11 Facts About Bad Santa

Dimension Films
Dimension Films

If there’s one lesson to be gleaned from Bad Santa, it’s that the holiday season isn’t the most wonderful time of the year for everyone. The non-stop ratchet party of a film stars Billy Bob Thornton as the titular character, a functioning alcoholic and misanthrope who works as a mall Santa in order to rob department stores on Christmas Eve.

Of course, plans go haywire when the con man befriends a troubled kid (Brett Kelly) and falls for a bartender with a Santa fetish (Lauren Graham). It’s the ultimate film for pessimists who shirk at Christmas sentiment but love to throw down, making it the perfect pick-me-up to pull you through December. Get to know more about the cult classic on the 15th anniversary of its release with these fun facts about Bad Santa.

1. BILL MURRAY WAS THE FIRST CHOICE FOR THE LEAD.

According to The Guardian, Bill Murray was actually in final negotiations to take the lead, until he dropped out to film Lost in Translation. Suffice it to say, it was a win-win for both Murray and Billy Bob Thornton.

2. THE COEN BROTHERS HELPED DEVELOP THE MOVIE.

Raising Arizona, Fargo, and, er, Bad Santa? Believe it. According to director Terry Zwigoff, the Coens were actually the first choice to helm the movie. “The story I had heard was that the original writers, who wrote about 90 percent of what you see in any of the cuts, John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, met the Coen brothers and said, ‘We want to write a script that you guys direct.’ And they said, ‘We only direct our own writing but we've always had this crazy idea about this drunken Santa Claus and this little person elf that has to keep him in line,” Zwigoff told IndieWire.

“So John and Glenn wrote this script," Zwigoff continued. "And the Coen brothers read it and they told them, ‘We don't want to direct it. We think it's great but we don't want to do it.’ So they asked them if they could give them some notes. And when the Coens sat down to try and give them notes over a weekend, eventually they just thought it would be easier if they take a pass on it and rewrite it.”

3. IT WAS A SINGLE LINE IN THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT THAT MADE TERRY ZWIGOFF WANT TO DIRECT THE FILM.

“I’m more interested in dialogue,” Zwigoff told The A.V. Club. “Most of the scripts I’ve gone after to direct, there’s generally just something about the dialogue.” For Bad Santa, it was one line of dialogue that hooked him. Continued Zwigoff, “It was something like, ‘Sweet Jews for Jesus!’ One of the most inspired lines I’d ever read.”

4. ZWIGOFF ISN’T A FAN OF THE THEATRICAL CUT OF THE MOVIE.

Following an interview with IndieWire, Zwigoff hosted a public screening in which he presented the director’s cut of the film, which is his preferred version. “That's the filming of the script, basically,” Zwigoff explained. “The studio wanted to mess with it and make it more mainstream and pour some fake sentiment on it for the people that stumble around the mall. Go to Target some day and look at who your target audience is. Look at the people who are out there going to films and you realize you are totally f***ed, you don't want to do anything these people like. But that director's cut is exactly the script I got. I wanted to protect the script. I like writers a lot. It was a lot darker.”

5. BILLY BOB THORNTON WENT METHOD FOR THE MOVIE.

In an interview with Film4, Billy Bob Thornton detailed exactly how he got into his alcoholic character. “I've traditionally played really extreme characters and even in a comedy, if you're going to play a guy like this, you can't be sort of drunk, you know? And I wasn't sort of drunk,” said Thornton. “You have to go completely into it. I love children, I'm crazy about them, but I had to ignore that fact and play the part.”

6. IT WAS JOHN RITTER’S FINAL FILM ROLE.

A still of John Ritter from 'Bad Santa' (2003).
Dimension Films

America wept when news broke that John Ritter, the beloved star of Three’s Company, passed away suddenly on September 11, 2003 of aortic dissection at the age of 54. His hilarious turn as mall manager Bob Chipeska in Bad Santa was his final feature film appearance. The movie was dedicated to his memory.

7. LAUREN GRAHAM HUMPED A CHAIR DURING HER AUDITION TO PLAY SUE THE BARTENDER.

If you’re going up for a character who’s got a fetish for Santa, you’ve really got to sell it. “I had to audition doing the scene where I first straddle Santa,” Graham recalled to Uncut. “So I’m basically in front of a room full of executives humping a chair. I really did love Billy Bob though, even more than the chair. With a character like this you have to make a big decision. I just thought: she loves anything to do with Christmas, she totally doesn’t see what’s disgusting about this particular Santa. He fulfills a strange kinda fantasy for her.”

8. ANGUS T. JONES OF TWO AND A HALF MEN WENT OUT FOR THE ROLE OF THURMAN MERMAN.

In an interview with The Province, Brett Kelly, then a student at the University of British Columbia, recalled his audition to play Thurman Merman. Among those he beat out to play Bad Santa’s sidekick was fellow chubby-cheeked actor Angus T. Jones, who’d go on to star in Two and a Half Men (before infamously trashing the show). Kelly recalled how filming the movie affected his life: “It wasn't like I was in Bad Santa and I came back and everything had changed. It was more like I got to drop in and see like, ‘Oh, that's what making movies is like.’”

