John Waters’s voice is a jingle in itself, a melody of self-contained inside jokes. He tinkles -- not like a dog with its leg raised (although sometimes), but like a glass wind chime. He jumps in mid-question eagerly, emphasizing words with what I can only imagine is an evil grin on the other side of the line. Master of the weird and the wonderful, Waters is the thin-moustached man behind such cult classics as “Hairspray” and “Pink Flamingos” -- and now he’s taken over Christmas, too.
He does it differently than the Grinch did, though -- with love, care, revere even. He’s known for, well, a lot of s---, but among it all throwing a massive, star-studded Christmas party every year in Baltimore and sending out off-color Christmas cards. He adores the holiday, he says, so much so that he wrote about it in his 1986 book “Crackpot” in a chapter aptly titled “Why I Love Christmas.” So there it is: The beginning of “A John Waters Christmas,” his show to help season’s haters through the sing-songy Santas and twinkling lights and carols -- ohhh, the carols. Lest there be doubt in any mind, John Waters loves Christmas, and he’s been loving it across the nation for the last decade, this year taking his one-man show to more than a dozen cities, including San Diego.
On Monday, Nov. 30, Waters trickles into Observatory North Park to talk all things Christmas. But first, he talks to our most bah-humbugy reporter -- ahem, me -- about just what makes this season bright. In the process, he imagines the holiday record Eminem would write, asks for a gift card to the black market and gives tips on just how to make it to the other side of the New Year when you can’t see through the hordes of commercialism, mistletoe and crushed red velvet suits.
Hannah Lott-Schwartz: How many seasons have you been doing your Christmas show now?
John Waters: God, at least 10. But, you know, I’ve done a version of it -- I have another show called “This Filthy World” that I’ve been doing for 40 years that started on college campuses and stuff. But I would say the Christmas show for about 10 years.
HLS: Would you consider yourself an expert on Christmas then?
JW: Well, let’s say I’m the Elvira of Christmas. I think Johnny Mathis and I, we’re always working at Christmas. I always say that I can pay for my Christmas party.
HLS: I read an interview where you say that Martin O’Malley comes to your Christmas party every year. Is he coming to this one?
JW: Well, I don’t know; he’s a presidential candidate! He might be on the road still. I certainly hope so -- he’s invited. And he invited me to his State House, like, two days before he left the Governor's Mansion. It was fun. And I’m a big fan of his wife, too. I think she would be -- maybe -- a better first lady than Bill [Clinton]. But I like the idea of Bill as a first lady, too. I want him to be an old-fashioned one, like baking pies and sitting around with an apron on and having no opinions.
HLS: Oh yeah, I’m sure that they would have a fantastic Christmas card themselves.
JW: Well, I always think that Bill probably saw “Pink Flamingos” and Hillary didn’t.
HLS: Now what makes you say that?
JW: I don’t know. I just think that when they were young -- I don’t know, I could be wrong. I think maybe Obama’s seen it, maybe not. I know that none of the other ones did. I remember that when Bush Senior and his wife, Barbara, came to see “Hairspray” on Broadway, and they were sitting upfront, I thought, “Oh my god, this is a new irony I never imagined.”
HLS: I read in another interview that you’ve done that you have a genuine love for Christmas and that part of your show is helping people who don’t share that particular --
JW: People who say, religiously, that it’s shoved down their throat, that they have to look at baby Jesus when they don’t believe.
HLS: So I’m not a huge fan of the holidays, generally speaking. Do you have any advance tips to share for getting through the season?
JW: Well, I like it because it’s extreme. Something always happens. If your family is abusive, then you go home and an easy thing to do is to hand out verbal-abuse whistles. And as soon as somebody says something hurtful, you blow the whistle. And once that starts, people will be careful about what they say, and they’ll start laughing. Laughing is the way to get through any terror that Christmas brings you. Why don’t you try that. Well, also if you don’t have any cards on hand, just go buy the worst Hallmark cards and alter the verses to things like “Season’s Beatings” -- just by one letter, change the entire meaning of a card.
HLS: Oh yeah, I’ve seen you use that tactic on your 2004 holiday album.
JW: Last year I did a -- what do you call it -- an advent card. And you’d open each window, but it had people like Johnnie Ray and James Baldwin instead of what you might usually see in a nativity scene.
HLS: Do you have any Christmas albums that you really genuinely love or would recommend?
JW: Oh, but I’m always wishing there’d be new ones! Why hasn’t Eminem done, “Oh Come All Ye Hateful” with his ex wife? I love Christmas albums -- I want more people to do them!
HLS: I’d love to see an Eminem “Come All Ye Hateful.”
JW: It’d be great.
HLS: Maybe you guys could collaborate on something.
JW: Maybe. I’ve always said that Eminem is the only celebrity left that I want to meet because he has no desire to meet me.
HLS: You’ve said that sometimes decorations start coming up at Halloween and that it’s fitting because it’s scary. Is it too soon to put on Christmas music?
JW: No, it’s not! Like on Halloween, because people put up decorations so early for Halloween that some people -- I saw it this year -- it's Halloween and Christmas.
JW: That’s like a crazy person that can’t stop decorating. And then I always want to go back -- but I forget to -- to see, did they take the Halloween down or did they leave it up? You know, there’s that country song, like, “I leave my Christmas decorations up year-round,” but that’s even further.
HLS: That reminds me of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” or something. It was a pretty harmonious meld of holidays in that.
JW: Well, altogether all holiday decorations to me look like a Diane Arbus photograph.
HLS: As far as gifts, again, I’ve read that you don’t care for gift cards, but you like books or anything that really has some thought in it --
JW: Well, a gift card to me means that you think the person is stupid. Now, I would like to have a gift card to Silk Road because that’s illegal [laughs], where you can buy hitmen and stuff. I think that would be a nice gift card. But no, gift cards mean to me that you put no effort into it. And a lot of people say to me, “But John, wouldn’t you rather have a gift card than a present you don’t like?” No! Because a present you don’t like, at least you can be mad at the person for being that stupid to give it to you. But a gift card is blank. It means nothing.
HLS: Do you ever get sick of talking about Christmas?
JW: You can ask me that [in three days] because I’m doing two hours [of interviews] today and three and a half hours tomorrow and three and a half hours the next day. So by the end of that -- hey, it’s not that bad a job. It’s like going to Christmas psychiatrist, if you want to know the truth. Like if Santa’s your psychiatrist after a while.
John Waters brings “A John Waters Christmas” to Observatory North Park on Monday, Nov. 30, 21+. Doors open at 8 p.m., show starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $45-$100.
Hannah Lott-Schwartz, a San Diego native, moved back to the area after working the magazine-publishing scene in Boston. Now she’s straight trolling SD for all the music she missed while away. Want to help? Hit her up with just about anything at all over on Twitter, where -- though not always work-appropriate -- she means well.