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John Waters Plays Not My Job


Thank you, guys. So this, as we’ve been saying, is our summer pleasure show. And we’ve done the classics. We’ve done baseball, beer, books – what’s left?

BILL KURTIS, BYLINE: Steve Inskeep playing nude shuffleboard.



SAGAL: Not that - summer movies. In April 2011, we talked to a man who’s made some of our favorite movies – John Waters, who went to the city he made famous, Baltimore, Maryland, and we’re surprised to discover he didn’t actually grow up in Baltimore, Maryland.

JOHN WATERS: No, I grew up in suburbia, which I ran from as quickly as I could.


SAGAL: Yeah.

WATERS: I wanted to come downtown and be a beatnik.


SAGAL: What drew you to downtown Baltimore, to the city?

WATERS: Well, I first came downtown, and I saw beatniks, and I saw people that didn't fit in. I saw outsiders that didn't even fit in with their own minority. And that's always been my people, really.


SAGAL: Right. People who are so outside, even the outsiders don't know what to make of them.

WATERS: Yes. But as you know - if you spend even another 24 hours in Baltimore - everyone thinks they're normal here, but they're insane.


SAGAL: Well, you have said, in fact, that without Baltimore, there'd be no John Waters - there'd be no John Waters films, that there's something about this city.

WATERS: I make documentaries.

SAGAL: Really?

WATERS: Just take a walk.


WATERS: Take a walk. You'll see people that look like Divine on the first corner, really.

SAGAL: Yeah.

WATERS: I went to a bar here last week that someone took me to, and it was in a woman's house. You could see her bed. But it was also a hardware store.


WATERS: So you could order drinks and buy nails. It was nice.

SAGAL: It was a woman's home, hardware store and bar.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You could get a screwdriver and a screwdriver.


SAGAL: Yeah, exactly.


SAGAL: You've got a book that's coming out in paperback, called "Role Model." And in it, one of the things you mention is your parents seem to be actually - what's the word - they were tolerant of your...

WATERS: They were very tolerant and mortified.


WATERS: I sum it up best - my last movie, my father - at the premiere - said: It was funny, but I hope I never see it again.


SAGAL: But you write that they actually took you down to this bar when you were underage.

WATERS: My mother did, took me to Marnicks. It was kind of a beatnik bar. And let me see, yeah.


WATERS: And hang out in the alley. And my first movie star, Malcolm Soul, worked there. And she was a really amazing beatnik. She was a female, female impersonator. She was.

SAGAL: No, wait a minute.


MAN: That's hard to do.

SAGAL: So your mother would drive you - you were underage.


SAGAL: Your mother would drive you to this bar so you could hang out, outside the bar, with the characters inhabiting the bar.

WATERS: Well, the characters came out because the owner knew I wasn't 21.

SAGAL: Right.

WATERS: And so he wouldn't let me him.

MAN: God, this is like the best kind of home-schooling.

SAGAL: It really is.


SAGAL: So were they worried about you to...


SAGAL: ...The extent that they were like, we don't know what little Johnny is going to do with his life, so we'd better just indulge whatever he wants so he can find his way?

WATERS: Well, I don't think they indulged. They knew that I wanted to do something at least. That's the thing. If you're in high school and you're crazy but you know what you want to do, you go to school to learn, figure out what you want to do. But I already knew. I should have quit school in sixth grade. I would have made two more movies.

SAGAL: Right.


SAGAL: Would you describe, for those who aren't lucky enough to have seen one, what - like, a John Waters movie is, quintessentially?

WATERS: Well, I think it just worships - you know, it's political action against the tyranny of good taste.

SAGAL: Right.


MAN: Do they ever ask you to do like, a tourism film for the visitors center?

WATERS: I do do it. Look on the tourist site. They even did a bumper sticker saying, come to Baltimore and be shocked. That was put out.

MAN: Awesome.

WATERS: The people got confused and said come to Baltimore and be shot? I said shocked, not shot.


MAN: You have to pay extra for shot.

WATERS: We're not that cool here.

MAN: Yeah, I know. That would be great, though. I have an odd question.


SAGAL: Are you anybody's uncle? Because you'd be a great one.

