As someone who’s been dubbed the “Prince of Puke,” a provocateur filmmaker of the lowbrow and a humorist almost always on tour, John Waters rarely gets recognition for what he’s always been deep down: a man of letters.
And while he’ll make what feels like his annual pilgrimage to New Orleans — his touring show, “This Filthy World,” hits the Joy Theater on Saturday — Waters is basking in two notable moments in 2017 that focus on his ability to tell a story through his unique style.
In the past month, the Writers Guild of America East awarded him the union’s Ian McLellan Hunter Award for a lifetime of work. (The award is named for a blacklisted screenwriter and longtime WGAE member.)
Then comes April and the release of “Make Trouble” (Algonquin Books), a gleefully illustrated recasting of his hilarious 2015 commencement address to the Rhode Island School of Design, the video of which has enjoyed more than 100,000 views on YouTube.
It should be required viewing for any fan or any aspiring artist, as Waters — practically bouncing around at the podium, delivers his own kooky version of Abbie Hoffman’s “The Anarchist’s Cookbook” with such pearls of wisdom as, “Use technology for transgression, not lazy social living.” (Looking at you, smartphone.)
Both serve as chronologically bookended reminders of a career spent convincing a culture of the subversive power of words.
“It was the ultimate award for me,” said the writer-director of camp classics such as “Pink Flamingos” and the more commercially successful “Hairspray.” “To me the writing, the thinking up of it, is the most fun. Directing is a downhill. Then you have to make everything you thought up real. Then there’s the problem of reality. When you’re writing, there is no problem of reality, usually. People say it’s a lonely occupation. I said, ‘I’m not lonely when I'm writing, I have all those characters living in my mind.' "
The title of “Make Trouble” plays on Waters’ time-honored adherence to art as anarchy, that out of chaos and mayhem come creative canvases that make us think and act and not just be passively entertained.
“… I mean, I don’t want the kind of chaos and mayhem we have in Syria. That’s not what I’m talking about,” he said. “I'm talking about cultural instability where people are challenged and astonished by work and made nervous. Life should be a trigger warning. Everything that you like should require a trigger warning, I think. Because who doesn’t want to get their sensibilities questioned sometime?”
When it was suggested that “Make Trouble” could be an “Anarchist’s Cookbook,” Waters recalled his 2011 appearance on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher: “I always thought Abbie Hoffman was a great influence on me when I was young. When I met (the late) Andrew Breitbart … [h]e told me, ‘I’m just like you. I’m just on the opposite side.’ I got all my tactics from Abbie Hoffman.”
“This Filthy World” is a continually updated show in which he builds on his offbeat observations include the news of the day (“There are scarier things than Trump, like every other person that he is appointing”). It’s also a chance to return to New Orleans, where he briefly lived in the 1970s — between the completion of filming for and the distribution of “Pink Flamingos.”
“You have to have a really good sense of humor if you live in New Orleans,” he noted. “You don't really participate in full America there. I think that’s good, in a way. I like that it has its own culture, its own viewpoint — it’s anything that doesn’t follow trends. I think Bohemia is still there in a certain way.
“I love everything about it except the weather.”
John Waters: “This Filthy World”
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday (March 18)
WHERE: Joy Theater, 1200 Canal St.
INFO: (504) 528-9569 or thejoytheater.com