America's Next Top Santa

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In our never-ending quest for the best of the best, we find the planet's supreme St. Nicholas.

Well, as you have no doubt noticed, dear listeners, in our short life here at the BPP, we've already forged a proud tradition of shamelessly stealing good ideas that other people have worked very hard on. And one true recipe for a success we've noticed is that if you want a hit show, just stick America's Next Top at the front, and you have got a license to print money.

This is where we were going to play a little music from Karate Kid.

(Singing) You're the best around. Nothing's ever going to…

Oh, okay, I'm just going to stop. Today, by the way, we bring you America's Next Top Santa.

Mr. JONATHAN MEAD (Professional Santa; Television Producer): Ho, ho, ho.

BURBANK: Did we work out an elaborate competition? No. Or an awesome prize? Not even close. We did, however, want to talk to this great-looking Santa we saw on a magazine cover. So, yes, this is just an excuse to talk to Jonathan Meath of Cambridge, Massachusetts. He's a professional Santa. He was featured in this month's Boston Magazine.

Hi, Santa.

Mr. MEATH: Hi.

ALISON STEWART, host:

Good hustle, Santa. We saw you come trucking down the hall. We were worried you weren't going to get here in time.

Mr. MEATH: You know, the air over Manhattan is much more complicated than you would expect it to be - lots of reindeer and lots of small planes. Who knew in this day and age?

BURBANK: Yeah. You…

Mr. MEATH: But getting down…

BURBANK: …look like you have a little windburn.

Mr. MEATH: Oh, well, you know why? That's always my jolly power.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: What does it take? What does is it take to be Santa?

Mr. MEATH: Well, it takes a big heart. That's what it really takes. Santa is about love and caring and selfless giving. And to be a Santa, you have to be ready to make it through Manhattan in the morning, give to little kids, smile and be jolly. In this day and age, it's something we all need.

BURBANK: When did you - I mean, you have an amazing beard and stash.

Mr. MEATH: Why, thank you. And all put here for radio.

BURBANK: Yes, exactly. But look we're videotaping you because…

STEWART: Oh.

Mr. MEATH: Marvelous.

BURBANK: …that is the kind of a multimedia culture we are.

STEWART: The inter Web.

Mr. MEATH: Oh.

STEWART: The Internet.

BURBANK: We're going to put that up.

Mr. MEATH: Well, I'll adjust my belt.

BURBANK: Did you have the beard - did you have the beard first? How did you, you know, wake up and think, oh I'm going to totally Santa out on this?

Mr. MEATH: I did have the beard first. I had the beard for 25 years. Progressively, it got more white. About five years ago, kids started to say you look like Santa, and then my wife started to encourage it. She actually bought me a suit on eBay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEATH: Which had been used by a department store Santa at Stern's in Pittsburgh. It's a wonderful, wonderful suit, and I wear it on very special occasions. Today, for your listening and viewing audience, I am wearing my Elvis suit.

STEWART: It's got a little bit of glitter going to it. I see the cross weave is glitter.

Mr. MEATH: This is Elvis in his fat period.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEATH: In fact…

BURBANK: It's also - but this was also his jolly period…

Mr. MEATH: Oh, absolutely…

BURBANK: …he was really remembered for.

Mr. MEATH: …his jolly period.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEATH: Elvis, well-known for this jolly period. So four years ago, I did my first in the eBay suit. And then two years ago I did, oh, four or five days. And this year is my full year - first full year as a Santa. I'm in the suit almost 24/7.

BURBANK: And I understand that you take this so seriously that you're not Santa in your hometown. You're from Cambridge, but you're Santa in White Plains, New York?

Mr. MEATH: Well, I do many Santa things in Boston. But for sitting in the chair, as we call it, I am in White Plains, New York. Many of the companies that hire people to be Santas like their Santas to not be local. That way you don't get people coming up and calling them by your non-Santa name.

BURBANK: How seriously do you take the whole Santa, keeping up the Santaness of it, like when you're at the store? Is it your backstage and you're just getting totally into the Santaness? Or do you ever talk to people, like the staffers and the elves, like a normal person? In other words, is it hugely important to you that you are in the Santa mode all the time?

Mr. MEATH: Absolutely, 100 percent. When I'm in Santa, I'm Santa. And I am Santa.

BURBANK: Does it hurt your heart when you see these movies like "Bad Santa," where Billy Bob Thornton is just not living up to the…

Mr. MEATH: To tell you the truth, I just hear about those. I don't go to see them.