WATERS: Yeah, I'm a good uncle.


WATERS: I'd get you out of jail.

SAGAL: I was about to say, I don't know how many people you are uncle to, but they are all going to have best-selling memoirs someday.


SAGAL: John Waters, we are so pleased to be visiting with you here in Baltimore.


SAGAL: But we've invited you to join us to play a game that this time, we're calling...

CARL KASELL, BYLINE: "Please Dear, Do Have Another Cucumber Sandwich, Won't You?"


SAGAL: You got famous for your love of things that were trashy, so we thought we would ask you about the great British tradition of high tea.



SAGAL: That afternoon ceremony redolent of class and style. Answer two of three questions correctly, you'll win Carl's voice for one of our listeners. Carl, who is film director auteur John Waters playing for?

KASELL: John is playing for Owen Connally of Arlington, Virginia.

SAGAL: All right, ready to go?



SAGAL: Which of these is a common misconception about British high tea - A, that you have to drink tea - many enjoy beer; B, that you have to dress up - traditionally, you can do it in dressing gowns or even your underwear; or C, that it is called high tea. It's really known as low tea.

WATERS: I think they're all wrong.

SAGAL: You think they're all wrong?



WATERS: I think - you were going to say, can you be high and have high tea?

SAGAL: Yeah, well, that's why they call it that.


WATERS: I was with my mother when I had it in London, so we didn't. But it certainly...


MAN: Were you in the alley outside the hotel?

WATERS: No, no.


SAGAL: Well, one of them is true.

WATERS: One of them is true. I guess that you don't have to get dressed up.

SAGAL: No. Actually, it's C.

WATERS: Low tea.

SAGAL: It's actually called low tea.

WATERS: And why? Because it's...

SAGAL: It turns out that high tea, in the traditional British use, is had later in the evening, and it's with more of a meal. And it's for lower-class people who need to eat after a long day of work. The afternoon tea is known as low tea. It doesn't come with as much food because it's for high-class people who do not work.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Well, somebody better tell those people at Harrods because they keep selling high tea.

WATERS: And I went to Claridge's, and it was called high tea.

SAGAL: Americans and tourists all think of it as high tea.


SAGAL: It's like high class, so they call it that for your benefit.


WATERS: But it wasn't just Americans there. Well, maybe it was.


SAGAL: The next question - you still have two more chances - there are rules to follow during your tea, including which of these - A, never, ever spread your legs more than one finger's length apart; B, do not stick your pinky out when drinking your tea - it is rude; or C, cover your mouth when laughing, even if you have to put the tea down first.

WATERS: And you're saying one of them...

SAGAL: One of these is a rule.


SAGAL: That people at high tea/low tea should observe, according to standard British etiquette.

WATERS: The finger thing seems like such a cliche that I don't know, maybe it's that one. I don't know. What's the third one?

SAGAL: The third one is you have to cover your mouth when laughing, at all times, even if you have to put your cup down first. If somebody tells a joke - cup down, then, hee-hee-hee.

WATERS: That's more Japanese tea.


WATERS: I think maybe that's rude.

SAGAL: Yeah, you're right, the pinky thing.


SAGAL: Do not stick your pinky out; you might point it at someone. Instead, you curl it gently, sort of just away from the cup.

So last question - if you get this, you win it all. If you were to go to Britain for genuine low tea, meaning high tea...

WATERS: Right.

SAGAL: You might encounter some unusual foods, such as which of these: A, curdled butter balls; B, fish-paste sandwiches; or C, fried acorns.

Butter balls could be a character in one of your movies, it appears to me.

WATERS: Yeah, I know.


WATERS: I'll go for the fish.

SAGAL: Fish paste?


SAGAL: You're right, sir.


SAGAL: Fish-paste sandwiches.


SAGAL: British delicacy.


SAGAL: Told they're delicious. Carl, how did John Waters do on our quiz?

KASELL: Well, John had two correct answers, Peter, and that's enough to win for Owen Connally.

SAGAL: Well done, sir.


WATERS: All right.


SAGAL: John Waters has a book; it's called "Role Models." It's out in paperback this week. John Waters, what a pleasure to have you here. Thank you so much, sir.

WATERS: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.