When I spoke with John Waters, he was on his way to Los Angeles to pick up an award at Outfest and to do two performances of This Filthy World, which he brings to Fort Lauderdale’s Parker Playhouse Saturday night.
This is a big summer for This Filthy World.
Not really. I’ve been doing this for over forty years. I have many versions of the show — I have a Christmas show, too, and I’ve got 13 dates in December for it. I live a lot on the road. It’s a part of how I make my living. I constantly update the show, I’m constantly adding to things. It’s a great way to tell stories.
Has the show always been called This Filthy World?
No. It’s been called many different things. In the very beginning, it was just Divine and I, traveling in a car with the prints … We’d go to some town where there had just been a riot in the ’60s, and rent a midnight show in a movie theater that showed the weirdest stuff and was privately owned, and then we’d stand on the corner, handing out flyers. I’d show the movie, get the money, go on to the next town. I did that a little bit — probably around the time of Multiple Maniacs, before Pink Flamingos. I really learned a lot. We’d hit the college circuit — in those days, the college circuit was the only place — it was much bigger than it is today — and it was the only place you could ever see what were then called underground movies, midnight movies, outside of New York or L.A. So we did that circuit a lot.
The original act, I’d come out dressed kind of like a hippie pimp — kind of how I looked in Shock Value, the book — and then I would talk about nudist camp movies, and all sorts of movies that no one ever discussed then. Divine would come out, and I’d introduce the Most Filthiest Woman in the World — the Most Beautiful Woman in the World — and Divine would come out come out and do the act, kind of like she did in Female Trouble – not the trampoline — and then a fake cop would come out and try to arrest us. Divine would strangle him to death. That’s how it began.
Then I turned it into more of an act where I’d talk, and Divine went off to a singing career. I developed it. It was called An Evening With John Waters, it’s been called Shock Value, it’s been called a lot of things. But even what I’m doing in South Florida is completely different from This Fllthy World as it was released on DVD. So I’m always updating it, always changing it, and adding to it — it’s my anti-Alzheimer’s disease exercise, because I speak for 70 minutes onstage with no notes. And it’s completely memorized and written and rehearsed. It’s not just me on stage, bullshitting.
Has the show’s mission changed over the years? What you’re trying to accomplish out there?
I don’t think it’s ever changed. I’m trying to make you laugh at your inability to understand extreme behaviors in other people. I expect you to look up to the subject matter that I’m talking about. I’m never condescending. I’m never asking you to make fun of people — I’m asking you to come into a secret world that I’d like to take you to … You know, I think I’m mentally healthy. I think I’m a well-adjusted neurotic. And I’m trying to pass that along to my fellow neurotics who come to see me. Not too many people stumble into my shows. But I still think I surprise them by the time the show’s over. I hope so.
Do you think it’s the same people coming to see you year after year, or has the demo changed?
They’re younger and younger. My core audience is always minorities who don’t fit into their own minority. It’s never been all gay people. I mean, gay people have always been there for me, but the gay people who get in trouble. And then bikers have always been my audience. I have a blue-collar audience, too — and then, my movies always fit the best in the richest, smartest neighborhoods. So my audience is mixed. I think the one thing they have in common is that they were at some time angry in their life, and rebelled against society, but had a sense of humor about it. And I think they all figured out a way, or are trying to figure out a way, to be happy in whatever alternative life they’ve decided to pick — even if that’s a Republican life. Because, look, what’s an outsider in my crowd today? Republicans. They’re the ones that’re outsiders. So I try to be inclusive of everyone — even if I don’t agree with their politics at all, I learned a long time ago that you’ve gotta make them laugh if they’re ever gonna change their minds. Getting on a soapbox and ranting — that’s not working.
Now, I’m for activism. I’m for ludicrous activism, like in the ’60s. If somebody’s against gay marriage, I think we ought to send drag queens to their house to yell fashion insults at their wife. I’m for theater.
I’ve been doing this for almost 50 years. I think I’ve built a real lovely crowd of people who’ve supported me. They’ve understood me through the years. My books are all still in print. My last book was a bestseller. My fans are very widespread and they’re incredibly lovely. It’s not like I can’t go out or anything. I have a really good fan base — they’ve allowed me to get away with all of this. And I thank them.
Can we do an annotated Proust questionnaire?
I’ve done the real one, in Vanity Fair. But sure!
Your favorite virtue?
Charity, in a way. Understanding people’s downfalls.
Your favorite quality in a man?
A sense of humor.
In a woman?
What do you appreciate most about your very close friends?
Their discretion, their loyalty, and the ability to not care about the fame part of my life.
What is your idea of happiness?
Being who you are and never being around assholes.
Your idea of misery?
Being around assholes. Hating your job. Being trapped. Waking up every morning and hating what you do for a living.
Who’s your favorite hero or heroine in fiction?
Fiction? Probably Jane Bowles. Jane Bowles is, I think, the funniest writer ever in that book, Two Serious Ladies. So the author and the character.
Oh, god knows. Who would that be? Saint Catherine of Sienna! The insane Catholic saint that was such a lunatic that the Reformation happened because of her behavior.
Your general state of mind in summer, 2012?
Very happy to be alive and doing what I love doing. And feeling very lucky that my life is going the way it is. I’d say content, but nuts.
Of what fault in other people are you most tolerant?
Everything but lateness.
Tardy behavior and racism.
To read Brandon K. Thorp’s original John Waters write-up for the event, posted earlier this week, click here.
John Waters’s This Filthy World. 7 p.m. Saturday, July 28 at Parker Playhouse, 707 N.E. Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale. Admission is $36.50 to $125; all ages. Call 954-462-0222, visit parkerplayhouse.com or the event’s Facebook page.