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5 Tips from John Waters on Surviving the Holidays

Wise words from “The Pope of Trash” to make your holiday more amusing


Along with Santa, John Waters — also known as “The People’s Pervert” and “The Pope of Trash” — is coming to town.

The irreverent director, writer, actor and photographer who gave the world Hairspray is in the middle of his annual tour of “A John Waters Christmas.” Waters says that his Christmas show originated from a chapter in his book Crackpot called “Why I Love Christmas.” A promoter asked him to perform it at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, and Waters obliged.

“It grew from that into a show that I rewrite every year and add new stuff. This is about the 10th or 11th year I’ve been touring with it,” Waters says. “I have 18 cities [to perform in], so I feel like Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, at Halloween.”

Which is another way of saying this isn’t your typical Christmas show. And that’s why people like it. “You can’t escape Christmas; it’s coming at you, and there’s nothing you can do about it,” says Waters.

One time, somebody gave me the soundtrack for "Rocky," and I just opened the window and threw it out.

— John Waters

We decided who better to ask for tips on how to survive the holidays than Waters? While he’s no “Dear Abby,” his unconventional advice at the very least will help you take things less seriously.

Says Waters: “I have advice for people who love Christmas, who hate it, for religious people, for people who aren’t Christian, who are mad about Christmas — that they have to look at it all the time — so I think I’ve got advice for everybody on how to get through it.”

And now…John Waters’ tips:

1. Use Verbal Abuse Whistles

One of the best ways to get along with your family members during the holidays, Waters says, is to hand out whistles. “Each time somebody says something hurtful, you can blow the whistle. Eventually, everybody will start laughing from it and stop talking like that,” he says.

Or so many people will be blowing whistles that everyone will develop hearing problems. “That’s OK. When they’re deaf, maybe they won’t say hurtful things,” he says.

2. If Your Family Is Crazy, Decorate Them!

“Everybody’s crazy at Christmas,” says Waters. “You deal with it. You buy gifts for each one.” But to keep things light, he suggests decorating Christmas balls with family photos. Find the ugliest picture of every relative who will be at the gathering — including yourself. Glue the photos on the balls. And voila, you have an ice breaker that may help break down family tension.

3. It’s In the Cards

If you really feel like you’re losing it, Waters suggests going through all the Christmas cards you’ve received and altering the verses to read something obscene.

4. Give Your Gift a Review

If you receive a present that you absolutely can’t stand, be bold about expressing your distaste. As he once did: “I used to live in a high-rise, and one time, somebody gave me the soundtrack for Rocky, and I just opened the window and threw it out,” says Waters. “I was on the seventh floor. That was my review.” Waters’ friend laughed. This technique may not work with everyone.

5. Re-gifting, Re-schmifting

 We’ve all received them — the dreaded re-gifted items that have nothing to do with anything we like. “Everyone knows it’s a re-gifted item,” says Waters. “You can never disguise it.” There’s always something off about a regift, Waters says, and because regifts are inherently rude, he believes a rude response that makes the giver squirm a little is OK.

He suggests that you say, “Can I see a receipt please? Because I’d like to take it back.” Miss Manners, he’s not.

So what is Waters’ favorite gift to both give and receive? Books. “I think books are the best present ever,” he says. His last bit of advice: Just make sure it’s a book the recipient would want to read.

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