I have tried-and-true holiday traditions that make the season bright, or at least quirky: my collection of Black nutcrackers that look like celebrities (I just scored a Santa that resembles “S.W.A.T.” star Shemar Moore), the Christmas morning viewing of “Die Hard” as I try to remember where I stashed all the presents I’ve been hiding from my kid and, now, a new one — my annual interview with John Waters.

Waters has his own holiday tradition, “A John Waters Christmas,” which tours the country and comes home to Baltimore Soundstage on Dec. 21. “The show is walking on the edge of political correctness and all these new fascinating rules I love to break,” said the city’s most fun uncle and naughty elf.

I mentioned a recent interview I’d read of Waters that proposed he’s not the shocking rebel he used to be. Even the suggestion makes him laugh. “I don’t know that I’ve changed. I think American humor did. I wore people down. They gave up,” he said, chuckling.

To wit: His first novel, 2022′s “Liarmouth: A Feel-Bad Romance,” got “a lot of great reviews, but every one of them used the word ‘filthy,’” he said. “So I don’t think I’ve gotten any less extreme.”

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If you’ve scored tickets to the now sold-out Christmas show, rest assured that you’re getting the same John Waters, albeit a different “John Waters Christmas,” as he changes it every year. “It’s 100% new,” he promises. He’ll also be back for Valentine’s Day, when he’ll be doing his well-reviewed spoken word show “Devil’s Advocate.” “If you haven’t seen it before, that’s 100% new, too!” Waters said. “I haven’t done it in Baltimore, so it’s new to us.”

I admit my heart got kind of toasty at the word “us” when Waters referred to Baltimore because I know he really means it. He put our quirkiness on blast, and we love it. And, while he has houses in other places, this is home. As extensively as he travels with these shows, coming back to do them here does seem, honestly, like a weird little Valentine.

The upcoming February event is “about sexual revolution, which is a good thing to do on Valentine’s Day,” he explained. “Last year’s was called ‘The End of The World,’ but that’s already happened.”

Ba-dum-dum.

It’s been an eventful year for Waters, who received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame this fall, just a day after the “Pope of Trash” exhibition devoted to him opened at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. He’s even going to play a doll company creator on the upcoming season of SyFy’s “Chucky.”

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There was also, of course, “Coming Attractions: The John Waters Collection,” featuring an eclectic offering from the filmmaker’s personal art collection that ran from the fall of 2022 through April at the Baltimore Museum of Art. He seemed truly touched when I told him my then-9-year-old son, who calls Waters “the ‘Hairspray’ guy,” loved the exhibition — even the parts that maybe he should not have seen.

“Children and young people have no filter against modern art,” Waters said. “They accept it easily. I taught a class of 10- to 12-year-old kids, and not one person questioned what I was saying. They learn to fear art from their parents.”

Waters’ raison d’être, if you will, has always been to challenge people’s minds in the most gleefully nonconformist ways, with gun-toting drag queens and homemaking serial killers. But he told me a simpler way to change attitudes is just to get people out of their physical and mental comfort zones.

“People don’t like things because they don’t understand it. The only way we can make racists better is to give them travel,” he said. “You can’t travel and be a racist. In Baltimore, we have that. Neighborhoods are such a strong point, but so many people don’t leave their neighborhoods because they’re afraid of what they haven’t seen.”

Of course, those outside the city are sometimes afraid of it, even if they haven’t seen the beauty of our metropolis up close. Waters has a message for those people. “We can make fun of Baltimore, but you can’t,” he said, laughing. “To me, there’s more to fear living in Florida, with ‘Don’t Say Gay.’”

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Having personally returned to Baltimore from Florida, I can say for certain he’s not wrong. Part of what Waters likes about his native town is the necessary recognition of its issues. He thinks the people who’ve most captured its essence artistically get that.

“‘The Wire’ was a great TV show. David Simon makes movies about extremes, just like Barry Levinson did or I do,” he said. “Even Anne Tyler writes about the extremism of normal people. Everyone who embraces Baltimore culturally sees it as a special place, because we celebrate things others don’t embrace. I think we used to have an inferiority complex.”

Waters paused and chuckled again.

“We don’t have that anymore. I think I helped with that.”

As a professional quirky person myself, I know this is true. When you embrace your weirdness, you can’t be bothered when people try to mock you for it.

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“When [Donald] Trump came out and said those terrible things about Baltimore, that it was all rats and roaches, every TV show in America called me. And I said, ‘We celebrate that!’ In ‘Hairspray,’ Ricki Lake had roaches on her dress! She shook a rat off her shoe [during the scene] when she got her first kiss,” he said. “You use the things that other people use against you.”

As Waters keeps traveling and preaching the gospel of radical, hilarious self-acceptance with no sign of slowing down, it’s hard to imagine him retiring. Would he ever consider it?

“No,” he answered, wryly. “I’d probably drop dead the day I do it.”

Correction: This piece has been updated to reflect that "Liarmouth" is the project to which John Waters referred as having great reviews that still referred to the work as "filthy." The timeline of the Baltimore Museum of Art exhibit has also been clarified.

Leslie Gray Streeter is a columnist excited about telling Baltimore stories — about us and the things that we care about, that touch us, that tickle us and that make us tick, from parenting to pop... 

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