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November 29, 2017 Comments Off on Interview: John Waters Is STILL “Making Trouble” After All These Years… Views: 2577 *Resist. Protest. Obstruct. Inform., *Seattle Cinemaland, *Seattle Theaterland, *SGS Recommends, #Interviews, Arts & Entertainment, Books, Comedy, Drag O'Tainment, Film, Gay 101, Lectures & Talks, Legends, Queer Film, Queer Theater, Stage

Interview: John Waters Is STILL “Making Trouble” After All These Years…


He is known as the King of Bad Taste, the Pope of Trash, the Prince of Puke and the People’s Pervert but it was as John Samuel Waters Jr that he entered the world, landing in Baltimore 71 years ago. He has been busy since that day starting with children’s puppet shows and moving on to 8-mm underground movies influenced, as his official biography states, by “the likes of Jean-Luc Godard, Walt Disney, Andy Warhol, Russ Meyer, Ingmar Bergman, and Herschell Gordon Lewis.

“Hag in a Black Leather Jacket” was made in 1964, starring Dreamlander Mary Vivian Pearce. Dreamlanders, as fans of Waters already know, is the name of the regulars in front of and behind the camera of his production company, Dreamland Productions.

It was in his second film in 1966, “Roman Candles”, that Waters introduced to the Underground his most famous star, Divine, still the only Drag Queen used in his films. This was followed by “Eat Your Makeup”, “Mondo Trasho” (his first full length film which led to his arrest, along with two actors, for indecent exposure), “Multiple Maniacs” and then the most notorious film in the American independent cinema of the 1970’s, “Pink Flamingos”, which has gone on to hold a legendary status in the Gay and Underground Film Worlds, if such things still exist.


Picking a favorite John Waters film is similar to picking your own favorite Beatles tune with a lot more than four choices, but anyone who has seen his next film, “Female Trouble” from 1974, probably considers near or at the top of the list and has memorized many of the lines from the movie especially Waters’ first poke at the Christmas Holiday Season with Dawn Davenport, as played by Divine, yelling “I told you cha cha heels, black ones!” to her parents before knocking over her mother with the Christmas tree and running away from home. The rest, as is the case with most of his films, is a bit hard to explain. The film is dedicated to the Manson Family and there is a toy in the film’s opening credits that was made by family member and convicted killer Charles “Tex” Watson, whom Waters had met and befriended. In recent years, Waters has apologized for idealizing the Manson Family and regrets this dedication. (Editor’s Note: this interview was conducted before the death of Charles Manson on November 19th.)

Waters kept making movies and they became less shocking…some of them are damn close to being splashy, colorful feel good movies. Many people got on board for the first time after the success of  1988’s “Hairspray” (Divine’s final film before his untimely death) which was a Waters’ film, then a Tony Award winning Broadway Musical, then another film adapted from that musical.

Waters has also written seven books such as “Crackpot”, “Shock Value”, “Carsick” and my personal favorite “Role Models” which contains his homages to folks like singer Johnny Mathis, playwright Tennessee Williams, fashion designer Rei Kawakubo and most controversial of all a sympathetic chapter on former Manson Family member Leslie Van Houten, with whom Waters has formed a friendship. Then there is his photography and sculpture which has been shown in galleries worldwide since 1992 and has led to the publication of three art catalogs. Next came his spoken-word lecture “This Filthy World” which has been performed in colleges, museums, film festivals and comedy clubs. Waters has played to sold out houses at the Traverse City Comedy Arts Festival, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Bonnaroo, the Sydney Opera House, Volksbühne Berlin and Southbank Centre in London.

He has appeared in many motion pictures, has been a voiceover artist for animated TV and film, is a member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and several other prestigious arts organizations.

Legend seems to be the closest fit to describe him. As I was able to gushingly tell him at the end of our interview (and to which he responded with complete gratitude), I’ve been a big fan since my third and successful attempt to see Pink Flamingos in the art house cinemas of my younger days. The first two attempts were met with bomb threats, which I shared with Waters and which seemed to have surprised him. I have referenced Waters more times than I can count in my The Gay Uncle Time shows, so it was a thrill when I found out I had an opportunity to interview him. That thrill turned to disappointment when I was given the rules:

  • A strict 15 minutes.
  • A warning text 90 seconds before the end of my scheduled time.
  • I was to talk only about his Christmas show and his new spoken word record – he no longer gave general interviews.

