Photo: Greg Gorman

Filmmaker, writer, director and cultural icon, John Waters’s resume is impeccable, yet his self-description reads like the encyclopedia of bad taste. Dubbing himself the “Pope Of Trash” and “The People’s Pervert,” Waters carved a niche in the entertainment world by making outrageous films like “Pink Flamingos,” “Hairspray,” “Cry Baby,” “Pecker” and “Serial Mom.” These movies have become cult classics for honoring misfits, perverts and weirdos. For five decades, Waters has celebrated kitsch like no other artist, with movies, books and photography mastering tawdry themes and characters that mock the dark side of middle America. At 72, Waters still hasn’t stopped poking fun at suburbanites and calling out the ironies of the holidays. The acerbic wordsmith brings it all on stage with his popular annual and critically acclaimed “John Waters Christmas Show” at the Key West Theater, for one night only on Sunday, Dec. 16. 

“I love going to places like Florida that are not thought of as Christmasy,” said Waters, who has a long history with Key West. Waters stayed with friend, muse and star of many of his movies, the infamous Miss Divine, in Key West while writing parts of his bestselling book “Shock Value” (1981).  In 2013, Waters returned to headline the Key West Film Festival for the documentary feature “I Am Divine,” about the beloved friend and drag queen. Now it’s his second year bringing the Christmas show to the Key West Theater, and Waters loves a comeback story. 

“I have done the show for 14 years, but I rewrite it every year. I owe it to my audience,” said Waters, who has an endless array of thoughts and memories of the holiday season unlike any other. He is peculiarly sentimental about the holidays, in a contrarian way, often through funny observations: “I don’t understand living crèches, with real babies and animals. Animals can’t be forced to pray; we can’t make them choose Christianity.” And don’t get him started on holiday decor, “I feel sorry for teenagers whose parents overdecorate the house; it’s a real embarrassment. The kids can’t sell pot during the holidays with so many lights on. But what I really love is that one house on the street that refuses to decorate.” 

“The first present I remember is in a photograph: I am holding a puppet and “The Genius” album by Ray Charles. I can’t believe my musical taste was so good and, even greater, my parents gave it to me that young.” 

— John Waters, filmmaker

Conversely, Waters is strict about some traditions: “I sign over 2,000 cards a year and put a lot of thought into it.” As for receiving cards, of course he loves the witty ones, but electronic cards? He deletes every one. “How can you deny the mailman the honor?” As for Christmas decorations, Waters said, “I have always been inspired by the ‘50s; it’s easily mockable.” But he has a great reverence for the culture of Martha Stewart, who strikes the opposite image of his oft-flamboyant vision. “I met Martha Stewart at the Grammys — it was like good taste met bad taste, but I have a lot of respect for her; she’s an ex-con.” 

But Waters has no qualms about showing his softer side, as he easily talks reverentially about cooking for his family every year and his favorite gift to give, simply a book. He had no idea he may find Judy Blume at Books & Books and thought it was a great idea to pop by for a little Christmas shopping. Waters maintains the ability to draw in audiences, whether to tell the story about the time when the Christmas tree fell on Grandma or the time when his mother tried to put up real candles instead of Christmas lights, which Waters described succinctly as “terrifying.” As a whole, Waters thinks of Christmas as a “beautiful and weird” display of decor, tradition and festivities. He undoubtedly will entertain with his idiosyncratic observations about his favorite season and create the holiday spirit like no other.

John Waters
Sunday, Dec. 16 Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m.
Key West Theater
www.thekeywesttheater.com

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