, and yet I keep trying that approach over and over again (see the first episode of my old Save-State Gamer series), never truly learning the lesson.
The host segments received some positive feedback, but for my money they were still a bit too loose and unfocused. They broke up the night (which is good), and tied all of the Christmas specials together (which is also good), but compared to the later Xmas Bash!!!es, they were a drag, and gave the night a too-lethargic feel. I was learning as I went, so I don’t mean to be too critical of myself, but there’s no way I’d ever return to that zero-energy approach in the future. I don’t know how anyone sat through those. Hopefully they served as a great chance to urinate without worrying that you’re missing anything.
My tie and sweater vest made me look even nerdier than usual, which led viewer Daniel to repeatedly riff on me looking like the host of an NPR pledge drive. It was unexpectedly prescient…as we’ll see.
From a logistical standpoint, the host segments all lived together in the same video file; I’d pause it when the segment was over, click over to the Hulu window to air a special, then click back over to the video file and unpause it for the next host segment.
Due to this the progress bar at the bottom of the video player let everyone know how deep into the night we were. I was fine with that (and I saw it as a good thing, actually), but somebody riffed on my performance by saying that it seemed like when the little blue line was full, I’d commit suicide.
That’s what led to the running joke of me dying every year in the host segments. I didn’t actually die the first year, but the suicide joke gained traction in the chat, and something happened to the stream that prevented anyone from seeing the ending, so it became passive canon that my character, indeed, killed himself.
Here’s what prevented anyone from seeing the ending: the stream died.
As the night wore on, I got very excited by how many viewers we had. We probably started with around 30, but before long we hit 100. And we kept going from there. Not too shabby for something spur of the moment with no planning.
The reason we got so many viewers, I’m sure, is that we were on Twitch, which is a very popular streaming site. Their own users were looking for something to watch, found us, and tuned in. It was great, and it’s still the largest Bash!!! turnout we’ve had yet.
With visibility, however, came the problem of legality. Someone reported the stream as being against Twitch’s Terms of Service, and we were shut down. Unfortunate, but…I couldn’t really argue.
Some folks have asked what specials we missed out on that night, but don’t worry; there were only two more to go when we got canned. The first was The Fat Albert Christmas Special, which we aired the following year, and the next was a repeat of “Oh, Tannerbaum” for those who tuned in late. I’m sad that we didn’t get to end the stream properly, but nothing was truly lost.
That meant that we only got to air seven specials that night. But that’s okay, because seven is a really nice number anyway, and each year since we’ve aired seven more. Another accidental birth of tradition.
The fact that someone reported us is the reason I don’t post the link to the stream ahead of time anymore. That’s why I make the stream private. It doesn’t always prevent unfortunate moderation, but as of now, secrecy is the only choice I have. That’s why I’m very interested in finding a new streaming solution, but we’ll get to that.
That wasn’t the only technical issue of the night, though. J.P. helped me troubleshoot ahead of going live, but when we started the stream, there was an unfortunate echo effect to the audio. I tried everything I could to fix it, but folks were already watching. They were stuck listening to ALF repeat endlessly, “It’s the day before Christmas! I’ve hidden all the eggs,” which has since become a kind of Noiseless Chatter shibboleth.
Longtime reader Jeff emailed me this year to say, “The best traditions are the ones that arise organically from awesome events, as did this one.” And looking back on the way these Bash!!!es have unfolded, it’s so true. I could have sat down one day and manufactured a special event out of thin air…but it wouldn’t have felt the same. It’d feel too deliberate. Too intentional.
A tradition born of beautiful accidents means so much more.
While fixing the audio I chose to play that terrible “Chacarron” song to keep people entertained, but if there’s anything that makes that song even worse it’s a compounding echo effect. So, you’re welcome.
At some point I got the echo down to a very low level; even though the lines were repeated they were done so very quietly. Somebody observed that this sounded like demonic whispering in the background of all the shows.
I was okay with this.
That was the first Xmas Bash! Between that and the second one, something big happened: Robin Williams committed suicide.