9. THORNTON HAD TO DEFEND THE FILM AGAINST THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT.


Dimension Films

Let’s be real: Bad Santa isn’t for the easily offended. Taking a cultural icon and turning him into a sex-crazed alcoholic isn’t exactly going to win over more conservative moviegoers. Which is exactly why Thornton found himself defending the movie. “We did get a few comments," Thornton told Film4, “and my reply was always, 'As far as I know, Santa Claus is not in the Bible. I think you guys are talking about Jesus.””

10. IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC, THE MOVIE IS CALLED SANTA IS A PERVERT.

Films are known to change names to fit foreign markets. That’s nothing new. However, sometimes its nuance gets a little lost in translation. Case in point: the Czech Republic’s extremely literal, albeit accurate, title.

11. IN A DELETED SCENE, SARAH SILVERMAN CAMEOS AS A SANTA TEACHER.

Among the multiple scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor (much to Zwigoff’s chagrin) was a hilarious moment with Sarah Silverman. In the two-minute scene, Silverman acts as a Santa School teacher instructing a classroom of mall Santas on how to coax a smile out of a child and please their parents.

Hee-Haw: The Wild Ride of "Dominick the Donkey"—the Holiday Earworm You Love to Hate

Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images
Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone loves Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’s got the whole underdog thing going for him, and when the fog is thick on Christmas Eve, he’s definitely the creature you want guiding Santa’s sleigh. But what happens when Saint Nick reaches Italy, and he’s faced with steep hills that no reindeer—magical or otherwise—can climb?

That’s when Santa apparently calls upon Dominick the Donkey, the holiday hero immortalized in the 1960 song of the same name. Recorded by Lou Monte, “Dominick The Donkey” is a novelty song even by Christmas music standards. The opening line finds Monte—or someone else, or heck, maybe a real donkey—singing “hee-haw, hee-haw” as sleigh bells jingle in the background. A mere 12 seconds into the tune, it’s clear you’re in for a wild ride.

 

Over the next two minutes and 30 seconds, Monte shares some fun facts about Dominick: He’s a nice donkey who never kicks but loves to dance. When ol’ Dom starts shaking his tail, the old folks—cummares and cumpares, or godmothers and godfathers—join the fun and "dance a tarentell," an abbreviation of la tarantella, a traditional Italian folk dance. Most importantly, Dominick negotiates Italy’s hills on Christmas Eve, helping Santa distribute presents to boys and girls across the country.

And not just any presents: Dominick delivers shoes and dresses “made in Brook-a-lyn,” which Monte somehow rhymes with “Josephine.” Oh yeah, and while the donkey’s doing all this, he’s wearing the mayor’s derby hat, because you’ve got to look sharp. It’s a silly story made even sillier by that incessant “hee-haw, hee-haw,” which cuts in every 30 seconds like a squeaky door hinge.

There may have actually been some historical basis for “Dominick.”

“Travelling by donkey was universal in southern Italy, as it was in Greece,” Dominic DiFrisco, president emeritus of the joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Monte’s] playing easy with history, but it’s a cute song, and Monte was at that time one of the hottest singers in America.”

Rumored to have been financed by the Gambino crime family, “Dominick the Donkey” somehow failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. But it’s become a cult classic in the nearly 70 years since, especially in Italian American households. In 2014, the song reached #69 on Billboard’s Holiday 100 and #23 on the Holiday Digital Song Sales chart. In 2018, “Dominick” hit #1 on the Comedy Digital Track Sales tally. As of December 2019, the Christmas curio had surpassed 21 million Spotify streams.

“Dominick the Donkey” made international headlines in 2011, when popular BBC DJ Chris Moyles launched a campaign to push the song onto the UK singles chart. “If we leave Britain one thing, it would be that each Christmas kids would listen to 'Dominick the Donkey,’” Moyles said. While his noble efforts didn’t yield a coveted Christmas #1, “Dominick” peaked at a very respectable #3.

 

As with a lot of Christmas songs, there’s a certain kitschy, ironic appeal to “Dominick the Donkey.” Many listeners enjoy the song because, on some level, they’re amazed it exists. But there’s a deeper meaning that becomes apparent the more you know about Lou Monte.

Born Luigi Scaglione in New York City, Monte began his career as a singer and comedian shortly before he served in World War II. Based in New Jersey, Monte subsequently became known as “The Godfather of Italian Humor” and “The King of Italian-American Music.” His specialty was Italian-themed novelty songs like “Pepino the Italian Mouse,” his first and only Top 10 hit. “Pepino” reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, the year before The Beatles broke America.

