By TOM D'ANTONI // The one-and-only talks about "A John Waters Christmas," his Saturday, December 3 show and some Baltimore stuff (of course).
I've known John Waters since 1970 when he was the underground film maker in Baltimore and I was a part of (and then publisher of) HARRY, the underground newspaper of record there. I may have written the first review of "Pink Flamingos," something I forgot to confirm or deny when I talked with him this time around. But it was one of the first. In it, I said, "People are going to think these people are exaggerated, but I KNOW them."
He allowed me to be in the famous "Who wants to die for art?" crowd scene in "Female Trouble." In 1971, we named him HARRY's Man of the Year. Over the years we have had various contacts. He sends me Christmas cards and last year he called me to find out a piece of Baltimore advertising trivia. (The slogan used by Cushner's Men's Wear shops. "Short, fat, thin or tall, Cushner's fits them all.")
His annual Christmas show comes to the Aladdin Theater on Saturday December 3, billed as "A John Waters Christmas."
He turned seventy in 2016. So did I. Here's how the phone call went. We did this before the election, before Americans lost their minds and elected a fool.
JW: Hi Tom
Hey John how are ya?
I’m well how are you?
I’m not dead yet
Of course, after the election we’ll see.
Well it will either be anarchy or they won’t let her do one thing. So either way there’s gonna be lots of trouble. It’s so on my nerves. I’m so sick of it. I already voted so.
I don’t know anybody who’s not fucked up about this.
I don’t know even though, and I know Republicans, and I don’t know one that’s voting for Trump. Now, I don’t think they’re voting for Hillary either, but I know they’re not voting for Trump, so I don’t want to ask, ya know? Who knows. It’s a low rent reality that’s all we know. I’m pulling for her, I have no problem with her at all. I’d be hiding my e-mails too. I wish I could hide them now. I’d really hate it if someone read all my e-mails I’d have to commit suicide.
I know it’s just fucked up.
I guess the only thing is where’s Weiner? He’s living with Monica Lewinsky because both of them, nobody can find them. But I think Monica did the correct thing to really be unreachable. Because you haven’t heard her, I mean she always used to be somehow weirdly in the light in some way. She is not through this entire election.
Correct. It’s just nuts, I’m one of those guys who watched every minute of news and I’ve just stopped.
Me too! But I’m even sick of it though.
I’ll watch Rachel, that’s about it.
See I can’t watch her, I like her but I can’t watch it anymore, even CNN for me it’s too obvious what side they’re on. So I can’t stand any of them when I can tell what side they’re on, which is all of them. I don’t want to just listen to somebody that I agree with. And I don’t feel like watching Fox because they’re everybody I hate. But I do read the Wall Street Journal editorials to know how smart people that I hate think. Which is I think important.
Yeah it is, it is.
I like Rachel she’s the one that explained tea bagging on television. You can hear the whole crew laughing as she was explaining. So I’m totally for her but I don’t know it’s just – I miss Walter Cronkite.
Alright we better start talking Christmas! I’m doing twelve of these today.
Ok, are you aware of the history of the theater in which you will be performing?
Um, let me think, have I been there before, where am I?
I’ve done it there before
I know that but are you aware of its history?
I might have been. Tell me
It was for many years a porn theater
Well many of them were. A lot of the theaters I’ve played in were originally beautiful vaudeville homes or they became the fanciest theaters in town and then they fell and fell and fell and then they became porn theaters. And then they became churches and then were closed down. Or they became churches and then were rescued by liberals in the community and turned into showcase theater for the city which is great they did that. Is that what happened here?
It’s just a nice theater, it was never a movie palace but I’m wondering if while you’re performing the ghost of Christmas past will be giving blow jobs to married men.
Well maybe, the thing is when I’m on stage, when I go in the dressing room… I’m doing 18 cities and I’ve been doing this for 40 years at one forum or another, so I do get mixed up where I am. And when you walk on stage it’s black when you look out. You can’t see one thing because the lights are on you. The only time I can tell where I am is when they turn on the lights for question and answers and then you see Oh, there we are! Oh, it’s big! I don’t even know how big it is really. And then I realize I’ve been there before. But I realize from the dressing room, that’s the one thing you can always tell as soon as you walk in you have a flashback. But Portland and Seattle both I’ve done them in the last couple years a lot and then I’ve come back and done my regular show there so I’ve been in those theaters a lot. And both those cities have always been great for me. And Portland is like Baltimore in some ways. In the best sense of the word.
Nope? Well neither is Baltimore. Have you been here recently? Hampden is completely Brooklyn, New York. One hundred percent.
I know I’ve heard that
No you don’t know! If you haven’t seen it you would be shocked. And it’s good in a way. I’m not complaining even, because otherwise it would be boarded up.
Yeah, it’s that people can’t afford to live anywhere anymore that’s the problem.
No in Baltimore they can, Baltimore is still cheap. But anywhere else. It’s still the only city left where you can be a bohemian and a lot of kids are moving here from New York for that exact reason.
And in the worst neighborhoods like on the other side of Greenmount Avenue, and that’s full hood, lots of things are going on. Big giant warehouses of kids and stuff.
So what are you gonna do in this show?
Well I always rewrite it every year ya know I’ve got a lot of new material. I write it in July in Provincetown so I don’t have to have last minute worry. And I’ve written the whole thing. I haven’t learned it yet. I’ll start learning it next week.
So is it just you on stage? Is there a set?
