Cult film director John Waters is headed to New York next month for his annual Christmas Show, a hilarious yuletide one-man extravaganza that's cemented his celebrated status as "the filthiest man alive." We caught up with the "Pope of Trash" this week and dished about everything from the dive bar scene in his native city of Baltimore to his least favorite Christmas presents.
Are there any wild stories we can expect at the Christmas Show this year?
Plenty of them, seventy minutes of them. Everything from the presents I want for Christmas, holiday music that I wish would come out, rap Christmas songs that aren't out. I talk a lot about my hatred of the Easter bunny. I talk about inappropriate gifts to give people, Christmas TV specials I'd like to have, Christmas movies I'd like to make like "Prancer,"—that one was a gay reindeer, I don't know why they never thought about it before. How I'd remake all my own movies into Christmas shows.
And the rudest thing you can ever give anybody: a fruit basket. I can buy a goddamn pear. I'm always shocked when I open one of these. Who would dare send me ten pears?
I can buy a pear, you know? It's not so hard to find a pear. I think gift baskets should be drugs or cigarettes, things you'd never buy for yourself. I don't take drugs or smoke cigarettes anymore, but I think a gift basket filled with them would terrific.
A pear. How dare you think I'd—you know, I'm always shocked when I get them. I said it at my Christmas show last year and Marianne Boesky did send me ten pears, which I thought was really funny.
After we put out this interview, everyone's gonna send you pears.
Oh, that's alright. You know, send me candy, though, or anything. My mother, who is a very, very straight lovely woman, we looked back on this: when I was young in my Easter basket I used to get a carton of Kools surrounded by black jellybeans.
Yeah! And I think about that and my mother says "You know I can't believe I did that," because then smoking wasn't really thought of as bad. I mean they didn't say it was bad 'til the '60s, the late '60s. So I used to get them, I wish I had taken a picture of them, because it was a nice present but I'm just still amazed my mother—any mother—would do that, and I think when I bring it up to her she's just mortified.
How old were you?
Like twenty. Not fifteen or fourteen. And my mother smoked when she was pregnant, every woman did in the '50s, no one said it was bad. And I believe I was born a crack baby because I asked my mother when I was eight, "Can I have a drag of that cigarette?" And she'd say "Oh, give him some. He'll cough, he'll hate it forever."
I took a drag and smoked forever, really. Period. So I think I was born addicted to King Kools, although my mother smoked Kents.
I still it write down everyday on my little notes, I have them right in front of me. Today is "I haven't had a cigarette in three thousand nine hundred and sixty four days." I write it down every single day because I never want to write "Zero" again, or "One" again. That was the hardest thing ever, it would have been easier to quit heroin, I think. I never was a heroin addict but I think it would have been easier.
Although not today, now it's different because today cigarettes are more hated than heroin.
Especially in New York. They've been banned everywhere.
And come on, what's the cost? I would be so broke. I smoked five packs a day, that's half a carton a day. How much is a carton of cigarettes in New York now if you buy one? I can't even imagine..
I think [a pack] is like thirteen bucks, with tax.
That's all?! Oh, a pack, one pack is thirteen dollars. Well then, think how much that would be a day! Like a hundred dollars a day. It's cheaper to be a heroin addict.
In [2010 memoir] Role Models, you go into a lot of detail about the dive bars in Baltimore. Are there any in New York that you like?
One in New York? I don't know one in New York, tell me one. A good one that isn't ironic, that isn't infected with expensive coolness.
I can't, I don't even think I could name one dive bar in New York that's not—
There isn't one! Well if there is one it's designed to be one, which isn't the same.
When you were in New York when there were still dive bars, where did you hang out?
Well, to me the best bar ever in New York was SqueezeBox! That was my favorite bar ever in New York in the forty-some years I've been going there. And that only ended, what, ten years ago? Eight years ago? That was my favorite.
The first bar I ever went to in New York was the Ninth Circle but the Ninth Circle then was a beatnik bar. Then later it became a gay bar, and now I don't know what it is [Editor's note: It's gone]. But I think I went to Max's Kansas City a lot, which I of course loved. So I had a great time in the old days. But even better than Max's I liked SqueezeBox! That was very much my favorite. Because it was such a mixed crowd—it was so gay and straight together. And they never told the press if celebrities were there, so all the celebrities did come.
Have you noticed with New York—Baltimore still has its own flavor, but does New York seems to be losing its edge?
I love New York and I have an apartment in New York and everything, but, to be honest, we have more edge here, we have a great music scene here now. The kids here seem cooler to me.
But I don't know, I love the art world in New York, I love all the things I'm there in New York for, but mostly, but I don't go to dive bars. I don't have a hangout anymore in New York. Which I do in San Francisco, where I live, I do in Provincetown, and I do in Baltimore. And I wish I did [in New York].
But usually I go [out in NY] and have dinner, too. It's not the same. The bars I go to in Baltimore I would never want to eat dinner in.
I have had pizza from [Baltimore bar and John Waters favorite] Club Charles, though. It's not bad.
Well I love the Club Charles, and they have good food! [Owner Joy Martin] has a diner on the corner that's good, too, now. And they serve food in the bar. Yes! It is fine, it's totally fine.
