‘A Christmas Tree Fell On My Grandma’

In his standup show in Eugene, John Waters will talk on getting batteries for Christmas and canceling Santa

John Waters. Photo by Greg Gorman.

“I’m so respectable now I could puke,” John Waters says. “I’m even getting a star on Hollywood Boulevard.”  

Set to perform his standup show, A John Waters Christmas, at the McDonald Theatre in Eugene, the 76-year-old Waters is best known for his films. He has directed and written 16 movies, including two of his most famous projects — Hairspray (1988) and Pink Flamingos (1972). Waters’ subversive style makes him unique, much of his work being outlandish, camp and avant garde. 

He’s been performing A John Waters Christmas for the past 25 years. “Each year I write a completely different show,” he says in a telephone interview with Eugene Weekly. “And the audience comes back every year because they get a new one.” As for this year’s script: “I finished it this morning, so we’ll see how much of it I remember.”

Waters takes inspiration from his childhood Christmas memories. “A Christmas tree fell on my grandma, and I turned it into a scene,” he says. “It wasn’t that tragic, I didn’t push the Christmas tree over my grandma, she wasn’t injured, and I was just worried my presents got broken.” 

Ever since performing that bit, he always hears stories about trees falling over on Christmas. “It’s usually the dog or liquor,” he says. 

His audience at these Christmas shows trends younger. “They weren’t even born when I made my last movie half the time,” he says. “That’s important because as for my original audience — they’re either dead or they don’t go out!”

Waters enjoys his audience and the community that has grown over the years. “They have a good sense of humor about themselves,” he says. “They’re not self righteous.” 

Waters includes a 20-minute Q&A at the end of every show and has gotten questions ranging from odd to downright ridiculous. He heard an audience member ask: How did you avoid cancer? And he answered, thinking it was a dig at the amount of cigarettes he used to smoke. Only then did he realize that the audience member had actually said: How do you avoid getting canceled? 

Another audience member asked him: What do you think about batteries? “I’m still trying to get over that one,” Waters laughs. “But that time I didn’t mishear it. He stumped me.” In the end, “All I want for Christmas is batteries,” Waters said. 

The current cultural landscape, along with the COVID-19 epidemic has provided fresh material for the holiday show. “A friend of mine said something about COVID that’s true: It’s terrifying and boring,” Waters says. “COVID is the only thing I can think of that is both of those things.”

As for Santa, Waters is surprised he hasn’t been canceled. “There’s a lot of things today that would cancel Santa Claus,” he says. “The fat shaming, home invasion of it all.” Waters ponders the cookies and the reindeer. “He doesn’t eat properly, and it could be animal abuse,” he says.   “I’m writing a lot of weird Christmas stuff that mocks all traditions, but at the same time my show is a tradition — people come every year,” Waters says. The tradition isn’t ending anytime soon. “If I die onstage, you can take selfies,” he routinely tells his audience. 

A John Waters Christmas is 8 pm Friday, Dec. 2, at the McDonald Theatre in Eugene. Tickets and more info at McDonaldTheatre.com.