“John Waters Christmas” tour in Denver takes gleeful, subversive aim at holiday traditions

John Waters’ one-man shows are the stuff of legend — provided your legends arrive with a heaping side of filth. The cult director’s latest show to visit Denver, “A John Waters Christmas,” is no different.

“I prepare for it like I prepare for everything else,” said the 75-year-old Baltimore native, via phone last month, of his comedy performances that mine decades of subversive work on and off stage. “I write a 70-minute monologue and I come on stage with no notes, no safety net, and I perform.”

Waters, the director of indie shockers such as “Pink Flamingos” and the mainstream hit “Hairspray,” last brought his “This Filthy World” stage show to Denver in 2012  and hosted indie-country crooner Orville Peck at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on July 22.

He returns for the second time this year with “A John Waters Christmas” at the Soiled Dove Underground on Saturday, Dec. 4. Tickets are still available at eventbrite.com; all but the $150 Gold Package tickets are sold out.

Q: How’s this tour been going? Is it all new?

A: I haven’t done this one before, but opening night audiences in San Francisco were pretty friendly. So … who knows? I think it’s going to work because these days it’s touchier than it used to be, and touchiness is always the edge I’ve walked on. We’ll see if I get arrested in Denver for saying (expletive).

Q. When do you typically start working on these touring shows?

A. The day after Christmas I start thinking up the next year, and this is the 20th-something year I’ve done it. But what happened last year is that the entire tour got canceled, so this is mostly the same dates as before — except for one or two places that didn’t open again.

Q. How does it feel returning to the road after so much time off?

A. You quickly get used to the graveyard-shift hours. The first time I walked on stage in two years was in Denver over the summer, when I did that Orville Peck thing at Red Rocks. Since then I’ve done John Waters Camp, Halloween shows and this tour, so I’m back.

Q. What isn’t coming back this year for you?

A. Well, I’m not going to have my big Christmas party, which I’ve been doing for about 50 years, so I won’t have 200 people in my house. I’m not going to decorate the electric chair like I always did. I have two sisters and their in-laws, and every four years they return for Christmas dinner, which hasn’t happened in two years. So some traditions will come back, but some won’t. Maybe we’re not quite ready for them to come back, or never will be.

Q. Not that you’re known for your traditional take on the holidays.

A. Well, everything’s different now. Even Santa … . How many home invasions does it take for him to realize it’s maybe not the best thing to do during COVID? Climbing down the chimney or putting animals on your roof isn’t the smartest, either.

Q. What are some of your favorite Christmas memories?

A. In the old days we used to purposely give each other presents the other person would hate the most. I remember getting the soundtracks to all the “Rocky” films and throwing them out the window. I lived on the seventh floor of a building, and imagine the tragedy of someone getting killed by a “Rocky” soundtrack! But the worst Christmases were really the best. It’s fun to shop for garbage.

My best is probably the last time my family was all together. It was the happiest one, to have us all together one last time. My brother died of a brain tumor about 20 years ago, but my parents lived to be 90. It’s something most people don’t realize when it’s happening — those final times together like that.

Q. Are there other Christmas stories that have made it into your work?

A. I joke about the one where the Christmas tree fell over on my grandma, but I already put that in a movie. But touring the Christmas show, people have told me stories about that kind of thing happening in their homes forever. It’s almost always the dog or the liquor, one of the two. I had a Christmas card that caught fire one year next to a tree. I always send out a Christmas card. I’m not telling you what it is this year. (laughs)

Q. How do you read the room, so to speak, for a comedy show after more than a year of lockdowns and intense political divisions?

A. It’s a tone that you have to find. Everything this year is so radically different, and the people who used to want to censor me gave up on me a long time ago. If anyone’s trying to censor me now it’s young liberals. I’m an antique who’s too old to run from tear gas, but the censorship of righteousness is something that was around when I was young. It used to be the right wing, and now it’s political correctness. Our last president ruined bad taste, period.

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