Now pushing 70, cult filmmaker John Waters has lost none of his subversive charm. Sonya Barber speaks to the ‘Duke of Dirt’ as he gets ready for his London stand-up show.
‘It’s easy to be disgusting,’ says iconic film director John Waters, ‘but it’s much harder to be funny and surprising. I’m trying to be a humorous provocateur.’
Depravity, sleaze, rebellion and perversity are standard fare for the man who made his name with low-budget gross-out flicks like 1972 masterpiece ‘Pink Flamingos’, famous for featuring the glamorously grotesque drag superstar Divine eating real dog shit. The success of more wholesome films like ‘Hairspray’ (remade in 2007 starring John Travolta, and now a Broadway musical) transformed Waters from underground deviant into internationally renowned ‘Pope of Trash’.
‘Things have changed,’ he says. ‘When I was young, Lenny Bruce [US stand-up comedian] basically went to jail for saying ‘fuck’. I would have gotten the death penalty if I had been writing in 1964! Nobody ever gets mad about what I say any more. I’m not trying to piss people off. I’m delighted that they’re so accepting now.’
Although best known for his films, Waters is quick to point out that he hasn’t actually made one for ten years, since the 2004 satirical sex comedy ‘A Dirty Shame’ (starring Selma Blair as the impossibly endowed Ursula Udders). But he hasn’t been merely twiddling his pencil moustache. In recent years the spry 68-year-old has starred in documentaries, music videos (‘The Creep’ by Lonely Island), put on art shows, tried to get funding for his latest project ‘Fruitcake’ (a children’s Christmas film) and hitch-hiked across America for his most recent book, ‘Carsick’. In this he recounts both real and fantastical versions of his adventures thumbing a lift from his hometown Baltimore to his apartment in San Francisco, and *spoiler alert*, he makes it alive. ‘I think it’s more dangerous to stay home, as many people my age do. You need to investigate new things.’
But Waters is no stranger to thumbing a ride. He’s been a lifelong hitcher, including going on ‘hitch-hiking dates’ with Patty Hearst, heiress, kidnap victim and star of many of Waters’s films. ‘I think old people have a nostalgia for hitching because they did it in the 1960s, but I kept going,’ says Waters. ‘I like the adventure! I’m trying to bring it back and get kids to do it again, but as soon as I say that, someone will get murdered and I’ll get blamed.’ In his book, which has made it into the New York Times Best Sellers list, Waters fantasises about alien abduction, trucker sex, being in the freak show of a hipster carnival and his own death, but in reality his trip was much more sedate. ‘The most extreme thing was the waiting. After standing for ten hours, even if Myra Hindley had pulled up, I would have got in.’
Now he’s bringing his one-man show ‘This Filthy World: Vol 2’ to London for a dose of depravity. ‘It’s mostly about how to be happy and insane and comfortable in being neurotic. No one really changes, you just have to get used to your craziness.’ That’s exactly what Waters has done. His own brand of crazy is so utterly charming, he appears saner than most. Almost. ‘I’ve been called the Duke of Dirt and so many other things, all in great compliment. I want to start dressing like the Pope of Trash, with a crown, cloak and a sceptre. That’s when I’ll finally lose my mind and have a nervous breakdown. That’ll be fun.’
‘This Filthy World: Vol 2’ is at Southbank Centre, Nov 11, 7.30pm.
Take a look at John Waters’ five favourite places in London.