Cancel the war on Christmas

Keith Lowell Jensen, comedian


For more information on Keith Lowell Jensen and his new comedy album Atheist Christmas, visit

It’s almost Christmas—the season that’s supposed to be the most wonderful, sparkly time of the year. Bah, humbug. Frankly, it can also be one of the worst: a touchy, explosive minefield of tangled tree lights, fruitcake disasters, family drama and conflicting beliefs about the Baby Jesus. Leave it to comedian Keith Lowell Jensen, however, to keep spirits light with his new comedy album Atheist Christmas. The jokes, however, aren’t just some diatribe against all things merry, bright or mistle-toed—Jensen says he actually likes the holiday—but rather a smart take on some of society’s more sacred seasonal traditions. Like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus’ beard and the nativity scene that Jensen’s mother wants to buy for his 5-year-old daughter.

Favorite holiday tradition?

I think probably the Charlie Brown Christmas special, especially now that I'm sharing it with my daughter. I think it's the most accurate at capturing that magic of Christmas, without denying winter depression and holiday depression.

That’s a surprising answer because it actually acknowledges the holiday’s religion.

It’s maybe less surprising when you consider that Charles Schulz was not very religious. In one interview, I think he said, “I’m a secularist humanist, but I’m not sure what that means.” I actually don’t find [A Charlie Brown Christmas] superheavy religious, it's just when they say, “What is Christmas?” Linus gives the most honest answer. That [part] almost didn't make it into the special, but Schulz was very insistent on it being left in.

What about Hanukkah?

We’ll celebrate anything, we really like playing dreidel. My daughter loves it and not just because of the chocolate coins. [Some friends] gave us some dreidels and chocolate coins and she thought it was the best thing ever. … Most people, when you want to celebrate with them, they’re excited and welcoming, they’re not, “What about the whole war on Christmas? You’re an atheist liar celebrating Christmas.” Instead, they’re like, “You want to celebrate with us? That’s great.”

You’ve joked about your mother wanting to buy your daughter a nativity scene. What’s the latest on that?

[My daughter is] only 5 so I’m probably pretty close to where I’m fine with it, but there’s a big conversation that has to happen, [where we talk about] how there are different members of our family and extended family who believe different things. I didn’t want to have do that when she was 3—tell her that I think Grandma believes some stuff that’s a little bonkers.

So much for the war on Christmas.

I don’t want a war on Christmas. I celebrated an actual Christmas when I was growing up and I loved it. I’m not trying to make my own holiday. You know how some people say they’re “culturally Jewish”? Well I guess I’m culturally Christian. I was raised by Christians and I enjoy Christian traditions.

That kind of makes it sound like “I was raised by wolves.” …

I had a Christian den.

Moving on to Santa. You talk about “real beard Santas,” and one guy in particular—Dale Black, who died in 2012. Dale once worked at SN&R, but he was really well-known for playing Santa Claus.

He had so much enthusiasm for it! Dale insisted that he be my daughter’s first Santa, and I was saying, “No, I don’t want you to go to that trouble,” but he made me pin down a date. So my daughter was born on October 22 and was just about a month old when we took those pictures.

Explain the “real beard” part.

If you Google it, you’ll see that the “real beard Santa” is a nationwide, if not international thing. It’s a mark of quality, it’s not just some guy who wore a wig once a year. Dale wore that beard year-round. He said it was in his job description: “Never say no to dessert.”

Does your daughter still visit Santa?

We go see Santa, we do the Santa thing, she’s allowed to play Santa, I just don’t pretend to believe that it’s real anymore than I pretend when we play fairies or Star Wars. Now she's excited to play Santa for someone else: “Let's get a gift and say it's from Santa!”

You talk a lot about your family onstage, is anything off-limits?

I will never ever say anything bad about my loved ones and that sounds obvious, and maybe easy, but my wife and I aren’t perfect—we do fight. I could vent on stage, I certainly do when I fight with other people, but I won’t do that with my wife and child or even with my mom, which is tough. I do talk about [our differing] views on religion, but I work very hard to make sure the affection comes through because she doesn’t have the opportunity to come on stage and defend herself.

Roseanne Barr is a fan of yours—has she heard the new record?

She hasn’t heard this material, specifically. She still wants to go over [my 2011 comedy album] Cats Made of Rabbits with me. … But I'll talk to her about anything any time she wants to, even if it's about the Middle East and I have to bite my tongue because we disagree.