‘A John Waters Christmas’
Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
3701 Mt. Vernon Ave.
‘Oy Vey in a Manger’
Tonight at 7:30 and 10 p.m.
Creative Alliance at the Patterson
3134 Eastern Ave.
They’re both gay, they’re both giving holiday show tours, they’re both playing D.C., they’re both also playing Baltimore, they’re both known for irreverent and raunchy humor and love lampooning societal norms — and without even knowing the Blade has paired them together for a roundup, one even mentions the other out of the blue during a phone interview this week.
Ben Schatz, who plays Rachel in the Kinsey Sicks (they’re at the Patterson tonight in Baltimore), makes a pun when describing their act.
“We’re not watered down at all,” Schatz says. “We might be John Water-ed down, but that’s it.”
Schatz admits Waters, who’ll be at the Birchmere Sunday then Baltimore’s Lyric on the 21st, is a comedic hero.
“Because he’s so unapologetic,” Schatz says. “He does what he thinks is funny and it attacks who it attacks. So many performers, they’re demographically based, they cater to a particular crowd. We just do the material we find interesting, funny, provocative and challenging and there’s almost nobody who isn’t bothered by some of it.”
There’s no ostensible connection to the two shows and interviewing Waters — on a very tight media blitz in mid-November — and Schatz, who wearily phones from Puerto Vallarta Monday night where he just landed and called at his publicist’s behest despite being “totally wiped out,” is a study in contrasts.
Both are happy to roll with whatever comes up. Sure, we get in several questions about their respective shows, but it’s also fun to dart around — especially with Waters — and try to excavate some topical gems that haven’t been covered ad nauseum. The man’s been interviewed so much, he has his own volume — just out — in the “Conversations with Filmmakers Series” from University Press of Mississippi. “John Waters Interviews,” edited by James Egan, covers the years 1965 to 2011 and, ironically, arrives at the Blade office the day the Waters interview is scheduled. We start with that.
“I’m very proud (of the book),” Waters says. “I haven’t read them. It’s like listening to your own voice when you do voiceovers on a film. I don’t do that either. But yes, I’m very proud to be part of that series. I have a lot of the other books they’ve done. I’m doing an event at USC. I don’t sign it because it’s not really my book to sign, but I am helping to promote it.”
And is its arrival today coincidental?
“I don’t believe in divine providence,” he says. “I believe in Divine, but I don’t believe in divine providence. I don’t really believe in karma either. I know so many wonderful people who have died unfairly and I know other people who are the biggest assholes you can imagine and they’re still doing great, so I don’t know. I do believe in fate. I believe in genes. I believe in mental health. But I don’t think life is fair at all. I mean basically it’s conspiring to get us from the moment we’re born.”
Waters, who’s said in other interviews that economic woes and lack of backing have kept him from filmmaking in recent years, is well into the holiday spirit even though, at the time of our conversation, it wasn’t yet Thanksgiving. It’s all part of his “Christmas obsession,” which he’s used as fodder for his annual “John Waters Christmas” tour the last near decade.
“Oh God, yes,” Waters says. “I’ve been making my own for the last 25 or 30 years. And if I ever see anybody selling it on eBay, they get cut off. I send out a ton. About 2,000. I’m about half-way through signing them now. And I don’t believe in e-mail Christmas cards. I mean come on, you can’t mail your own cards at the post office? What’s up with that? And now they’re thinking of not even having mail on Saturdays? What’s that about?”
Waters says he gets a lot in return because people want to stay on his celebrated list. He keeps about 20 of the best each year, the rest are recycled.
There’s no tree in his house. He always puts lights up on the Divine statue and the electric chair — his trademark decorative accents — but not until about the week before Christmas. He’s busy touring his show until then.
And what does this self-professed Christmas fanatic think of others who take the holiday to extremes? He says it’s OK to leave Christmas decorations up all year as long as one uses a real tree.
“Because then it’s sure to look hideous,” he says. “I’ve never seen anbody do that with a live one, but I think it would be quite funny to have the needles everywhere on the floor in the dead of summer.”
And is it tacky to decorate before Thanksgiving? Is Waters offended by Christmas creep? He says he finds good taste far more obnoxious then creep or excess.
“It’s not so much the when, it’s the how,” he says. “If you decorate with no fun or make it too Hallmark-y, then I think yeah, you can do it too early. But if it’s done with humor or irony, I think you can do it anytime. … I hate those tacky decorations, those big inflatable ones although they’re kind of funny when you see them, like in Baltimore, people will go around and puncture them so you have the three wise men lying in a puddle on the lawn. I think that’s really great.”
Kinsey Sicks also brought its “Oy Vey” show to Theater J last year. Their silly storyline is built around the original manger being foreclosed upon and how Rachel and the other girls — Winnie, Trixie and Trampolina — handle the crisis. For those who haven’t seen the show, Schatz says it’s “the ‘Golden Girls’-meets John Waters-meets Comedy Central-meets the Manhattan Transfer,” with lots of Jewish (two members are Jews) and gay humor thrown in.
So how gay is it?
“Oh my God, are you kidding,” Schatz says. “This show is so gay it makes Richard Simmons look butch.”
And if the MPAA had a say, what would the rating be?
“Well, despite our best efforts, there is no full frontal nudity,” he says. “I think we’d get an ‘S’ for scandalous … We get very, very naughty. We have jokes that I will not repeat right now, but particularly in the holiday show, this is the kind of stuff the people on Fox News are campaigning about. We just came from Pittsburgh and it was a very old, very Christian sort of a crowd. And you could just tell they had this overwhelming sense that they were laughing in spite of themselves. Like they knew they should be appalled and offended but they seemed to love it anyway.”
And we just can’t let Waters go without asking about Edith Massey, the long-gone, but much-beloved Baltimore icon who was a staple of Waters’ early films (she died in 1984). Was she in on the joke? Did she understand her appeal?
“I don’t think it was a joke,” Waters says. “I think she was an outstanding comedian and she understood why people liked her. I don’t think it was a joke because she played amazing characters.”
But was it sort of a Mrs. Miller — the famously off-key singer whose recordings were so bad they became cult hits — appeal?
“I talk about her in my show and how much I wish she had done a Christmas album,” Waters says. “I can kind of see how somebody might think it’s the same kind of humor, but I don’t think I ever asked you to laugh at Edith. I think it was always us laughing with Edith.”
Schatz agrees humor takes finesse to pull off, walks a fine line many times and not just everything that gets a laugh deserves to be in a show.
The group members, who, like Waters, write their own material, says their show is “constantly devolving.”
“We’re constantly debating what should be in the show and tweaking it all the time,” he says. “Like right now, we have a Coach Sandusky joke. We were kind of debating if it was too over the top, but we said, ‘Let’s try it.’ I think people know we’re going to take chances and so not every single joke works, but that’s better than not taking enough chances … It’s really fun to see the audience reaction from the stage. Some people are laughing with shocked expressions, some people have their heads in their hands, some people don’t want to laugh but can’t help themselves, some people are almost looking up waiting for lightening bolts to come down from the sky. When you look at all that juxtaposed together and they don’t walk out, then you know you’ve done your job.”