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Arts & Culture

John Waters returns to bring San Diego more Christmas cheer

Filmmaker John Waters has embraced the titles of the "Pope of Trash" and the "Sultan of Sleaze." He's also proud that his 1972 film "Pink Flamingos" starring Divine shocked audiences with its satiric assault on the status quo. But now he’s a beloved cult figure thanks to the mainstream success of "Hairspray" and the Broadway musical inspired by it. 

On Dec. 4 the guru of bad taste returns to San Diego for "A John Waters Christmas" at the Belly Up Tavern.

John Waters is old school, and I say that with absolute respect. I have had multiple interviews with him over the decades and he still uses the same muffled landline piped through his office. But no matter what the sound quality, he is John Waters and he is always a delight to speak with.

John Waters and KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando at his 2014 Christmas show. Dec. 2, 2014
Beth Accomando
John Waters and KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando at his 2014 Christmas show. Dec. 2, 2014

He has also resisted joining social media and for the most refreshing reasons.

"I'm not interested in Facebook," Waters said. "That's a lazy way to be a friend. You don't have to get your hair done. You don't have to go out. You don't have to make phone calls. Having old friends is work. You have to put out effort. Facebook is a fake friend. That's not real. Nobody likes anything. It's just lazy friendship for slobs."

But he also has a practical reason for staying off the platforms.

"I'm not giving away my ideas on Twitter or whatever it's called. Only a Twitter idiot would do that. I sell my ideas. I don't give them away. That's how I make my living. I work 10 hours a day," Waters said.

Waters has just finished writing a new version of his "A John Waters Christmas," which he is taking on tour.


"It's completely different," Waters insisted. "It's about how everything seems like it's over, the end of the world, and I'm going to tell you how to fix it. And is Christmas broken too? Is that even going to work this year? Everybody's despairing, including me. But I believe in hope. So it's an optimistic show about the problems of Christmas."

Waters tours with a number of different shows but he always returns to Christmas.

"Because it's an extreme moment and no matter what nationality you are, what religion or anything, it's coming at you like a steamroller from hell," Waters said.

Waters occupies a unique place in pop culture. He's rebellious, anti-establishment, on the fringe but his particular kind of challenge to authority seems to be free from the kind of hate and anger that usually fuels that kind of attitude.

"That's why I've been able to get away with it for 50 years," Waters said with glee. "Because I make fun of the things I love, not hate. So I'm not mean-spirited. And the first step is I make fun of myself. I did in the very beginning of my career, and I still do. And that's the difference. The politically correct crowd is so self righteous. So you don't try to make your enemy feel stupid. You make them feel smart and you make them laugh, and then they'll listen to you, and maybe you can change their mind."

Tickets for "A John Waters Christmas" are almost sold out but Waters will be easy to find elsewhere. The Academy Museum has a museum show planned on him in 2023.

"I'm so respectable, I'd like to puke," Waters said. "But it's exciting and I'm doing the exact same thing. I haven't changed. My new book is completely insane, as insane as 'Pink Flamingos.' So I don't really think I've changed. "

Plus he has announced his return to feature films. So a lot to look forward to from the Pop of Trash and Sultan of Sleaze and that is a holiday gift in itself.