The Eccentric King of Cult John Waters Plays Devil’s Advocate in New Solo Show

The weird world of John Waters remains enticing after all these debaucherous years
The weird world of John Waters remains enticing after all these debaucherous years Photo by Greg Gorman

The entertainment industry takes its knocks, but at its very best it helps produce true originals. Few have flown their freak flag longer and stronger that freewheeling director, artist and personality John Waters.

From his days making uproarious movies that broke boundaries of both representation and good taste, to his current place on the throne of pop culture, commenting on the world with a sharp wit and a skewed view – Waters never misses. He’s written a new show called Devil’s Advocate (previously: The End of the World) and lucky for Houston, we will be seeing it on the perfect spooky night, Friday, October 13, through Performing Arts Houston.

“I didn’t even think about that,” the smooth voice snarkster says. “But yeah, we did the John Waters Camp, it was a sleep away camp and that would have been weird if it went all Friday the 13th! I am not superstitious, but I don’t purposefully walk under a ladder, you know? I don’t tempt fate. I won’t lunge after a black cat. But good, the witches will be out, this is perfect for this show.”

With a lifetime of wild celebrity run-ins, Waters always has something surprising to say. “I always re-write my show once a year. So you will be seeing my brand new show Devil’s Advocate and it is really new, really up to date and I have only done it once before at the John Waters Summer Camp to test it. It’s about how the new generation is even surprising me. It’s a fully written 70-minute monologue that I write and memorize, no notes. It is about everything  — my career, politics, sex, fashion, parents. It is certainly my opinions, and it is part autobiographical but also part futuristic, part advice, part me sharing how I have navigated my whole life to get away with it.”

In addition to the main show, Water vows to take audience questions for the final 20 minutes of the night – seemingly a brilliant way to get new material. “I have had every kind of question,” he laughs. “I’ve been doing this for 50 years. The strangest one: one person said my father almost went home with you from the bar one night. That was a new one. I said to tell him hi. I have gotten so many strange questions, I can’t even imagine. I say bring it on, I am open to anything.”

The acclaimed director of Hairspray and Pink Flamingos has been a reflective mood the past month it seems. Despite ups and downs, in September he was honored with a big one: a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In his speech, he cracked: “Here I am, closer to the gutter than ever!”

On the momentous occasion, Waters is sincere. “The whole week was astonishing. It was at the Academy Awards museum. It was really thrilling and I was really happy to be alive to experience it. A lot of time you get it when you’re dead, if you ever get it. My family was there, my oldest friends. It was like being on the TV show from the ‘50s This Is Your Life – I was expecting them to bring out my baby sitter from when I was in junior high. It was really thrilling, it was very nice and dramatic and hilarious and well... it wasn’t funny but a tour bus blew up two blocks away in the middle of my star thing! I don’t know what happened, but fire trucks came and everything. And since my family business was fire protection, I thought my late father is making an appearance. It did go off and we heard it. There were fire engines and everything and lot of the fans posted me talking with a shot of the burning truck up the street.”

Between his contributions to cinema and memorable performances on projects as diverse as The Simpsons, RuPaul’s Drag Race and The Marvelous Ms. Maisel, the artist seems to be insatiable. He fires back: “Obviously, people say to me: haven’t you had enough? Are you so insecure that you need to keep finding strangers to tell you how good you are? All people in show business, there’s something the matter with them. Why do they keep doing this? It gets addictive. I’ve never been this busy in my whole life. In my old show, I said if I retired I’d probably drop dead and if I drop dead on stage, you can take selfies.”

He continues: “I like back-up jobs. That’s why when all these strikes were going on, I could hit the road and do my show. I could write a book. I could do Broadway. I have been doing all this for all this time. I don’t know if I could everything, but I was willing to try. Everything, but singing. But I do have two Grammy nominations for Best Spoken Word... that rotten Joan Rivers died and beat me, even thought she was a friend. Michelle Obama beat me the second time.”

But Water’s greatest gift may be the most obvious: as a keeper of wild and irreverent stories. With the randomness of a Madlib, Waters has seemingly interacted with every great creator of the late 20th and early 21st century.

Speaking with him on the eve of the New York premiere of the new Martin Scorsese film Killers of the Flower Moon, Waters was pleased to see his old directing friend again. “We know each other some — he makes really wonderful movies. Often I’ll hear the number one movie in the country and I’ve never even heard of it. But I think that’s more because I miss movie marketing, they don’t have it anymore. I miss it, because I vote in everything and I am obviously an Academy member. David Lynch is my sponsor. I have met everyone, but – and I say this in every interview, but I’ll say it again – but the only person who I haven’t met and I want to is Eminem. He has no interest in meeting me, but that’s why I want to meet him. I’ve been to Grammy parties – but he didn’t get nominated! Even still, I am not gonna rush him. But who knows? I asked Don Knotts for a date once, so who knows.”

The conversation ends, but ‘who knows’ is the perfect way to say it all. Who knows what icon of your youth will have had an encounter with the self-styled raconteur next?

John Waters will appear at Jones Hall at 615 Louisiana on Friday, October 13 at 7:30 p.m. For information, call 713-227-4772 or visit Performing Arts Houston at $29-$109.

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Vic covers the comedy scene, in Houston and beyond. When not writing articles, he's working on his scripts, editing a podcast, doing some funny make-em-ups or preaching the good word of supporting education in the arts.
Contact: Vic Shuttee