BURBANK: Because it would bum you out too much?

Mr. MEATH: No, not necessarily. But that's another interpretation. People are entitled to their own interpretations. But my interpretation of this myth is all about the goodness.

STEWART: And by myth you just mean story, should there be anybody under three feet listening.

Mr. MEATH: Absolutely.

STEWART: Just a story.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEATH: Well it's much, much, much, more than the story. It's very important for us culturally. I truly believe that.

BURBANK: What's the most memorable kid-on-your-lap experience you've ever had?

Mr. MEATH: Oh. This week's most memorable was a child who could - I hope I can say this to you, actually - a child who was afraid to come and talk to me or seemed to be afraid, and finally struggled to be next to me and was able, after about a minute and a half, to whisper to me, the children at school push me down.

STEWART: Aw.

Mr. MEATH: And that is one of the great things about being a Santa, is you can be there for statements that are so terrifying to children, that they can only commit it or give it to someone like a Santa. So I was able to comfort the child and tell him that those kids were now on my naughty list, and that he should talk to someone at his school about helping to - helping him deal with that problem, and thanked him for telling me, and continued on to hear his other requests.

STEWART: What were they?

Mr. MEATH: But that was just incredibly moving.

STEWART: What were they - the little guy, once you got him calmed down and then he realized…

BURBANK: A Nintendo, a Nintendo Wii.

STEWART: …okay now I'm talking to Santa.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEATH: No, no. He, like - like many children this year, it's surprising, said I'll be happy with whatever you bring me.

BURBANK: Wow. Do you think that kids have…

Mr. MEATH: It's new. More than we ever had last year.

BURBANK: Is this a new trend?

Mr. MEATH: I don't know.

STEWART: That's interesting.

Mr. MEATH: I don't know. I couldn't say whether it's a trend, but it's something Santa is noticing.

BURBANK: Well, we're presenting you as American's Next Top Santa, because we, I mean…

Mr. MEATH: Well, I hope I will be.

BURBANK: Well, I think, you already have firmly established yourself as America's top Santa.

STEWART: See, we would actually consider you probably to be one of the judges if we were actually having this contest.

Mr. MEATH: Ho, ho, ho…

STEWART: You know how Tim Gunn in "Project Runway," he's a teacher, a fashion designer, so he imparts his knowledge to the others. So, continue, Luke.

BURBANK: As - okay, as the sort of adjudicator of Santaness…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEATH: Well there are others more seasoned than I, but I appreciate the (unintelligible).

BURBANK: Well, as the only one we could get to run here at 8:30 in the morning…

STEWART: Had the heart to get here.

BURBANK: Have you seen Santas that have shown up, or either when you were being Santa or just as your walking around just a civilian, that just don't quite have it going? It's the fake beard, maybe they're drunk?

Mr. MEATH: No. I have not ever seen that. And the drunk myth, about the myth, is something that I think we all work to combat. The movie "Miracle on 34th Street" did portray a Santa who was drunk. But you'd be surprised how often that question comes up.

BURBANK: Really?

Mr. MEATH: And Santas are not drunk. And they are not drunks, and they're not homeless, especially Santas like myself who are real bearded Santas.

STEWART: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MEATH: When you have a real beard, you really commit to be Santa 24/7, 365. People come up to me in the summer. Kids come up to me. I actually have a…

STEWART: You get yanked?

Mr. MEATH: Oh, I get yanked. But the interesting thing about yanking is only women yanked.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEATH: Kids will - like to tug on it, and I might often offer it for them to tag on, because it's a mark of my authenticity.

BURBANK: When you were a kid, did you go to, like, a Santa at a department store?

Mr. MEATH: Never. That's a good question. No, I never did. I always viewed him from afar. I think my mother never wanted to get involved in the lines at Santa, but he was always in my heart, and continues to be.

STEWART: If you were…

Mr. MEATH: That's where you find Santa, is in your heart.

STEWART: If you were conducting a Santa seminar, if we had…

BURBANK: A Santanar.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: If we had…

Mr. MEATH: And there are many. I attend them every year.

STEWART: Truly?

Mr. MEATH: Yeah.

STEWART: Okay. Well, can you tell us some of the things that they try to teach potential Santas, people who really want to wear the Santa uniform with pride, with style, with a plum?