But that's not a complete dive—there are some new good bars in Baltimore. Not hip bars. There's one called Beatnik that's good. There's one called Crown that's good. And we've got great restaurants too. The best restaurant in all of Baltimore I think is called Peter's Inn, it's really good. But it's not—it's foodie but bohemian.
What's the best place you've hitchhiked to lately?
Well my book comes out June 3rd, so that's another tour. But I saw the cover today and I'm really excited about it. I saw the print of it today, saw what it's going to look like, and I'm excited. I'm going to have galleys soon.
The last place I hitchhiked was I guess...Lemme think, I hitchhiked to somewhere in Provincetown once. But I'm embarrassed to hitchhike now because I think people think I'm doing it for publicity. As a photo-op, or something. I've always hitchhiked some, my whole life. A whole lot when I was young. But I had never hitchhiked across the country, though, like I did when I wrote this book.
To me, I know now that I always can do it. That it's possible to do it. It is not ever gonna be Plan A again, but I wouldn't be frightened to do it.
Did people recognize you when you're hitchhiking?
Some did. That's a lot of the book. A third did, but then they rode past me and debated whether it was me and thinking "Why would that be me?" and then came back. Other people thought I was homeless, they'd give me money and then start screaming when they realized it was me. And another third if I'd tell them it was me they'd look to me like I said I was Rockefeller.
Most people thought I was a homeless man. Because what man my age would stand there—who stands with a cardboard sign along an entrance ramp?
But they were still picking you up?
They did. People are good. I have the optimist's view. It's a very optimistic book.
I read an interview you did about A Dirty Shame, and you were talking about the made-up sex positions that people were freaking out about, like "felching."
Felching is real! Felching is—I'm not gonna tell you. You're not gonna print what it really means. Should I tell you?
It's really disgusting.
You should tell me.
It's sucking your own cum out of someone's asshole.
But! But, when I was hoping, that when the MPAA was against it, that we would have a debate and they would say that word and I was gonna say "Are you kidding? That's such a dirty—that's making bubbles in the bathtub when you fart!" Because who really can find what these words really mean? Who can prove if you're right or wrong? And they said that they had specialists who had told them what these words meant. It's hilarious trying to picture that.
That sounds like a great career.
Well I could be hired to do that. That's what I was really—my father was going to see it. Does he need to know what a plate job is? Does he really need, at ninety years old, to know what this stuff is?
What are some other crazy sex positions that no one really knows about?
Well I talk about it in my Christmas show. Because I'm jealous of the Marquis de Sade because his name became a sex act—that's famous. I'm a little jealous of Linda Lovelace because I don't think anybody went that far down on a penis until she did it. I'm not so sure that real deep throat ever happened before that movie. I think she invented extreme blow jobs. And now there are whole shelves in porno shops of that genre.
So I guess I think thinking up a new sex act is really important. I'm not gonna tell you what it is, but I do have a new sex act for Christmas that I talk about in my show. You can only do it in cold weather.
What are some of your favorite movies, of your own and in general?
Well, I just presented this movie in Liverpool last night and I've presented it at film festivals all over the world, which is the movie Boom with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, directed by Joseph Losey. Which is a Tennessee Williams play "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore." It was a giant failure on Broadway, a giant failure in the movies, and I loved this movie. So did Tennessee Williams, he said it was the best thing that was ever made from his material. Not one other person in the world agreed with him. It is not bad, it is not campy, it's just such a great failed art movie. But it's perfect. And it's the only way I can judge people. I say: "Do you like this movie?" and if you don't, I don't know that I can be friends with you. It's a litmus test.
And out of my own movies, I think Female Trouble is is my favorite of my old Divine movies because it was a vehicle completely made for Divine. But I always tend to pick later ones. I think Serial Mom was one. Kathleen Turner was really great and it was the only movie we actually had enough money to make when we made it. But my last movie, A Dirty Shame was, you know, maybe I ended my career with a sexploitation. I went back to NC-17, where I started.
And [proposed children's Christmas movie] Fruitcake, was scrapped?
Well no, not scrapped. It was just that nobody ever gave me the money. Now the movie business is changed. They want me to make a movie for half a million dollars. Which, I can't do that, I mean I've done that. I can't be an underground filmmaker at 67.
What are your favorite movie characters?
Well, "Boom," that was Sissy Goforth, the selfish, richest woman in the world. And Richard Burton plays the angel of death, Christopher Marlowe, who has the unfortunate habit of calling on wealthy women right before they die. They're pretty good. They're pretty good characters.
I think Leatherface in "Chainsaw" was pretty good. People ask me "Who's your type?" and I say the hitch-hiker in "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," the one with a birthmark on his face.
So, I always like extreme characters, and I've said it forever but the Wicked Witch in "The Wizard of Oz" was my all-time idol as a child and I'm angry still at Wicked.
[The Witch] wasn't evil anymore.
A John Waters Christmas will be held on December 13th and 14th at Stage 48 in Hells Kitchen. Tickets can be purchased online; general admission is $45, and for $99 you get a post-show meet-and-greet with the man himself.