Hollywood icon John Waters, the man behind Hairspray, Serial Mom and a pioneer of the queer arts, arrived in Southside ahead of his headline Shout Festival performance. We caught up with one of the most colourful characters in showbiz to see what he has in store for Southside and to get his thoughts on his huge back catalogue of work.
This is your first visit to Birmingham – how are you finding it and do you get chance to come to the UK often?
This is my first time in Birmingham, but I love the UK. I’ve been over for book tours in the last few years and I’m not a fan of hot weather, so London makes for the perfect holiday destination. I try to come over once a year. I love visiting new places so I’m enjoying Birmingham so far.
What can the Shout Festival crowd expect from your show this evening?
The show is a comedy – it’s a satire about all rules and even rules in the gay community. I make fun of everything, but I love everything I make fun of – I think that’s why I’ve lasted 50 years, I’m not mean spirited, most of the time I’m making fun of myself!
The gay community nowadays has as many rules as my parents had, so I like to make fun of that too.
After tonight’s show you’ll be heading to the Electric for a special screening of your latest work, A Dirty Shame. Can you tell us a bit about the film?
A Dirty Shame is a comedy about sex addicts and it’s a joke around the sexploitation films that I grew up watching. It’s a genre that has died off as now Hollywood films all have sex in them, but I wanted to parody the films I remember from my youth.
It is set in up-tight suburbia and whenever the residents get head injuries they turn into sex addicts. We were able to cast Jonny Knoxville and Tracey Ullman, and they were perfect.
How has your work changed over the years? Has audience behaviour changed too?
I don’t think my work has changed much at all from when I started out – A Dirty Shame is not a million miles from early work at all. Humour around the world has changed over the years, it’s gotten darker and crazier than when I started. I think I’ve stayed the same and everyone else has changed – luckily into the direction I was going!
I don’t try and shock audiences – I want to make them laugh, especially if it’s at something they might otherwise feel uncomfortable with. When they come with me, they know what they’re getting and they want me to take them into unchartered territories.
My audiences are the same all across the globe, from Paris to Nebraska: they’re smart, they get their roots done, they wear an outfit for me, they have a great sense of humour about themselves and they’re still angry in a great way!
Tonight’s venue, the Hippodrome, has had Hairspray on the stage several times. Did you ever envisage it hitting the stage and still be touring decades later?
Hairspray – the miracle that keeps on giving! I didn’t write it for a commercial audience any more so than I did any of my other films, but it right away was commercial. It was an instant hit film, it was instant hit on stage, it won a Tony award, and now there has been dozens of new versions.
I knew the film I’d written previously, Desperate Living, had not done so well and video had arrived, so the landscape was changing, but I just wrote is as my next project. I changed very little.
I didn’t have theatre or a musical adaptation in mind, but if you’d asked me which film would make a great musical, it would be that one! It had no original music, it used existing pop songs – it was a dance movie. But it was clear it would make an excellent stage show.
What’s next for John Waters?
I’m touring with my book at the minute – it’s doing better than the movies! Mr Know It All is out now, I’m writing a novel called Wiremouth, and I do these spoken word performances all across the world – I’ve just been to Greece, Australia, Mexico and now Birmingham. I’m doing 17 Christmas cities in 22 days – I currently live in airports!
Hairspray arrives on the West End in April for a new revival, so I might be back to England to see that, and I try to get to London every year for a holiday, so I might back in Birmingham sooner than you think!
For more information about Shout Festival visit www.shoutfestival.co.uk