Waters doing jokes? Why not?

Baltimore director takes wit to stage

December 23, 2004|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- With the opening sounds of the Chipmunks' "Sleigh Bells" and the festive carol "Santa Claus Is a Black Man," the crowd at the 9:30 Club sensed this would not be a Clay Aiken Christmas Special.

Mary Prankster, a Maryland singer with Betty Boop eyes and buzz-saw lyrics, opened, then closed with a plug for her signature thongs ("for those last-minute shoppers!") and a song dedicated to the man who made Baltimore "exotic and mysterious." There will be blue skies over Dundalk when I break your heart ..., she sang, chopping at her guitar as if cording wood.

At 9:20 at the 9:30 Club, John Waters glided on stage, wearing some sort of red smoking jacket, if that's accurate. The point is few people can pull off that look -- but few people can pull off Waters' movies, art, Broadway shows, writing and now stand-up act. Stand-up? Like Jay Leno's evil twin or something? Who knew.

But Waters is Waters is Waters. People will and did pay $25 to hear him talk. "I thought I'd dance The Nutcracker for you," Waters said. Instead, he took us on a merry roller coaster ride for an hour and change. No, make that a Tilt-A-Whirl. Waters said he's saving for a Tilt-A-Whirl, just $250,000 used. But we're getting off the subject, so many subjects tilting and whirling Tuesday night.

"I'm sexually attracted to the Chipmunks," said Waters, dropping a name from A John Waters Christmas CD that played before the show. Waters is perhaps the only person who doesn't have to explain or defend that particular attraction.

As is his way, Waters took the opportunity to champion underground books and above-ground causes. He's against the death penalty but not because he's a liberal. "I'm just afraid I'll get it," he said. "I have bad nights." Then, there's the whole business of a last meal decision and what to wear when electrocuted. "Metallic fringe would look good flying up."

He's always good for book tips, such as Cooking With a Serial Killer and Call Me Lumpy, an actual book about the character Lumpy Rutherford from the Leave It to Beaver television show. The book claims the actor who played Lumpy slept with 1,000 people. "That's a lie," said Waters, who was clearly delighted to promote a favorite Christmas find.

Waters loves Christmas and, in its own way, Christmas has loved Waters. He loved being a kid and breaking into cars to steal Christmas presents, he said, then tossing the gifts into the Baltimore air. He remembers the late Divine nearly going to jail one year for writing bad checks to pay for gifts for all his friends. "He meant well," the actor's old friend and director said.

"Is Santa erotic?" Waters asked, steering again into NC-17 waters. (This reminds us of Prankster's stellar earlier line: "You'll come for the music, but you'll stay for the segues!") A John Waters Holiday Short List might be safer:

Don't give him fruit baskets for Christmas. "I can buy an apple for myself, thank you."

If you are one of the 1,700 people to receive his Christmas card, don't put it on eBay. "I will find you, and I'll set your car on fire."

"Don't do your exercises at the gate at the airport." This angers him. "Just sit down and read a magazine."

"Just because you're gay, it doesn't mean you have to love Liza Minnelli." Another Christmas message from the Hair- spray creator.

And we mentioned the Chipmunks thing.

Before gliding off stage, Waters did tease the crowd with a possible idea for a new film. From his Rolodex of obsessions (Michael Jackson, Death Row, Atomic Books, Apex Theater, et al.), Waters pitched a movie about the idolatry of Mother Mary. He envisions Jane Fonda starring in Manger Mania. Of course, Waters could be kidding, but does it matter?

"I want to be him when I get older," said Zachary Petkanas, a 19-year-old student at George Washington University.

Yes, an impressed crowd stood outside the 9:30 Club at 11. "That was the best tonic for Christmas!" said a man, taxiing away. "I was surprised to see how he could keep it going as a stand-up act," said Andrew Baxley of Arlington, Va.

Surprised? Come on. It's John Waters. It's Christmas. There are blue skies over Dundalk. Lumpy Rutherford has written a book.

And the Chipmunks are once again singing.

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