John Waters at the 2016 Pop Montreal festival

The Pope of Trash

Richard Burnett
Commentaires
John Waters

The iconoclastic John Waters, who wrote and directed everything from Pink Flamingos to the original Hairspray, was once dubbed “The Pope of Trash” by no less than William Burroughs. Waters is also lovingly called The Prince of Puke, The Duke of Dirt and The Sultan of Sleaze. I first interviewed him back in December 2007 when he headlined Le National to perform his Christmas stand-up comedy show. Waters returns to Montreal to headline the Rialto Theatre with his hugely popular “This Filthy World” stand-up act, at the 2016 Pop Montreal festival.

So this summer I caught up with Waters in Provincetown, and we blabbed about everything from Donald Trump to Divine.
 
You once voted twice, for Shirley Chisholm in the United States presidential election of 1972. You actually borrowed somebody else’s ID and voted a second time.  
John Waters: The last election, the Obama election, The Gap asked us to create something about the election. So I did a button that said “Vote twice.” I never thought they’d accept it. But they did and put it in all the stores! And the day it came out people went crazy. The Gap said to me, “We will stand behind you.” Then an hour later they changed their minds and took every (button) out of the stores! I think it’s a collector’s item. 
 
You always vote.
Oh yes, I always vote. To me, it’s sexual when you vote. When you go in that booth, it’s like a peep show! 
 
What is your take on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump?
He’s going to ruin the Republican Party for 10 years. I’m happy they picked him! I think the other ones are even worse, though: at least he’s met a gay person! I don’t even believe he believes that. I think he’ll quit the first day. And I think he’s broke too, that’s why he won’t show his taxes. 
 
What do you think of Caitlyn Jenner supporting the Republican Party?
I think it’s heresy. I think (LGBTQ Republicans) are like Roy Cohn. They are traitors.
 
I met Mink Stole last September and was wondering if you keep in touch with her and other stars of your films?
This summer in Provincetown we celebrated 50 years of knowing each other!
 
Do you enjoy your summers in Provincetown?
Oh yes. It’s my 52nd summer here. I have written half my books and movies here. I do like it. It’s about as healthy as I get. I go swimming, I ride my bicycle, I go to the beach for a half-hour every day.
 
Have you ever witnessed a Bridezilla bachelorette party in P-Town?
I don’t want to be unfair. I’m a radical feminist, so I love women who hate men, I just don’t like men who hate women. But they do put a big drag on it when they come into town in big droves – into any bar, not just the gay bars. The new thing is they go to drag shows, which I don’t quite get. They have the right to do it, so who am I to judge bachelorette parties? But they can be drunk and obnoxious. If they are misbehaved, I think it would be fair if drag queens wrote down their names and crashed their weddings. 
 
Has the Boatslip changed much?
I was on an airplane and I guess the pilot was a gay pilot and it was all men on the plane and he said, “Welcome to Provincetown, and hope you’re not late for the Tea dance!” And I was like, “Excuse me, I have been here 52 years and I’ve never been to a Tea dance!” 
 
What do you think about Pride parades?
It feels like there’s one every day! Where they need Pride parades isn’t in Provincetown and San Francisco, it’s in communities that are the most Republican and most restrictive. To me, every day is Pride. I think heterosexuals should march in Provincetown because they are the minority! Sometimes I like to go to straight bars, to feel like an outsider.
 
Your 1970 film Multiple Maniacs has just been re-released. How do you feel about the amazing shelf-life and longevity of your films?
I’m thrilled! They’ve restored Multiple Maniacs and it looks amazing. It’s like a bad John Cassavettes movie, it’s moved up to look like that. 
 
Do you re-edit your films in your mind when you see them years later?
Yeah, I look at them and say, “I should have cut that.” But no, they are from a certain time period and I wouldn’t go back and change them. I think most filmmakers, when they see their films later on, they think of what they could change. They just see the mistakes. I saw Multiple Maniacs at the Provincetown film festival and the audience was full of young people and they looked shocked! It made me laugh and I said, “What WAS I thinking? This is more hideous than I remember!”
 
In the wake of Orlando many people have forgotten that LGBTQ people have always been vilified, attacked and killed in cities across North America and around the world. This is nothing new. 
None of these terrorist attacks is more shocking than the other just because it is straight or gay. To me they are all done by assholes. That’s how powerless people fight, it’s with terrorism. It’s unfortunate, but for them it can work. It always has been an issue, it’s always going to be an issue. 
That night (at Pulse nightclub in Orlando) there were straight people there too. It was a gay club, but it was straight and gay people dancing together. And that is the only way gay bars are going to survive today because young people don’t want to be segregated. They don’t just want to be with gay people, they want to be with their cool friends straight and gay. And that’s actually a healthy sign. 
 
You’re still quite discreet. But you do love your celebrities.
I don’t know about discreet!! (Laughs) When I am out with celebrities, it usually is a work-related event. I always say, “If you are in show business and you have a dinner that is not tax-deductible, then you have a private life.” I have a lot of non-deductible dinners. 
 
We’ve lost so many greats this year, from David Bowie to Prince. What celebrity death has most marked you?
Obscure writers! I think Andy Warhol was a shocking death at the time. I knew him. As far as singers, I think Elvis. I first knew I was gay when I was eight years old and saw him singing and twitching. Elvis was important to me then. In my book Role Models I wrote about all the people who influenced me. Tennessee Williams (influenced) me because he wrote about bohemia. The first thing I ever wanted to be was a beatnik. So the first thing you ever want to be, whoever influenced you to want to be that, will always be your top role model in your life, no matter how old you are.
 
Why are you and Divine bound together forever?
Because Divine and I started out together, we made our early films together, and Divine in those days said the words best of all the people I worked with. I wrote those words for Divine. After Hairspray I didn’t write parts for people, I wrote a movie and then we would cast it. Up until then I wrote all the parts for Divine. It was a Divine vehicle, like a Susan Hayward picture! So I could hear him saying them as I wrote them. I didn’t have to direct him much, he knew exactly how to say what I wrote. 
 
Will John Waters write and direct another feature film?
Who knows? I’ve been paid to think up three of them. I have been working in Hollywood the last 10 years but they just haven’t been produced. Maybe not. My last two books were big hits, so I signed a two-book deal. So now I’m doing better in the book world than I am in the film world. Luckily I have many ways to earn a living. 
 
Do young men throw themselves at the feet of John Waters?
I wouldn’t put it that way, but I guess if I went looking for it, maybe! People do a lot of weird things at my signings: lovely people ask me if I will marry them, people have been nude waiting in line for me, I’ve signed dicks, asses and tits! I signed a tongue recently, that was new. There’s never a dull moment. It’s been good, and I haven’t been to Montreal in a long time either. I’m looking forward to it.
 
Montreal is famous for its male stripper bars.
I love your male stripper bars! I remember them!
 
The boys have full hard-ons too!
Actually I didn’t want to say, but that’s what I remember most! 
 
 
John Waters headlines his one-man comedy show This Filthy World: une soirée avec John Waters at the Pop Montreal festival, at the Rialto Theatre on Sept. 24. For tickets, visit popmontreal.com. Read Burnett’s national queer-issues column Three Dollar Bill online at www.bugsburnett.blogspot.com.