The Pope of Trash

The Pope of Trash

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Celebrate Valentine’s Day with director John Waters

Legendary entertainer John Waters calls his live show a litmus test. It can make or break a relationship.

“My Valentine’s Day show either turns into a great date or a terrible one – especially on the first date,” he says with a laugh. “Some have told me horror stories. I do, maybe, 35 spoken-word shows around the country, so I’m very in touch with the people who have enabled me to get away with this all of these years.”

Known for his pencil-thin moustache, Waters comes to the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday, February 13 for an adults-only commentary and book signing. He is celebrated for classic cult movies including Pink Flamingos, Polyester and Hairspray. He is also a photographer and curator whose work has been shown in galleries and museums around the world, plus the author of numerous books, including the best-selling Role Models, Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America and, most recently, Make Trouble.

Waters says that during his appearances, he uses his movies as a way of sharing his thoughts about politics, crime and fashion. “I give my opinion on almost everything during the show,” he says. “I still have to write it before I get there because the news changes every minute. The problem is, you constantly have to do rewrites every day because there’s so much happening in the news.”

That’s not hard for Waters, who calls himself a news junkie. “What’s parody and what’s real is a gray area these days,” he adds. “I’m a news junkie, which helps. I like to get my papers, even though I’m online all day. I still like to read the paper, hold it in my hand, tear things out, see what’s above the fold or below the fold.”

He was calling from San Francisco, where he has an apartment. It frustrates him that the San Francisco Chronicle removed its newspaper boxes from the streets because homeless folks were taking them to sell them.

“I had to put $1.50 in change in there,” he says. “Who walks around with six quarters? Homeless people sell them for $1, but at least people read them. If they’re in boxes, nobody reads them. The press is my soap opera.”

He made news himself when his speech at Rhode Island School of Design’s spring 2015 undergraduate commencement went viral. Algonquin Books released it, as did Jack White’s Third Man Records. “It was an illustrated gift book, and then a record of the speech was released,” he says. “I’m on vinyl again at age 71. I feel so ‘of the people.’ Jack White’s great. It’s such a cool record company. I went to Third Man Records in Nashville, and it’s like Willy Wonka’s Factory in there.”

Waters has seen the U.S. cultural landscape change over the years. Once considered vile, Waters now sees parents bringing their children to his shows. “What parent would take their kid to see me?” he says. “No, that does happen. I see parents, and it’s really touching. They’re coming with their angry, screwed up children in a last-ditch effort to bond with them. I never know if it works because I never see them again. Before, parents would call the police when they found my movies.”

He says kids these days are having as much fun being a delinquent as folks his age. He questions, though, how young adults are being troublesome.

“You’re a hacker,” he says. “That’s what you are. You live in your parents’ house at 30 years old. They haven’t seen you in two months, and they leave goods outside your door while you’re shutting down the government. It’s very different, but I try to address that in my show. When I was young, we stole hubcaps. That’s nothing today.” 

John Waters performs at 7:30 p.m. February 13 at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, 7380 E. Second Street, Scottsdale. Tickets cost $39-$69. Call 480-499-8587 or visit scottsdaleperformingarts.org for more information.