Every year, like clockwork, there are signs of the upcoming holiday season. It can be something as subtle as a mailbox overflowing with junk mail to the giant bows atop of fancy shopping centers. John Waters and his annual Christmas show can be added to the list of indicators that the holidays are here.
Waters will be performing his yearly Christmas show at the Heights Theater Friday, December 13. “It’s been 15 years of thinking up Christmas jokes, but I never have any trouble because Christmas is about happiness, anxiety, consumerism, politics, fashion; it’s about everything so it’s a pretty open net,” says Waters from his hometown of Baltimore.
“It’s all new material. The first night is always kind of scary because you have to think. ‘Oh God I don’t have any notes.' I walk on stage without a net, I have it memorized and written so it’s all in my head.”
Waters is most known for his outrageous films and peculiar sense of humor. Films like Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble cemented his place as a cult icon, while the more well known films Hairspray and Polyester pushed him into the category of common knowledge.
It’s hard to imagine the eccentric and boundary pushing artist loving the most traditional of all holidays so wholeheartedly, but he has always admitted to his life long love of Christmas and deep admiration for traditional artists like Johnny Mathis and Judy Garland.
“I figured, why can’t I do a twisted version of that, which is what I do every year and I think it brings joy to an alternative Christmas audience.” Waters even released a Christmas compilation album in 2004 featuring his favorite Christmas songs, none of which will ever be heard on the typical Christmas radio stations that pop up every year.
His one-man holiday show was inspired by a chapter in his 2003 book, Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters titled “Why I love Christmas” in which Waters shames Scrooges and describes his favorite childhood memory (his grandma being stuck under the Christmas tree).
The chapter also features his checklist for the holidays including his yearly Christmas cards, which Waters begrudgingly admits have become collectors items. “I’m furious when I see somebody selling them on Ebay! I go to great trouble every year to make them and hand sign them. When I track them down and see their name, they get right off my list.”
Waters adds his colorful impressions of Santa Claus, “I think Santa is kind of creepy, keeping lists and spying on children like a pedophile, asking them to write letters of their inner wants and getting their home address. I don’t know, it’s all a little creepy,” he says half jokingly.
“I always say that children take heroin now because the first lie their parents ever told them was that Santa Claus was real, so then why should they believe that heroin is bad for you. Santa is to blame for our drug addiction.”
He has written seven books, with his latest release Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder, earning him his second Grammy nomination. “I said in my statement that the first nomination I got was for Role Models and Joan Rivers died and beat me. This time, Michelle Obama is going to live and beat me. I want us to read each other's work at the Grammy's where she can be ‘Ms. Know-It-All’ and I can be ‘Mr. Unbecoming’.”
Being embraced by the art world and an institution as mainstream as the Grammy’s is not something Waters takes lightly and is probably one of the few subjects he does not approach with a laugh, “It means a lot to me definitely. I'm amazed, out of all the things in the world, I was completely amazed,” he says.
Waters frequently refers to himself as a “Filth Elder” and the irony of being accepted in the popular culture is not lost on him. He was invited to speak to Rhode Island School of Design’s graduating class of 2017 and his commencement speech has been turned into an illustrated book and seven inch record released by Third Man Records titled Make Trouble.
In his speech and recent novel, he gives advice to others on everything from taking chances, growing older, the importance of making and supporting the arts to how to survive a trip on LSD. Waters always manages to give advice without sounding condescending or arrogant, most likely a result of successfully combing through all of the advice he has received from others through the years.
“I wrote a book called Role Models, which was all the people that gave me the confidence and the freedom to think that maybe I can be what I want to be. So I took advice from people that were usually not the authority that I had over me at the time, I usually rejected that advice and sought my own.”
Part of his Christmas show is a question and answer portion from the audience, where Waters can give advice right on the spot. “My audience is really smart, they ask good questions. I think the Q and A period is sometimes quite lively.”
In his true to form, quick wit humor he adds, “The weirdest question I think I ever got was a woman said, ‘My father told me he almost went home with you at a bar once.’ and then I blinked and I said, ‘Tell him hi!”
John Waters will perform Friday, December 13 at The Heights Theater, 339 W. 19th. Doors open at 7 p.m. Sold Out.