On an afternoon not too long ago, but well before most people deck their halls, John Waters was sitting in his holiday-appointed New York apartment, where the living room sofa and chairs are upholstered in red and green velvet, considering who he’d cast as Santa Claus if he were ever to direct a Christmas film.
“Drag queens should play him,” he says. “I think every race should play him. Women should play Santa. There is Mrs. Claus, but as a feminist, she has a very poorly written part.”
This story first appeared in the December 14, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The director, author and all around gleefully warped mind has been musing about the holiday season lately. He is now in the midst of touring a Christmas show so wry and subversive it skewers many beloved holiday icons and leaves them barely recognizable by the end of the evening. The Radio City Christmas Spectacular this isn’t. “A John Waters Christmas” will have a two night engagement at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York on Dec. 19 and 20. The 13-city outing has already taken the cult film director, author and artist from Austin, Tex., to London, and Baton Rouge, La., to Boston. Waters will wrap up the tour in his hometown of Baltimore at the Lyric Theater.
“A John Waters Christmas” is more egalitarian than shows that stick to the classic baby Jesus in a manger script.
“I love ‘John Waters Christmas’’ family values,” he says. “They’re more accepting and can look at Christmas from many different points of view. I had a very happy traditional Christmas with my family. My parents were very supportive of everything I did, but they were frightened.”
Throughout the show Waters filters Christmas through his own peculiar lens. Part raconteur and part provocateur, his monologue ranges from Santa’s sexuality to whether it’s possible to have sex in a chimney.
“I talk about what to give your parents if they’re insane,” the “Pink Flamingos” and “Hairspray” director says. “I talk about what I want for Christmas, about being a Christmas fanatic, about my hatred of the Easter Bunny and what gifts I’d give to celebrities.” In addition to the Christmas tour, Waters is in demand on the college lecture circuit these days. He’s performed “This Filthy World,” about his obsession with bad taste and the early negative influences that shaped his work, at schools across the country.
“I never went to one school,” Waters says. “I knew I wanted to own a dirty movie theater since I was eight years old. My book, ‘Shock Value,’ is used in colleges as a textbook.”
On the whole, Waters says he’s found a younger audience engaging with his legendary back catalogue thanks to his pop culture extracurriculars such as appearances in the “Child’s Play” films and a guest spot on “The Simpsons.” The appreciation has gone both ways. Appearing on the British talk show “Graham Norton,” Waters connected with another guest, the pop phenom Justin Bieber.
“Can I just say one thing,” Bieber said to Waters. “Your ’stache is the jam.”
Waters immediately took out his eye pencil and offered it to Bieber, who politely declined.
“I gave him my eye pencil and he gave me his pimple medicine,” Waters says. “He signed it. I’ve been listening to his Christmas album. I’m a fan. I’m a Belieber.”
Waters, who cuts a striking pose with his tall, thin frame, advises young people to have faith in their own bad taste and buy the cheapest thing at their local thrift shop. His own tastes, though, run toward the higher end. When not wearing his bicolored jackets and multicolored pants, he favors Comme des Garçons. “I like Rei Kawakubo…because her concept is like a disaster at the dry cleaner. It has so much wit. I have a sports jacket that has stab marks on it. Isn’t that what fashion is supposed to do — scare you?”
Waters isn’t divulging his sartorial wish list for the holidays, though he’s an avid reader, and says he wants books such as “Deer in the Headlights: My Life in Sarah Palin’s Crosshairs” by Levi Johnston. Waters, who in 2013 will have a show of his work at the Marianne Boesky Gallery in Manhattan, asked for art books such as “Flogging a Dead Horse: The Life and Works of Jake and Dinos Chapman” and “Richard Prince Collected Writings.” There’s also a German book, “Leck Mich Im Arsch,” that Waters’ assistant politely translated as “Lick My Ass.”