67 Great John Waters Quotes For His 67th Birthday


The great filmmaker, writer, raconteur, and all-purpose rabble-rouser John Waters turns 67 years old today, and since he’s one of the most quotable and entertaining pop culture figures out there, we figured we’d mark the occasion in the best way possible: by rounding up 67 pearls of wisdom from one of the best interviewees around. Join us after the jump for some of Mr. Waters’s liveliest thoughts on bad taste, high fashion, pornography, nudity, politics, and movies.

On reading

“We need to make books cool again. If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.” ( This Filthy World , 2007)

“I don’t read bad books. I’m sure there are millions of them. I think that I know enough about a book before I buy it that it would never be bad. I almost really like every book I read, because I know what the book will be. I know the writer, I know the subject matter I’m interested in, so I don’t think I could read one single book that’s bad. And I learned a long time ago: my place is to praise things that other people don’t like. As soon as I say something bad about somebody, I’ll be seated next to him or her at a dinner, and they will have read what I wrote.” (The Nervous Breakdown, 2011)

“You should never just read for ‘enjoyment.’ Read to make yourself smarter! Less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends’ insane behavior; or better yet, your own. Pick ‘hard books.’ Ones you have to concentrate on while reading. And for God’s sake, don’t let me ever hear you say, ‘I can’t read fiction. I only have time for the truth.’ Fiction is the truth, fool! Ever hear of ‘literature’? That means fiction, too, stupid.” (Role Models, 2010)

“There are little things that get on my nerves, like people who have reading material in their powder room. When you go in someone’s house, and next to the toilet they have a huge basket of magazines, I find that repellent. I recommend against straining while reading.” ( New York Times Magazine , 2010)

On art

“Everybody knows you need young blood in your house. The way to build a great [art] collection is not to have a lot of money and buy established artists; it’s to go to all the galleries once a month and find a brand-new artist you like in a gallery whose stable seems to be up your alley. Go back to the artist’s second show and buy something for around $5,000. It really means a lot to the artist at this stage of the game, and even though you should never buy art just so you can later sell it for a profit, it does perk up looking through the auction results when you see your gamble go sky-high once in a while.” (Role Models, 2010)

“I’ve always said that in the film world you have to pretend eight million people are gonna love it and in the art world, if eight million people love it, it’s really BAD. So it’s the reverse aesthetic, in a way.” ( Baltimore Brew , 2010)

“I think almost everything I do is intellectual, but I would never say that, because that’s a compliment. That’s up to others to say about me. The same way, I would never say I do art. I think art is up to history. It’s up to other people to utter that word. So I try to be humble, and I never say anything bad about something unless it’s something that everyone in America loves and has made a million dollars.” ( Interview , 2008)

On inspiration

“’How could you think of such awful things?’ liberal critics always ask. ‘How else could I possibly amuse myself?’ I always wonder.” (Shock Value, 1981)

On obsession

“You can use all kinds of obsession. You can use obsession for humor, you can use it for style, you can use it for fashion. Obsession is great if it brings you pleasure and helps you make your living doing something you love. It’s only bad if you make the same mistake over and over with some obsession that brings you unhappiness.” (Rookie, 2012)

On being Jewish

“I have to tell you my only Jewish thing is that whenever I write an email on my Blackberry I and sign it, “Best ‘JW,’” it corrects to “JEW” in all capital letters, which is really embarrassing. Sometimes, I’m writing an agent and saying “thank you so much for your offer, and ‘Best JEW.’” (The Nervous Breakdown, 2011)

On bad taste

“To me, bad taste is what entertainment is all about. If someone vomits while watching one of my films, it’s like getting a standing ovation. But one must remember that there is such a thing as good bad taste and bad bad taste.” (Shock Value, 1981)

“Good bad taste is celebrating something without thinking you’re better than it… Bad bad taste is condescending, making fun of others.” (Rookie, 2012)

