This fired Macy’s Santa story seems to have touched something amiss in the larger culture. John Toomey’s dismissal by the department store in San Francisco made headlines all around the country, and even insinuated itself into the Canadian media. Last night, when Toomey appeared on Jay Leno, he achieved what was once considered the final rung in the ladder of pop cultural ascension (“The Tonight Show” ain’t what it used to be.)

Why such a national fuss? Maybe because the event has somehow encapsulated a broader debate about political correctness and shifting tastes in humor. The fact that this particular incident wraps all that up with an archetypal childhood figure has added an extra charge.

Please watch the Leno appearance below, because I had to sit through Jay’s entire monologue to get to the Santa part. To skip the jokes, fast forward through the first two-thirds.

Tuesday’s post:
At the risk of encouraging yet another Facebook-generated protest, there’s one brewing over the firing of John Toomey, who has worked for 20 years as the Union Square Macy’s Santa. Toomey was fired after an elderly couple apparently thought a joke he told them was funny but not “ho-ho” funny.

The joke, from the Chronicle:

“When I ask the older people who sit on my lap if they’ve been good and they say, ‘Yes,’ I say, ‘Gee, that’s too bad,’ ” Toomey said Monday.

“Then, if they ask why Santa is so jolly, I joke that it’s because I know where all the naughty boys and girls live.”

From KGO:

Well it’s not exactly Conan O’Brien, but a firing offense?

But fear not, Bad Santa lovers. In what can only be described as a Miiracle on Geary Street, the bar Lefty O’Doul’s has “offered to double his previous salary if he’ll take his Santa act there,” The Snitch reports. Toomey told the blog he’ll likely take the offer.

Watch Fired SF Santa John Toomey on The Tonight Show 10 December,2010Jon Brooks

  • “JT”, as he’s known locally, is a forty year friend and I’m happy to attest that he would never act inappropriately with any of his thousands and thousands of children over twenty years as Santa, nor would he intentionally offend ANYONE. It’s the thin-skinned and rigid patrons complaining and the brain dead management responding cowardly who have made this a BIG story. I hope JT gets his 15 minutes and I’d love to see him on national TV. His picture I’ve already seen in New York and London papers, it’s on AP and UPI and who knows where else because it’s a perfect “Bah Humbug” story for the season.

  • MotherLodeBeth

    Golly gee doesnt anyone have a sense of humor anymore, even for bad humor? Its not as if he told the dumb joke to some child. And if the older couple thought it was funny but not a ho ho ho funny, how did Macys even find out about the joke? Whatever happened to being nice during the Christmas season Macys?

  • Sue

    Why on earth would any adult sit on a store Santa’s lap, if they weren’t doing it for a laugh? Something smells fishy to me about the couple who complained.

  • Rob

    Great! Another California Santa behaving badly…

  • So far the media and all the world only know this guy’s side of the story. It is completely unfair to characterize Macy’s as the bad guy here. The truth of the matter is that Santa Claus is a sacred character to a lot of people, especially adults. His comments alone to the media immediately call in to question his judgment.

    And Santa in a BAR??? That is disgraceful.

    • MotherLodeBeth

      Santa is a sacred character? The image is usually associated with Coke, Saturday Evening Post, Macy’s in movies, including one called Miracle on 34th Street where the Edmund Gwenn Santa character gets fired and then rehired.

      Have some people simply not seen the various Santas, depicted in various displays and ads as everything from a beach bum, to mountain man, to ads selling liquor and other foods. Open any magazine on the newstands this holiday season and you will see a lot of NON sacred Santas.

    • sue

      Are you kidding? Sacred? Especially to adults? What have you been smoking?

    • christine

      Jeff…sacred? really? did you think santa was a religious symbol? really? ever see jesus with a santa or a christmas tree…clue…no…tree is a pagan symbol..santa a commercial one.

  • Bruce

    Come on, lighten up Macys. Come on, lighten up Jeff Westover. Wonder what has made you so totally uptight?
    Those two “adult” idiots obviously wanted to have a laugh or two by having their picture taken sitting on Santa’s lap. How about banning them from their house of worship for trying to have a three way. Santa’s joking was meant to have some fun with the “adults” and for one, am I glad I will NOT be spending the holiday at that household. What a drag that will be.

    As far as his being hired by that bar, it is to raise money for kids during the season.

    Macys should hire him for next years Thanksgiving Day Parade. You have seen it, Macys, a parade with all those girls in short skirts, guys on floats in speedos, and some obscene balloons. Hmmmmmm………Have a good Christmas Santa, and you can come down my chimney anytime.


Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks is the host and editor of KQED’s health and technology blog, Future of You. He is the former editor of KQED’s daily news blog, News Fix. A veteran blogger, he previously worked for Yahoo! in various news writing and editing roles. He was also the editor of, which documented user-generated content about the financial crisis and recession. Jon is also a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S. He has written about film for his own blog and studied film at Boston University. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College.

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