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John Waters on dropping acid to Dionne Warwick, failing up and ‘Straight Pride’ – AZCentral

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For one night only, Phoenix is going to get absolutely filthy.

Filmmaker John Waters returns to make trouble at the Celebrity Theatre Sunday, June 30, following the release of his latest book, “Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder.”

Waters, adoringly regarded as the “Prince of Puke” for producing cult classics like “Pink Flamingos” and “Multiple Maniacs,” draws sold-out shows as a garbage guru who dares to disgust and delight in his “This Filthy World” speaking tour.

The one-man show goes deep into rather-not-say truths about dropping acid, death and how to avoid becoming an “old fart.”

“As soon as you say, ‘Oh, younger people don’t have as much fun as we did,’ you’re an old fart,” Waters says. “And you have no influence any more.”

We caught up with “Mr. Know-It-All” himself as he set up his vacation rental in Provincetown, Mas, for a summer of touring, writing and listening to Lizzo.

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Becoming a ‘Filth Elder’

Q: In the opening pages of your new book you write that the worst thing to happen to a creative person is to be accepted…

A: You know, I say that with a lot of gratitude. After writing a book, “Role Models” about all the people who gave me an example to feel I could be who I want, I figure I’ve negotiated my way to where I am today. I do have some advice even if it’s humorous. I think it’s true. I mean, all the advice I give in the book.

Q: How long has it taken you to accept being accepted?

A: (Laughs) You’re biased! You lunatic! I mean, I always had an audience, right? From the first time I showed a film publicly, people came. They were noticed. They got bad reviews, but back in those days, a bad review would help from the establishment critics at the time — when “straight” meant not heterosexual but that you didn’t smoke pot.

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Q: By the time “Hairspray” rolled around, you’d entered the mainstream undetected. Or, as you put it, like a Trojan horse.

A: It happened in stages. Certainly, it happened when the movie came out but when Divine died it stopped the whole phenomenon in its tracks. And it should have. And then when the musical came out, it was another way to sneak it in as a Trojan horse. It really works because now it’s being performed all over the world in high schools with two men singing a love song and (it) encourages your daughter to date a different race. Even racists like it!

Q: What was the biggest challenge once you got a seat at the table?

A: Not one bad thing happened to me because of success. I don’t understand people who go into show business and are mad when they make their picture. To me, nothing bad has happened. Are you kidding? I’ve never had to get a real job. My hours are longer, yes, but I like what I’m doing. I jump out of bed every day. The book took three years to write. I try to make it sound like I’m just sitting down talking to you but it took six drafts to get there. And there’s a lot of research in that book.

Q: The “Sources” page is certainly loaded to the brim…

A: Yeah, how many memoirs were in the sources? I get a million magazines and that’s why I get them. All writers have to read and keep up. Everything is true in the book.

MOREEssential John Waters movies: ‘Cry-Baby,’ ‘Hairspray’ and more

Dropping acid and listening to Dionne Warwick

Q: In the book, you also mention that the minute someone stops listening to new music, they’ve become an old fart. What are you listening to nowadays?

A: I’m listening to Lizzo and Dionne Warwick. I did a stunt in the book where I drop acid and play Dionne Warwick records like I used to. She still sounds good. I like that she’s so grumpy all the time and says mean things. It makes me laugh!

Q: I adore that moment when she called someone a hussy on “The Celebrity Apprentice.”

A: (Laughs) Yeah, and then she refuted the documentary about Whitney (Houston) and that it was a complete lie about her cousin. I’d be scared to meet her but on acid, she sounds the best. Because a house is a home, a chair is not a chair when you’re tripping there.

Q: The theme from “The Valley of the Dolls” would have been a good one, too. “Gotta get off this merry-go-round…”

A: Did she sing that? Oh, yes, she did! I forgot about that.

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Losing to a dead Joan Rivers and ‘failing up’

Q: I listen to your audiobooks and jump at the chance to listen to your film commentaries. It’s like you’ve infiltrated the most intimate parts of my home.