On fashion

“I always say to kids, with fashion, that they shouldn’t be wearing designer clothing — they should copy it. Go to the thrift shop and buy the worst thing that the coolest kid in school would never wear. It’ll be the thing that’s the most ‘out.’ Buy it and turn it into something that’s funny and witty. Fashion is confidence. If you can get away with wearing it, it’s a new style.” (Rookie, 2012)

“Get on the fashion nerves of your peers, not your parents — that is the key to fashion leadership. Ill-fitting is always stylish. But be more creative — wear your clothes inside out, backward, upside down. Throw bleach in a load of colored laundry. Follow the exact opposite of the dry cleaning instructions inside the clothes that cost the most in your thrift shop. Don’t wear jewelry — stick Band-Aids on your wrists or make a necklace out of them. Wear Scotch tape on the side of your face like a bad face-life attempt. Mismatch your shoes. Best yet, do as Mink Stole used to do: go to the thrift store the day after Halloween, when the children’s trick-or-treat costumes are on sale, buy one, and wear it as your uniform of defiance.” (Role Models, 2010)

“You have to take risks with fashion. But I do have all sorts of rules, like I still believe you shouldn’t wear white after Labor Day, no velvet before Thanksgiving, no patent leather before Easter, no leather pants ever, no skinny jeans for anyone over 30, and no ‘belt abuse,’ where the first thing you notice about an outfit is the belt.” (Rookie, 2012)

“I’m always shocked by what people wear at the airport…I’m always amazed when people get on the plane almost nude. And they’re never the cute ones. I just try to look ahead. I always have a book. I’m not trying to get into any fashion fights on the airplane. Plus people are so touchy these days, you can’t get into any kind of fights! You can’t even talk!” (Vice, 2012)

On boredom

“I didn’t have a good time in school because I was bored. Boredom is the worst, because it turns into anger.” (Rookie, 2012)

On exploitation movies

“Unfortunately I think that ‘The Golden Age of Trash’ is over. I think hardcore (porn) ruined it, and I think Hollywood co-opting violence ruined it. Because those were the two things that you really couldn’t have, and what was the staple of all drive-in movies was sex and violence. Now Hollywood makes them, so there’s no rules left to be broken.” (DanteNet, 1986)

On pornography

“I don’t like gay porn, because everything’s shaved. I hate all that — it’s like, holy cockblock! They all look the same, and when they talk, it doesn’t matter how long they’ve been to the gym.” ( Nerve , 2004)

“My porn name, if you’re supposed to take your middle name and the name of the street you grew up on, would be Samuel Clark. That’s not a very good porn name.” ( Interview , 2008)

On revenge

I went to a Catholic high school, which, to this day, I could burn down. And I got great revenge because they had their fiftieth anniversary, and The Baltimore Sun called me and said, ‘What did you think of your high school?’ And I said, ‘They discouraged every interest I ever had.’ And I saw that in print.” (Pinewood Dialogue, 2006)

On high school

“That’s the thing: there’s all those people in high school, and you have to endure them, but you don’t have to hang around with them.” (Rookie, 2012)

“Nobody who turns out to be great had an easy time in high school. People in the arts always have trouble in school. The prom queens and the football stars, their lives went downhill after they graduated. It was over.” (Rookie, 2012)

On relaxation

“Going to a sensational murder trial is the only way I can relax.” (Shock Value, 1981)

On nudity

“Everybody wants to see everyone in every movie naked. That’s why we have movies. That’s probably the only reason people go, to imagine everyone in the movies naked.” ( Nerve , 2004)

On reviews

“Well, no matter what, the sign of an amateur is to answer your critics. Don’t ever write a letter to a bad review because then, first of all, people didn’t even know about it the first time, maybe, and then the critic gets to answer you and put you down again. I learned a long time ago, only an amateur answers his critics. Read the bad reviews once, the good ones twice, and put them all away and never look at them again.” (The Nervous Breakdown, 2011)

On irony

“The last line in Pecker is ‘To the end of irony.’ Because, yes, I’m an irony dealer. But irony is snobbery. If you’re really poor in a country where there’s famine, is there such a thing as irony? Is anything so bad it’s good? Usually irony is for the wealthy. It’s snobbism, in a way, because you’re saying something is good because it’s bad.” (Rookie, 2012)

