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John Waters Interview: The Pope of Trash Talks New Xmas Special & Novel

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Every year I wait anxiously for the best day of the year: The John Waters Christmas at the Great American Music Hall. Religiously, at the end of November I clear my calendar, nothing else is more important. This year it happens on November 29th and you better hurry and get a ticket cause there’s only a few left. And it WILL sell out, it always does.

John Waters doesn’t have social media, the only way of knowing his opinion on everything is literally coming to this show. His point of view is always so full of humor and wit, the audience is such a great mix of all sorts of people, there’s no other event I can compare this to. I love Mosswood Meltdown, Halloween Meltdown, The John Waters Easter, his book releases are fantastic and I will attend to all of them, but there’s NOTHING like the Christmas Show!

photo by Greg Gorman

His first novel was released earlier this year, Liarmouth: A Feel Bad Romance. And it was optioned for a movie, which would be his first movie in the last 18 years since the release of A Dirty Shame! Next year he’s getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a big exhibition at the Academy Museum Of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. So, lots of material to talk about and the only place to hear it all is at the Christmas Show.

This is last year’s marquee photo, get your tickets it’s not sold out YET

The generous folks at The Great American Music Hall put me in touch with my role model, my personal God: Mr. John Waters! I’ve been a fan since my teens, living in São Paulo (Brazil) pre-internet, digging for any information I could find on the coolest man alive. Dropping out of film school the minute the teacher told me we wouldn’t study his work. Back then, I even made a no-budget movie with my friends inspired by everything I learned from him. Demented Forever!

So it was a major honor to call John Waters at his office and do this interview, enjoy!

Patricia Colli: Hi John, how are you?

John Waters: I’m well, how are you?

I’m doing great. First of all I just want to say I’m a huge fan, I’ve been to your shows every year for the past 12 years and it’s my favorite thing in the whole world. There’s nothing like it!

It’s all new again this year, I rewrite it every year. San Francisco is the scariest cause it’s opening night and it’s the first time I’ve done it, I don’t know what jokes work. I don’t know how long it’s going to be and I don’t know what I’m going to remember (laughs).

That’s exactly what I’ve always wanted to know, because every year it’s so different. When people tell me “Oh, I’ve been to the Christmas Show” I always tell them that every year is different and it gets better.

That’s why I rewrite it every year, I do a new show every year. So it’s completely new. I just finished writing it today. I have two weeks to memorize it, and you know, I don’t use notes. It’s a 70-minute monologue that I have to memorize. This is my Alzheimer’s exercise.

I can’t believe you just finished writing it, that’s amazing! It’s always so streamlined, fast-paced and witty, as the audience it’s hard to catch a breath between one laugh after the other. I always feel like I’m in a trance for the whole time, it’s the best natural high ever!

Yeah I just finished today and now there’s many steps to memorizing it. I do a short version where I’ll slash words, then a shorter version and a don’t forget version. I have flash cards that I keep with me. And I have two weeks now, and there’s Thanksgiving in the meantime. It’s always right down to the wire because I have a lot of other jobs. I have another show I do all year and I just finished it. I did eight of them this month.

Is it “False Negative”?

It’s called “End of the World” now, I rewrote that one too!

Wow! So this is completely different from the Christmas Show?

I’ve only done The End of the World a few times, no one in San Francisco has seen that yet, so yes.

That’s impressive! So, how do you prepare for it now in the next two weeks?

You wake up every morning and you memorize it, you pace around and talk to yourself. I have a way of doing it, I don’t know how I do it. It just takes time, and then you start dreaming about it, and you dream “Where am I in it, you know?”. I always have to have an hour before I go on stage just to kind of click it in (laughs).

Do you have any rituals before going on stage?

Well, there’s a ritual as far as travel goes, I often have to get up at four in the morning to get a plane to get there and then I have to have an early arrival check-in for the hotel so I can go to sleep in the afternoon. Then get up, you have to eat and then go to the show. You need to be there at least an hour earlier to click it all in and not see or talk to anybody, just go on stage and do it! And after the show we now don’t do meet and greet, we call it group therapy. I have guests that come backstage afterward. In San Francisco I can go back and stay in my apartment, so it’s great!

Photo by Greg Gorman

So, you always start your Christmas tour in San Francisco, right?

It has been for the last 4-5 years. San Francisco is the first place I ever did it at the Castro Theater a long, long time ago.

Did you use to have an opening act?

I did have opening acts sometimes, Tammy Faye Bakker once opened for me, and I’ve had Jonathan Richman, Wanda Jackson. I don’t really have it anymore, not that I’m against it but I just haven’t had it recently.

How long have you been doing the Christmas show?

Oh, I don’t remember, they all just glue together, you have to look it up the first one was at the Castro Theater for sure. (editorial note: The earliest information about the Christmas Show in SF dates to 2002). I’ve been doing other shows in San Francisco, God… since the 70’s (laughs). San Francisco has been a great place for me, a very accepting audience.

We LOVE you!

It’s weird, after Covid San Francisco feels just like Baltimore (laughs)

(laughs) So I heard! How did you start with the one-man show? 

Oh yeah, I used to go to all the Colleges, that’s where the market was for Art Films. I went all over the country with Pink Flamingos, Multiple Maniacs and stuff. I would go to the theater with Divine and we’d introduce the movie so it started like that. In San Francisco we had a fake cop come out and pretend to arrest him, and Divine would strangle the cop and then the movie would start.