A: Good! You know, I’ve never actually listened to my audiobooks because imagine listening to your own voice for seven CDs? Only Barbra Streisand does stuff like that. I think I’m good at it — one year I got a Grammy nomination but Joan Rivers beat me from beyond the grave. As she should. But I do like doing them because it’s me just telling you stories.

Q: I’ll let you know that you’re sort of a friendly specter floating in the ether whenever I hit the play button.

A: It’s good because I’m good-spirited. Everything I make fun of I like. I’m asking you to come with me into a world that you might not feel comfortable with but that’s what you expect with me. I want you to laugh at your own fears, prejudices and nerves to get you to do something you haven’t done before. Including me. I’m always attracted to subject matter I don’t understand and there’s not a clear answer to.

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Q: I’m certainly not alone in thinking of you as a garbage guru. The Scottsdale Valentine’s Day show was loaded with people hanging onto your every word.

A: People will come up to thank me. Some people start crying which is astounding. I’m certainly flattered and glad I’ve made people feel good about themselves. Isn’t that what shrinks do? I wouldn’t be a bad defense lawyer, either.

Q: If you were just starting to make a name for yourself today, what avenue would you choose in an era of “Instagays” and college admission scandals?

A: I’ve always been a writer. I wrote all my movies, books and one-man shows. To me, what I don’t understand on Instagram is that people give their material away for free. What would I put in my books? I don’t understand! So, I would be a writer still but would I make movies? But nowadays it’s easy without lugging around all that equipment. The Hollywood studios are looking for a kid to make the next big movie. But they’ll take that kid and give them a $100 million superhero movie that fails and their career is over. I had a slow-up and a slow-down. I’ve made the most money on the way down. You have to learn how to fail upwards in Hollywood.

Making trouble during ‘Straight Pride’

Q: You write that politicians need to fear gay people again. What do you recommend? Should we start throwing pies in the faces of homophobes like Anita Bryant?

A: I recommend a lot in that chapter, much of it might get you in prison! The intention is to humiliate them. The Satanic Temple is pretty funny, I think. I don’t even believe they’re satanists but they use humor to embarrass the enemy in the fight against church and state. Use humor as terrorism to embarrass the enemy and make them look foolish. That way you make people laugh. It’s no violent, but it does work. But at the same time I fear Trump will win again because we can’t make the other side feel stupid. We have to make them feel smart enough to go and make a change. That’s a harder thing to do but it’s the only thing that’ll work. 

Q: What do you think about that so-called “Straight Pride” brewing in Boston?

A: I originally thought up that idea! But it was a humorous thing to have it in Provincetown because straight people are the minority here. It was never going to be anti-gay but it would let gay people show their ‘acceptance’ and applaud. I go to gay pride parades and it’s mostly straight people showing their support. Totally different politics, though. The idea I had has been perverted, but it could work in a way that is pro-gay and straight.

Q: What would yours look like? 

A: I was gonna have straight guys doing the electric slide and dressing up as Burt Reynolds. Mothers of straight women would say, “My daughter’s been a feminist in Provincetown for 20 years and she’s never experimented …” I think it could be done in a way during the off season that both straight and gay people would love and support.

Q: While you’re there in Provincetown over the summer, will you be working on anything?

A: Oh my God, yes. I signed a two-book deal with this and a novel called “Liarmouth” about a woman who steals suitcases at airports. I’m working on that every day but I have a million projects like the big Burger Boogaloo, the Provincetown Film Festival and then I have the John Waters Summer Camp. I’m busy! 

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Filmmaker John Waters on the paperback release of his bestselling book about hitchhiking cross country and what he really thinks of retiring. (June 10) AP

John Waters: ‘This Filthy World’

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, June 30, 2019.

Where: Celebrity Theatre, 440 N. 32nd St., Phoenix.

Admission: $30-$65. 

Details: 602-267-1600, celebritytheatre.com

Reach reporter Garrett Mitchell at gamitchell@gannett.com or 602-444-8280.
Follow him on Twitter at rettmitch.

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