Cledus Does Christmas — and Sparks Fly

“We spent so long recording it,” says comedian Cledus T. Judd of his new Christmas album, Cledus Navidad, “that I thought it was going to be a New Year’s Eve record.” But he likes the results: “It’s the funniest album I’ve made to date. I don’t care what anybody says, it’s the funniest one I’ve done.”

Cledus Navidad is a comically peppery package, stuffed with eight seasonal songs that were written to be humorous, plus an adaptation of the silly-from-the-start “All I Want for Christmas Is Two Gold Front Teef” and a parody of “Ring of Fire” that emerges as “Tree’s on Fire.” Of these, the most provocative is “Stephon the Alternative Lifestyle Reindeer,” the tale of Santa’s prissy in-house clothing designer who “in his mind looks like Doris Day” and dreams of certain identity-altering surgical procedures.

“You know what made me do [“Stephon”]?” Judd says. “Jimmy Buffett had actually recorded it, and his label wouldn’t let him put it on his record. So I knew I was on to something. Mac McAnally wrote the song. I told Mac, ‘Look, I don’t mind cutting your song, but the damn chord progression is killing me. I’m not that good a singer.’”

In spite of its frolicsome stereotyping, “Stephon” has not ruffled any feathers so far, Judd says. “I think the New York Times may have nailed me a little bit on ‘Stephon,’” he reflects, “but, you know what, the cool thing was Cledus T. Judd being in the New York Times! That’s the funny part.” (The Times reviewer called the song “badly aimed and comically flat.”)

“The song I’ve got the most flak on,” Judd continues, “is ‘Tree’s on Fire.’ I had a lady somewhere up north e-mail me that she was totally offended, that she was going to picket the Christmas album in front of every Wal-Mart that was carrying it and going to try to get it taken off every shelf in America. She said her husband was killed in a Christmas tree fire last year. I’m sorry about that. It’s horrible. It’s just awful. But, you know, I can’t base my humor on something that generic. It’s like somebody never writing another drinking song because somebody got a DUI.”

Judd proudly reports that his Christmas album is “going up the charts faster than any other record I’ve ever had.” During a recent week, he adds, it sold 6,500 copies, a fairly heady figure for a comedy project.

Equally exciting, he says, is his newfound prominence as co-host of CMT Most Wanted Live. “That’s the funniest thing,” he observes. “We went from wondering a year and a half ago if we were going to [get our videos] on the network anymore to having our own show on it. It’s really different. … I’ve always said that CMT and video channels made me. I’m not a radio-driven artist. I’m video driven.”

The best thing about hosting, Judd notes, is that it gives him the opportunity to chat with other performers he knows and admires and many of whom he’s worked with. But the experience can be “awkward,” as well, he admits. “Brooks & Dunn were just on, and I was sitting there asking about their Christmas album when I really wanted to say, ‘Hey, what about that bus trip we made back in August over in San Diego?’”

When he learned he would be interviewing Willie Nelson , he says the prospect nearly overwhelmed him. “I didn’t sleep the night before. I stayed up all night. What do you ask Willie that he hasn’t already been asked? You don’t. I made sure I had a fan on me during the show. Willie said, ‘I’ve been watching the show. You’re pretty funny.’ I thought, ‘Well, kiss my foot! Willie Nelson knows my name.’”

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to