John Waters shares his secrets to being the ultimate inside-outsider in an encore tour of This Filthy World
The fundamental question with John Waters is not just how he became one of the kookiest people in America (see Pink Flamingos – still shocking even by Jackass standards), but how he was a rebel and a misfit right from the get go.
“I was born almost two months early, premature,” he says, “so right from the beginning my parents were scared of me I think.”
Waters grew up, by his own accounts, in a supportive middle-class family in a safe suburb of middle-of-the-road Baltimore. Yet here was a kid who’d come home from school and tell his parents about the weird kid who only used black crayon for his drawings... when he was that kid.
Waters fondly recalls the nuns at Sunday school reading out a list of forbidden films – which instantly became his “must-see” viewing. “I never really wanted to fit in,” he admits.
Not fitting in became a lucrative career, spanning 50 years, 17 films, seven books (four text and three of his photographic art) and countless live shows. For his dedicated fan base, many of his films – from teen comedies Hairspray and Cry-Baby to weirdo fare like Polyester and Pink Flamingos – are countercultural philosophies for living. They have provided much-needed feel-good affirmation for generations of misfits.
His ever-changing live show This Filthy World, which he has been touring on and off for almost a decade, bundles his career and world philosophy into an hour or so of superlative stand-up – in which he shares skilfully-spun anecdotes, riffs on pop culture and current affairs, and reflects on his life and work.
“It’s not mean – everything I make fun of in the show I actually like,” he says. “I’m not asking you, like in a reality show, to make fun of the subject matter; I look up to it, I’m amazed by it. The fact is that human behaviour has always incredibly interested me – why people do the things they do.”
No one is more amused than Waters by the fact that the queer misfit who used to hold screenings in basements and hawk tickets on street corners, and who famously made drag performer Divine eat dog shit on camera, is a gainfully-employed book-deal-landing success – and role model. “Parents bring their delinquent children to my show in a last-ditch effort to bond with them,” he says incredulously.
“When I went to school, ‘outsider’ was a dirty word; now every person thinks they’re an outsider,” Waters reflects. “The only perverse thing left is to be on the inside – and still not have changed. I’m not much different than I ever was. I’m older, and probably a bit more tolerant, and not angry... what do I have to be angry about? My career has gone very nicely; I was understood. It took a little while, but still. All my dreams came true.”