A Tuna Christmas

No place like the road for the holidays

Joe Sears, left, and Jaston Williams in A Tuna Christmas
Joe Sears, left, and Jaston Williams in A Tuna Christmas

Come the yuletide, Austinites can always count on the Zilker Park Tree, the 37th Street lights, and A Tuna Christmas. Every year since 1989, Austin's favorite sons, Joe Sears and Jaston Williams, have brought the second play in their Tuna Trilogy home for the holidays. But the comic duo's return to town typically comes after weeks on the road with their seasonal sequel to Greater Tuna (which itself inspired a third trip to Texas' third smallest town, Red, White and Tuna), and if you think that after so many years and literally thousands of performances, the folks involved have some stories to tell, well, you'd be right.

"I remember one year when we had to perform in Washington, and it was Christmas Day," says Williams. "Our producer told Joe that I'd agreed to work on Christmas Day and told me that Joe had, and so we were madder than hell at each other. We found out what he'd done, and we were having Christmas dinner that afternoon at the Willard Hotel, and he sent word that the after-dinner drinks were on him. So we got a 150-year-old bottle of Grand Marnier and passed it around. That was wonderful. And the stage manager drank so much that he called the show naked. He was backstage at the Kennedy Center buck naked. Now the producer, if he'll send anything, he'll send a bottle of champagne. And so much for that refined air at the Kennedy Center, there you go."

While he wasn't the stage manager that went naked at the Kennedy Center, Bob Tolaro has been behind the scenes in that capacity for every year of A Tuna Christmas except the first. "As long as it's been going on, we've never canceled a performance," says Tolaro. "And it's just amazing after so many years. I mean, Jaston walks out as Didi Snavely to give the first speech, and the place goes nuts. These people keep coming back! It's such a tribute to these guys, they're in the history books. Joe hasn't missed a performance of any kind since 1982. And Jaston's such a miracle man on stage. He can make lemonade out of any lemon situation. If a cell phone goes off, he'll say, 'Would you pick up the phone and tell them I'm at work?' Or he'll start a Greater Tuna speech and say, 'Wait a minute, that's the wrong play.' And the audience immediately roars with laughter, knowing exactly what's going on."

"Christmas in New York was an amazing experience," says Williams. "That was in '94 [when the show appeared on Broadway]. I think it was the day before Christmas that the review from the Times came out. And you try not to think about those things, you just go, oh well, I'm happy with the show, and whatever they say, I'm going to accept, because you really have no choice. And I remember an agent called – I was just getting ready to get in the shower – and he said, 'We just got word on the Times review, and it's extremely good.' And I sat down on the edge of the bathtub and wept. It was just relief. It was one of those classic New York days, a beautiful day in the city, and you had the good review, and we felt, you know, now we can relax and really enjoy this."

And now Austin gets to relax and enjoy it again – now, and hopefully for many more Christmases to come.

A Tuna Christmas runs Jan. 3-8 at the Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress. For more information, call 472-5470 x1 or visit www.austintheatre.org.

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A Tuna Christmas, Joe Sears, Jaston Williams, Greater Tuna, Red, White and Tuna, Bob Tolaro

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