Arts & Culture News

You Better Watch Out: A John Waters Christmas: Filthier & Merrier Is Coming to Town

Santa, Satan ... John Waters can't tell them apart.
Santa, Satan ... John Waters can't tell them apart. Greg Gorman

In John Waters' 1974 dark comedy Female Trouble, Dawn Davenport (Devine) crushes all of her family's Christmas presents and turns the tree over on her mother when she doesn't get the cha-cha heels she wanted because "nice girls don't wear cha-cha heels."

So began Waters' public relationship with toppling Christmas traditions and giving a whole new spirit to the season.

On Saturday, Dec. 14, Waters will be bringing his stage show A John Waters Christmas: Filthier & Merrier to The Kessler to set the souls of holiday traditionalists ablaze.

"I don't think I am thumbing my nose at it," Waters says about the holiday. "I think I'm celebrating it, but I'm trying to celebrate it for people that might usually hate it or the crazy side of it. I would have nice traditional Christmases when I was young, but I always kind of made fun of it in a way because it was so holy."

In 2004, Waters released A John Waters Christmas, a compilation of his favorite irreverent Christmas songs, on New Line Records. Featuring songs like "Fat Daddy" and "Santa Claus Is a Black Man," the compilation is the Christmas album every holiday prankster would love to spin in the background of a traditional Christmas just to see the family's reaction.

"I'm almost sick of it now because they play it every year at every show I do," Waters says. "I made a new tape last year and put some different ones on there so we have a little more variation."

This is the second year Waters has taken his annual Christmas show on the road.

"In the gay culture, he's called a polar bear — he's an overweight man and he's old." — John Waters on Santa Claus

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He began this new holiday tradition in 1996 at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, drawing his inspiration from the gimmicks of William Castle and the nurses in Kroger Babb's sex education films.

"It's always just been me onstage, but I constantly rewrite it," Waters says of the show. "It's almost completely new every year. It evolves with what's in the news. It evolves with what I'm doing. It evolves with what movies are out. It is very much current events driven, not just about politics, but fashion, movies and censorship."

Waters is tight-lipped about what exactly he has in store for audiences this year, but he is willing to say that this year's show captures the country's divided spirits.

"I talk plenty about how this is an angry Christmas for everybody no matter what your politics are," Waters explains. "Maybe we need to get angry at some of the traditions. Who is this Santa who keeps lists about children he doesn't know. It's creepy to me!"

Waters' curiosity about Santa's motives is never-ending, and he intends to bring more people into his endless quandary about this perennial gift-giving man.

"In the gay culture, he's called a polar bear — he's an overweight man and he's old," Waters says of Santa Claus. "So, is Mrs. Claus a chubby chaser? I'm trying to figure out Santa's sexuality. And, is he a fascist? All those poor reindeer! Do you know how many presents they have to deliver? In 26 hours, that comes out to something like 800 million a second."

But it is not just Santa that comes under Waters' scrutiny. Christianity's take on the season will also be investigated in Waters' show.

"I'm trying to be realistic about religion, about the nativity scene and everything," Waters says. "I talk a lot about the separation of church and state and how Christmas is offensive to people that aren't Christian. Why do they have to listen to those Christmas carols all the time?"

For Waters, tearing at the fabric of the two biggest icons of American Christmas is a way of bringing people together at this festive time of year. The difference is that his show celebrates Christmas for what it isn't — because people are too serious about what it supposedly is.

"I believe in science. I don't really believe in many religions," Waters says. "I think people have the right to follow whatever religion they want as long as they don't make me do it, but they always try to make other people do it. That's the problem.

"You know, I don't make you like trashy movies."
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David Fletcher writes about music, arts and culture for the Dallas Observer. You can usually find him at a show in Deep Ellum whether he's writing about it or not. A punk scholar and local music enthusiast, David focuses his attention on the artists screaming in the margins of Dallas' music scene.
Contact: David Fletcher