By Andrea Poteet
For four decades, reigning "Pope of Trash" John Waters has pushed boundaries with campy classic films, art and books.
So one shouldn't expect the man who filmed drag legend Divine eating dog crap to don a fuzzy reindeer sweater and belt out "Jingle Bells" when Dec. 25 rolls around.
"I do some things traditional, but with a twist," Waters says. "I have Christmas bulbs with ugly pictures of relatives glued to them. I don't decorate a tree; I decorate the electric chair that we used in the movie 'Female Trouble.' You can't even tell its an electric chair, really, with all the lights on it and everything. It's John Waters' Christmas values!"
Waters will share his unique take on the holiday Dec. 15 when he comes to Royal Oak Music Theatre with his one-man show "A John Waters Christmas."
"It's kind of a self-help thing," he says. "It's a 70-minute monologue that I constantly update and it's about the extremes of Christmas: how you can either hate it or love it, but you can't ignore it – and how to get through it no matter if you're a criminal, a politician, a movie star, or just completely out of your mind."
As for Waters, he said his love for the holiday began with childhood confusion.
"I didn't know whether to pray to Santa Claus – or was he Jesus or what?" Waters says. "Did the Tooth Fairy have anything to do with this? I was confused, so I just prayed to all of them to make sure I would get what I wanted. I always resented having to write a 'Dear Santa' letter when my parents had told me all year if you were good, you'd get what you wanted – and I was always my version of good, so why did I have to write a second begging letter? I had a deal; why did I have to write a Part 2?"
Waters' love of storytelling began as a child. At age 12, he performed suitably wacky puppet shows for children's birthday parties. Later, while working at a summer camp, he wrote a series of gruesome campfire stories to read to campers each night, to the dismay of their parents, who flooded the camp with angry phone calls.
"I'm still doing that," he says. "It's the same career; it's just taking people into a world that they don't feel comfortable in and using humor to get them to at least listen to a different viewpoint."
His quirky characters have turned films like "Cry-Baby," "Hairspray" and "Pink Flamingos" (the one with the infamous Divine-eating-poo scene) into cult classics.
"They're like your children," he said of his misfit characters, "but mine all have learning disabilities, so I like them even better."
With his biggest mainstream film, 1988's "Hairspray," entering its second life as a Broadway musical and 2007 feature film, he said he is still surprised when he sees different takes on the story of the chubby Tracy Turnblad's fight for integration.
"I have seen it today though, with political correctness, in public schools, where they're not allowed to cast it by race or weight," he says. "So I've seen Tracy played by a skinny black girl, which is really bizarre. It makes it even more post-modern."
His work has attracted diehard fans with quirks of their own, and for them – upon request – he has signed anything from used tampons to mastectomy scars. Fans learned earlier this year through Twitter that Waters was working on his forthcoming book, "Carsick," in which he chronicles his hitchhiking journey from his hometown of Baltimore to San Francisco when the band Here We Go Magic tweeted that they had picked him up, thinking he was a homeless man.
"To find the details you have to read 'Carsick,'" he says. "That's my Christmas present to you – maybe next year ."
And what does Waters hope to find under his tree this year?
"I'd like to interview probably the most despised woman in America, Casey Anthony." Waters says. "I'd ask her if she, too, wants Nancy Grace's head to explode. I would. That's what I want for Christmas."
A John Waters Christmas
8 p.m. Dec. 15
Royal Oak Music Theatre
318 W. Fourth St.