John Waters brings irreverent Christmas show to Hudson Valley
Want proof? Take a look the event poster, which features a Rockwellian caricature of him in a Santa suit, holding an archer's bow and a lifeless Easter Bunny victimized by a protruding arrow.
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The seeds of the show were sown in 1985 when he wrote a National Lampoon called "Why I Love Christmas," which, while blunt, is a sincere love letter to the holiday.
"If you don't have yourself a merry little Christmas, you might as well kill yourself," reads an excerpt. "Every waking second should be spent in Christmas compulsion: career, love affairs, marriages, and all the other clutter of daily life must take a backseat to this holiday of holidays. As Dec. 25 fast approaches, the anxiety and pressure to experience 'happiness' are all part of the ritual. If you can't maintain the spirit, you're either a rotten Communist or badly in need of a psychiatrist. No wonder you don't have any friends."
The full essay later appeared in his book, "Crackpot," and became the inspiration for his stage show. With holiday commentary and spoofs of classic Christmas TV specials, "A John Waters Christmas" debuted at San Francisco's Castro Theatre about a decade ago, and has toured the country nearly every year since. This year's 16-city tour includes Hudson Valley stops at The Bardavon Theater in Poughkeepsie on Dec. 1 and at Tarrytown Music Hall on Dec. 3.
Waters says he's tinkered with the production every year to keep it fresh. Word-of-mouth and loyal fans have helped him play venues small and large -- including the 2,564-seat Lyric Opera House in his beloved home of Baltimore.
"It's gotten bigger, but it's still just me with a microphone and a bottle of Evian," he said.
Despite being the deliciously deviant director of "Hairspray," "Cry-Baby," "A Dirty Shame" and "Pink Flamingos," Waters is earnest about his love for the holiday season.
"I embrace it in a really nonmainstream way," he said. "I realize that for some people, Christmas is torture -- it's emotional torture, financial ruin -- but I give you good advice, even if you're a criminal on Christmas ... I talk about redoing all my movies as Christmas movies. I talk about what I want for Christmas. I talk about what I'd like to get you for Christmas. There is no aspect of Christmas that is left unturned after a show."
And he does more than talk about it. He mails Christmas cards to thousands of people -- yes, thousands -- in a given year. If you think that's commitment, imagine the investment he made the year he included a dollar bill inside each card.
"That was a conceptual idea," he said. "I just sent out the last of my 2,100 Christmas cards [in November]. I make a card every year. [I send them to] everybody."
And while those recipients must have been thrilled to receive Waters' cards with money in them, that's not to say he's big on cash for the sake of cash. Just ask him what his least favorite present is, and he'll sigh, then grumble about gift cards.
"That just means people think you're stupid, and they have no interest because they're too lazy to go shopping," he said.
"A John Waters Christmas" also includes an audience Q and A segment, which, as you might imagine, has its share of provocative questions and responses.
"Recently, I was in New York City and I played a club, and the question was from this guy in the audience with a girlfriend," Waters recalled. "And he said, 'I just realized, I've never kissed a man; can I come up and kiss you?' And I'm thinking he's kind of cute, so I said, 'Sure.' And he did, and the audience went crazy, but then other people started [asking the same questions] and I said, 'No, no, this is not a kissing booth.' That kind of surprised me."
If you head to the show, and worry that all your questions won't be answered during the performance, tickets at the $100 level at both Hudson Valley venues offer access to a post-show meet and greet. Waters offered another incentive to buy those tickets.
"I give lap dances," he said.
IF YOU GO
What: "A John Waters Christmas"
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1
When: 8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3