We continue our countdown of my favorite 1970s Christmas TV episodes with 1978’s “A Full House for Christmas” from Taxi.
This was the first (and only) Christmas episode on the excellent sitcom, Taxi, about a group of New York City taxi drivers.
The episode is really well-written, and well-performed, and initially, I had it higher on the list, but the fact of the matter is that there is very little festive about the episode. Besides some local kids singing some Christmas Gospel music (to which they pay slimy dispatcher, Louie De Palma, played brilliantly by Danny DeVito, a cut of their donations), this episode could have easily been set at any time of the year, as the central conflict is Louie’s gambler brother, Nick (played by Richard Foronjy), is in town, and he doesn’t even plan on visiting his and Louie’s mother, as he instead wants to play in the cab drivers’ big poker game, instead, where he promptly cleans them out.
Louie is so angry at his brother for letting their mother down that he gives his life savings to Alex Reiger (Judd Hirsch), the best poker player of the cabbies, to stake him in a game against Nick. The pot becomes so big that Nick cannot cover it, so Louie works their mother into the bet. If Nick loses, he will have to let their mother visit him in Las Vegas, and take her out to a show and dinner at least twice, and he also has to hug her a few times (I forget the exact number, but each hug and kiss was valued at $100 in the pot).
There is a lot of money in the pot when Alex learns that when Louie says “his life savings,” he means that he just took the receipts from the taxi cab company, so if Alex loses, the cab company loses all of its receipts for the day. A lot of pressure, to be sure, but in the end, in a bizarre game, Alex beats Nick with three sixes, beating Nicks’ two Aces and two Jacks. It’s bizarre because you would typically not go “all in” on three-of-a-kind, or two pairs, especially since the episode is called “Full House for Christmas,” so it would have made a lot more sense had Nick had a Full House, an EXCELLENT hand in Poker, and Alex had four of a kind to beat him. But whatever, at least they got the rules right in terms of Alex’s hand being better than Nick’s.
There’s an interesting sidenote to this episode. When Andy Kaufman signed on to do Taxi, essentially adapting his “foreign man” standup character into the cab company’s mechanic, Latka Graves, he insisted that his “friend,” Tony Clifton, be allowed to guest star on the series, as well. “Tony Clifton,” of course, was just Kaufman doing a character (the producers didn’t know that at first, but they WERE aware by the time they signed their deals with Kaufman and “Clifton”). Clifton’s chance was going to be this episode, where he would play Nick. “Clifton,” though, was such a jerk and an intentionally bad actor, not to mention that he brought in two prostitutes off of the street and insisted that they be in the episode, as well, that the producers just fired him. “Clifton” then flew into a rage, requiring NBC security to show up and escort him and his prostitutes from the building. Obviously, it was all an elaborate “anti-humor” bit by Kaufman, who loved doing weird stuff like that.
I did a bit a while back showing the various versions of the same story that a few different Taxi cast members have told. You can check it out here.