Chestnuts might not have been roasting on the open fire at UCLA’s “A John Waters Christmas,” although given the host’s love of dark humor, you could be forgiven if you expected to find Jack Frost gnawing at your nose. That didn’t occur, although the director did put his own unique spin on the holiday season. The one-time performance opened with a drag queen extolling the UCLA campus as having the “best tea rooms and glory holes” in academe and closed with a plea for film fans to see the most uncommercial film opening a few weekends out of the year, making for an uproarious, if somewhat transgressive, glass of holiday cheer.
Waters, who claims to have an unironic love of Christmas, has put together a collection of holiday tunes (also titled “A John Waters Christmas” and released by New Line’s music division) that combines the tastelessly mawkish with unearthed R&B gems. His 45-minute monologue only mentioned the album in passing; instead, his loosely structured, often hilarious comments touched on holiday shoplifting, memories of Baltimore Christmases past, what presents to buy him (books, including a cookbook written by a serial killer and “Call Me Lumpy,” the autobiography of “Leave It To Beaver” sidekick Frank Bank), his favorite holiday movie (“Christmas Evil,” which climaxes with a homicidal Claus protected from a mob by a ring of children), and visions of holiday collaborations with producer William Castle (the low-budget frightmeister who specialized in stunts like “The Tingler,” where auds were literally shocked out of their seats), leading to Christmas tie-in travesties such as “The Care Bear Massacres” and “I Dismember Rainbow Brite.”
He delivered his comments in a wonderfully dry and arch deadpan. His timing and tone were so pitch-perfect that when he downshifted into a heartfelt plea for Manson family member Leslie Van Houten’s parole, it didn’t drag down the proceedings at all.
Opening the show was a trio of performers that probably would not have been welcome on the old Bob Hope or Bing Crosby holiday specials: Vaginal Davis, drag-king singer Phranc (crooning a Hanukkah love song to Condoleeza Rice) and Marga Gomez, a politically, sexually and ethnically pointed Latina lesbian comic.