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[whitespace] Dr. Elmo Reindeer Games: Dr. Elmo Shropshire knows a seasonal cash cow when he sees one.


Tickle Me Elmo

'Grandma' singer talks about reindeer, Christmas commercialism and Jim Carrey's 'Grinch'

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Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation.

'WELL," REMARKS a dazzled Dr. Elmo Shropshire, as Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, starring Jim Carrey as the Christmas-hating Grinch, comes crashing and hyper-ventilating to a close. "All I can say is, we sure didn't have things like that when I was growing up."

Sure we did. We called 'em roller coasters. But I know what my appreciative guest is talking about. This new Grinch is state-of-the-art eye candy. Colorful and visually rich, it's a wild-and-woolly wonder of art direction. Though occasionally reaching a bit too low for its laughs, the extravaganza is so relentlessly energetic that it nearly leaps off the screen and into the startled laps of its audience.

And now it's over.

As the credits roll, Elmo remains glued to his seat, gazing reverently up at the screen. As the names of the film's many makeup artists begin to scroll by, my guest remarks, "I knew there'd be a lot of makeup people. Every character in the film was done up. It must have taken those people hours every day."

At least. In addition to the green-fur-and-wrinkles look worn by Carrey, the entire population of Whoville sports scrunchy little pig noses and big, protruding front teeth. Hmmm. Aren't those piggy people a distinct departure from the cherubic little Whos drawn by Dr. Seuss in the classic children's book?

"I liked it," Elmo says. "It really added to the whole ambience to see all those people with those weird, strange faces, dancing around the Christmas tree."

OF COURSE, Dr. Elmo has a well-documented fondness for weird things at the holidays. A bestselling folksinger who until recently worked full-time as a veterinarian, the good doctor, who makes his home in Novato, is best known as the man who brought us "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." A song so sick it actually elicited public protest marches when it first came out 21 years ago (the Grey Panthers thought it was ageist), the satirical tune about an unfortunate Christmas Eve hit-and-run has sold more than 5 million copies and become the most requested Christmas song of all time. That's not sick; that's funny.

Since recording the song, written by Dallas tunesmith Randy Brooks, Elmo has become inextricably linked to Christmas, much the way Elvira is now cemented onto Halloween. Last year, he gave 180 radio interviews between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That in addition to a brutal touring schedule that kept him hopping throughout the holidays.

This year, the schedule will be even tougher, as Elmo promotes a new CD, Up Your Chimney (Laughing Stock), which features a new song by Brooks--the slightly racy "Goin' on a Date With Santa"--and includes such Yuletide oddities as "Uncle Johnny's Glass Eye" and "Texas Chainsaw Christmas."

There's also a brand-new animated video version of "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" and a reindeer toy that shimmies and sings the song. Though "Grandma" is, as Elmo puts it, "The one that pays the rent," he has had a few other hits. "Grandma's Killer Fruitcake" was a modest success in 1994, and "Kenneth Starr Is Coming to Town" won him further acclaim around this time last year.

"I've never been so busy in my life," says Elmo. "Of course, everyone is busier now. Christmas is so stressful for people, it's no wonder our Christmas movies and songs have become so much more intense. That's one of the messages of the movie: that Christmas is supposed to be about something other than running around shopping for presents.

"You know, the Grinch did have that 'noncommercial' message," Elmo points out, "which is kinda ironic, because they obviously spent multimillions on that production, clearly in hopes that they'll make multimillions, all by delivering a message about the importance of not commercializing Christmas."

On the other hand: "I think everybody likes to dream of a noncommercial Christmas," he muses, "but for those people who make a lot of their money at Christmas, and that includes myself, obviously, we kinda depend on the overly commercial parts of Christmas. It's a funny position to be in."

Our talk is interrupted by a DJ calling from Tampa, Fla., leaving a message asking for a CD and an interview. Strangely, though, I can swear the song he mentions is "Grandma Got Recounted by a Reindeer."

"Yeah, that's right," Elmo says. "We wrote and recorded it yesterday as a parody of the elections in Florida. It's not the best thing I've ever done, but it is timely, and people tend to forgive you if it's timely."

One has to wonder, with so much going on every December, does Dr. Elmo ever get a chance to relax, have a cup of eggnog and kick back with his family?

"It's a good question," he replies with a laugh. "To tell you the truth, after last year, when I put in 20-hour days for five weeks straight, I'm almost afraid of Christmas now." There's no chance of Dr. Elmo turning into a Grinch, though. "No way. Christmas," he says, "has been too good to me for that."

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From the November 29-December 6, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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