The John Waters Guide to Holiday Party Etiquette

I asked the Pope of Trash how to deal with unexpected guests, whether or not one should discuss politics, and why you should never ask to use the bathroom.

Nov 20 2015, 7:00pm

John Waters is a sicko for the holidays. Well, for Christmas, at least.

Thanksgiving might not mean much as much to the Pope of Trash, but the legendary filmmaker has a very special fondness for yuletide cheer and gloom alike. During his annual one-man Christmas show, he muses on the erotic life of Santa Claus, extols his love of dangerous children's toys, and dissects his pathological approach to gift-buying.

As a holiday obsessive, Waters also regularly hosts huge Christmas parties for friends, which means he knows a thing or two about party etiquette. That includes everything from setting up a playlist (carol-wise, he's partial to playing "Santa Claus Is a Black Man" and Tiny Tim's version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer") to dealing with party crashers ("I hold it against them forever," he says).

With that in mind, I called up Waters to ask him how to deal with all of the family dinners, Friendsgivings, and holiday blowouts that are sure to crop up over the next month and a half.

MUNCHIES: Hi, John! I wanted to talk to you about cooking during the holidays. You enjoy cooking, right? John Waters: I do! I cook everything out of Cooking Light magazine. I eat responsibly Monday to Friday and irresponsibly on Saturday and Sunday.

Are you cooking Thanksgiving this year? No, I don't ever cook Thanksgiving dinner. I go to my sister's in Virginia for that. It is my turn to cook Christmas dinner for the whole family—which in my family, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner are pretty much the same.

What are you cooking for Christmas? Turkey. And we always have sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, vegetables, cranberry sauce, stuffing, the usual. I'm not having turkey tartare.

I wanted to ask you about foods that you hate— [interjects emphatically] I have no food issues. There's no food that I don't like. I hate it when people say, "Oh, I can't have gluten and I can't have this." Well, then don't come! That's not a food issue—that's an eating disorder.

Well, you did write—way back in 1985—about Brussels sprouts, calling them "little balls of hell, limp and wilted after a lifetime of being pissed on by birds and other contaminated creatures." And I love Brussels sprouts now. I must admit that the Brussels sprouts that I had as a child were cooked so long that they were dead on arrival, not a vitamin left in 'em. So I've changed a lot. When I wrote Crackpot, I didn't cook and I still smoked five packs of cigarettes a day. There's no reason to cook when you smoke five packs of cigarettes a day. Once I quit smoking, the taste buds came back.

And so what do you love to eat now? If it's cooked well, I like all kinds of foods. Whenever I go to Paris, I love thin calf's liver. I love anchovies. I like some foods that a lot of people don't like. But I could also eat all vegetarian food and love that, too. My mother always told me, "If you don't like the food you're served, just mess it up on the plate a bit." And Cookie Mueller's mother always told her, "Don't ever leave your plate clean. You don't want to look like you were that hungry."


Photo by Greg Gorman.

So let's discuss dinner party etiquette— [interjects again] The main thing I'll tell you about a dinner party is this: Don't take a shit in someone's house. Ever.

Noted. That is just so disgusting. When people say, "Can I use the powder room?" I think, For what? If you're going to dinner at someone's house, eliminate before you get there. I just think it's incredibly rude to go to someone's house and have a bowel movement.

Gotcha. Now, as a host, when do you think it's appropriate to start drinking? Never. Certainly not while you're cooking, because you'll just get too drunk and fuck up the recipes. At my Christmas party every year, I always tell the bartender, "I might have 15 drinks tonight, but I want them to be all club soda with a drop of vodka in each one."

And for guests? Well, as long as they're not puking. I don't serve red wine anymore because they spill it and every year I have to repaint. And unless you're 20 and it's a frat party, nobody should be puking-drunk anyway.

So no soft drugs either? I always have politicians at my party, so I make sure no one's smoking pot—I think that would be unfair to them. If you're going to smoke pot at my house, [doing it] late in the morning and upstairs is OK, I guess. But no, you can't be shooting up in the bathroom or doing lines.

Now, I'm not saying that I haven't had Christmas parties where people were doing lines and tripping, but at this point in my life I doubt that people on LSD will be a problem.

What about dealing with unexpected or uninvited guests? If people don't RSVP, I hold that against them and don't invite them again. They say in LA, "We only really RSVP if we're not coming." People don't even know what that means. It means that I invited a certain amount of people and I need to know how many are going to be here. Don't ever call and say, "I have this other friend …" Well, now you're not invited.

And what if those unexpected guests happen to be vegan or gluten-free? Well, too bad. Bring your own food and go eat down in the basement by yourself.

And what about guests who decide for themselves that your dinner is a potluck? You mean if somebody walks through the door with a bowl of macaroni and cheese? I dunno, I guess I'd put it in the freezer and eat it later. "We're not having that." That's what I'd say. "Leave it outside! Someone will take it."

What about appropriate dinner table conversation topics? Politics are dreary to talk about. Liberals are the worsts fascists—and I am one—because they believe that no one ever could disagree with them. And I guess Republicans act like that too when they're by themselves. But you have to remember that not everybody always agrees with you, so maybe it's not the best time to start ranting about politics at dinner, because then everyone just starts shouting. And [the candidates] are all so dumb this year—who wants to talk about them?

Here's a bizarre scenario: One of your guests shows up with Kim Davis, baby Hitler, and the ghosts of Leopold and Loeb. You're allowed to kill one of them, but you have to serve the rest. Who do you keep? Oh, Leopold and Loeb would be fine. And as much as I hate Kim Davis, she helped the gay movement because she pissed people off. And when she met the Pope, it showed what a little sneak he is. So Kim Davis, if she were on our side? We'd like her for civil disobedience. As much as I hate everything she stands for, I think the Pope's worse. He hurts the gay movement because he pats you on the back and says, "Good little queer," when actually Anita Bryant and Kim Davis make the gay community stronger—and they always end up losing.

I wouldn't take any of them. Leopold and Loeb would be the only ones invited.

Thanks for speaking with me, John.

For more of Waters' holiday wisdom, see him in New York on December 6 at City Winery, where we will he stage "A John Waters' Christmas: Holier & Dirtier."