I was never a big fan of Williams. In fact, he kind of annoyed me. But his suicide was important because of how it made people react. The outpouring not of grief, but of identification.
I heard and saw friends coming out of the woodwork to talk about their own struggles with depression, their own suicidal thoughts, their own difficulties making it through any given day. In just about every case, I never would have guessed that these people important to me were facing demons like that. It was something everyone had always been afraid to talk about, until Williams’ suicide reminded them that bottling it up could very likely kill them.
Williams was a celebrity. He was well-loved. He was wealthy. He had a family and a career and a deep and important legacy. And then, in August, demons nobody knew he had defeated him. It shocked a lot of people, and helped a lot of others to open up.
As a response, I invited readers to submit their stories. They did. It was profoundly heartbreaking and inspiring. That’s still my favorite thing we’ve ever done on this site. One day Noiseless Chatter will no longer exist, and I’d be surprised if anything I do between now and that point that means more to me.
But it also frustrated me. I wanted to do something.
People out there were hurting. They needed help. They needed to know they weren’t alone. I came up with the idea for a Mental Health Scholarship. I’d collect money and put together whatever sum I could…and offer that to someone around the holidays. Someone who needed therapy or medication that they couldn’t afford. Someone who needed the help.
I talked to my friend Emily — one of this site’s longest readers and supporters — and discovered a lot of logistical problems in terms of getting and handling the money. On top of that, I also knew that by selecting a recipient I’d be denying the funds from others who needed them. I could make Christmas brighter for one person, and unfortunately remind others how far from help they were.
It wasn’t something I could legally or emotionally figure out, so she advised me to find a charity that already did what I was trying to do, and collect the money for them.
She was right, of course. That was the solution. So I found The Trevor Project, which specifically offers mental health and suicide prevention services to LGTBQ youth. I was thrilled to find them, and they’ve been incredible to work with.
As difficult as the holidays are for me — and for countless others, including, perhaps, you — I can’t imagine how much harder they are for young folks who have been kicked out of their homes and shunned by their families because of who they are. I mean, I’m a straight white male from a well-enough-off family, college educated, free from disability or addiction, and most likely the handsomest man on Earth. If I have trouble getting through life, I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it is for others.
I don’t mean to be flippant (aside from the handsome thing; I’m actually quite unattractive). My point is just that by mere circumstance of my birth, I don’t have to deal with so many of the hurdles that others have to. If I did have to deal with those, things would be exponentially harder. And I feel deeply for people in situations worse than mine.
So the 2nd Annual Noiseless Chatter Xmas Bash!! would have a charitable component. That worked well, in one way, because it was already a longform entertainment event, like the charity telethons of old. But in another way, it posed a problem.
If the Xmas Bash!! was going to be helping people — and soliciting actual financial donations to a reputable organization — there was a potential tonal inconsistency.
How could I be funny in the host segments and ask people to take me (and the night) seriously? How could we ridicule ALF and The Partridge Family and Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey if we were supposed to be doing some good for others?
Charity is serious. Comedy is not. There was a problem of balance that I didn’t know how to overcome, short of turning all of the host segments into scenes of me saying, “We’re having a lot of fun here tonight, but here’s what’s not so fun…”
I didn’t want that.
There’s no way you’d want that.
I wanted to facilitate donations without demanding them. If folks had no interest in giving to charity, I still wanted them to enjoy the night and laugh their heads off. But if they did want to donate, I wanted them to understand that that was a serious (and very much appreciated) option. I needed to have it both ways.
That’s where Amanda came in. Amanda’s been in a strange sort-of-cohost position for the past two Bash!!!es. That’s by design. If I can do my own ridiculous sad-sack bullshit in the host segments, she needs to be able to stand apart from (and, in a way, above) the rest of the night. When she lets you know about The Trevor Project, it means something different than if you’d heard it from me, acting like a bozo who is slowly freezing to death in a ditch.
It worked great. She’s been fantastic. I gave her some lines with a sort of subtle humor, but which were largely sincere. I let her know that if she was uncomfortable with any of them for any reason, that she could (and should) let me know, and I’d rewrite them.
