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Twisted holiday tales in ‘A John Waters Christmas’

One Christmas, a tree fell on John Waters’s grandmother. ‘‘I was such an evil little child,’’ said the director of ‘‘Pink Flamingos.’’ ‘‘I thought, ‘Are my presents hurt?’ ’’

Ten minutes with John Waters doesn’t sound like enough time - until you get him on the phone. It doesn’t take long for the filmmaker to kick into overdrive, sharing twisted stories that could come only from the mind responsible for such cult classics as “Pink Flamingos,’’ “Hairspray,’’ and “Serial Mom.’’

Waters has been doing a full day of interviews for his upcoming one-man show, “A John Waters Christmas,’’ which he will bring to the Berklee Performance Center on Saturday.

“I feel like I’m at the North Pole,’’ he says, before dispensing some sage advice. “Don’t let your kids send in letters to Santa! Where do those go? Some pedophile probably gets them.’’


That’s exactly the kind of exchange you can expect from “A John Waters Christmas,’’ in which the director riffs on the most wonderful time of the year, from his childhood memories to a bizarre fixation on holiday disaster stories.

During a lively conversation, Waters gave us a preview of his show.

Q. What was Christmas like for you as a child?

A. It was very traditional and great, and I have really unironic memories. I mean, the Christmas tree fell over on my grandmother. I’ve exploited that to the point that even my grandmother told me I was exaggerating. I put that in one of my movies [1974’s “Female Trouble’’]. You should rig your own tree to do that; it really perks up a Christmas. It happens a lot. It usually involves either the dog or drinking parents. But it’s obviously a common problem. Just celebrate it! Do it on purpose!

Q. In your most recent book, “Role Models,’’ you have a sweet passage about how much you admire Johnny Mathis’s Christmas shows.

A. I do! This year I’m playing in Baltimore in the same theater where I saw him do his Christmas show. I was disappointed because I was hoping our shows would be competing, and then we could just switch audiences. I’d come out and sing “Chances Are’’ and he’d talk about whether anyone thinks Santa is a polar bear. Imagine both of our audiences’ horror.


Q. What do people expect from your Christmas show?

A. They want to be surprised, they want to laugh, and they want to be taken into a world that might make them uncomfortable if I wasn’t their guide. I can’t piss off anybody anymore, except in San Francisco when I say I like mass transit. And people say, “Has he lost his mind?! Has he gone crazy?!’’ But I can say anything else and they never get upset.

Q. Is that true? You really can’t upset people anymore?

A. No. I don’t try to. I try to make them laugh. I never tried to anger people; I tried to surprise them. That’s very different. I’m not mean-spirited. Everything I ever make fun of I look up to. They’re extremes of some kind, which has always interested me.

Q. How do you typically spend Christmas day?

A. [This year] I’m going to pick up my mom, and we’re driving to Virginia to my sister’s. Every year one of my brothers or sisters [hosts] Christmas. It’s not my turn this year, but I’ve certainly cooked Christmas dinner for my whole family and had it at my house.


Q. Are you a good cook?

A. No, but I really love Cooking Light magazine. That’s my bible.

Q. What’s your favorite holiday memory?

A. One year I had Thanksgiving with Lana Turner, Cheryl Crane [Turner’s only child], and Cheryl Crane’s girlfriend, and myself - just the four of us. It was so great. Instead of saying, “Pass the wine,’’ Lana would say [adopts deep, husky voice], “Cheryl, is there one drop left to drink in this house? Your poor mother . . .,’’ and Cheryl would say, “Yes, Mom,’’ and pass her the bottle. That’s one of my favorite Hollywood holiday memories ever.

Q. What’s the iconic Christmas moment in your films?

A. I think the biggest moment is when Divine doesn’t get the cha-cha heels she wants for Christmas [in “Female Trouble’’] and knocks the Christmas tree over on her mother, which came from the Christmas tree falling over on my grandmother. I wasn’t there, but I was such an evil little child because when I heard the story, I thought, “Are my presents hurt?’’

Q. What other films capture the Christmas spirit for you?

A. “Christmas Evil’’ is the best Christmas movie ever made. It’s about a man so obsessed with Christmas that he starts spying on children, gets a job at a toy factory, starts cross-dressing as Santa, and then gets stuck in people’s chimneys on Christmas Eve. It’s really good. Nothing can top that.

Q. Fill in the blank: All I want for Christmas is _______.


A. All I want for Christmas is a novelization of “Pootie Tang’’ [the 2001 cult comedy written and directed by Louis C.K.].

Q. What do you wear to your Christmas show, by the way?

A. I wear red. I always have a different Christmas look for my shows. Vincent Price goes to Christmas, that’s my look.

James Reed can be reached at jreed@globe.com.