As much as John Waters tries to fight it, he is now known as a respectable guy.
The filmmaker who once shocked audiences with such midnight-movie cult classics as “Pink Flamingos,” “Female Trouble” and “Multiple Maniacs” – and more mainstream fare like “Hairspray,” which has now begat a stage musical, a movie musical remake and a live-TV musical – is now seen as an elder statesmen, a well-respected film auteur and man of letters. He’s received honorary degrees from the Maryland Institute College of Art and the Rhode Island School of Design. The Film Society of Lincoln Center did a retrospective of Waters’ work in 2014. And just a couple of Sundays ago, he was given the Ian McLellan Hunter career achievement award at the Writers Guild Awards in New York.
“I was really honored,” says Waters, 70, on the phone from his Baltimore hometown. “It was one of the few times I say that without any irony involved.”
From the way Waters sounds, he seems kind of nostalgic for those days when he could scare off censors and audiences with his transgressive, proudly scatological films. “Nobody gets mad about what I say anymore, even though the stuff I say is worse than ever,” he says, laughing. “But I’m not mean – I think that’s why.”
These days, he’s dishing out offensive material through other mediums. He continues to go on tour, doing one-man shows. His long-running show, “This Filthy World,” has been revamped as “This Filthy World, Filthier and Dirtier.” Waters will be getting filthy with it at Durham’s Carolina Theatre on Thursday, March 9.
“It’s always just updated with lots of new material. I mean, it’s been called ‘This Filthy World’ through thousands of different versions of it. So, I’m always adding new material and, to be honest, that’s why I keep getting booked, because I keep freshening it up.”
It’s very likely Waters will be laying the smackdown on President Trump.
“I think he’s the worst president we ever had and Obama was the best, which I’m sure will make people gag,” he says. “What’s his Obamacare? If he’s gonna get rid of Obamacare, what’s Trumpcare gonna be? I think I said free facelifts and, you know, money to the government for hair transplants. I mean, I can’t imagine what he keeps saying it’s gonna replace. And I also think the reason that he won’t show his taxes is because he’s broke. The only thing I’m looking forward to is his decoration of the White House. Have you ever seen his apartment? I mean, it will look like Little Richard decorated it before he got money.”
Waters also has another book coming out next month, titled “Make Trouble.” He has dropped several literary tomes over the years, including his 2010 memoir “Role Models.” For his latest book, Waters hips college students to the fine art of “sneaking in and making trouble from the inside” and “how to make trouble in a good way.”
“If you have a child that’s had trouble in school, this is the perfect graduation gift for them,” he says, letting out a devious cackle.
For those fans who wonder when Waters, who hasn’t made a movie since 2004, will get back in the director’s chair again, don’t expect it to happen anytime soon.
“My last movie, ‘A Dirty Shame,’ did not make money,” he says. “My last two books were best-sellers. So, you know you gotta stick to where they like you the most.”
But it’s not like Waters hasn’t tried to get a movie off the ground in recent years.
“I had, like, a whole thing with HBO about doing the sequel to ‘Hairspray’ – they paid me,” he divulges. “You know, one day, I hope it gets made. So, I’m not totally out of the business. I had another movie called ‘Fruitcake’ that was a children’s Christmas movie, that almost got made. But, you know, that’s the film business. Hollywood’s treated me very fairly.”
But whether it’s on stage, screen or on the page, Waters is out to unite audiences through his trashy antics, not divide them. He would like both fans and detractors to attend his “Filthy” show and “be much more willing to see an opinion different than theirs, and laugh more at things when you can’t change them and see every side of things. Liberals can be fascists too sometimes, you know, because they don’t ever believe that somebody might not believe in them. So, I try to see all sides, and that’s what makes it interesting.”
Who: John Waters
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: The Carolina Theatre, 309 W. Morgan St., Durham
Info: 919-560-3030 or carolinatheatre.org