John Waters has several mantras, among them: “All young people need somebody bad to look up to…sort of a filth elder if you will.” Through his midnight films like Polyester, Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble, Waters has been just that.
Employing off-the-wall, cartoonish characters, the father of a plastic child named “Bill” has made a career of delving deep into the smuttiest nooks of the human psyche, elevating lowbrow to new heights along the way and making audiences root for his hair-ratting, foot-stompin’ and shit-eating antiheros.
This Saturday, the self-described “vaudevillian” brings his roving, one-man-show, This Filthy World, to The Lensic in what is sure to be an evening to remember. SFR spoke with the camp leader from his home in Baltimore, and from aroused acrobatics to “shrimping” left no salacious stone unturned:
What can folks attending This Filthy World expect?
It’s self-help, I think, on how to be a happy neurotic and get through life—take what society thinks is your disadvantage and make it a smile and win. It’s about crime and fashion, beauty, extremes, limits, drugs, books, movies...
All the best stuff in life pretty much.
Yes, all the good stuff. It’s a how to win friends and be insane kind of thing. It does talk a little bit about my movies, but it’s no longer really about my movies at all. I use my movies to springboard into subjects like giving advice on how to be a juvenile delinquent, because kids today need some help in that department.
You’ve expressed interest in securing a nude juggler with a hard-on as your opening act. Any luck?
[Laughs] I never did. Except, I did get a serious letter from a juggler who I thought had heard about it, so I answered and said ‘Great. Can you do it with a hard-on?’ and I never heard back. I think it was just a coincidence, or somebody told him I was looking for a juggler without the hard-on because I think he was someone from the ‘craft’ of juggling—from Europe or something. So, no I never got a juggler with a hard-on. I’m still looking…if you’re in Santa Fe, let yourself be known.
What’s the first thing that runs through your mind when you hear the word ‘censorship’?
Well, in some ways, censorship was my best publicity agent in the old days. We had a censor board here run by a moron of a woman who used to say things like, ‘Don’t tell me about sex, I was married to an Italian,’ or about Divine she would say ‘You can’t show that vagina’ and I’d say, ‘Well, that’s a man, so it’s not a vagina.’ So, in away she was a help. Censorship always fails because it gives attention to what you’re trying to stop. I’m not saying today there aren’t obscene things.
The ugliest pornography that degrades people and everything…you can’t really say they’re making love. Some might say of straight porn that they’re making hate. It seems to me the gay films are in on it a little bit more; it’s more play-acting though I don’t like to watch bareback movies. To me, they’re like snuff movies, but it is not my position to stop them.
Like me, you were raised Catholic, correct?
Not completely. My mother was Catholic and my father was not. I did not go to Catholic grade school; I had to go to Sunday school where they were really mean to you because they knew your parents didn’t send you to Catholic school, and I went to public junior high and Catholic high school. So, I am a product—a failed product—of all three types of American education.
What is your current take on the church?
The Catholic Church is my enemy and I’m proud to be a Catholic-basher because they are against women and gay people; they’re against gay marriage, abortion, they are against everything that I am for and they are quite militant in trying to stop everyone else. This new Pope—they have pictures of him washing the feet of prisoners? Yeah, we call that 'shrimping' where I live.
You call that what?
Shrimping. It’s like playing with toes—a foot fetish.
In a way, you’ve always been an outsider—even within the gay community.
Even within that community! Definitely, I certainly am. But, you know, I’m certainly for that community, God knows. At the same time, I don’t think they define me completely. My fans are not just gay fans. I think that all my fans are people that don’t fit in their minority, and that can be any minority. I want to be an insider now! I’m sick of being and outsider. I always was and now everybody in the world wants to be an outsider…it’s not a dirty word anymore. I want to be the dirty word now, an insider.
Describe the beauty of poppers.
I’m not saying that I do them as much as you might imagine. I think they’re fun. I have a Popper Party every year at the Provincetown Film Festival. It’s certainly not official, but I have seen Oscar winners doing poppers in my apartment. The Boston Globe somehow found out and asked me about it this year right before I had it, and I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll get busted’—because poppers are illegal in Massachusetts. Now, wouldn’t that be a good photo-op? Us being chained, taken away to the Provincetown Police Station for a popper bust?
What’s one thing about you people would be surprised to know?
I don’t know, I don’t think there would be anything that would surprise people after they’ve seen my movies and read my books. I think I’m an open book.
So, when was the last time you got laid?
Let me think…not quite a week ago. And probably tonight.
You relish in testing people’s limits. What are yours?
Oh, I talk a lot about my limits in this show. Adult babies—I’m not marching for those fuckers, lock ‘em up.
What is so off-putting about them?
Have you ever seen a 300-pound diapered man in a bouncy-chair with a hard-on, licking a lollipop? Yeah, I’m sorry. That’s my limit.
Your pencilstache is epic. Is there a lot of upkeep that goes into it?
It’s getting less epic as it turns gray, with more pencil. There’s always upkeep. Every once in a while I’ll look in the mirror and say, ‘You need a trim there, it’s fucking scruffy.’ It depends on the lighting.
Is ‘trash’ dead as a film genre?
Not dead. I think Spring Breakers is a great exploitation movie. It’s my favorite movie of the year.
What recent film would you like to experience in Odorama?
Definitely not Spring Breakers. I would pick Piranha 3DD. Big tits and piranha entry? Now, that would be funny.
Tell me you watched Lifetime’s House of Versace.
I didn’t but I would love to. My assistant just taped it for us. I am a huge fan of Gina Gershon. I’ve met Donatella before and she was very funny; she was like a Baltimore girl. Gina Gershon in that movie Killer Joe, that was the most startling sex scene of last year. She’s great—she always takes great risks.
Describe Divine in one word.
Professional. He always knew his lines, he was always ready, he never complained, obviously. He was a star and a working actor that never disappointed me.
How’s little Bill doing?
I think he’s turning black. You know how a dildo changes colors? I think Bill is part dildo, because
his coloring is getting darker. He’s still grouchy, sitting in his chair and clutching a psychological book called Children Who Hate.
Same-sex marriage is legal in Santa Fe. Any interest in getting hitched while you’re here?
It’s legal here! I campaigned with the governor and we passed it here [in Maryland]. The only thing I can say is: Remember, you don’t have to get married. In some states, it’s 50/50 no-fault divorce…it’s a hustler’s feeding frenzy.
7 pm Saturday, Oct. 19. $18-$500
The Lensic Performing Arts Center
211 W San Francisco St.,