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A 'not so syrupy' holiday show

Afton resident Joe Leary will appear in "The Santaland Diaries" next month at the Southern Theatre in Minneapolis. The one-man show takes a comical look at the commercial underbelly of the holiday season from the perspective of one of the elves at Macy's "Santaland."

This holiday season, Afton resident Joe Leary will be appearing in an uncommon holiday show.

"The Santaland Diaries," which opens Dec. 6 at the Southern Theatre in Minneapolis, is a one-man show that takes a comical look at the commercial underbelly of the holiday season from the perspective of one of the elves at Macy's "Santaland."

"It's very funny," Leary said of the play, based on the writings of humorist David Sedaris. "It's this sort of subversive Christmas story - it's not so syrupy sweet."

'Santaland Diaries'

The play takes place in the late 1980s when Sedaris is out of work and is looking for anything to pay the bills.

The show begins with Sedaris being rejected for a variety of oddball jobs before he ultimately answers an advertisement, almost as a joke, for Santaland elves.

The show then traces the interview process, getting the job and job training.

"The arc of the show is these experiences through the whole holiday season," Leary said. "As the Christmas season progresses it becomes more and more frantic - it's the assault on Santa."

At one point during the show, Leary has to change into the iconic Santaland elf costume.

"It's very humbling and there's a lot of humility involved," he said. "The character is experiencing the same thing so it's easy to tap into that sort of embarrassment of having to do this for work."

"The Santaland Diaries" is primarily appropriate for adults and teenagers, Leary said.

This is Leary's third year appearing in "The Santaland Diaries."

The 38-year-old said he was drawn to the role because he had been a fan of Sedaris for many years.

"I've always loved David Sedaris," he said. "I've never read an author like him before where it's such a witty viewpoint - I just love his writing."

Leary said his favorite element of "The Santaland Diaries" is the good balance between sarcasm and positivity.

"It's very observational humor," he said, "so, it's not too negative, it's not too positive - it's a really great balance."

A one-man show

Since "The Santaland Diaries" is a one-man show, not only is Leary the only actor on the stage for the entire 70-minute performance, but he has to be able to voice a total of 60 different characters, including eight different Santa Claus voices.

"It's vocally challenging for me," he said. "A lot of the characters just pop into your head because they are people that they remind you of people you know that you have met or you don't like.

"But at the end of the performance run, I get really tired of the sound of my own voice."

Leary said "The Santaland Diaries" is different than some other one-man shows because it's not so much monologue, as confession.

"Sometimes those shows are fun and they're challenging, but they're lonely because you don't have anyone to play with," he said. "But this one is not like that so much because it's so presentational since the entire show he's talking to the audience - it's like a confessional."

Leary said the show is different every night.

"The audience is different every night so the show is a little different every night," he said. "There's such a diversity of things that he talks about so some audiences find the jokes offensive where others find them hilarious."

A long history of acting

Leary appeared in his first play in the seventh grade strictly by accident.

"My dad forgot to pick me up after school so I was waiting around and they were having play auditions for 'Sleeping Beauty,'" he said. "I ended up getting the smallest part in the show and it just ended up being a natural fit.

"My favorite thing about acting is audience reactions because I love being able to make them laugh, have a good time and help them forget what's going on in their lives."

Leary also grew up in a musical family since his father was a music teacher.

For most of his high school years, Leary appeared in community theater plays.

Leary received his bachelor's of fine arts from Syracuse University.

He has had quite an eclectic career having done everything from musicals to William Shakespeare to dramas to comedies to children's theater.

Leary essentially works as a full-time actor, while working the occasional other job in between.

Leary recently appeared in "Higher Ground," a film directed by and starring Vera Farmiga, who he attended college with. Locally, Leary has worked with the History Theatre, Mary Worth Theatre and with Theatre Latté Da/Interact Theatre.

"I don't audition for everything like I should," he said. "I'm very picky with the pieces I do.

"It's a huge time and energy commitment, so I want to do something that speaks to me. I don't audition just for everything and anything. I want to do the next right thing for me."

Leary is excited for "The Santaland Diaries" to open because it is one of his favorite shows to do.

"(David Sedaris) starts out with an eyebrow up to the whole thing, but then he gets wrapped up in it too in a sense," he said. "It becomes the elves against these horrible customers that are coming to see Santa and he really gets transformed by the experience."

"The Santaland Diaries" runs at 8 p.m. Dec. 6-9, Dec. 13-17 and Dec. 20-22 and at 2 p.m. Dec. 23 at the Southern Theatre, 1420 S. Washington Ave, Minneapolis. Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for students and seniors. Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling (612) 724-3760. More information can be found at

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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