‘Tis the season for satirist John Waters’ new holiday show
It is possible that John Waters is the most misunderstood man in America whom everyone thinks they have all figured out.
Consider this: The man who helped make drag queens mainstream is so over Halloween.
“Halloween used to be ‘gay Christmas,’ and now it’s how parents show their children how politically correct they can be,” Water sighs from his office in his beloved hometown of Baltimore. “I think Halloween has moved into the New Year’s Eve realm [as a haven for amateurs].”
“I never go out in costumes, though I love to see people coming home dressed as half of a cow and hailing a cab all hot and miserable. But when I walk into a bank, I get so angry when I see the cashiers dressed up,” he says. “I don’t want people handling my financial things dressed as a kitty cat. Can you even see with those whiskers? How am I sure you aren’t screwing up my payroll taxes?”
That said, Waters simultaneous wishes more people would put on costumes to go trick-or-treating … just not on Oct. 31.
“Kids are so polite these days. Does anyone ‘trick’ anymore? We used to set lawns on fire! It was a whole week of vandalism! I don’t see soap on a single windshield anymore,” he says. “I think they should do it year-round when it’s not Halloween — a kind of home invasion. Take the holiday back! Go out in costume, ring a bell and say, ‘Give me candy or I’ll burn your house down.’”
Like I say: Misunderstood.
Waters is a conundrum of sorts: a self-confessed purveyor of trash who dresses like a traveling bible salesman; a filmmaker who once has his leading lady eat actual dog poop, but who is known to be personally fastidious; a social critic who seems more optimistic than cynical… you just have to look harder to see it.
All of which is to say, it probably surprises you that his favorite holiday isn’t Halloween after all. It is, rather, Christmas. What?
The King of Camp is a sucker for corny commercialism? Well… yeah.
“I’m always optimistic about society. I’m never mean — nobody ever gets mad at me anymore about anything I do. When I was younger, people got mad at me about everything I did. I’ve been doing it so long, [they don’t],” Waters sighs. “My interest is that Christmas makes everybody either happy or insane. I like extreme situations — no matter what religion, race, sexual preferences, I like to help people get through the holidays with decorating suggestions, songs, advice and humor. I like to show people how Christmas can be sexual how you can celebrate it before it becomes a disaster.” Enter the mind of John Waters. At your peril.
You can do so at The Kessler on Dec. 14, when Waters brings his one-man spoken word performance, The John Waters Christmas Show, to North Texas.
“Every year I upgrade it and add new material,” he says. “I am so glad the election is over so it will be about anarchy.”
It’s not even that he has strong memories of Santa from childhood that shaped (warped?) his views of the season. Waters describes his holidays growing up as “pretty normal. We didn’t have an all-white flocked tree with all blue balls, though the tree did fall over on my grandmother one year. That’s something I have exploited for years — I’ve even put it in a movie. And I hear from people who all say it happened to them — it’s usually [caused by] the dog or liquor.”
The appeal of his show, he says, is that people always tell hellious stories about doomed holidays, yet they always seem surprised; he wants to help them plan for the craziness. Here are some ideas he hashed around about the holidays:
Dealing with family. What to do with Trump voters drunk on egg nog taunting you in an ugly sweater?
“If you go home to your family and they are abusive, I have two suggestions,” he says. “First, you issue everyone an abuse whistle. Every time someone is abusive, you blow it. Eventually, there will be so much whistle-blowing everyone will start laughing and stop being abusive.”
His other suggestion? A good, old-fashioned curse. It works this way: You wait until the abusive person leaves the room. Then you lick the furniture they were sitting on. Waters swears it’s effective.
“I know this curse works,” he insists. “The hardest part is not getting caught, which can be embarrassing — they come back into the room and you have to say, ‘I was not licking your chair!’ But my own relatives aren’t mean to me — the few that have been learned their lesson [from the curse], so it didn’t taste that bad doing it.”
Decorating. Even the director of Mondo Trasho has his standards.
“I’m against inflatable decorations — they are so ugly,” he says. “They often deflate during the day, and it looks so like a Diane Arbus picture. A deflated Christmas creche is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.” But what about the use of Pink Flamingos? People don’t “get” his reference, he says.
“I went back to the home I grew up in, [and the owners] had their Santa Claus pulled by pink flamingos,” Waters clucks. “If you have one in a trailer park and you do it without irony, that lovely. But if you have 50 and are making fun of them? That’s elitist. I liked it when it was country people with the plaster ones in the 1940s, but yuppies doing now [feels] condescending. It’s a big yawn, to be honest.”
Holiday music. “Certainly I talk about Christmas music and new ideas I have about it,” he says. “Jazz, of course, is the sounds of heroin, and there are not enough Christmas carols from jazz artists. They need to think up new ones! I’m trying to inspire jazz heroin addicts [who love Christmas] with my show.” Anyone who thinks we need more heroin in the holidays is thinking outside the gift box.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 09, 2016.