Mr. MEATH: Mm-hmm. Well of those things. Take it seriously. See it as a business suit. The red suit is a business suit. Treat people with care. Treat people with a plum. I love that word. A sugar plum, maybe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: What do you - wait, so there are - hold, hold on, hold on. There are actual Santa seminars?

Mr. MEATH: Oh, yes.

BURBANK: You get together in like a court - like a boardroom at the Marriott at JFK and talk Santa?

Mr. MEATH: There are some that are like that. There are also others like the Charles Howard School, where there is a permanent Santa workshop set up, looks like a toy shop, and they have a weeklong seminars to help Santas not only learn how to be Santa, but to continue their work. So there are many people that go to Charles Howard year after year after year. There's also a Santa Convention. There's going to be the second annual convention this summer, sponsored by the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: And, I mean…

Mr. MEATH: That's going to be in Kansas City.

BURBANK: At these conventions, I mean, what are the workshops like? A kid pees on your leg, here's what to do?

Mr. MEATH: No. How to incorporate magic into your presentations, how to sing better, different ways to approach songs, different ways to market yourself. But there are seminars on how to deal with a difficult parent or a photo company. There are - in the world of Santa's, there are companies that hire us to appear at malls and to appear in various places. And as in any business, knowing the ins and outs of negotiations is a good thing, also. So it's a professional organization. That's the best way to say it, I think.

STEWART: Do you have to have a natural talent to be able to belt out a ho, ho, ho?

Mr. MEATH: Ho, ho, ho. Well…

BURBANK: Oh, that is - did you - you went to school for that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEATH: Oh no, no.

BURBANK: That's like a school learned - that is authentic.

Mr. MEATH: No, no, no. It comes with the beard. The minute you grow a beard, the ho, ho, ho just comes naturally.

BURBANK: You're either going to become the fifth member of ZZ Top, or you're going to make a child life's great.

Mr. MEATH: Oh, one of my other dreams.

BURBANK: Well, if you let it go a little bit longer, and you will be there.

Mr. MEATH: Mm.

STEWART: I have to confess, you are a little bit of a ringer in the Santa category…

Mr. MEATH: I'm not.

STEWART: …because you were a TV, a children's TV producer? So you have a little bit of history?

Mr. MEATH: Oh, my - you mean my friend, Jonathan.

STEWART: Oh, your friend Jonathan, yes.

BURBANK: Yes.

Mr. MEATH: Mm. Yes. Well, yes, my friend Jonathan Meath, he definitely had a very good career in children's television, and continues on. He is developing a show on health issues for kids, for preschoolers that's also about empowerment. That sort of dovetails with Santa. Santa is also about empowerment for kids.

BURBANK: Well, and speaking of your friend, Jonathan Meath, how do you think it's changed him over the last few years just being Santa? I mean, is it making him actually a better person, more sort of empathetic?

Mr. MEATH: I would say yes, and I would say it's focused him even more on goals to help children. And, yeah, that's why he continues on with his work, and that's why Santa hopefully is going to make an impact and be that top Santa for the next 10 years or so that you're predicting. Thank you, again.

STEWART: We've got 13 days left. I have to imagine…

BURBANK: Oh, really?

STEWART: We don't want to keep you too much longer, because I'm assuming it's a busy day for you?

Mr. MEATH: Well, it is a busy day. You know, the elves really keep things moving right along, and schedules are what they are - very much like radio.

BURBANK: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MEATH: You know, we have exactly what needs to get done today that needs to get done, and tomorrow to get done. And I'm happy to say we're completely on schedule.

STEWART: Excellent.

Mr. MEATH: Ready to go.

STEWART: Excellent.

Mr. MEATH: And on the night of the 24th, I'll be off in the sleigh and around the world.

BURBANK: Well, considering that eight of our guests bailed on us today…

Mr. MEATH: No?

BURBANK: …you already saved the day. You already…

STEWART: You've already lived up to all of the (unintelligible).

BURBANK: You already made Christmas for The BRYANT PARK PROJECT.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEATH: Well, I'm very happy to have been here.

BURBANK: Jonathan Meath is a television producer by day, and this season, a professional Santa Claus by afternoon. You kind find his alter ego, St. Nick, at the Fortunoff in White Planes, New York.

Thank you so much.

Mr. MEATH: And don't forget kuwlyule.com - K-U-W-L-Y-U-L-E.com.

STEWART: Thanks, Santa.

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