She had no concerns with the material at all. She recorded everything I gave her, and even gave the lines a perfectly creepy twist that I adored. Amanda built her own character on top of what I asked from her. She was both serious (as I needed) and hilarious (as I wanted).
Amanda’s a good friend of mine. We bonded around the time of Williams’ suicide, and she revealed herself to be not just a sweet, funny, incredible human being…but a source of genuine inspiration as well. I knew she’d be a perfect fit for the event.
I think I was right, because she ended up being my single favorite thing about the second Xmas Bash!!, and I invited her back for the third. In fact, much of what she said and did in the third was improvised; she built even more of a persona for herself, and deviated substantially from the material I gave her. I couldn’t be happier.
After this year’s Bash!!!, I learned that she had been worried about participating in these events, as she has a fear of public speaking.
I had no idea.
I’m glad I didn’t know, because if I did I wouldn’t have asked her. Instead she pushed through it, and came out the other end feeling more secure and confident in herself. A very coincidental — and very reassuring — byproduct of the stream’s increasing good intentions.
Of course, telethons tend to be very varied events. And, yes, following a magical space robot singing about Jesus with a story about the time Pac-Man saved Santa Claus would indeed count as “varied events.” But I wanted more than just different shows; I wanted a reason for folks to keep watching, to worry about missing something, to keep the energy up throughout the night and encourage people to stay alert and interested.
And I handled that in a few ways. For starters, I thought it might be fun to dig up more archival stuff. We had the specials, but I inserted vintage commercials into the breaks as well. And between specials, I aired smaller pieces of longer things that I’d never dare show an audience in their entirety. This included the Jefferson Starship segment from the Star Wars holiday travesty, David Bowie and Bing Crosby singing “Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth,” and the Ninja Turtles performing “The Wrap Rap” from We Wish You a Turtle Christmas, which I aired in its entirety this past year anyway because I hate you.
The addition of commercials and inane Christmas musical sequences continued this year, and likely will as long as I can find material to sustain them. Maybe at some point I’ll need to repeat some of those smaller segments, but that’s okay. They’re just a few minutes here and there, and they keep the pace up. They’re so far removed from listening to me drone on between specials, and I’d like to think they’re a thousand times more enjoyable as well. For whatever reason, they tend to get riffed even harder; maybe everyone realizes that they only have a few seconds to make their best joke. I’m glad, because reading the chat during Jingle Cats footage, for instance, is guaranteed to be painfully funny.
In addition I asked a few folks to put together special segments of their own. We had original music from Andy Starkey, a debut episode of PortsCenter by Ben Paddon, an original Christmas song from Adam Lore, illusions from Wes Iseli, a new episode of The Big Bible Blastoff from Sammy Scripture, an ALF-heavy installment of No Date Gamers from Ryan, and more.
And while this was a great way of making the stream feel more varied, I admit that it lost a bit of focus. That’s due in no part whatsoever to those who contributed segments, because all of those were great; it was poor planning on my part.
Three-time Bash!!! veteran Ridley observed on the night that it went against the spirit of the event to include things that are actually good. He’s probably right. Asking someone to shift from laughing at something to laughing with something else is difficult, and it makes things feel confused.
At the very least, the balance was off, and there should have been more vintage programming and less unique content. I still like and want the unique content, but it shouldn’t be a shared focus. It should serve as more of an intermission from the rest of the night’s programming.
So for the 3rd Annual Xmas Bash!!! there was less of it. Another great song from Adam, more awesome illusions from Wes (including one that definitively established me as worse than The Grinch), and a tour de force return from Amanda. Those were natural fits, because their contributions were brief, and served as perfect little signposts throughout the night, rather than distractions from what we were doing.
There will still be unique content in the future, but balancing things will be a priority of mine. For what it’s worth, and to open the discussion, I think the balance achieved this year was ideal. I’d like to hear your thoughts on that, for sure.
