John Waters, also known as the “Pope of Trash” and the “Prince of Puke,” has thoroughly expressed his genius for bad taste through the years with films like Hairspray, Cry-Baby, or—for the truly blessed—Pink Flamingos, which featured a scene wherein Divine, drag queen and frequent Waters collaborator, famously ate a dog turd.
Though Waters hasn’t made a movie since 2004’s A Dirty Shame, the legendary filmmaker has been touring across the country doing a one-man stand-up show entitled This Filthy World: Filthier and Dirtier, which he promises will be filled with his thoughts on “crime, movies, love, show business and the Oscars and whatever’s in the news.” He’s also been releasing books about his subversive world since 2010, including 2014's Carsick, which chronicles the director on a hitchhiking adventure and, forthcoming, debut novel Liarmouth, a “feel-bad romance” about a woman on the run.
Jezebel spoke with Waters on the phone in advance of This Filthy World’s Los Angeles date to ask him about romance, Sean Penn and that weird Michael Jackson, 9/11 road trip movie. He also shared his musings on celebs using social media and Valentine’s Day gift ideas, but vegetarians beware: it involves something from the butcher.
Jezebel: We’re living in a strange time, between Sean Penn farting in front of El Chapo and Amber Rose tweeting about Kanye West’s preference for assplay. Are people going to become less shockable now that social media has the potential to decrease the celebrity mystique?
John Waters: You know, that’s why I’m not on any. I’m on the computer all day, but I’m not on social media because I want to be harder to reach! I work ten hours a day. I save my material for when you come see my shows or buy my book. I don’t care what they’re tweeting! The people who do it all day, they must have a lot of time on their hands or something. I don’t know when they find the time to do it.
I think for Sean Penn—that was a journalistic coup. No one else found him. I don’t blame Rolling Stone for doing that, are you kidding? They should go to JoAnne Chesimard next. That’s the ultimate coup; the most wanted woman in Cuba. I forget her African name, she has another name now but was Joanne Chesimard and has been the most wanted, left-wing accused criminal for a long time. I wouldn’t want to be her roommate in Cuba. If there’s anybody that they were going to give up, it’s her.
You’ve talked about trigger warnings before. How will those of us with a love for lowbrow humor be able to laugh in this hypersensitive, hyperaware society?
You just can’t go to college anymore. I thought you went away to college so your values were challenged. Now, the best colleges have to warn you that they might say something you don’t agree with. I really find that staggering. So that’s a reason to drop out of school—trigger warnings.
Have you heard about that weird Michael Jackson/Elizabeth Taylor/Marlon Brando, 9/11 road trip movie?
Well, but that’s totally not true. I read that it never happened. And that’s the one with a white person playing Michael Jackson?
Yes, Joseph Fiennes!
It’s absolutely ludicrous. I can’t believe they’re doing that, but although, because of political correctness in the schools, they won’t cast Hairspray by race. So I’ve seen a skinny black girl play Tracy which is kind of just as crazy.
Will you ever do a follow up to your love song album, A Date With John Waters?
I’ve actually wanted to do one called Breaking Up with John Waters because all the best music about love is about breaking up. How many good songs are about functional love? I don’t hear any great soul ballads about a 50-year-old happy marriage. I don’t know any punk rock songs about the equal love of a young couple. The best music is about horrible breakups and misery and being heartbroken.
I had a perfect album cover because when we did Cry-Baby, we shot a picture of every star with a tear on their cheek, including me. That picture was never published so I thought that would be a perfect cover for Breaking Up With John Waters. But we all know what happened to the music business today! Rihanna only sold 3,000 albums on the first week. [Ed. note: according to the New York Times, the official number was 460, but it was streamed 5.6 million times on Tidal.] I would probably sell one. And I still buy CDs as an old person.
Do you know what songs you’d put on it?
Well I’d have to think. There’s so many great, great songs about breaking up so I’m gonna save that. I’m gonna do it one day.
Since Valentine’s Day is coming up, what are some good pranks to play on people?
I don’t know that I’d play pranks on Valentine’s. When I was younger, I‘d go to the butcher and buy little chicken hearts and give them to the men that I liked. The boys liked that ‘cause it was kind of a punk rock valentine. So I’d recommend giving your loved ones something from the butcher. But as far as pranks, I don’t do pranks on anybody actually. It seems obnoxious. I hate surprises! My life is too controlled.
What is your ideal bad date?
Well, I don’t have an ideal bad date, I only have ideal good dates. My ideal good date is to go out to dinner with somebody that you love and have sex afterwards and laugh! All you have to do is have sex and laugh, just not at the same time. I want to make sure you understand that because anyone who laughs while having sex is schizophrenic. Laugh after sex and not at your sex.
Have good sex, laugh and go to sleep together. That’s a good Valentine’s Day. I’m actually visiting a friend in prison on Valentine’s Day.
You once said, “If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have books, don’t fuck ‘em!” Does it matter what kinds of books they are? What if all they have are graphic novels and self-help books?
You know I’m lying. If they’re cute enough, who looks at their books? But if you went home with them and they just had ten copies of the I Ching in every language and that was it, I’d run!
How do you know if it’s love?
Well, you don’t. Europeans make fun of us because everyone in America says “love you” after hanging up the telephone. I think we shouldn’t use that as much because it doesn’t mean anything. Saying “I love you” is the scariest thing because they either don’t answer, say “I love you” back ‘cause they have to or say it and they mean it. But you shouldn’t put anyone on that spot and you should very sparingly say it. I have friends that do it, and I guess on occasion you want to say you love someone in case you get hit by a car, but I’d still think I would already know that you love me so you don’t have to say it every time I call. I just want to call you to say what time I’m picking you up! I think it’s becoming an overused thing, but I think Valentine’s Day is a good day to say it. Just be careful. It’s the scariest three words to say to anybody because it scares people away!
What was the most romantic thing you’ve witnessed?
It’s weird because at my shows a lot now, people have proposed to their loved one in front of me and the audience. It’s happened three times in the last year. I don’t know, I think I might say no if someone did that to me [laughs] but it’s romantic.
My parents are both deceased now. They both died at 90 years old and they had an incredibly epic 70-year-old marriage. And that’s kind of romantic when you look at how hard that is to do today. I guess I look at the people that can somehow pull that off because I don’t know if me and most of my friends are that mentally healthy [laughs]. I do believe in love; I just think it’s the hardest challenge of all.
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Photo by Greg Gorman.