The Austin Chronicle

Mark the Calendar for A John Waters Christmas

The filmmaker and raconteur takes on COVID arguments, sloppy airplane dressing, and how to be rich with class

By Richard Whittaker, December 3, 2021, Arts

No one wants the same present every Christmas. Yet we all have that relative who will carefully collect all the wrapping, delicately unpeel the tape, flatten out the creases, fold it along precise lines, store it all year, and then wrap it around a new gift the next time.

That's sort of what John Waters is leaving under the tree with his annual show, A John Waters Christmas. It may have had that title since Baltimore's king of camp cinema first decked the halls of San Francisco's Castro Theatre in 1996, but as the 25th anniversary show arrives in Austin to decorate the Paramount with the tackiest tinsel, it's a completely fresh festive frolic around the filmmaker's favorite holiday. "I've rewritten it all," said the charismatic icon of queer cinema. "You had to. You kidding? Nothing's the same with COVID."

The show will be a warmup for what Waters prognosticated as an even worse Christmas than the pandemic lockdown Yule for many people who may regret their family plans. "Last year was a relief because they didn't have to argue about Trump, but this year it's worse, because they have to argue about people who didn't get the vaccination."

How was Waters' 2020 Christmas? "Like everybody's, it was horrible," he said, but at least he avoided all those Trumpy vaxxy conversations. "Me and a friend got Christmas dinner, and set the whole table formally, and had Christmas dinner for a very, very few people. I didn't go to my family because they've got little kids who haven't been vaccinated. They're the little spreaders."

Christmas at home was a radical change from his favored kind of Christmas, the kind he was able to indulge two years prior: a vacation in the Swiss skiing resort of Gstaad, "which is the exact opposite of Baltimore. I like extremes, at either end." That said, Gstaad has one particular charm to it that Waters finds alluring. Switzerland, he observed, "is the only country in the world where the rich know how to act and aren't assholes. They hide it, and that's the only proper way, if you have money, to never brag or let people know, or be understated. They invented that."

Otherwise, the pandemic has not really thrown the Hairspray director off. "I do the same thing, COVID or not. Monday to Friday, I write. Many writers I know said that COVID stopped them dead in the tracks because they had all the time in the world to do it. But to me, it just made it better. I wasn't distracted by so many other things that I had to do in the afternoon." Much of that extra time was garnered from having 50 events around the country canceled, but Waters still snuck in a few trips out of Maryland. In fact, he admits to yearning for the good old days of airports at the height of the pandemic. "It was great traveling then. There were four people on the airplane." As life returns to whatever it is that passes for normal, "every flight is standing-room only, and it seems even more frantic and less relaxing."

Not that everything would be solved in air travel by having fewer people. "There should be fashion police to arrest people." Blame it in part on what Waters dubbed "COVID sloppy. Everybody weighs more, that's fine, but everybody should not go out in their pajamas." He sighed. "I never thought I would be the type of person to go, 'Get more dressed up,' but I kind of do. I think, 'Look at that. Did you have a mirror in your house, that you walked out?' I get that you have to be comfortable when you're flying, but that doesn't mean you have to wear what you wear when you're in bed when you're ill."

A John Waters Christmas

Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress
Mon., Dec. 6, 8pm

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