Wow! That’s amazing!! (laughs)

It was vaudeville, kind of. So, I guess I’m still doing that. It’s not that different. I have a prop this year, you’ll see. I won’t tell you what it is.

Oh, I can’t wait!!!! I’m so excited, I always look forward to your show. I was raised Catholic therefore I always HATED Christmas, but because of you, now I love Christmas. Cause it’s a John Waters Christmas, way better than the other one!

That’s great! It’s a great place to open the tour, I’m really excited. It should start in San Francisco!

What do you want for Christmas?

There’s almost nothing that I need… but what do I like? I like books, weird little books. You can always find books for me if you are in San Francisco at Kayo Books and at Bolerium Books.

(pause) I know what I want! If someone can find me, I can’t find it anywhere: there was a poster for the Presidential Primary In Oakland and San Francisco, I believe even the Black Panthers might have done this poster, it was for Shirley Chisholm and all it was was her picture and it just said “Outrageous!” and she was running for President, that’s what I want for Christmas! 

I’ve been looking for it for a long time and I can’t find it. (laughs)

This is what John Waters wants for Christmas, let’s find this poster!

Alright! I will put this out there and somebody might find it and get this for you! We’ll help spread the word and make this happen.

I’m curious to know what was your first creative memory that gave you a sense of self as an artist?

My parents took me to be on the Howdy Doody Show, which was the biggest, giant, hit television show in the 50’s and it was in New York, at NBC Studios, probably where Saturday Night Live is. I went in there and I was in the Peanut Gallery and I saw that it was all fake and that’s when I knew I was going to be in show business forever! So that was the moment as a child that I wasn’t disillusioned. I wasn’t disappointed. I was excited, I knew the secret and I knew this is what I was going to do.

Oh, I love that! Is that when you started your show? Pacing around your bedroom, talking to yourself pretending you had an audience?

I was a puppeteer at children’s birthday parties. That was my career when I was 12 years old. Then I had a little stage my parents built, it’s like Divine on Female Trouble “Oh a little stage” (laughs)

What kind of parent would build their child a stage, where I would put out self-indulgent Elvis Presley shows for my aunt, poor aunt she would probably just sit there horrified.

That’s so funny I wish I was there! (Laughs) I believe we can’t talk about Liarmouth yet…

We can talk about Liarmouth! I’m excited. It just got optioned to be a movie, let’s see. I have to write the screenplay, and I will start that right after the Christmas tour is over.

That’s exciting!! So is it going to be shot next year?

We don’t know that, a big Hollywood company optioned the book. So yes, for me to write and direct it, but I know what that means, the script has to get through this Hollywood system, budget, cast, you know, all the things that take a little time in Hollywood, but it’s a very exciting start, yes!

Do you have a cast in mind? Well, I’m sure you probably can’t talk about that, but…

Yes, but I would never talk about that yet, it’s bad luck! I have some ideas. Certainly yes. And because it was announced, agents are calling trying to get people to be in it already, they’re jumping the gun a little (laughs)

I can imagine! Everyone is talking about it, it’s a real big deal!  Ok, there’s a question that I have to ask you, because I’ve learned from you, my hero and my role model, that if you want something you should ask for it.

A “No” is free. If you want to be in show business don’t fear being rejected cause you will your whole life. It’s like hitchhiking, you only need one car to stop…

That’s a great lesson I definitely applied in my life thanks to you. Another one I’m working on is to not give things for free on social media, you can save it and use it as material, like you probably do on your Christmas Show, right?

Exactly! I wouldn’t have anything else to talk about if I put everything on Twitter. 

This is such a valuable lesson.

It’s for amateurs (laughs) You can make a living from that, you know? It’s like having a hobby, I don’t have any hobbies. I have careers. I’m offended when someone says “Do you have a hobby?” What? Do you think I collect stamps?! If I collected stamps that would be my business. (laughs) A hobby is for amateurs! (we both laugh)

What does a person have to do to get on your Christmas card list?

Well, that’s a complicated one and you can’t just ask me. I have to know you personally for a while, or maybe you hired me and paid me or, mostly I’ve dealt with you in business, it’s someone I’ve gotten to know more than casually. It’s hard to get on my Christmas card list! (laughs)

I’m already very happy to have had this chance to talk to you. To end this interview I’d like to know what gets you excited these days?

Oh God..What’s getting me excited is humor, always. What can we laugh about these days when it seems like the end of the world, the end of Christmas. It’s like Oh God, I’m not gonna have my Christmas party again. It seems everything we did before has not come back. So it’s a new world out there and I don’t know if it’s a better one.

But what excites me is being able to reinvent all this bad news into something good and that’s what my Christmas Show’s about and that’s what my spirit and my humor has always been about. That we need to make fun of our own rules too sometimes, not just society’s. 

That’s such a great answer! It’s been a pleasure and a huge honor. Thank you so much, John!!

You’re welcome! Make sure you come say Hi on Christmas.

I absolutely will, see you then!

John and I, many Christmas before lockdown when you could still take photos like this

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell Street

San Francisco, CA 94109

Tickets are $67.50 + 10.16 Fee

Doors open at 8pm

To purchase John Waters signed books and DVDs, Blu-Rays go to Atomic Books

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Patricia Colli

Patricia Colli

Patricia Colli is an artist, printmaker and music enthusiast based in San Francisco. Meet me at the mosh pit!