Is a Christmas party really a party without liquor, tunes, and covert kisses snuck under the mistletoe? Not at Andy Livengood’s house. In his one-man Christmas special The Christmas Will Be Televised, Livengood evades his parents’ annual Christmas party — complete with family friends urging him to return to church group and his dad reciting passages from the Bible — by reliving his most cherished holiday movies.
Drawing on personal experience, Livengood frames the story around an actual party his parents hold every year that the show describes as a party with “no booze, no music, just a lot of church people.” As the story progresses, Andy struggles with feeling like an outsider in his own family and attempts to reconcile his disconnect with their treasured traditions.
And while there is sure to be a musical number or two, including an unprecedented rap by Dr. Seuss, this is hardly your average Christmas show, with Andy putting his own spin on holiday classics like A Charlie Brown Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and A Christmas Story.
Now in its eighth year, The Christmas Will Be Televised originally began when Livengood performed a spur-of-the-moment, one-man version of A Christmas Story in just a minute and a half. Impressed, the co-founder of Theatre 99, Greg Tavares, suggested Livengood expand on the sporadic adaptation and turn it into a full-length show. Almost a decade later, the performance has evolved, but never strayed from exploring the message of Christmas and people’s myriad interpretations of it.
Using classic Christmas movies, Livengood explores the idea that Christmas doesn’t need to be purely religious or purely secular. “It’s kind of both,” Livengood says. “There’s this cross-pollination. It’s not about it has to be this, or it has to be that — it’s about we’re all together doing the same thing. It might mean something different to each person in the room, but we’re all doing it together.”
Livengood first entered the world of entertainment as an aspiring writer, director, behind-the-scenes kind of guy until he attended a show at Theatre 99 while scouting actors for a project. That night he fell in love with improv. After that first show, he frequented every single performance held at the venue until he discovered their improv class. Now a master of humor — The Christmas Will Be Televised was voted City Paper‘s Best Non-Piccolo or Spoleto Play of 2011 — the student has officially become the teacher. Literally. Livengood teaches improv classes several times a week at Theatre 99 to beginners looking for a way to harness their humor. His favorite thing about improv? “It exists in just that moment,” he says, “It’s a very disposable art form.”
While improv itself is disposable, The Christmas Will Be Televised has staying power, thanks to Livengood’s careful balancing act of funny and serious topics. Livengood says, “I wanted to do a comedy show that had a little bit of heart to it. That’s my favorite type of anything — movies, TV shows, plays. I love things that can flip on a dime — hilarious, wacky, and then all the sudden it’s like oh, you didn’t know that was coming, but we whipped a little heart at ya.”