Not many holiday shows come with a parental warning.
Unless the star of the show is John Waters, the comedian/satirist/filmmaker/author and overall cult hero.
Don’t expect a lot of ho-ho-ho and sugar plums prancing around a Christmas tree.
“It’s an angry time. It’s a civil war Christmas,” Waters proclaimed during an early November phone call. “We’ll see.”
Infusing anger and biting social commentary into a holiday as sacred as Christmas should come as no surprise to fans of Waters’ cult films including “The Diane Linkletter Story,” “Multiple Maniacs,” “Hairspray,” “Cry-Baby,” “Serial Mom” and “A Dirty Shame”; or his “advice” books including his latest, “Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder.”
“I always have anger in my humor, but comic anger,” he said. “I make fun of a lot of political enemies, but at the same time I make just as much fun of the people I support.”
In other words, he’s an equal opportunity offender. If he likes you or hates you, he has you in his crosshairs in his annual Christmas show, which he’s bringing to Rialto Theatre on Monday, Dec. 9.
“I think I’m fair. I think no matter what your politics are you can come and laugh at my show,” he said.
And the laughter can start at his expense. His show, which he was about two-thirds finished writing at the time of our conversation, starts with some reflective self-deprecation.
“I think I make fun of myself first,” he said, which in some ways gives him license to “get away with rude humor.”
His fans expect to see this so-called filth elder with tarnished wisdom from his latest “self-help” guide, released in May.
“You don’t expect I’m going to be doing Johnny Mathis’ act even though I love his act,” said the 73-year-old comedian. “They want me to be their kind of tour guide in a world they might not be comfortable with on their own but they‘re used to that.
“I am the opposite of a trigger warning. I’m a trigger reverse warning. They want to come to have their sensibilities foiled. And to be honest, I never understood what a trigger warning was in college. I thought that was why you went to college, to have your values challenged, not be like only a rich kid who has to be kept comfortable in their emotions.”
Waters, who brought his annual Christmas show to Tucson in 2017, said the Filth Elder — his advice-giving alter-ego of sorts — will be on full display at Monday’s show.
“I’ve been doing this for 50 years and it hasn’t changed much,” he said with a chuckle, and explained that he plans to share his “negotiation tactics and how I failed upwards and how I got away with it.”
“Mr. Know-It-All,” like his two dozen-plus books before it including “Change of Life,” “Role Models” and “Shock Value: A Tasteful Book about Bad Taste,” dispenses self-help tips “for anybody that’s crazy.”
“I think I have some advice that I can pass on and I think it’s good advice,” he added, including tips for the lovelorn.
First tip: Avoid saying “I Love You” at almost all costs.
“You should only say ‘I love you’ three times in life: To someone that you’re sleeping with, your parents or at a funeral,” he said. “But now Americans have cheapened it. It’s only Americans who laugh about it. When they say ‘Love you,’ I say, ‘Excuse me? You say I love you to the person who just (rang up) your order at the supermarket?’ It’s practically that bad. ‘Excuse me. Do I know you?’”
That advice applies to couples married 10, 20 years or more.
“Even in the holidays. It is a word that should be used sparingly so that it means something,” he said. “Otherwise it’s a Hallmark greeting card. There’s no real meaning.”
And another thing, he added: Make sure you only say it when the person is asleep.
“It’s a loaded thing to say to anybody. This is the only way that they hear it, it’s low-key and it works,” he explained. “You don’t have to say you love me. And if I don’t say anything back, there’s silence. It puts you on the spot. You have to lie or explain what you mean by the word ‘love.’ It’s a strong word.”