Respectability has its price.
"People don't get mad at me anymore," says John Waters, director of cult classic films and an author. "And I say worse stuff."
Much of the worse stuff is packaged in his storytelling show John Waters: This Filthy World — Filthier and Dirtier, which comes to The Joy Theater March 18.
Waters earned titles such as "Pope of Trash" and "Prince of Puke" from a stream of early films, including Pink Flamingos, Desperate Living and Female Trouble, starring portly drag performer Divine (aka Glenn Milstead) and friends such as Mink Stole. His 1988 mainstream breakthrough film Hairspray has since been remade as a film and adapted into a Broadway musical, which is now performed in schools across the country. Waters is no longer an outsider.
"Who wants to be a 70-year-old outsider," Waters says via phone from his Baltimore home. "If you haven't gotten any in — to be some sort of insider at 70, you're doing something wrong. You can't be a 70-year-old anarchist. That's sort of pitiful."
In recent years, his success has translated into new opportunities and acclaim. In 2015, he was invited to give the commencement address at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). An online video of the speech went viral, and it's being released as a book, Make Trouble (Algonquin), on April 11.
"I have been waiting to get into the commencement speech racket," he says. "I have been asked a couple times, but never anywhere as prestigious as RISD. I never thought it would be a book or go viral. The night before they gave me an honorary degree and it became a joke that I wanted tenure and would start giving out Oxycontin or all sorts of things doctors would do if they went crazy."
Other respectable projects and awards keep coming for Waters. The Baltimore Museum of Art will present a retrospective of his work, and he'll be included in the 2017 Venice Biennale. He just won the Writers Guild of America, East's Ian McLellan Hunter Award, and was introduced at the ceremony by David Simon, creator of The Wire and Treme.
"It was like being at your own funeral and hearing the eulogies while you're still alive," Waters says. "It was great. It beats the alternative."
But Waters isn't settled in his ways.
"As soon as anyone — no matter what age — says 'We had more fun when we were young than kids do today,' I know their life is over," Waters says. "No they didn't (have more fun). The kids shutting down governments on their computers in their parents' homes are having just as much fun as we did when we were rioting at marches in Washington (D.C.)
"Riots were so much fun. You could always get laid at a riot."
But now, computers and the internet intrigue him as well.
"The new underground is in the deep web," he says. "I was saddened when (the online black market) Silk Road got busted. It was where you had bitcoin and you could buy hitmen and drugs and everything. I thought it started out nicely and just got carried away.
"I always wanted Silk Road to have personal pages. A dating service. I am not looking for a boyfriend now. But if I was looking for a boyfriend, I would go to Silk Road."