The director of such flicks as Hairspray, Polyester, Pink Flamingos and, more recently, Pecker and Serial Mom, also does a one-man live show called The World of Trash. He takes his sleaze-fest on the road 25 times a year and lands in Tucson this week.
"I wear a good outfit and talk about my obsessions," Waters explains about his campy monologue performance.
And what are his obsessions?
"This week, my top three are journalists getting fired for saying things they shouldn't be saying about the Iraqi war; the fact that I can't utter the words 'red carpet' in any Hollywood-related press statement due to the flack about the Academy Awards and the war; and a new French film called The Pussy With Two Heads--I just love that it all takes place in a porn theater."
That last one stands out, revealing that Waters' obsessions aren't all negative. They're just something that inundate him. "My day starts at 8 in the morning and ends at 8 at night. I'm obsessing all the way through it."
The beauty of "good bad taste" is his biggest obsession.
"Trash is humor, but not serious trash. Although show girls have been seriously trashy for a long time but they don't know it, like in the movie, Mahogany," Waters offers as some kind of clarification.
Confusion reigns over everything Waters tackles. His monologue is peppered with his vision of worldwide trashiness, which includes all forms of entertainment, censorship and society, the absurdity of what is deemed right and wrong, hairdos in his hometown of Baltimore, murder trials, exploitation films, even politicians.
"I sure do miss Clinton and wish he were still president. I don't care about all that sex stuff. Actually, some of our current leaders could use more sex. More sex, less war."
Humor is political, according to Waters. It's a weapon but it doesn't change things.
"I pride myself on the fact that my work has no socially redeeming value."
Yet his movies have been featured at festivals in Cannes and Berlin and in retrospectives internationally.
"My movies are more like foreign films. Bad taste is truly international. Pecker was a hit in Japan. Who would know?"
Incredulous that his 1998 film was a success, he's even more surprised at its being described a "feel-good movie," especially since it's about lesbian strippers and amateur photography. Japanese critics dubbed Pecker a "Disney film for perverts."
So has sleaze finally become conventional?
"The golden age of trash is over. It got a rise out of people, now it's more commercial," Waters concedes.
This from a director who made Divine eat dog shit in his now 30-year-old quintessential trashy film.
"I won the battle of grossness with Pink Flamingos when I made Divine do that. She was so good. It was in the script, so she did it," says Waters about the drag queen who starred in his films.
"I never try to shock people."
Apparently Tucson audiences were shocked when Pink Flamingos debuted here--or at least one lascivious but conservative police officer in the audience had a problem with it.
"The cop went into the theater and wrote up a police report Y'know, like this: 'White male, dressed like a woman, blah, blah ... ' It was more like a film review."
(Waters admits he might be thinking of the film's debut in Phoenix. "It was back in the '70s. I can't remember.")
Waters' pride on the long-lasting popularity of the film is palpable, "It's hard to offend three generations, but it looks like I've succeeded."
So what's the future of trash?
"It's over, been over. As soon as hard-core porn started, trash was over. Sex and violence is overdone."
But that's not really stopping the Sultan of Sleaze, the guy who handed out scratch 'n' sniff cards to the audience to allow them to smell along with the characters in their fragrant search for romantic happiness.
"My next movie is about sex addicts. It's called A Dirty Shame and takes place in a normal blue-collar community."
So who's starring in it?
"I can't divulge the talent," snarls Waters. "It would ruin everything," he adds in his campy nasal voice.
At that, Waters abruptly ends the phone interview to return to peeling potatoes for his dinner party, pleased that he'd kept his trashy film details a big secret.
John Waters' performance, The World of Trash, takes place at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Saturday, April 12, at 7:30 p.m. A private and very kitchy Meet and Greet party for only the luckiest of sleaze fans gets underway at 6 p.m. Following the show at 9 p.m. is Yuri Night--an even more kitchy dance party and celebration of the 42nd anniversary of the historic Russian space flight manned by Yuri Gagarin.
Tickets for the Waters' show cost $25. The Meet and Greet private party costs $75 and includes the show. Yuri Night dancing costs the usual $3.
For details, call 622-8848.