John Waters loves Christmas. (Make that mostly loves Christmas, but more on that later.)
The director of cult-classic films like Pink Flamingos, Polyester and Hairspray, puts on an annual Christmas pageant filled with yuletide cheer, smutty stories and Santa-worthy belly laughs.
TIME caught up with Waters before his critically-acclaimed one-man show rolled into New York City to talk about his complicated relationship with the holiday, why you should bring a whistle to all family functions and, in his words, “putting the X in X-mas.”
TIME: What can we expect at a John Waters Christmas?
John Waters: At my show, I talk about what I want for Christmas, the best Christmas presents I’ve gotten, Christmas music. I mean, why didn’t Pussy Riot do a Christmas album? Why didn’t Mrs. Miller ever do a Christmas album? Why didn’t Old Dirty Bastard do one? There are so many missed Christmas chances. I’m really happy to see that Johnny Mathis has a new Christmas album out. I’m thrilled that it’s on the Billboard charts this week. It’s his 73rd album to make the Billboard charts since he started! Now that is a career I’m jealous of.
That is an incredible career. Do you think these Christmas extravaganzas that you put on are a natural extension of your own career?
I do! They are just another way to tell stories. Whether I’m writing books or making movies or doing a show, I’m always telling stories and I’m always updating them. My Christmas show is completely written and rehearsed. It’s not like we’re just up there bulls—ing. The Christmas show is really for everybody. If you hate music, if you love it, you’ll love the show.
So it’s safe to assume you really love Christmas?
Yes, but there are some things that I hate about Christmas. I hate it when I get pears. How would anyone dare to buy me a pear? I’m always shocked when I open a box and there are six pears! I mean, how dare you? I can buy myself a goddamn pear! I think gift baskets should be liquor or cigarettes or porn, just things you’d never buy for yourself. A dear friend in New York sent me a basket of pears for Christmas last year and it did make me laugh when I actually saw one after I’d been bitching about them for so long.
What would you like for Christmas this year?
Any box set of CDs from Bear Records. I always want books. I would love a gift certificate to Kayo Books in San Francisco. It’s my favorite bookstore in the country. They collect uncollectable books like soft porn. I love Christmas cards, too. I make my own every year and have them printed, but you don’t have to go that far. The best thing to do is get Hallmark cards and deface them! Change them to say “Season’s Beatings,” you know? I’m really into taking the traditional Christmas and twisting it. For example, if you’re looking for a good Christmas present, go through all your photos from childhood and pick the ugliest pictures of your relatives and put them on Christmas balls. They’ll like it! Even your ugly relatives will like them. It’s fun and takes the pressure off of Christmas.
I understand that your Christmas card list has around 1,800 people on it.
It does, but you know, I know every single one of those people. I take people off off it each year, too! If I can’t remember who they are. And if I ever see you sell one on eBay I will track you down and have you killed.
I guess that’s one way to get removed from the Christmas card list.
I’m always looking for ways to get attention for the Christmas-card list. One way to do that is to send every single one with one-cent postage due, so the mailman has to knock on every single door. Do they still do that?
I don’t think I have ever met my mail carrier.
I have! But in Baltimore you go to the post office and it’s insane! You’ll get stuck there for three hours. I feel sorry for the postman! I figure it would be really great to send 1,800 Christmas cards with one penny postage due so he has to find every single one and ask them for a penny! That would be so great. That would get a lot of attention.
If you pulled that off, you could be singularly responsible for bringing down the United States Postal Service!
But I love the mail! I was so mad when they were going to cancel Saturday mail. I like my postman. I get a huge amount of mail everyday!
I understand that when [Saturday Night Live and Portlandia star] Fred Armisen was a kid, he wrote you a letter and you wrote him back. And I read that you wrote letters to filmmakers Russ Meyers and Herschel Gordon Lewis.
Yes, when Fred Armisen was a kid he wrote me a letter and he had the best line: How come you get to Cannes and I get sent to the school psychiatrist? I wrote, Don’t worry, you’ll get there! I got sent to the shrink too. Just keep doing what you’re doing and I’m so happy for him. What a great career he’s had. I’m so proud. And, yes, I used to write to Russ Meyers and Herschel Gordon Lewis. But, you know, don’t ever let your children write a letter to Dear Santa. Who reads those letters? Some pervert! They just go in a box somewhere and some pervert at the post office has your child’s home address and knows what they want. Don’t do it!
I have to tell you, it kind of sounds like you have it out for the post office.
No, I like the post office! But, really, why tell your child that if you’re good all year, you’ll get a present for Christmas. So why do they have to write a letter on top of it? I already did what you told me, just give me the present! It seems so unfair that if the child has already kept up its end of the bargain that they have to write a letter on top of it all. I mean, come on.
Do you believe in Santa?
I believe in him! I’m just confused is all. I mean, is Santa gay? Is Santa a bear? What do they call the bears with silver …polar bears! Is Santa a polar bear? Is Mrs. Claus a Goldilocks? That’s what they call fag hags who hang around. Bears. Are elves twinks? I mean, one of the reindeer is called Prancer! I mean, really.
With all this love of Christmas, how do you celebrate?
Pretty traditionally. I always say you can’t have fun with bad-taste Christmas unless you have good-taste Christmas. I was fortunate growing up, but you know I always tell people that when they go home for Christmas and are there with the whole family and it’s abusive: they need to do is bring an abuse whistle with them and then whenever someone says something hurtful, you blow that whistle. People are touchy at Christmas and don’t realize how hurtful words can be!
Kind of like dog training?
Well, it’s more about pointing out the hurtful words. People don’t realize they are being mean, so if they hear a loud BROOOO! they’ll know! Maturity with your family is thinking before you talk.
Have you tried this trick at your family Christmas?
No, because we don’t fight at Christmas at all.
Do you have any must-see Christmas movies?
This year I am SO angry that there isn’t an Alvin and the Chipmunks movie coming out. I always go alone to the matinee on Christmas like a pervert. That movie made money! Why didn’t they make another one this year? But for Christmas movies, the best one ever —and I’m even on the box set about it— is Christmas Evil. It’s about the guy who is so obsessed with Santa Claus that he gets a job at a toy factory and spies on all the children to see if they are good or bad. And then he gets stuck in a chimney on Christmas Eve. It’s really good. It’s hard to beat Christmas Evil. I like evil Christmas movies. I’m not much for It’s a Wonderful Life because I already have a wonderful life and Christmas to me, well, I understand how brutal Christmas can be. I try to recognize all sides of Christmas. I’m all for a War on Christmas if it’s to stop the government trying to tell us we have to celebrate Christmas or what religious holidays we should have. Yet I understand that some people are offended by it because they don’t believe in it.
You had plans to make a children’s Christmas movie, right?
I never got the money for it! Who knows maybe I still will. I’ve never done that genre before. I’ve every kind of genre there is and children like me! I would be a good uncle and a terrible father. It’s about a very functional family of meat thieves, which we have in Baltimore. They knock on the door and say need any meat? And you say I’ll take a pound of pork and a ham and they shoplift it and bring it back and you pay half. So the kid is fulfilling the orders for the neighborhood on Christmas Eve and he gets caught and he runs away with a little black girl who has bad gay adoptive parents who force her to have gay Kwanzaa and they hook up with some orphans named the Lousy Lambs and they team up to steal all the meat from all the families and give it all to the poor people in a slush storm on Christmas Eve. Sounds like a classic to me!