(John Waters and Jed at the 2008 Task Force Leadership Awards)
A John Waters Christmas
How could you not love a guy who says, “Let’s pie the Pope… not to hurt him, just to ruin his outfit!”? Back in 2008, The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force honored openly gay filmmaker John Waters with a Leadership Award in New York City. Also planned to be honored that year was a lowly Lieutenant Governor named David Paterson. Paterson found himself to be New York State’s top politico by the time the Awards came around, thanks to the Elliot Spitzer hooker scandal. Via a videotaped message, Paterson tried his hardest to be funny (“Help! I’m trapped in Albany!”) in his acceptance speech. However, politicians– even when they try their best to be funny– just aren’t funny, at least intentionally. John Waters may be primarily known as a film director, but this man is a gifted comedian without even trying to be. It was a real trip to compare the embarrassed giggles of the 2008 Awards attendees when Paterson tried to be humorous, versus the laugh-out-loud reflections of John Waters just being… John Waters. Not many film directors, as talented as they may at making movies, can keep a New York City audience rolling in laughter for an hour and a half– which is just what happened at “A John Waters Christmas” on Tuesday, December 22nd at the hotspot B.B.King.
Underneath the crazy characters and outrageous situations that populate John Waters’ movies, there was always a shrewd commentary on pop culture and American society running through. For Waters’ fans, this is not a new revelation. As a total cinemaphile, I was wondering if The Prince of Puke would talk about his next project for the big screen– or, maybe, why we have been waiting so long to see his next cult classic-to-be. After all, it’s been five long years since his last film, “A Dirty Shame”. But while the raunchy raconteur did reference his own work many times in this sold-out show, his films were only one of seemingly dozens of kitschy cultural curios– from the ’50’s (when “twinks” were still known as “chickens”) to 2009– that Waters reflected upon that night. There was the story about the woman who had crabs in her eyelashes (All together now: Ewww!), or his priceless recollection of his visit to Elizabeth Taylor’s house. There was Waters’ reflections on plastic surgery (“Why do 60-year old women get cocksucker lips?”) and anal bleaching (He made us ponder, How come we never get to see any “before” and “after” photos?). Dressed in a red suit, he emphatically declared, “I’m feeling ‘Christmas crazy’– torn between anarchy and capitalism; needy, greedy, horny for presents; and filled with an unnatural need to be good!!” at the show’s opening. Being a Christmas show, we were treated to everything from Waters’ own childhood Yuletide memories, to gift suggestions, to the director’s own wish list. Waters revealed that yes, the urban legend is true: A Christmas tree really did fall on his grandmother– a scene which ostensibly became the inspiration for one of the most emblematic moments of 1974’s “Female Trouble”. (Waters’ first concern was that his gift wasn’t injured!). Regifting, according to Waters, is a tacky no-no. Gift cards mean you just don’t care. And fruit baskets as Christmas gifts are just wrong. (Substitute porn or drugs for fruit, however, and you’re good to go!). And, how do you spice up your own family holiday gatherings? Start with putting a whoopee cushion in the turkey so that it farts when you carve it. Some of the many prized ornaments on his cracked Christmas tree of a show was a few anecdotes about the late great Divine, which the audience really ate up like… well, I’ll avoid a “Pink Flamingos” reference.
John Waters is busier than ever. He makes endless appearances in front of the camera, as a commentator and as an actor. He beamed at how “TV Guide” Magazine picked the 1997 episode of “The Simpsons” that he guest-starred in (“Homer’s Phobia”) as one of the best episodes of that show ever. Waters is always looking for his next big, offensive thing to make his mark on America. How about an amusement park called “Pukerworld”– with black cotton candy and such attractions as… the man with no tattoos?! The world’s skinniest model?! Or…the “Weak Man”?! Or, a magazine called “Drip”, about the “lonely side of celebrity”? Or, “The John Waters Christmas Special” on TV? Why not? Isn’t it high time we revived those campy holiday variety shows of the ’70’s, a la Paul Lynde? If so, who would be one of Waters’ plum guests? Levi Johnston, playing the part played by the anonymous actor known only as the “chantant l’anus” in “Pink Flamingos”!
While we’re on the subject of that movie, I’ll make a safe bet that everyone who left the Times Square venue that night after Waters’ show had a shit-eating grin on their face that will last until the new year. It would be a shame if, like the OTHER perpetually smiling man wearing a red suit, John Waters comes around only once a year to entertain us. How about “John Waters’ Midsummer Night’s Wet Dream” come June? John, are you listening?