In the NYT: “As with other seasonal workers (think Rockettes, Rudolph, sidewalk Santas), John Waters is a hot ticket come Christmas, when the film director, screenwriter, artist, collector and stand-up comedian goes on the road with “A John Waters Christmas,” his staged monologue about all things merry and dark.
“I love it, because I’m working,” Mr. Waters said. “I’m like a drag queen atHalloween.”
Thanks to the Broadway blockbuster and mainstream movie “Hairspray,” the man whose gifts to the cinematic world included both cult classics populated by glorious misfits and the modest little parable of a plump teen’s triumph over mean girls and racial segregation has become, at 67, well off — modestly so, he insists.
Holed up at his San Francisco apartment, one of four homes he maintains (the others are in New York, Provincetown, Mass., and Baltimore) for script revisions, Mr. Waters recently riffed about a run that will have him appearing in 10 cities over 12 days, including Dec. 13 and 14 in New York. If there is anything truly surprising about Mr. Waters, it is that concealed behind the sardonic delivery, the sinister pencil mustache and his well-rehearsed cynicism is, as an online fan observed, “A nice boy who loves his family and friends.”
Q. Is that appraisal accurate? Is John Waters secretly a family man and sentimentalist?
A. I don’t think I’m sentimental. Although certainly my Christmas show has irony in it, I love Christmas without irony. I’m just telling people who hate Christmas how to get through it.
There’s no way you can really avoid the steamroller of Christmas. But I do have advice for every kind of way it’s coming at you. I get into everything in the show, from Christmas music to Christmas movies to what you should give to how to deal with parents who are abusive at Christmas. I also tell the audience what I want.
What can we get you? There are still some shopping days left.
A Myron Stout drawing, but I doubt anyone’s going to give me that.
What have been some of your best gifts?
It’s not about the money. It’s about spending the time. A friend once gave me the three-volume set of John Simon’s criticism. That’s hard to top. Another friend gave me a Poor Pitiful Pearl doll. She has a flowered dress and a peasant scarf and looks like Nikita Khrushchev’s wife. She’s a Communist. One Christmas, Dennis Dermody, the movie critic of Paper, gave me “Rock Hudson: A Gathering of Friends,” the master invitation list from Rock Hudson’s memorial service. It’s so great. Everyone’s in it, with personal addresses all bound into a book. Someone else once gave me Ike Turner’s will. I get great stuff.
Are there gifts that got away?
I would love to get Visconti’s ascot, and I’ve been trying for years to get Brigid Berlin to give me a prescription bottle of Obetrol, Andy Warhol’s diet pills.
Is there a John Waters version of a lump of coal?
The rudest possible gift is a gift card. It means you think the person is stupid and has no interests. The only good gift card is Bitcoin. You practically have to be a hacker to know about it. I want a Bitcoin gift certificate. That’s a glamorous gift card. You can use it to buy hit men or drugs.
What kind of gifts do you give?
I always give books. And I always ask for books. I think you should reward people sexually for getting you books. Don’t send a thank-you note, repay them with sexual activity. If the book is rare or by your favorite author or one you didn’t know about, reward them with the most perverted sex act you can think of. Otherwise, you can just make out.
Are there aspects of the holidays that give you the willies?
My biggest fear in life is living Nativity scenes. I hide in cars and drive around looking at them. Something about it is really scary to me. What parent would put their child in there with mules and camels and straw? I do understand how stressful Christmas can be, but, you know, I just embrace it all. I have to buy 120 presents every year. That’s a burden, but it’s too late to change it, so I start early, one present a day. I can’t say I really hate it, but sometimes I do.
Contrary to a popular view of you as the godfather of weird, your holiday customs are right out of Currier & Ives. There can’t be anyone who sends out more Christmas cards than you do.
I started doing it in high school in 1964. It’s like barbershops used to put out a calendar. It’s my calendar. It’s not really a commercial thing, although I am using last year’s Christmas card for this year’s Christmas tour. It’s a private thing for a year, and then I exploit it the next year. I send out over 2,000 cards by now. Basically, I’m channeling Pia Zadora, who used to send out the best pricey holiday-related object to help spread her name and make it last all year. I have a pencil holder that says Pia on it.
To judge by the thriving EBAY trade in John Waters cards, yours are pretty choice.
Last year, it was me holding baby Jesus. One year, I sent a mug shot of me in a Santa hat. A lot of people thought it was real, that I’d been pulled over drunk. I actually went down to the police station that year and was very disappointed to learn that mug shots are done now by computer. I got them to take out the old machines for me. The one that seems to go for the most on eBay is the clear plastic ball with a roach inside.
Is it true that if people sell the cards, you automatically drop them?
Once, I was so furious that someone sold a card on eBay, a guy I know who’s in a punk rock band, that I called him. He was mortified. He said: “I had no money at all. I had to sell it.” I was embarrassed and so I forgave him. He’s still on my list.
And where will you be on Christmas?
I always go to Baltimore. Despite how I have wildly exploited them in films, my family is very functional and very nice. Probably the best example is the time the Christmas tree fell over on my grandmother. My whole family laughs about it now because I turned that moment, which in reality was not such a big deal, into a career. I had a good family and good Christmases. They got me things I asked for. I got “The Genius of Ray Charles” when I was 9.
And you still spend the holiday with your family?
I have two sisters, and my mom is still living, and our family celebration moves around. This year, it’s not my turn. Last year, it was and I cooked the whole dinner: turkey with mashed potatoes; sauerkraut, which for some reason you always have at Christmas in Baltimore; a coconut cake from Eddie’s Market. One sister brings Christmas cookies, the other brings homemade fudge. We open presents at my house. I also have a big annual party that I’ve had for more than 40 years. Everyone comes, from the mayor to Pat Sajak to a judge and a well-known criminal I helped get out of jail. There’s a bar on every floor of the house and a buffet table where you’ll see the guy that played the singing anus in “Pink Flamingos” standing next to the governor.”