On dating

“If someone is racist and really cute, could you still have sex with him? I have to admit the answer is yes. I have. You just change the subject or shout, ‘La la la la la la la,’ covering your ears when he speaks nonsense. If all else fails, stick something in his mouth to shut him up.” (Role Models, 2010)

On gay marriage

“You know, I understand wanting gay marriage. I would never vote for somebody that was against gay marriage. I purposely have no desire to imitate a rather corny tradition of heterosexuals, to me. I would owe three alimonies.” ( Fresh Air , 2011)

“I don’t fit in with gay people either. I’m gaily incorrect. I kinda want gay people to be outlaws again. I don’t wanna get married but I certainly believe that people have the right to be married. I never fit in. There’s too many rules in the gay world too. So if I ever talk about my homosexuality, which I certainly do, I don’t do it in a very gaily correct way. I think people should hang around with gay, straight, everybody, completely mixed. Many of my friends are straight. It’s just as much fun to me. I don’t wanna hang around with everyone that’s exactly like me. I went to a wedding in Chicago between a straight man and a straight woman but they had a gay commitment ceremony, a bad one on purpose — like a bad separatist female folk singer and bad gay music, and it was really good. The relatives were confused.” ( Chicago Sun-Times , 2010)

On activism

“In the ’60s I was a Yippie, and I would go to all the riots the same way the kids go to Occupy Wall Street today — you know, to get laid and have sex and take drugs.” (Outfest 2012)

“Maybe it’s time that we use humor for political actions. If there’s a local politician against gay marriage, let’s send scary drag queens to his house to yell fashion insults at his wife.” (Outfest 2012)

On talk radio

“Oh I can’t listen to any of them. I don’t listen to either side. The side that I agree with is just as bad to me as listening to the ones I don’t agree with. I’ve already made up my mind. I don’t care what other people’s opinions are. I read the newspapers everyday for source material.” ( Baltimore Brew , 2010)

On Hollywood

“If you’re in Hollywood and you’ve taken a script to the studios and they say it’s too gay, well get your gay screenwriter friends and go back to the studio and yell out the grosses of all their hetero flops.” (Outfest 2012)

“Studios have always made movies that appeal to the widest audience, because it’s a business. They’re trying to make money. The problem is that the ones that were trying to make art could sometimes make money doing it. That’s harder, I think, because it’s over. You don’t have time for word of mouth anymore. It comes out Friday and after the first matinee they can predict (correctly, and that’s scary) the weekend grosses and by Monday they’ve already pulled the advertising. You don’t have until the next weekend to say, ‘It was good, you should go see it.’ Now something plays six weeks and that’s a long run. Even big movies play three weeks, and they make a fortune, but then it’s over because the next one’s waiting.” ( The Bay Citizen , 2012)

On independent film

“Go to an art theater — have you ever seen anybody under 50 in there? Kids would rather watch movies on their iPhone. It’s never gonna go back. So I don’t whine about it — it’s not better or worse — but it is changing so rapidly nobody can figure out how to make money with the new media, except the people who think up the technology. I’ve said what I want to invest in: Avatar-quality 3-D for home porn. That person will be rich.” ( Gambit , 2010)

On reality TV

“I’m against the principle of it. I think it’s bad, bad taste. It’s not proper, it’s not witty. They’re full of people I try to avoid in real life. I did watch part of The Swan, and they were treating them like morons! It’s told so slowly, and they fake reality anyway. I’m for performances! I remember the Director’s Guild, the Screen Actors Guild, ASTRA! Dialogue, the script! Pink Flamingos was my reality. Although Jackass is fun.” ( Nerve , 2004)

On The Tree of Life

“I even liked Tree of Life, a movie I thought I would hate, but I do think it’s the best Christian, heterosexual New Age movie of the year.” (Pedestrian TV, 2011)

“Yes, that’s my guilty pleasure. Certainly not Final Destination 3, which I loved, or Piranha 3D, which I loved. My guilty pleasure would be, like, The Tree of Life. I do like those art movies for real, but people don’t expect me to.” (Rookie, 2012)

