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An Evening With John Waters: Critic's Notebook

John Waters Headshot - P 2013
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John Waters

The Bottom Line

At 67, the ever-eloquent Waters remains an indefatigable explorer of the planet he memorably dubbed "mondo trasho."

Venue

City Winery, New York

In his stand-up show, the emperor of bad taste shares his thoughts on Justin Bieber, his favorite porn titles, his scheme to bring down big-studio tentpoles, Casey Anthony and soundtrack selections for the movie version of his life.

NEW YORK -- Manhattan was plastered with rainbow flags this past weekend for the annual Pride celebration, and the gay populace was especially exultant after last week’s Supreme Court victory, in which DOMA was ruled unconstitutional.

Where better to turn for a unique perspective on this pivotal moment in LGBT history than to John Waters? That tirelessly transgressive champion of queer culture was onstage at Tribeca’s City Winery for two performances of his constantly evolving spoken-word memoir, blending personal reminiscences on his film career with wry insights into the contemporary world and its most bizarre aberrations. Not to put a damper on the gay-rights breakthrough, but Waters is already eyeing the next prejudicial hurdle.

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“Now what will they call gay men like myself who choose not to be married?” he asks. “There’s no name for us. Will we be discriminated against in our old age? Ah, a new chapter in the gay struggle.”

Like many comics, Waters also cautions that gay marriage is the gateway to gay divorce and gay alimony, particularly in California, land of the 50-50 asset split. “This is a hustler feeding frenzy,” he warns.

The director of 1970s cult classics Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble, Waters is one of the rare art outlaws who never lost his edge, even when he inched in a more mainstream direction with films like Hairspray, Cry-Baby and Serial Mom. For roughly the past decade, he has been touring the U.S. and abroad, on and off, with a lecture that began life under the title This Filthy World.

“Why do people want to come listen to you when you got thrown out of every school you ever went to?” wonders Waters, adding that he got the boot from NYU during the first marijuana bust. But then he perhaps answers that question himself: “All I ever wanted to be was the filthiest person alive.”

He admits to frustration that he can’t get Fruitcake, his children’s Christmas movie about Baltimore meat thieves, financed. “I think it sounds pretty commercial,” he ventures. But he concedes that following up on studio pitch meetings with notes in which his BlackBerry auto-corrected his "JW" sign-off to "JEW" might not have helped.

After the success of his bestselling 2010 collection of essays, Role Models, Waters is readying his next book, Carsick, for publication. An account of “21 rides in nine days,” it chronicles his solo hitchhiking odyssey between his homes in Baltimore and San Francisco.

Much of Waters’ choicest stand-up material is unprintable here, but anyone intrigued to know the sexual oddities that have captured his attention of late should try Googling “sploshers” and “blossoms.” Or keep reading for The Hollywood Reporter’s picks of Waters’ funniest observations that are fit to publish.

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On Justin Bieber: “I loved him from the beginning, without irony. Honestly, I screamed like a girl. But I want to enlist him for a special Christmas edition of To Catch a Predator.” Waters also shared that Bieber admired his signature pencil mustache when they crossed paths on The Graham Norton Show, reportedly saying, “Your 'stache is the jam!”

On childhood games: “I used to love it when the nuns at Catholic school read the titles of the banned movies we weren’t supposed to see, like She Shoulda Said No and Love Is My Profession. I clipped those ads from the newspaper and kept a scrapbook. That was how I played as a child.”

On favorite porn titles: I Dream of Weenie, Homo Alone, Schindler’s Fist, My Ass Is Haunted.

On his favorite New York Post headline: “When Ike Turner died, they printed: Ike Beats Tina to Death.”

On red-carpet Oscar looks: “All those women are out there showing full tit. What ever happened to guys showing their baskets like Joe Dallesandro? I think Brad Pitt should be out there in tight pants that show off his balls.”

On remaking the Zapruder film in Eat Your Make-Up: “We re-created the Kennedy assassination on my parents’ front lawn with Divine, a 300-pound drag queen, as Jackie. I don’t think the neighbors were happy.”

On today’s closest equivalent to Dawn Davenport, Divine’s proudly depraved character in Female Trouble: “I think it’s Casey Anthony. I was glad when she got off because I thought Nancy Grace’s head would finally explode. I think Nancy Grace is the filthiest person alive.”

On unenviable intern tasks: “The insurance people at New Line were concerned about us distributing Odorama scratch cards for Polyester. ‘What if someone eats one?’ they asked. So I called an intern over and said, ‘You want to get ahead in the film industry, here, eat one of these.’ He chewed it up and they waited a while to make sure nothing terrible happened, and then said, ‘OK, we’re fine, go ahead’.”

On the success and multiple incarnations of Hairspray: “It’s the gift that keeps on giving. I got paid to write a sequel, White Lipstick, which never happened, and a television series, which still might. But I just want to keep on with it until we get to Hairspray on Ice.”

On youth fashion: “I love the guys with their pants halfway down and their boxers showing. You know that started in prison because they weren’t allowed belts? And yet somehow, they never fall off! It reminds me of those women in National Geographic balancing the baskets on their heads. And I love those guys in Brooklyn with the ‘I just kidnapped Elizabeth Smart’ beards.”

On pet hates: People with food issues, people doing yoga at airport boarding gates and hackers as the new juvenile delinquents. “There’s no fashion -- it’s just bad posture.”

On shaved body hair: “You don’t have that embarrassment of buying A200 at the pharmacy now. Crabs don’t exist anymore because young people don’t have pubic hair.”

On sabotaging Hollywood blockbusters: “People should start taking Ipecac and puking in movie theaters. Somebody’s got to collapse those tentpoles.”

On ways to combat censorship: “Sneak your old porn in and put it on the shelves in Walmart and other stores that won’t carry NC-17 movies.”

On getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: “I’d love to have a star on Hollywood Boulevard. But you know I’d be the only one who didn’t want to pay the $5,000-a-year maintenance. So mine would be all chipped and broken to trip up tourists. That would be my legacy.”

On being mistaken for Steve Buscemi: “I told him and he said, ‘You think that’s bad? People think I’m Don Knotts!’”

On the five songs he would want on the soundtrack to a movie about his life:The Joker, Tina Turner doing Don’t Play Me Cheap, anything by The Chipmunks, Baby Let’s Play House because it was the first Elvis song I ever heard, and Eminem’s Puke. I love that song!”

On sex with women: “Oh, I’ve tried everything at least once. Except necrophilia. I’m saving that for old age, because they can’t criticize your performance.”