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Filthy, Divine, Full of Holiday Cheer: A John Waters Christmas Comes To The Byrd Theatre

The legendary cult film director will perform his one-man holiday show at The Byrd Wednesday night.

Marilyn Drew Necci | December 15, 2017

There was a time when it might have been a surprise to see John Waters bringing a Christmas-themed one man show to The Byrd Theatre, as he will do on Wednesday, December 20. However, at this point, A John Waters Christmas has become an annual holiday-season tradition for the Baltimore-based film legend, one he’s been doing for quite a few years now.

While Waters previously came to town in 2015 with his autobiographical show This Filthy World, which he also presented at the Byrd, this will be the first time Richmond’s been graced with a holiday performance from the director, and it should certainly be a night to remember.

Waters initially gained fame in the underground world of cult cinema. His early films, most of which starred notorious drag queen Divine, grabbed attention with their mix of comic filth, picturesque oddity, and outright perversion, all of which Waters glorified with a tongue-in-cheek love that was nonetheless quite sincere.

You might not expect someone who once included a scene in which a drag queen eats real live dog poop in one of his movies (Pink Flamingos, 1972) to be a big fan of Christmas, but Waters has never made his love of the holiday a secret. His 1985 essay collection, Crackpot, included an essay entitled “Why I Love Christmas.” In a very Waters-like twist, he relates his favorite childhood Christmas memory–the time he and his family arrived at his grandmother’s house to find that her Christmas tree had fallen over onto her and trapped her beneath it.

This sort of Christmas memory appeals to Waters’ unique appreciation for the holiday. “I think that you just can take the traditional things about Christmas and have a little more fun with them. I still do all the ‘normal’ things about Christmas, just, hopefully, in an offbeat way,” he tells Asheville Mountain Xpress reporter Kai Elijah Hamilton. “I have, like, Christmas balls with ugly relative pictures on them.”

Waters has been touring with his Christmas-themed one man show for over a decade at this point, bringing it to over a dozen cities each year. Speaking to Mountain Xpress, he explains his love for live performance. “I’ve always had a stage show of some kind or other — I never gave up on vaudeville,” he says. “Even when I made all the movies, I used to always do a show called This Filthy World, or An Evening with John Waters. It began when I use to tour with the movies to introduce them.”

While there are some general aspects of the Christmas show that are always the same, he reworks it each year. He tells C-ville Weekly’s Desire’ Moses that themes like the presents he wants for Christmas “makes me be able to talk about anything. [The show] always addresses fashion, politics, drugs, despair, presents, how to act at Christmas, how to get through it, how to love it, how to hate it and how to not let it defeat you.”

While Waters isn’t afraid to tackle any controversial topic, the increased cultural focus on social justice over the past several years has in no way hurt the reception these discussions receive. “I think I’m actually completely politically correct throughout the whole thing, if you really wanna know the truth,” Waters says to Cville Weekly’s Moses. “No one ever gets mad because I’m not mean about it.”

Indeed, while Waters has a liberal political worldview, he isn’t afraid of dialogue with the other side. “I’m not a separatist,” he tells Cville Weekly. “I invite the other side to make us laugh, because I think that’s the only way you’re going to change anyone’s opinion.” Waters knows that his brand of humor sometimes appeals to those who disagree with him politically, and he’s been using this fact to spice up this year’s shows. “In every town so far, I say, ‘Look, I’m not a separatist, there must be someone in the audience who voted for Trump,’” he relates to Cville Weekly. “‘So when you come up at the question and answer session, will you please say something funny against us, and everybody will cheer you.’”

For those who aren’t familiar with Waters’ over-the-top early works, a free screening of his 1974 film Female Trouble will be taking place on Sunday, December 17 at Strange Matter, courtesy of Chop Suey Books and Movie Club Richmond. The film, which stars Divine and makes gleeful reference to everything from the Manson Family murders to the classic American traditions of Christmas, is sure to put you in the mood for Waters’ appearance a few days later.

Indeed, this classic early Waters film plays a role in another Christmas tradition the filmmaker has been engaging in for decades–his legendary annual Christmas party. “It’s traditional, in a way, but the trappings are parodies of a traditional Christmas. We decorate the electric chair that Divine was fried in, in Female Trouble,” Waters tells Mountain Xpress.

Waters invites as many as two hundred guests to the party each year, and while things are somewhat toned down these days, it apparently got pretty crazy in the past. In “Why I Love Christmas,” he writes, “I used to throw the party on Christmas Eve, but so many guests complained of hideous hangovers I had to move up the date. No more moaning and dry heaving under their parents’ tree the next day.”

In order to reduce the tension at your own family Christmas gathering this year, Waters has a foolproof tactic to rein everyone in. “Just pass out whistles,” he tells Mountain Xpress. “So anytime anyone talks about politics, just blow the whistle, and people start laughing, and you won’t knock over the Christmas tree!”

Presented by Chop Suey Books and Movie Club Richmond, A John Waters Christmas will take place at The Byrd Theatre on Wednesday, December 20. Tickets are on sale now, and are available at Chop Suey Books in Carytown, or by clicking here to order online. Tickets are $40 in advance, and $50 at the door on the night of the show. This event is a benefit for The Byrd Theatre & Foundation and WRIR 97.3fm. For more info, click here.