On Baltimore

“I do still live there. Mentally I live there all the time, physically I live there sometimes, and sexually I for sure still live there.” (Vice, 2012)

On the Clinton scandal

“Basically, I’m all for presidents having sex. They’ll be happier, less hostile.” ( Nerve , 2004)

On values

“[I] pride myself on the fact that my work has no socially redeeming value.” (Shock Value, 1981)

On his mustache

It’s just, it’s there. It’s there for real. I shave it with a Bic razor or whatever kind of razor from the top every day. Use cuticle nail cuticles to cut it on the bottom. And then if it’s a little gray or you miss a place you just sketch it in with Maybelline Velvet Black, which is my favorite. And I tried the expensive kind, the smear-proof kind, the waterproof kind, but they just don’t do it like Maybelline. And it has to be sharpened every time. And those little sharpeners break all the time, but I keep buying them, and I have them in every place I live, in my car. It’s always like – it’s kryptonite. Is kryptonite what Superman made him not powerful?… Oh, it makes him weak? No, this is opposite. This is spinach for Popeye. It gives me power to have my mustache on right and I’m clicked in mentally.” ( Fresh Air , 2011)

On being called the “Prince of Puke”

“Why not? It’s better than, ‘He worked for his father’s company.’” (DanteNet, 1986)

“I’ve been called the Pope of Trash… I’ve been milking that title for years, and maybe that’s why I feel infallible.” ( New York Times Magazine , 2010)

On gift-giving

“I think giving money is a rude gift. It means you’re too stupid to think of anything, or the person getting the gift is so dumb that they have no interests.” ( Washington City Paper , 2009)

On gift-getting

“I generally like to talk about what I want for Christmas and what I would like to give my fans. Last year I said I wanted a ‘packer’ for Christmas, which is a limp dick dildo that’s supposed to give the hint of a crotch. Afterwards, I was doing a book signing, and a woman came up to me and said, ‘You want mine? I have one on.’ And I said, ‘Well, yeah,’ and she took it out and gave it to me. I was like, ‘I can’t put this in my carry on. What gay man wants to travel with a limp dick dildo? What would security think?’” ( Paper , 2012)

On re-gifting

“Someone gives it to you, and you don’t like it, so you give it to somebody else. It’s like passing a turd. It’s really bad. And you can always tell. And don’t think that people won’t know. They always know.” ( Washington City Paper , 2009)

On Christmas

“Well, you can’t avoid Christmas. You have to embrace it, either for the right reasons or the wrong reasons. Or you can reject it, but you have to think of a funny way to reject it. You have to use humor to get through Christmas, because it’s a trying time financially and emotionally…Whatever hand you’re dealt from your family, Christmas is the time when it’s hardest to make it work. But you’ve gotta try.” ( Paper , 2012)

On parenting

“If you’re not sure you could love your children, please don’t have them, because they might grow up and kill us.” (Role Models, 2010)

“Parents should understand that their young kids are not like them and need to have the privacy to fantasize both their good and bad desires. What you may find shocking about the perverse behavior of your child may not even be remembered by your offspring later in life. But what you may pooh-pooh as their silly young fears can be more debilitating to your children than you will ever imagine.” (Role Models, 2010)

On his father

“We worked out all our issues, and the issues we didn’t work out I turned into a career.” ( Fresh Air , 2011)

On childhood

“You have to take some risks when you’re a kid to find out who you are. You just have to learn which risks are safe and which are self-destructive. Everybody does weird stuff. As you get older, I believe if you’ve never been allowed to do all that weird shit, then you make it into some kind of obsession that you’re too old to have!” (Rookie, 2012)

On juvenile delinquency

“Parents should worry if their children haven’t been arrested by the time they turn sixteen. Being a juvenile delinquent is a birthright and as much a part of healthy adolescence as smoking cigarettes or getting pimples.” (Shock Value, 1981)