“Pepino” was penned by Ray Allen and Wandra Merrell, the duo that teamed up with Sam Saltzberg to write “Dominick the Donkey.” That same trio of songwriters was also responsible for “What Did Washington Say (When He Crossed the Delaware),” the B-side of “Pepino.” In that song, George Washington declares, “Fa un’fridd,” or ‘It’s cold!” while making his famous 1776 boat ride.

With his mix of English and Italian dialect, Monte made inside jokes for Italian Americans while sharing their culture with the rest of the country. His riffs on American history (“What Did Washington Say,” “Paul Revere’s Horse (Ba-cha-ca-loop),” “Please, Mr. Columbus”) gave the nation’s foundational stories a dash of Italian flavor. This was important at a time when Italians were still considered outsiders.

According to the 1993 book Italian Americans and Their Public and Private Life, Monte’s songs appealed to “a broad spectrum ranging from working class to professional middle-class Italian Americans.” Monte sold millions of records, played nightclubs across America, and appeared on TV programs like The Perry Como Show and The Ernie Kovacs Show. He died in Pompano Beach, Florida, in 1989. He was 72.

Monte lives on thanks to Dominick—a character too iconic to die. In 2016, author Shirley Alarie released A New Home for Dominick and A New Family for Dominick, a two-part children’s book series about the beloved jackass. In 2018, Jersey native Joe Baccan dropped “Dominooch,” a sequel to “Dominick.” The song tells the tale of how Dominick’s son takes over for his aging padre. Fittingly, “Dominooch” was written by composer Nancy Triggiani, who worked with Monte’s son, Ray, at her recording studio.

Speaking with NorthJersey.com in 2016, Ray Monte had a simple explanation for why Dominick’s hee-haw has echoed through the generations. “It was a funny novelty song,” he said, noting that his father “had a niche for novelty.”

The 11 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Wilson Webb/Netflix

With thousands of titles available, browsing your Netflix menu can feel like a full-time job. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a look at our picks for the 11 best movies on Netflix right now.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man may be in the middle of a Disney and Sony power struggle, but that didn't stop this ambitious animated film from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards. Using a variety of visual style choices, the film tracks the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who discovers he's not the only Spider-Man in town.

2. Hell or High Water (2016)

Taylor Sheridan's Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who take to bank robberies in an effort to save their family ranch from foreclosure; Jeff Bridges is the drawling, laconic lawman on their tail.

3. Raging Bull (1980)

Robert De Niro takes on the life of pugilist Jake LaMotta in a landmark and Oscar-winning film from Martin Scorsese that frames LaMotta's violent career in stark black and white. Joe Pesci co-stars.

4. Marriage Story (2019)

Director Noah Bambauch drew raves for this deeply emotional drama about a couple (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) whose uncoupling takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll on their family.

5. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Eddie Murphy ended a brief sabbatical from filmmaking following a mixed reception to 2016's Mr. Church with this winning biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, a flailing comedian who finds success when he reinvents himself as Dolemite, a wisecracking pimp. When the character takes off, Moore produces a big-screen feature with a crew of inept collaborators.

6. The Lobster (2015)

Colin Farrell stars in this black comedy that feels reminiscent of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work: A slump-shouldered loner (Farrell) has just 45 days to find a life partner before he's turned into an animal. Can he make it work with Rachel Weisz, or is he doomed to a life on all fours? By turns absurd and provocative, The Lobster isn't a conventional date movie, but it might have more to say about relationships than a pile of Nicholas Sparks paperbacks.

7. Flash of Genius (2008)

Greg Kinnear stars in this drama based on a true story about inventor Robert Kearns, who revolutionized automobiles with his intermittent windshield wiper. Instead of getting rich, Kearns is ripped off by the automotive industry and engages in a years-long battle for recognition.

8. Locke (2013)

The camera rarely wavers from Tom Hardy in this existential thriller, which takes place entirely in Hardy's vehicle. A construction foreman trying to make sure an important job is executed well, Hardy's Ivan Locke grapples with some surprising news from a mistress and the demands of his family. It's a one-act, one-man play, with Hardy making the repeated act of conversing on his cell phone as tense and compelling as if he were driving with a bomb in the trunk.

9. Cop Car (2015)

When two kids decide to take a police cruiser for a joyride, the driver (Kevin Bacon) begins a dogged pursuit. No good cop, he's got plenty to hide.

10. Taxi Driver (1976)

Another De Niro and Scorsese collaboration hits the mark, as Taxi Driver is regularly cited as one of the greatest American films ever made. De Niro is a potently single-minded Travis Bickle, a cabbie in a seedy '70s New York who wants to be an avenging angel for victims of crime. The mercurial Bickle, however, is just as unhinged as those he targets.

11. Sweet Virginia (2017)

Jon Bernthal lumbers through this thriller as a former rodeo star whose career has left him physically broken. Now managing a hotel in small-town Alaska, he stumbles onto a plot involving a murderer-for-hire (Christopher Abbott), upending his quiet existence and forcing him to take action.

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