Pink Flamingos And Good Dating Advice: A Conversation With John Waters

by | Apr 28, 2022 | FILM / TV

All you really need to know about me as a person to get the full effect is that, when I was twelve years old, my father let me watch Serial Mom and Cry Baby, along with a healthy dose of Kids in the Hall. My mother also let me watch Child’s Play at four, but that one’s between me and my therapist.

Believe it or not, once upon a time, in a now-faraway land called the late 20th century, it wasn’t the hip thing to be the weird kid. To find anything that you felt you fit in with, you had to go to places like Video Fan and Blockbuster (the video rental chain, not the free stand in front of Strawberry Street Market). And if you had the pleasure of a father who would literally watch anything at least once, you eventually got to enjoy all sorts of amazing things — including Pink Flamingos. The film that originally made John Waters famous. You know the one: the first of his legendary “Trash Trilogy,” starring a drag queen named Divine and featuring a steady escalation of shocking scenes that culminates in… well, if you don’t know, just google it. You’ll find out.

Luckily for all of us former weird children, Waters, the legendary King of Filth, is making his return to the River City as part of his False Negative: An Evening with John Waters tour. On tour to promote his new novel, Liarmouth: A Feel Bad Romance, Waters will also be performing his always-entertaining one man show and Q&A full of stories, observations, and general good advice. 

Here’s a classic Waters pro-tip: “Humor is always the best defense and weapon. If you can make an idiot laugh, they’ll at least pause and listen before they do something stupid… to you.”

Duly noted. 

Not only is Richmond the inaugural stop on Baltimore native Waters’ book tour for Liarmouth, attendees will also be able to get Waters’ first novel two days prior to the street date of May 3rd, and will be the first to see his spoken word show — which has been completely changed and rewritten thanks in part to the pandemic.

“I’m going to be a booster shot,” laughed Waters. “I talk about everything. I talk about the virus, what I fear in the future. I talk about my movies, I talk about my new fake respectability, I talk about fashion. I talk about all of the things that have changed for the worse because of COVID, and all the things that have changed for the best. And I think I give you good advice, really, it’s how to be crazy and get through life, doing what you want to do.”

Liarmouth:… A Feel Bad Romance is Waters’ debut fiction novel after a string of nonfiction memoirs and essays. In typical Waters fashion, Marsha Sprinkle isn’t even really an antihero as much as she is a villain you end up loving. A scammer, a stealer of suitcases, her family hates her; in fact, even dogs hate her. It’s one hell of a ride. 

“She’s unlikable to many people, but I think my readers will like her because she’s so evil and she’s so crazy,” said Waters. “Yet she kind of learned some things in the book, that at the same time, nobody can stop her. In all my movies and all my books and everything else, the villain usually is the heroine anyway, but this time I don’t know who is the villain in this one. I think it’s probably the craziest thing I’ve written in a long time. Maybe decades, actually.”

With as much traveling and touring as Waters does, it’s pretty safe to say that writing this novel didn’t require that much research. Sit long enough in an airport with a pen and paper and you could probably start making a pretty good list of the oddities you’re lucky to find, even at 5am. However, if you ask Waters, one of the more depressing things he can say he’s seen in awhile is current airport fashion. 

“The most repellent cut off pajama bottoms, a stinky t-shirt, and flip flops in the middle of winter. Get dressed when you get on a plane!” said Waters. “People used to get dressed up to fly. I mean, I don’t know if you need to go that far, but people have gotten really sloppy. And you know, we talk about the fashion police that used to be on TV. We need them in airports. Not only should you go through the security line, you should go through the fashion line, too. ‘Oh no, sir, that would be unacceptable.’”

After the live show at the Byrd on Sunday, there will be a screening of the aforementioned Pink Flamingos, arguably one of Waters’ most notorious films, in honor of its 50th anniversary. Just in time for said anniversary, Flamingos has also been recognized by the National Film Registry as a “historic American film.”

Well, um. They’re not wrong.

As the saying goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.” On Sunday at the Byrd Theatre, fans of the film will again laugh and scream with the cult classic, as they have before. But context, once again, is everything. After all, the film felt a little less funny at 9am in a courtroom, when Waters had to explain himself after the film’s initial release.

“It was found obscene every single place, and every time we went to court,” remembered Waters. “I never won a case. We eventually just paid the fine, which was $5,000, which was cheaper than the lawyer. I’ve said it before, but it is really true. Midnight in Richmond in a movie theater, Pink Flamingos is joyous. But if you have jury duty and you have to watch it with strangers at 9 am in the courthouse? It is most definitely obscene.”

One thing I have kept close to my heart throughout my twenties and into my thirties was the best piece of dating advice anyone ever gave me, another one of Waters’ best and very true quotes: “If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.” I’ve kept it so close that, up until my cat knocked it down, I had it on a sign displayed in my home. I still share it with anyone who even pretends to listen. 

Waters promises to share good advice during his show, as he always does, but for now a little preview featuring the additional advice he shared with me when I asked him about that above quote — advice which will also go on a letterboard sign in my house. 

“I must admit that if they’re cute enough, every once in a while you can violate that rule,” he explained. “The other thing is, if you go to someone’s house and they have books in the bathroom, like ‘Jokes for the John’ or something? Run for the door. And the other thing is, when you’re in a relationship,one always likes the other a little bit more. Never let the other person know which one you are.”

False Negative: An Evening with John Waters is this Sunday, May 1st 2022 at The Byrd Theater at 8pm, with doors opening at 7pm. Tickets start at $39 and can be purchased at makeoutcreekbooks.com. Due to ongoing COVID precautions, there will not be a meet and greet after the show, and all books and posters will be pre-signed by John Waters. This event is a fundraiser for The Byrd Theatre, the Virginia Children’s Book Festival, and WRIR 97.3 FM. Liarmouth: … A Feel Bad Romance is available at bookstores near you May 3rd 2022. 

Ash Griffith

Ash Griffith

Ash is a writer and improviser from Richmond. She has a BA in English from VCU and an associates in Theater. When she isn't writing or screaming on a stage, she can usually be found wherever the coffee is. Bill Murray is her favorite person along with her black cat, Bruce.




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