“I’d never trust anyone who hadn’t spent at least one night of his youth in the local jail. The more hell you raise as a teen-ager, the sweeter your memories will be.” (Shock Value, 1981)

“Be a hacktivist. That’s how you rebel today. Sit at home on the computer and shut down American Express. Hacktivism is juvenile delinquency. That’s how you do it. And nobody sees each other, so you don’t have to wear an outfit. Just a T-shirt. Bad posture. It’s the first rebellion where there is no look.” (Rookie, 2012)

On drugs

“I stopped taking drugs when I realized that pot smelled bad and LSD trips were becoming like TV reruns. I had had enough inner journeys — I felt I knew myself well enough, thank you.” (Shock Value, 1981)

On voting

“I used to vote several times illegally. Picture ID ruined fake voting. I used to smoke pot and vote three or four times in California, always in San Francisco. C’mon, voter fraud is fun! You’d borrow IDs from people who were registered, and you’d go vote. But this was before picture ID. I voted for Shirley Chisholm about four times in San Francisco. No one stopped me. She would be appalled, you know? That’s something people just don’t do anymore. Voter fraud, sex in a voting booth. There’s a lot of things that people forgot.” ( Nerve , 2004)

On rejection

“Remember that a no is free. Ask for what you like, and get used to being turned down. Rejection is hard, but to get acceptance you have to put up with a lot of rejection. If you really like something, don’t ever think, Can I do this? If you think Can I?, you won’t. You have to say, ‘I’m gonna do this, and nobody’s gonna stop me!’ But you have to believe that, you can’t just say it. It might take really a long time, because people never say you’re good at first. Or if they do, you’re a flash in the pan and it’s over.” (Rookie, 2012)

On writing

“You know, before I was paid to be a writer, people thought I was crazy to just go on these little missions of things that would interest me. But now that I get paid to do it, people say, ‘Oh how interesting.’ So, I think that’s really the difference between being a writer and a crackpot.” (DanteNet, 1986)

On fan letters

“I have them all, I don’t throw any out. I read them all, but to be honest I answer about one percent. Fred Armisen, you know him, right, from SNL? He wrote to me once as a kid and said ‘why is it that you can say the things you say and get famous, while I end up at the school psychiatrist?’ I wrote back and said, ‘You’ll get there.’” (Vice, 2012)

On celebrity

“The other day I got on the bus and a guy saw me and he started looking at me and I caught his eye and he started typing, so I said, ‘Writing a little spy report?’ and he said ‘I didn’t take your picture!’ and I said, ‘I know, but you’re writing something.’ And he said, ‘Well…yeah.’ I don’t mind! It doesn’t bother me. The only thing people do that they don’t realize is that they act like you’re deaf or something. Like ‘THAT’S JOHN WATERS!’ Like you’re not standing there and you can’t hear them. I’m not like Topper the Ghost! I’m sitting right there!” ( The Bay Citizen , 2012)

“I have little patience for those people who are movie directors who bitch about being recognized.. I find that people are my customers and they’re generally nice to me. It’s not like anyone hassles me and I can go out, but when I go out people do recognize me, usually no matter where I am, but they’re nice about it. The people who hate my work never tell me!” ( Pedestrian TV , 2011)

“I feel nice about people who write me, and I always take time out to take pictures and sign things. It’s like being a politician, being in the public like this. I mean, why get into show business if you’re just gonna be mad about it?” (Vice, 2012)

On being an outsider

“Everybody wants to be an outsider today. I’m sick of being an outsider. I want to be an insider and an outlaw.” (Outfest 2012)

On himself

“The angry man that made Pink Flamingos is not the 63-year-old man today that has a really lovely life. I don’t have a lot to be angry about. I think this quote I’ve said more than any other quote in the world but, ‘A 20 year old angry man is sexy. A 63-year-old angry man is an asshole.’” ( Baltimore Brew , 2010)

On his epitaph

“I’ve always said just ‘rest in peace.’ But now I have a grave, I know I’ll be buried. So I’ll go with, ‘Smoke a joint and have sex!’” ( Nerve , 2004)