Last Christmas, the Mall of America (which Christmas spirit originates from) made the politically complicated move of hiring a black Santa Claus. This begat an equally politically complicated debate about whether or not a fictional semi-religious (but certainly capitalist) fairy tale character had a pre-ordained race—and whether attempting to thwart this status quo was yet another front in the perceived War on Christmas that liberals have been waging for untold generations. FoxNews anchor Megyn Kelly did an entire segment on her show about how Santa Is White and leaned into this stance with social media posts and even merchandise.
A joke was then born between New York comedian Daniel Kibblesmith and his then-fiancée, a joke that inevitably landed on Twitter.
In what can only be described as a miracle of the social media age, Kibblesmith's tweet was optioned into a children's book by Harper Design.
That book is available now. All over the world. Which leaves us with one question:
Why does Daniel Kibblesmith hate the institution of marriage?
“I got married a couple months ago. Like my wife says, that makes us the biggest experts on marriage,” Kibblesmith says. “And look, Santa Claus has always been married. People who have an objection to that, well, that objection might be based on something else.”
We asked Kibblesmith about the journey to this point, and what it's like to make the North Pole into a political battleground.
After graduating from Columbia College, Kibblesmith entered the Chicago comedy community by involving himself in the world of Second City. From there, he got a job freelancing at The Onion which led to an editor position when Clickhole launched. Then,he did what anyone else would do, and moved to New York City to take a position with Colbert's The Late Show as a writer.
“I wrote a one-off joke for a monologue about a Candy Crush movie,” Kibblesmith explains, “and then I was walking onto set and they'd built a giant world around it and even got Liam Neeson to guest and get impaled on a peppermint stick? I realized, oh god, this is an actual television show and I need to be careful what I joke about because one hundred people might make it a reality.”
There are certainly negative elements to one of the most coveted jobs in the world, too. “I don't have the option of tuning out the news,” Kibblesmith said. “I'm neurotic about it, and I think being politically engaged on social media maybe helped me get the job, but at this point I couldn't just step back and retire from Trump information. It has to wash over me every day.”
When there's a need for escapism, you can always dig your own tunnel to freedom.
“I wanted to do another humor book,” Kibblesmith said, “and the Mall of America hiring a black Santa provided the impetus. I did that joke with my wife on Twitter and then a Twitter friend who is an illustrator got in touch. AP Quach was a person I'd never met in the real world, but she made her own Santa's Husband Christmas card and I loved it.” When asked if Kibblesmith prefers to get his own content repurposed by others to celebrate the season, he answered “I try to be as myopic as possible, yes.”
There was a spark of dedication, and Kibblesmith brought the card and a brief pitch to his agent, who was shocked no one had ever done something similar before. So the writer/illustrator team had to break their backs in an effort to turn around a book that could be published in time for the next holiday season. Kibblesmith notes that this project, like a lot of the entertainment industry, feels weird because you're writing something but never seeing it get made on any sort of immediate timeline. Then he started seeing Santa's Husband popping up at librarian conferences and bookseller product meetings. “I felt suspicious,” he says. “It felt like someone was stealing this ideas from my Gmail inbox. But I'm a big sucker for Christmas and I'm singing Christmas carols with altered lyrics all year long, so when Santa's Husband started seeping out into the world, it made me feel comfortable. Also, librarians are smart. They got into this to help their communities and when they were among the first to send overwhelmingly positive feedback, that meant a lot.”
But outside of these conferences, no one really understood what kind of story Kibblesmith had put into this. “We went back and forth about whether it should be a narrative,” Kibblesmith says, “like 'The Night Before Christmas.' Or, should this book just be an incredibly straight-forward Kid's First Book About Santa. Just normalize all of it right off the bat?” What they settled on was a mission statement that no matter where the book went, it should still serve at that baseline primer. Santa has basic facts: he lives at the North Pole, he flies around the Earth delivering presents, he's black and married to a man. “The story became these jokes and mini-stories about Santa and Santa's Husband and their life together, but it's also about people who want to police Christmas and tell you what you can and can't believe in. Everyone can have their own traditions, and this is the easiest way to show off that potential.”
That doesn't mean that everyone has been willing to step back from their policing stance. What makes Kibblesmith's situation with online harassment so interesting is that there was an initial wave of hatred aimed at him over the original tweet, then later a new round of outrage over the book announcement, and now that the book exists there's been a third, bigger tsunami of folks who see Christmas as under attack. Kibblesmith laughs when considering this multi-phase system of bullshit: “Wow, you make it sound like I'm committing to a lifestyle here.”
“There's always an ebb and flow in my life, because I'm accessible on Twitter, of people who want to hate me,” Kibblesmith says. “A lot of people skip Twitter and find my email or leave death threats in my Facebook spam folder. I don't want to focus on the negativity, because the real story here is how overwhelmingly positive people have been at every turn. This hasn't been a 50/50 split. I'd say 80% of the people who hear about the book LOVE IT. And the other 20% are not giving it a chance because they're uninformed.” Does the author have an approach to maybe converting or opening up that last 20%? “There's a neo-Nazi site that really latched on to how I'm a lapsed Jewish person who is releasing degenerative filth. But while attacking me for race mixing, they also shared the CUTEST picture from the book, which of Santa and his husband smooching under a mistletoe. So, I don't think there's any genuine way to reach out to someone who doesn't see that picture as anything but incredibly endearing. I don't owe them a chance. Except for Megyn Kelly. Megyn, if you're reading this, I would love to come do your show. I think it would be really cathartic. I would never accuse anyone from FoxNews of having an incredibly calculating media persona, but if that were true, I bet it would feel good to talk to another human being when you're free of that. Megyn.”
When asked if his wife, the writer Jennifer Wright, also received Twitter harassment after the initial joke, Kibblesmith reminded us of the obvious. “She's a woman online,” he says. “To experience what she experiences each and every day, I had to write a book about a black gay Santa and his gay Santa husband.”
What holiday does Kibblesmith intend to ruin next with his Gay Jewish Agenda? Quach has been doing her own fan art about what Gay Santas do the rest of the year, and she posted a picture of the couple at Halloween, with one dressed as Garfield and the other as The Phantom of the Opera. If he can mix holiday metaphors, Kibblesmith would love to explore this. Elsewhere, he has a Valiant comic series about a couple of adopted brothers who become dysfunctional superheroes called Quantum & Woody which drops, ironically, just before Christmas. Next year, he has a limited series through Marvel called Lockjaw about a giant, teleporting bulldog who lives on the moon.
Wright is thankful that all of this is happening for her husband, because the alternative would be… much different.
We asked Kibblesmith if he happened to carry a back-up snorkel. Just in case.
“No,” Kibblemith says. “No snorkels at all. If my wife’s joke is accurate, I’m just going to die.”
Brock Wilbur is a writer and comedian from Los Angeles who lives with his wife Vivian Kane and their cat, Cat. He is the co-author (with Nathan Rabin) of the forthcoming book Postal for the Boss Fight Books series.