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John Waters On His One-Man Christmas Show and The Horrors of Living Nativity Scenes

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 3.12.43 PM.pngWho would have thought that during his long, legendary career, cinematic sicko John Waters would become synonymous with something as wholesome as yuletide cheer? With the director's 2004 Christmas album and his annual touring one-man holiday show -- which he'll perform in New York on Friday, December 13th and Saturday, December 14th at Stage 48 -- Waters has become as Christmasy as eggnog and fruit cake. We caught up with Waters on the phone recently to chat about his show, his disdain for inflatable Christmas decorations and his dream Christmas TV specials.

This a return to New York City for you. You skipped us last year and performed upstate.
And I'm in a nightclub! I love playing in a nightclub. I feel like a real working performer. I feel like Arnold Stang -- look up his picture, you'll get it.  

Last year when we chatted, it was at the beginning of your Christmas show tour. You mentioned that someone had given you a packer, or a limp dildo, as a gift after one of your shows. Has anyone topped that gift since?
Well, it's hard because I can't really take any of the gifts with me. I have fans send the gifts to Atomic Books, which is where I pick up my mail. Atomic Books, by the way, was recently a clue on Jeopardy. The clue was, "Where does John Waters pick up his fan mail?" They were thrilled. Anyway, people know I collect novelizations of movies so I get a lot of those. Or a lot of times they give me Christmas decorations or they'll give me compilation CDs of obscure Christmas music they've made.

Do you get stressed about gift-giving? Finding the perfect thing for people?

There is some stress, yes. I have to buy like 100 gifts for people. And it' s not about money, it's how much time you spend to get the perfect present. As a matter of fact, if it costs too much it looks like you're lazy.

Do you have a fool-proof gift you like to give?
Books. Like I said, it's not about the money or how much you spend on someone, it's about finding some really weird, special bookshop. And those are everywhere.

What is your policy on re-gifting?
I try to never re-gift -- it's way too obvious. People absolutely know when you're re-gifting and you look like a cheapskate.

Your Christmas show has always been about finding the comedy in the insanity of the holidays. What do you think is the funniest thing about Christmas?
I think one of the funniest things about Christmas is a living crèche or a living nativity scene. They're frightening. I find them scarier than any Diane Arbus photo. I go to them like people go to haunted houses at Halloween, but I scrunch down in the crowd because I don't want people to see me. Then I'd feel as perverted as they are.

I also find inflatable Christmas decorations, like the kind people put in their yards here in Baltimore, to be funny. I really hate them. In Baltimore they're deflated during the day. They look so defeated and pathetic. The first time I saw one during the day, I thought some vandals had popped it and my assistant said, "No, people turn them off to save on the electric bill." They look terrible, laying there on someone's lawn in the Baltimore slush. But  you know, bad taste in Christmas decorations can change. When I was younger I hated white Christmas trees with all-blue bulbs on them, they were so L.A., but now I don't mind them.

Do you think you'll eventually come around on inflatable lawn decorations?
Bad taste can turn good, but I don't think inflated Christmas decorations, especially ones that have been deflated to save on the electric bill, will ever be classy. They're not even campy! There not anything.

Does seeing Christmas decorations out early in stores irk you?
It makes me laugh. They're earlier and earlier every year. What's more amazing is how Halloween has gotten terrible. I loved Halloween as a kid because it was a holiday for vandalism, and you never hear about that kind of thing anymore. I think we should introduce vandalism to the Christmas holiday, since it's not happening on Halloween. Halloween has turned into New Year's Eve. It's amateur hour, part two.

How do you envision vandalism being incorporated into Christmas?
We could have Devil's Night two nights before Christmas. Or, what if the day after Christmas everyone burned the presents that they didn't like? That would be good.

Do you have any favorite Christmas TV specials?
Well, my favorite one always is The Judy Garland Christmas Show, when Liza would come over and Judy would say, "Liza, there are three more gay men here to be your date!" And they would all sing Christmas carols together. I talk about the TV special that I'd like to do in my show -- my special would be with Justin Bieber, Kevin Federline and Levi Johnston. All three of them together, singing with me. I'd really love to have a TV Christmas special.

I think a lot of people would really love for you to have one.
It would be great. There aren't that many Christmas specials on anymore. And I'm talking true Christmas specials -- the ones that are variety shows. Do you see them? I don't think so.

Did Little Richard ever have a Christmas special or album? I know he's a hero of yours.
No! And he should have. I thought Mrs. Miller should have. Ol' Dirty Bastard should have. There's a lot of them who needed to have Christmas albums. I always wanted Ike and Tina Turner to have a Christmas special. Think of how amazing it would be to hear Tina Turner sing "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem!" Tina could come out and do it kind of rough like "Proud Mary." [Singing as Tina Turner] "Oh litt-le towwn of Beth-le-haaam!"  

Have you ever taken your Christmas show or one of your one-man shows to a city and been told not to come back?
Not anymore. I almost never make people angry anymore. My sister came to one of my shows last year and was like, "How do you get away with saying this shit?" But, really, no one gets mad. They just laugh. Once in Antwerp -- this was almost 40 years ago -- I showed Pink Flamingos at a film festival and the mayor of the city didn't know what it was and welcomed me on the stage before the screening. He even gave me a book on Antwerp. Then he saw the film, seized it and had it destroyed. I had to leave town hidden on the floor of a car. So that was a version of being run out of town. And Pink Flamingos is illegal in Hicksville, New York. We had to sign something -- me and New Line Cinema-- that said if we ever show it there again we'll go to prison. But I think it maybe has been shown there again, despite that. So I have to be careful never to ever go to Hicksville.

I'm not comparing myself to this person at all because he's one of my idols, but Lenny Bruce went to jail for saying fuck and doing a show like I do. And, really, that wasn't that long ago. Times are amazingly different now. It's incredible, the freedom that we have today.

In past interviews about your Christmas show you've mentioned the Christmas movie you want to make with Johnny Knoxville called Fruit Cake. Has there been any progress with that?
Yeah, it never happened. No one wants to pay for it. It could happen if I made it on my cell phone for a thousand dollars or something. But I can't do that. I have employees. I can't be a faux underground filmmaker at 68. Wait, no -- I'm 66. Or am I 67? I was born in '46, so I'm 67. I'm older than Santa Claus!

You're famous for your annual Christmas card.
Yes I am. It's a good one this year, too.

Has anyone ever complained about your Christmas card?
No, but I'm sure not everyone has enjoyed every single card. I have very different types of contacts on my Christmas card list who would maybe not have the same sense of humor that I do. I know my mom hated the one of me holding the baby Jesus.


A John Waters Christmas is at Stage 48 on December 13th and 14th. Tickets here.

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