I had to ditch all of my questions. But he was as gracious and as entertaining as could be once we connected. I could have asked him anything and he would have been off and running – the easiest interview anyone could imagine.

John Waters will be at the Neptune in Seattle on Thursday, November 30, 2017 at 8:00 pm (7:00 pm doors) as part of his 2017 “A John Waters Christmas” tour. A few tickets are STILL available…grab them HERE.

His 7” vinyl record “Make Trouble” (also available digitally) was recently released by Jack White’s Third Man Pressing & Man World Records and features his commencement speech given at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). (You can order “Make Trouble” HERE!)

We began our conversation with Waters firmly, but quickly, scolding me for not talking close enough to my phone while on speaker. I felt my heart sink a bit but within a split second he was the John Waters I’ve always loved; quick, witty, joyful, devilish – his speedy conversation is filled with laughs and almost audible smiles. John Waters – The Feel Good Perv.

Jeffrey Robert: For someone who has never been to one of your shows, can you tell us a little bit about what they might expect?

John Waters: Well, even if you have been I have lots of new stuff. I write the whole thing and the rewrites by July, although as we all know with politics these days so much happens every single day you have to rewrite right up to the day you do it.

It’s a show to help you get through Christmas. What do you do when someone says to you “Merry Christmas”? Do you say “The same to you”. Do you say ”I don’t believe in the virgin birth. How dare you ask me that?” Do you punch them? Do you start shrieking Christmas Carols in their face? There are so many different reactions you can have and I have a good one no matter what your Christmas politics are. I understand every reason that people would either love or hate it.

JR: This is Seattle, so I better ask you about Trigger Warnings for the show.

John Waters: Every single thing I ever say deserves a trigger warning I hear now if at work you say “You look good today” they can report you and you have to get an oppressive trainer to come in. This only happens with rich people.


JR: I’ve often wondered how you can escape criticism from today’s culture. It doesn’t happen with you.

John Waters: No one gets mad because I don’t think I’m mean and weirdly, I am politically correct. I think lots of things that happen today aren’t funny but eventually I’m always interested in what is the line at which you can make jokes about. I don’t think Harvey Weinstein jokes really are appropriate yet. So I think, It is a thin line and I’ve always been interested, but I make fun of things that I love and all these scandals are certainly not lovable.

JR: Your name has been associated with Christmas in gay history for some time, certainly since Female Trouble and now you are doing a live Christmas show.

John Waters: You also are forgetting that the way it started is I wrote the chapter “Why I Love Christmas” in my book “Crackpot”. That’s really how the Christmas show began.

JR: Have you ever seen yourself becoming an Andy Williams sort?

John Waters: I think more Johnny Mathis. Christmas was always theatrical and I remember when Santa Claus came. I just remember knowing it was fake. There was a man who played him with three doors up so I knew that was him. They should have been more creative. They lied! I always joke and say that is the first lie parents tell their children so later when they take heroin don’t be surprised they don’t believe you when you tell them it’s bad for you. So Santa Claus can lead to heroin in the wrong situation.

I confused things when I was a kid. I thought that maybe Santa Claus lived with the Tooth Fairy, the one everyone has forgotten about. And maybe they would attack the Easter Bunny so it could be just the two of them instead of the Holy Trinity. I got it all mixed up.

JR: I’m one of those big guys with a white beard that gets called Santa year round. Here is a secret I’ll tell with you. That is a fetish that crosses all genders, sexualities…

John Waters: Sure, It’s just called Bears right? Isn’t Santa a Polar Bear? Mrs Claus is a feeder. And Prancer is the gay reindeer. And Joseph was the most underwritten person in the whole story. Who would take their child to a living crèche when there are mules in there and straw that can catch on fire? All of Christmas is a Diane Arbus photo waiting to happen.


JR: If you were to the perfect design John Waters’ Christmas Tree, what would it look like?