No it’s just me. It’s always just me. 70 minutes, no notes, no safety nets. But it’s my anti-Alzheimer’s exercise. But I talk about everything. I talk about stocking stuffers, I talk about when I’d want to give you religious joke items. Crime. When to do crimes that are really good to do at Christmas. Curses you can put on family members if they do bad things for you at Christmas. I get into it. What drugs are really good to get people for Christmas. I’m really against gift cards unless it’s to Chaturbate, ya know? I always come up with new ideas that you can use at Christmas I hope. And I always wonder what you have to do to get sticks and stones. Because I never met a child ever in my entire life who got sticks and stones, did you?
No, or a lump of coal.
That’s the same. But now they have in designer shops you can get fancy ones you can get jokes, you can get art ones . So I just try to think and I talk about on the show what do you have to do these days to get sticks and stones? It has to be pretty extreme. So you’ll have to see the show to hear, but I have some scenarios that you’d like, to get them today.
Well ya know of all the famous Christmas movies and the ones they play on TCM every year…
They’re not very good. I don’t even like that many Christmas movies.
You have the most iconic Christmas scene ever!
Well that one does play a lot at Christmas for that reason. And people now all over the country tell me about when their tree fell over. It happens a lot. It’s dogs and liquor, are the two main culprits.
That tree didn’t fall over; she knocked it over on you
She threw it on me. But it did fall over on my grandmother and that’s where the idea came from when I was young. My grandmother later thought it was really funny that I had taken that and turned it into something. But yes it did happen to my grandmother. But now I found people tell me in each city yeah the tree fell over in my house and this is why, what happened. So it happens a lot and it’s usually the cat or the dog or drunk. And so I’ve heard a lot of stories about it now. But I’ve never heard of one, actually I do know one, I know someone that got arrested and when the police came in the house to bust him and his parents he followed them and the tree fell over. That’s kind of even worse. Because he ruined their whole Christmas.
But her motivation. Divine’s motivation.
And it was for murder. It was, so, that was a horrible Christmas scene. There is a lot of terrible things that happen at Christmas and they always seem worse or better if it’s at Christmas. I don’t know, the worst thing is if it’s your birthday on Christmas. You really get ripped off. Your whole life. You’re always the second best to Jesus.
But the thing was Divine’s motivation. She had the best motivation because she didn’t get what she wanted.
Well and she had told them and it’s never really been discussed that not only did they not give her cha cha heels, they gave her the opposite of cha cha heels. They gave her papagallos. That’s what those shoes were. Which were the most private school, debutante, good taste shoes. So not only did they give her a bad version of something or maybe a cheaper version or not the most extreme, they gave her the opposite because they say nice girls don’t were cha cha heels. And even today drag queens always don’t know what cha cha heels are. When I go around the country they always have contests and everything. They don’t know. Cha cha heels are not high heels. Cha cha heels are little short squat heels. They aren’t high heels. But people always think they are something different. And even drag queens don’t know. So I try to educate them.
So did you say 70 minutes of stand up?
Yeah and then 20 minutes of questions.
But they always ask you the same stuff right?
No they don’t at all. I was just doing an interview, I just hung up and the woman said at Christmas if you had to lose one of four limbs which would it be. So no they don’t always ask me the same stuff.
Well I’m glad I’m happy for ya cause that we be a drag if they did.
Once they said have you ever eaten pussy. You would be surprised at the stuff they ask. One said I’m a straight man I’ve never kissed a boy can I come up now and kiss you. I said yes. He was cute. I said yes. I mean it wasn’t Frenching or anything, it was chaste. A lot of girls always say can I hug you and I say well no because of the Ebola disease, really, I’m nervous. That’s offended sometimes, but I don’t mean it personally.
So I wanted to ask you about Multiple Maniacs? How was it received?
Are you kidding, the last I looked we were 100% favorable in views on rotten tomatoes. I don’t think any other movie has that. Which is ridiculous, I’ll be quite frank. But it’s amazing. It had like 40 dates around the country. For a movie that was made 47 years ago on 5,000 dollars and then Criterion putting it out. One of the classiest. Janus films distributing it theatrically. Ya know,I said it looks like a bad John Cassavetes movie, now it’s the best I could ever hope for.
I loved what I saw. All the stuff about it, and of course they used the lobster still.
Are you sure? Well I think they didn’t. I don’t think they revealed that. I mean they use any stills, they find them everywhere.
That’s all I saw.
It might have been.
And that brick wall that ended up being my living room. (After he and his friends moved out, me and the crew from the underground paper moved in.)
I know and oh, Tom I can tell you this! I always dream I still live there. Well I went back with my mother before she died and I knocked on the door. Nobody answered, nobody answered. Then an old African American man peeked open the door and said “you don’t wanna come in.” It was like a rooming house. So then recently Porter Phil (??) and I went out to dinner and I said let me just show you this. And he had just seen Multiple Maniacs so I said right here I’ll show you where I lived. We went around back it’s not a rooming house, it’s abandoned, they were squatters. Windows are broken out, boarded up, squatters live in it now. Which depressed me because that was a nice apartment.
That was a great apartment, yeah.
It was a duplex. When I lived there, there was a plumbing school on the first floor that we had to walk through. When you lived there it was Hare, right?
The second Harry house was the top two floors.
And what was in the first floor?
The first floor was Vietnam Vets against the war. That was the apartment where PJ O’Rourke used to piss in the sink.
I know, well alright we gotta wrap this up I have another one in three minutes!
Ok John great, appreciate you talking.
Are you gonna be there?
I would love to be there yes I’ll talk to the people at the theater.
Alright good man, tell me and I’ll put you on the backstage, come back stage or something
Appreciate it. Merry Christmas John!
Oh I know, they way you’re saying that, that’s so weird but merry Christmas! Ho ho ho ha ha ha.