I continue to get messages, pro and con, about my columns defending the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s scheduled performance at the upcoming presidential inauguration. One was a message with no content — just a subject line that said, “Tell them to rethink this!”
I don’t think I’m the right guy to ask, as I don't have much sway with the choir. I learned that back in December of 2009, when Conan O’Brien was in the middle of his short-lived stint as host of "The Tonight Show." Just a few months later, O'Brien would be bumped from his position to give Jay Leno his old job back, but during the Christmas season, that whole mess had yet to materialize.
O'Brien had commented on Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch’s recording of a new Hanukkah song, noting how unique it was to have a Mormon senator writing music for a Jewish holiday. In honor of that occasion, O'Brien’s musical director and drummer, Max Weinberg, performed an original Christmas song about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that ended with the line, “Merry Christmas, Mormons, from 'The Tonight Show’s' only Jew.”
It was actually a funny little sketch that was, for the most part, quite respectful of the church as a whole. A friend of mine who worked for the choir at the time thought so, too. The day after this aired, he called O'Brien's people to suggest that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir might be willing to respond. Very quickly, he was speaking to O'Brien's executive producer, who said they'd be very interested.
Then he called me.
He had about 20 minutes before he was going to go in and pitch this idea to the powers that be. He wanted to go in armed with something the choir could sing that would be an appropriate response — funny and cutting-edge without being cruel or embarrassing. And he needed it in about 10 minutes.
So I churned out the following three verses, sung to the tune of "O Tannenbaum." I include it with parenthetical explanations of the jokes you might not get.
"We really liked your Mormon song, the one that Max was singing.
"On drums, we know he’s apropos. On vocals, he’s no Springsteen. (Max Weinberg was and is the drummer for Springsteen's E Street Band.)
"Now we reply in harmony. Bill Shatner sings there; why can’t we?
"So here’s our new 'Tonight Show' song. Enjoy the payback, Andy. (Andy Richter is O'Brien's sidekick who helped sing the Mormon song.)
"Los Angeles seems good for you and much of what you’re doing.
"We’re glad you dropped those characters unfit for family viewing. (There were several such characters, most of whom are better left unmentioned.)
"We offer you a yule log to lose that insult comic dog. (Triumph the Insult Comic Dog — a rude puppet that probably qualifies as one of those “unfit for family viewing” characters O'Brien featured regularly.)
"We dug those puppies dressed as cats. That’s really worth pursuing. (A fun sketch that O'Brien did regularly.)
"We hope you’ll come and visit us if you get further inland. All of us can’t wait to meet the prime minister of Finland. (Reference to a long-running O'Brien gag about the fact that he looks exactly like the prime minister of Finland — who is female.)
"We think that you’re the better man. We’d never go on Letterman. So Merry Christmas one and all. Nothing rhymes with Finland."
I spent about two or three hours reveling in the idea that I had just written something that would be performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on "The Tonight Show." But alas, the choir performing my comedic piece was not to be. But if they want to sing this at the upcoming inauguration, they're more than welcome to it.
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.