John Waters talks Christmas show, the politics of gift giving and Elf on the Shelf
"What you give people for Christmas is a political decision."
In recent years, “A John Waters Christmas” has become an annual tradition for those looking for a more provocative and debaucherous way to celebrate the holiday. Ahead of its return to Boston at the Berklee Performance Center on Thursday night, we caught up with the acclaimed and delightfully depraved filmmaker, comedian and overall icon to chat about the show, the politics of gift giving and what he really thinks about the Elf on the Shelf craze.
You’ve spent quite a bit of time in the Boston area over the years. How excited are you to be back in town?
John Waters: Oh I’m always happy to come to Boston, are you kidding? I use that airport more than any other airport because I’m always traveling from Provincetown. I always switch planes there. I always feel at home when I’m in Boston.
It’s a whole new show, so even if you saw it last year, there’s plenty and lots and lots of new material. Now it’s up to me to memorize it. I’ve written a whole thing and now all week I’ve been learning it.
How has the Christmas show evolved over the years?
John Waters: It’s probably more political this year because it’s impossible not to be. But all humor is political. Christmas is political. What you give people for Christmas is a political decision. And it’s also what can really wreck family traditions, especially this year when there’s a civil war going on in the country, basically, half and half. Nobody’s going to change anybody else’s mind. People are dreading going home this Christmas. So I’m telling everyone to bring a whistle, a little whistle that you pass out to everybody and anytime anyone mentions politics, you blow the whistle. That way, you can get through Christmas and everybody will end up laughing.
I’ll have to try that with my family.
John Waters: It’s so exhausting. Christmas is exhausting enough without politics on top of it. You know, I’m political, believe me, and I think Christmas almost has to be political because what we want in our stockings, what we want in our presents, what we want as gifts, what our message would be is political. But I’m not a separatist. I make jokes about both sides.
Do you have any tips for navigating office Christmas parties?
John Waters: I did think up a sexual act that you can do at one, but you’ll never be able to print that in your paper. It’s called a snowman and you have to come to my show to find out how to do it. And it can only work in cold weather, so you can do it in Boston. I think office parties, first of all, you have to be careful in an office anyways. My friend told me, in her office, you can’t even say to someone, “Nice dress,” because then if someone complains you have to hire a counselor to come in to train them about sexual [harassment], how you deal with everybody. It’s not an easy time to ask someone for a date. And when liquors involved at the office, I would tell you, “Bring a lawyer.”
You’re a big proponent of giving books as gifts. Do you have any book recommendations for this year?
John Waters: I’m a big fan of Rachel Cusk. I really live her novels. And I like obscure books that you find in collectable shops especially. I collect vintage porn. Like before pictures it was books with hilarious titles. I collect ones that are literary adaptations like instead of “Elmer Gantry” there’s “Thelma Gantry.” “Summer and Smoke” is “Sin and Smoke.” I had one, “Clockwork Orange” was, of course, “Cockwork Orange.” I collect them, and they’re hard to find. Or I like to find porn titles that have people’s names in them like “Hot Lisa,” then you give it to your friend named Lisa. And it always looks good on their coffee table.
You’ve said in the past that a gift card is a terrible Christmas present.
John Waters: It is unless… I wouldn’t mind a Bitcoin gift certificate to the dark web.
Are you big into Bitcoin?
John Waters: No, but that’s the only way you can buy things on the dark web, isn’t it? So I think that would be a very cool gift for a young person, a Bitcoin gift certificate to a HANSA Market – I think they shut that one down – but all the different ones that I would have no idea [how] to get. But I’m always impressed by people that know that. I respect hackers. They’re the new juvenile delinquents.
What’s the worst gift you’ve ever received?
John Waters: Someone gave me a gift card to Starbucks. I felt like saying, “I can afford a cup of coffee.” It’s like embarrassing to pull out this thing. It doesn’t have the political punch of food stamps... Another thing I always say every year is I really hate when someone sends me a gift basket. I can afford a pear for Christ’s sake. Gift baskets should have things in them that you would never buy for yourself like cigarettes or porn or out of circulation poppers.
What’s your take on Elf on the Shelf?
John Waters: What is up on a shelf? What do you mean?
It’s basically a toy elf that some parents use as a way to keep their kids behaved around Christmas, saying that it’s “spying” on them for Santa.
John Waters: So it’s a snitch. Well that wouldn’t go over in Baltimore. That would never be popular in Baltimore. Santa’s snitch is something I’d be against. I think all the bad little boys and girls should team up and make an enemies list of all the bad adults this year. Or who’s Santa to judge? Take your list and shove it.