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John Waters is an American filmmaker, writer, and artist who rose to fame in the early 1970s for his transgressive cult films, which have earned him the titles "pope of[…]

Once you’re in your forties, it’s time to quit whining, says the filmmaker. “A 20-year-old that’s angry is sexy; a 64-year-old man that’s angry is an asshole.”

Question: What was it like growing up as John Waters in suburban Baltimore?

John Waters: As a child—I wrote a lot in "Role Models" about my childhood—is that I was lucky enough that my parents made me feel safe.  They were horrified by my interests.  I was born six weeks early, right from the beginning there was trouble.  So, but yet, my mother dropped me off at a bar downtown because she thought maybe I could find bohemia because she couldn’t think of anything else.  She was so terrified because I was a pretty insane kid.  But I had a career in show business really early, as a puppeteer for children's birthday parties.  So I know what I wanted.  I always said I should have quit school in sixth grade once I learned to read and write because... you go to school to figure out what you want to do.  I knew what I wanted to do.  

So... and I think that any kid that rebels, you should be glad if he’s your kid because he’ll succeed later.  The kids that reach their peak in high school, it’s downhill.  Completely.  I never go to my high school reunions.  As I said in the book, I don’t want see – the only thing you want to see are the people you wanted to have sex with then and I’ve already driven by their house and stalked them.  I know what they look like.  And the problem is, you realize it’s their children that looks like them and then that could really be touchy. And, grandchildren today.  

But I have someone that went to the reunion and he read me the little thing about the guy that was the biggest star and the jock and everything.  And they said, “What are your interests?”  And all he could think of was "doing things around the house."  That is the most pitiful, pathetic thing, chores.  A reason to live.

Have you mellowed with age?

John Waters: Well mellow, what did Woody Allen say?  Mellow, that means you rot.  I don’t have certainly the anger I had at 20.  I’ve said it a million times, but it’s really one of the most truthful things I ever said, a 20-year-old that’s angry is sexy, a 64-year-old man that’s angry is an asshole.  If you haven’t gotten over some things, you can blame your parents 'til you’re 30, but after 40, forget whining about anything.  Everybody’s dealt a hand, everybody has ups, downs, you can’t order up your kids, you can’t order up your parents, you just popped here.  And you’re cast, what’s ever in you and you’ll have to make the best you can with that character.  

So, yes, I’m not... I’ve had a good life, you know.  I have.. I’ve been able to do what I wanted to do.  So what do I have to be bitter about really, I mean. 

Recorded September 10, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller