A John Waters Christmas, Fletcher Opera Theater, Raleigh, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 8 p.m., $48–$128, dukeenergycenterraleigh.com
John Waters earned his reputation as America’s favorite weird uncle many times over during his long career of celebrating freaks in films like Pink Flamingos and Hairspray. But casual fans might be surprised to learn that one of his obsessions is decidedly more mainstream: He loves the hell out of Christmas. He’s compared his fever for the holiday to a drag queen’s affinity for Halloween—it’s his time to work, he’s said—and, naturally, he brings the same level of gleefully garish enthusiasm to the celebration of the baby Jesus.
This week, Waters stops in Raleigh on his annual run of Christmas shows, in which he promises to help everybody get through the season with their holly-jolly intact. We caught up with him about his thoughts on the state of the holiday, the creative practice of his Christmas cards, and new alternatives to coal for those on the naughty list.
INDY: What are your thoughts on the Christmas creep into the beginning of November?
JOHN WATERS: It starts on Halloween now; pretty soon it’ll be Labor Day. So we should make Christmas scary. Since it starts at Halloween, let’s put them together. They used to call Halloween “Gay Christmas,” so in a way, it is one big holiday season that we could put together and have scary things happen on Christmas. Like Santa’s head explodes on the top of the house, or something like that. Make it even newer and exciting.
What’s the best part of your Christmas tradition?
Every year, I design a card that I spend a lot of time on. I’ve been signing some two thousand of them; I’ve got about four hundred to go. I start doing it in the summer because people who work for me say, “What is it? It’s a big production; what are you going to do?” So I have to think up the idea, get it printed, have it made, do the envelopes, and all of that stuff. That takes quite a bit.
How do you decide on what your Christmas card angle is going to be every year?
I just have to think of something that’s going to make me laugh and let my own sense of humor show through. One year, I sent Liza Minnelli a card, and it came back, and it said, “Moved, left no return address.” So I just photographed that, and that was my card the next year.
One year, I made an advent calendar, but all of the doors that opened up didn’t have religious pictures inside, they had pictures of Johnnie Ray, people that you wouldn’t really expect on an advent calendar. One year, I had a Christmas ball that had a fake roach inside it, and they thought it was real. They would throw it against the wall.
You’ve said you most enjoy receiving books as gifts. What’s on your list this year?
I love books that I don’t know about that people find in thrift shops, like [books about] stars and their pets from the forties—really obscure, weird show-business books that nobody wants anymore. They aren’t highly collectible. They’re usually a nickel if you can find them. I like things on Beaver Cleaver or Ricky Nelson.
But I also like novelizations of movies. They have to be old. They can’t be the new ones. And obscure porn paperbacks with great titles, especially if they have a literary sidekick. I have A Cockwork Orange, I have Simmer and Spoke instead of Summer and Smoke. All the porn twists on classic literary titles, I find pretty good. Clitty Clitty Bang Bang is the one that’s always the most amazing. I have one from A Patch of Blue that’s A Patch of Brown. That’s really hideous.
Environmentalism is a really big deal now. There’s been some new data recently about how, in twenty years, we’re probably all screwed. So what should replace coal for people who have been bad?
Fracked coal. Wouldn’t that be the best? Any kind of fracking products. Sticks and stones—who would care if they got them? They even have fancy sticks and stones at expensive stores that you can buy. I guess fracked coal would be the most politically incorrect. Or maybe plastic bags, with plastic straws holding them down.
What do you feel is the best way one could have an anti-capitalist Christmas?
For one thing, you could have a failure tree. You take all your bankruptcy notices, all your parking tickets, all your unpaid bills, and you hang them on the tree. That way, you celebrate your defiance of the Christmas holiday and money.