Roger Catlin (c) 2014, The Washington Post. The sly-looking, pencil-mustachioed man behind such kitschy, offbeat Baltimore-based films as “Female Trouble,” the original “Hairspray” and “Serial Mom” would seem to be the last person you’d expect to sprinkle cheer in a holiday tour. (That wasn’t figgy pudding Divine was eating in “Pink Flamingos.”)
But the irrepressible John Waters continues to bring his wicked humor to “A John Waters Christmas,” his annual stand-up show in which he addresses odder aspects of the frenzied holiday season.
Waters, who just last month was touring the United Kingdom for his new book, “Carsick,” a chronicle of cross-country hitchhiking, winds up his most ambitious “John Waters Christmas” tour yet on Monday.
We spoke with Waters recently from a tour stop in San Diego, where he was nursing an ear infection. (“When they do the questions, I feel like Johnnie Ray up there,” said the man of a million references, adding, “He’s the only deaf pop star that I can think of.”)
Q: “A John Waters Christmas” has become quite a tradition. How long have you been doing it?
A: I first did it after my book “Crackpot” came out, because there’s a chapter in there called “Why I Love Christmas,” and it started with that, at least 10 to 12 years ago. But each year it gets bigger, and this year it’s 17 cities and the theaters are bigger and bigger. … But, yeah, I’m like a drag queen on Halloween; I’m working this Christmas. Me and Johnny Mathis.
Q: How has the show changed over the years? A: I always add stuff and change things around. I have everything in here from the Eminem/Lana Del Rey feud to the Boston bomber’s wife that got remarried. Oh, yeah, I work it all in.
Q: Does anybody get offended by what you say? No, my sister comes every year, and she always says, “How do you get away with saying that?” But nobody gets mad at anything I say anymore. I don’t think it’s much more acceptable, what I say, it’s just because I’m not mean. And I make fun of things I love and am interested in. And I always think my audience is smart, so I never explain references. I may be the only comedy Christmas show that has a joke about Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “My Struggle.”
Q: And those who don’t know it look it up when they go home? A: The smart ones do. Or maybe the smart ones know it. Or don’t admit they don’t know it. I’m educational, too.
Q: The audience probably comes for an alternative to other holiday shows. But don’t you have a sincere love for Christmas?
A: I do, but I understand hating it. I would be offended if saw the nativity scene in the state capitol. But I go every year to look at living crèches because they’re the scariest thing, like haunted houses for other people. To me, it’s too bad Diane Arbus is dead because she could have such a great show, taking pictures of the living crèches.
Q: Everybody talks about how commercial Christmas is. Is that a problem for you? A: The commercialism, you can make fun of it. You don’t have to fall for it. You can give presents that cost a nickel that are great. It’s about how much time you spend thinking about it; it’s not how much they cost. It’s like gift cards. I always say (they’re) the rudest thing you can give to people. …One year someone gave me a Starbucks card, and I felt so low pulling it out to pay for a cup of coffee. It’s so low-rent.
Q: Do you still throw a Christmas party in Baltimore? A: Yeah, it’s my private party, it’s for the people in Baltimore, everybody from the governor to the man with the singing (bottom) in “Pink Flamingos.” It’s quite a varied guest list. The best was a prisoner I helped get out of prison and the judge who sentenced him. It was a little awkward at the buffet table, but they got along OK.
Q: What about Maryland’s new governor-elect? A: I didn’t invite him yet, because I don’t know him. And (Martin) O’Malley is still governor. He comes every year. The mayor comes. I don’t know this one. If he kills the movie business, he sure isn’t going to be invited.