Filmmaker and ‘Pope of Trash’ John Waters to bash Christmas at City Winery Dec. 1

SHARE Filmmaker and ‘Pope of Trash’ John Waters to bash Christmas at City Winery Dec. 1
SHARE Filmmaker and ‘Pope of Trash’ John Waters to bash Christmas at City Winery Dec. 1


Writer, director and provocateur John Waters has been working steadily since the mid-60s, and his far-out comedy oevre includes such dark and boundary-pushing cult classics as Pink Flamingos, Polyester, Serial Mom and Cecil B. Demented.

And although he hasn’t made a film in ten years, his popularity continues to grow — in large part due to the mainstream success of Hairspray: The Musical on Broadway and its 2007 big-screen adaptation (made two decades after Waters’ original 1988 film) starring John Travolta.

“I don’t want to make people mad,” Waters says of his work. “I want to make people laugh. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”

Shortly before Waters’ one-night-only performance of his show, “A John Waters Christmas,” at City Winery Dec. 1, the so-dubbed “Pope of Trash” spoke about Baby Jesus, tattooed teens, crack carolers and the “queer”-ness (Waters has long been openly gay) of Chicago’s own killer clown John Wayne Gacy.

Sun-Times: I’ve seen other Christmas-bashing shows, but I don’t know if you’d call yours that. You’ve said that you love everything you bash.

John Waters: I do. And I think Christmas is one of them. I get why people hate it, though. I don’t think that living nativity scenes are some of the most frightening things I’ve seen in my life. I go to them like people go on Halloween to haunted houses. They’re so perverted. I’m always so suspicious. I would never let my child be in one to play baby Jesus.

Q: Do you encourage the stealing of Baby Jesus nativity figures?

JW: No, I don’t. [But] when I was a child — and I talk about this in my show — I heard the phone ring and saw my parents ashen-faced and neighbors gathered practically with torches and I didn’t know what it was about. Someone had stolen the baby Jesus. And not that I’m for it, but I secretly wished that I was with those people.

Q: You were once given a John Wayne Gacy painting for Christmas.

JW: Yes. [Wearily] And I just inherited a second one. I don’t collect them…I hate John Wayne Gacy. He was the ultimate closet queen. I’m wildly against capital punishment, but who’s gonna miss him? He had to kill everyone he slept with so [they] didn’t tell. Who would want to sleep with that ugly clown? And he’s a really bad painter. All he did was copy other things. They look worse than paint-by-numbers drawings. He was a worse artist than he was a queer.

John Travolta as Edna Turnblad in John Waters’ 2007 film “Hairspray,” via

Q: What kind of feedback have you gotten about your show over the years from diehard John Waters fans and those who maybe brought Grandma to what they thought was a nice little Christmas performance?

JW: I’ve never made anyone mad for the last ten years, no matter how hard I’ve tried. Because people laugh. I don’t think somebody’s grandmother stumbles into the John Waters Christmas Show. I don’t think that happens accidentally. They just laugh. I don’t think I’m mean-spirited ever. I love the things I make fun of. I can get along with all types of people, really, no matter what their beliefs are — even if they’re completely opposite of me. There’s always some subject you can talk with people about.

Q: Do people get nervous talking with you because they don’t think they’re far-out enough or interesting enough?

JW:I usually have signings afterwards. And the older I get, the younger my audience gets. And I see them shaking. And I feel bad for them. When they try to take pictures, their hands are shaking. It’s very sweet, though. I’m very flattered that all these kids care. Parents bring me their f—— up children, like I’m going to bond with [them]. In a way, it’s touching. You see a father or mother with their ten-year-old boy, who’s in drag. Or a girl that has a tattooed face and she’s sixteen and they don’t know how to deal with it. And they’re trying to find a common ground to bond with her on, and I’m sort of flattered they think it might be me.

Q: From an artist’s viewpoint, does it disappoint you to now be thought of as mainstream?

JW:Well, first of all, I don’t call myself an artist. When people say to me I’m an artist, I always think, “Yeah, I’ll be the judge of that. History will be the judge of that.” I do know that I am an insider, which is the ultimate irony, because now everybody wants to be an outsider except me. It used to be I always wanted to be an outsider, but now that everybody else wants to be an outsider, I think it’s tired.

Q: Have you ever realized your dream of gathering your “third-world criminal friends” and singing “Oh, Holy Night” in a very white neighborhood?

JW:No. But I always wanted to form [a group of] crack Christmas carolers. People on crack who, when you open the door, scream, “Jingle bells!! Jingle bells!! Jingle all the way!!” Just to see how scared people would be. The Crack Carolers: I would like to produce that act.


City Winery

Sunday, Dec. 1 at 8 p.m. (doors open at 6 p.m.)

Tickets $65-$85

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