John Waters: I do have one. I decorate the electric chair, the one we used in Female Trouble. I used to put one of the legs in a Christmas tree stand but we don’t do that anymore. It is fully decorated with all of the Divine ornaments that fans have made for me. It is traditional in my house. I’ve been doing it for 40 years, so I have tradition it’s just a little bit…off.

JR: Are there photos posted of that on line?

John Waters: I think at one point there might have been, but I try to keep my private life. If I exploit everything I have no private life. So at my Christmas party I don’t allow people to take pictures, because I don’t want people with dates to be posting pictures of my living room on Facebook. Pretty soon I’m not going to allow you to bring dates. If I don’t know the person you are sleeping with than you can’t bring ‘em.

JR: Do you ever have Special Guests for your Christmas show?

John Waters: I used to. I’ve had Jonathan Richman, Elvis Perkins, Wanda Jackson. I don’t usually have one anymore because we usually do well with just little old me. I’ve always wanted the Satanic Temple Choir. I like their politics and their fight against Church and State.

JR: There’s another thing that you have going on. You have a spoken word vinyl album called “Make Trouble”?

John Waters: I do. It’s kind of like a 45, it has a big hole in the middle. First I Gave this speech at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design). I was asked to give the commencement speak and it was strange to me because I’ve never graduated from anywhere. I’d never seen a commencement speech. Then it went viral, and then it became this illustrated gift book that did very well and then after that they asked me to do the record, Jack White’s company. It is just me reading the speech with some bonus material of course. I think it is a collector’s item. I just did a signing in Westbury Records in London and it was great. (Buy it here!)

The limited edition is on red vinyl and I think that is sold. The other one is like a regular 45, but it’s great. The cover is me with my cap and gown with my hat on fire.

JR: You got amazing feedback from that speech.

John Waters: I did! You know the only thing that didn’t happen? I thought I’d get all of these offers to do commencement speeches everywhere. I never even got one, not even in a JAIL! I wanted to get in that racket. I would have taken off a whole month. I could go from college to college. Maybe they figured I couldn’t do it better, and who knows if I could. It would be a challenge.

JR: The fact that you did it once…I’m someone who has followed you since I can remember. And now you are at colleges speaking, and doing Christmas tours!

John Waters: I know. Things have changed but I haven’t. It is really in the last couple of years it has really changed and I haven’t even made a movie. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know, but I’m happy that things are going well. I’ve never been busier in my whole life than I am now.


Everybody has changed a little. I’m not the angry young man I was at 20. But for me an angry 71 year old is a big jerk. I don’t have a lot to be angry about. My dreams came true. My dreams came true by the time I was 50, are you kidding? Last year I got the Writer’s Guild Lifetime Achievement Award. It’s like being dead, hearing all the nice things. And I’m NEVER around assholes anymore. I say that in the book. That’s rich. It’s the only thing you should work for your whole life. To never have to be around assholes. I have reached that. It took me 50 years to figure out how to do that. They’re still trying to lurk in so you have to be on guard.

We ended the interview with Waters saying that he has the coolest fans and expressing gratitude for how they dress up for him and giving some love to Seattle.

“I don’t have to go to anywhere in the cities because the people I want to meet are the people who come see me. I really thank them for coming every year. I know it’s not always the same people, but it feels like I’m on my sleigh when I come into town. It’s a stop I do every year. There are only a few cities I go to every time and Seattle’s definitely one of them.”

-John Waters

John Waters will be at the Neptune in Seattle on Thursday, November 30, 2017 at 8:00 pm (7:00 pm doors) as part of his 2017 “A John Waters Christmas” tour. A few tickets are STILL available…grab them HERE.

His 7” vinyl record “Make Trouble” (also available digitally) was recently released by Jack White’s Third Man Pressing & Man World Records and features his commencement speech given at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). (You can order “Make Trouble” HERE!)

AND, Capitol Hill’s Queer/Bar will be hosting an unofficial after party that night, November 30th (don’t expect John Waters to show up but ya never know!). They’re bringing in famed Divine impersonator DIVINE TRASH and the cast of MX will join her to celebrate all things Divine and John Waters starting around 11 pm that night!


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