And that’s pretty much the story of the Xmas Bash!!! So far we’ve raised over $700 for The Trevor Project, which is incredible to me, and I’m endlessly grateful to everyone who tuned in, everyone who donated, everyone who provided content or feedback…and just everyone, really. You guys are fantastic, and I hope you’ll help me to make next year’s — and the year’s after that — even more successful.
Of course, there’s a looming issue: copyright.
Twitch terminated us the first year, and Hitbox terminated us (temporarily) this year. I’d rather not rely on tricking streaming sites into letting us violate them left and right, so if you have any suggestions at all on how to host the stream moving forward, please let me know so I can investigate them.
I’m aware that what we’re doing is a big no-no. It’s copyrighted material. Period. There’s no way around that.
On the other hand, it’s for charity. I’m not making any money off of the event, and any donations go straight to The Trevor Project; they don’t come through me at all.
I’d like to keep this up. I’ve always wanted this event to feel like a Christmas party. A real Christmas party, where you get together with people you like once a year to have fun. To laugh. To drink too much. To be in good company where you can make a crappy joke and nobody will pick on you, because we’re all making crappy jokes in the hope that one of them, against all odds, will manage to be great.
A Christmas party for introverts, who love bad TV because of how bad it is. Who can bond in each other’s nerdy references and reminders of a more sincere time in pop-culture that’s been swept away by irony and winking self-awareness. People who want to dip one toe into the past at a time of year that warrants a little bit of sap. People who may or may not have anywhere else to go, or who just want a break from reality for a few hours.
It is a real party. As real as any party, with the exception of the fact that you’ll never have to worry about running into someone you don’t like.
And we’ve got ALF on the TV and Jan Terri on the playlist, because we can see Charlie Brown anytime and hear the same 50 versions of the same 10 Christmas songs in any given Starbucks. It’s a party at which the host is curating stuff that you won’t see anywhere else, and he’s doing it for a good cause. And just by being there, you’re doing good, too.
So…what can we do? Is there a streaming service that’s amenable to this? Is there some way I can stream it live through my own site? I know I can just host a big video file for download and ask that we all press play at the same time, but that’s a poor solution for many reasons. I’d rather it be something people can drop into and out of throughout the night, so, please, if you’re aware of any way we can do this more reliably in the future, let me know.
The Future, and Questions for You
And speaking of which, let me know what you’ve liked and didn’t like. Which specials have been your favorites?* Which have been your least? I’m aware that they’re all varying degrees of lousy, but I’m curious which ones brought you the most joy to riff on. (And the ones, in all honesty, you felt were pretty dead or unriffable.)
Let me know your suggestions for the future. Bad specials to screen. Christmas songs so odd you’re surprised I haven’t aired them yet. Ideas to make it more fun. Anything. So far each year has been better from the last, and I’d like to keep that up as long as humanly possible.
So let me know what you think. And thanks for all of your support — of the event and the site in general — over the past few years. You’ve taken some mindless outlet for my writing and helped me turn it into something productive and special.
I’ve heard from viewers who tell me how important the stream is to them. I’ve heard from one woman who told me that the Xmas Bash!!! is the only Christmas activity she and her husband participate in. And this year I hosted the same stream on both nights…and saw a significant number of people tune in to both nights simply because they enjoyed it so much the first.
The holidays have always been difficult for me, and the Bash!!! is now the thing I look forward to most. And I look forward to it a lot. If anyone out there benefits from it as well, then that’s great. The fact that so many benefit from it — both from participating and from the donations — is deeply moving to me.
The Noiseless Chatter Xmas Bash!!! has taken the most difficult time of year for me and turned it into my most anticipated.
I love you guys for that. And I already can’t wait for you to see all the shit I’ve got planned for you next year.
Happy holidays, everyone. I couldn’t do any of this without you.
* For the record, my favorites so far were Lassie, Major Dad, Fat Albert, Power Rangers, The Bill Cosby Show, We Wish You a Turtle Christmas, and Walker: Texas Ranger. Coincidentally, that’s seven specials. Pretend they’re airing right now in a Best Of retrospective.