John Waters – internationally known for his cult films like “Pink Flamingos,” “Female Trouble,” “Hairspray” and “Serial Mom” –  seems an unlikely person to host an annual Christmas show. But that’s exactly what he’s doing on Dec. 15 at Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points.

Waters, who refers to himself as the Pope of Trash, says he loves Christmas and has been giving an annual Christmas party for years. He sends out 2,000 hand-signed Christmas cards annually and rails against “eCards” as abominations.

Waters grew up in an upper class Roman Catholic family in Baltimore. One of his early fascinations was with “Punch and Judy” puppet shows, and Waters created his own version where his puppets violently fought each other. This was one of his early re-workings of cultural norms.

Under the mentorship of Glen Milstead – better known by his stage name, Divine – Waters set out to make films that challenged and poked fun the folkways, mores and institutions of his youth.

Waters’ transgressive films often took audiences to the limits of what was perceived as public decency. His following grew and soon he was making more transgressive films with notable personalities like Patty Hearst and porn actress Traci Lords. He also worked with mainstream actors like Johnny Depp, Rikki Lake and Tracey Ullman. His movie “Hairspray” became a musical theater production and then a musical film which earned over $200 million world wide.

Waters says a real life Christmas event from his childhood inspired the scene in “Female Trouble” where Dawn Davenport knocks over the family Christmas tree because she didn’t get cha-cha shoes. Waters says his grandmother’s Christmas tree fell over and all he could think of was “Did it crush my present?”

Waters has been touring with his Christmas show for over a decade. He says each performance is different and he rewrites the show each year.  “I  love doing the show because all the odd people show up and I get to hang out with them,” Waters says. He also gets to explore the limits of Christmas. “How bad do you have to be to really get sticks and stones instead of conventional gifts?”

Waters also has a new album called “Make Trouble,” a recording of his commencement speech to students at Wesleyan University. Waters expresses surprise that he was ever asked to make the speech given his tenuous relationships with institutions of higher learning. He told his audience to never fear the answer “no.” He says if you are afraid of no you will never get a “yes.” He told them not to hate all rich people, “someone has to fund movies and buy art.”

And he told them his idea of being rich is to “never be around a–holes.” Waters considers himself very wealthy in that regard.


Franklin Abbott is an Atlanta psychotherapist and writer. His latest project is a double album, Don’t Go Back To Sleep: New Songs and Selected Poems.

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