Comedy review: John Waters, Glasgow

John Waters celebrates the glory of marginalised figures turning a perceived disadvantage into a triumph. Picture: Getty
John Waters celebrates the glory of marginalised figures turning a perceived disadvantage into a triumph. Picture: Getty
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According to the man himself, the life and work of cult filmmaker John Waters can be categorised thus: a rebellion against “the tyranny of good taste”.

John Waters - 02 Academy, Glasgow

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Headlining the last night of this year’s annual Glasgay festival, the inimitable “Pope of Trash” led his adoring acolytes on a chronological jaunt through the making of underground classics such as Pink Flamingos and the later, more mainstream likes of Hairspray.

Essentially a streamlined stand-up comedy performance, Waters’ entertaining monologue also encompassed his various obsessions. A gleeful glossary of bizarre sexual fetishes cropped up throughout, none of which, he hastened to add, were personal pastimes. Yet he clearly relishes the innate, harmless absurdity of these niche proclivities. Though ecstatically non-judgmental, he claims to only draw the line at adult males who dress as babies: “I’m not marching for them!”

Such is his natural charm, Waters can get away with saying practically anything. Outrageous provocation delivered with a twinkle is his beguiling stock in trade. “We have enough gay people,” he opined. “Let’s stress quality over quantity!” Naturally, the crowd lapped it up.

If his occasional flights of X-rated fantasy were often more of a triumph of delivery than content, there’s no denying his knack for a colourful anecdote. Highlights included tales covering his years spent at the vanguard of anarchic counter-culture cinema, where he led a motley crew of eccentric outsider artists known as the Dreamlanders.

Heartfelt yet unsentimental tributes to key collaborators such as drag queen Divine and befuddled former barmaid Elisabeth Massey – a plucky amateur prone to reading out stage directions – culminated in his claim that they’ll all be buried in the same plot. Its name? Disgraceland.

Greeted by a standing ovation, it was the touching summation of Waters’ overall point, which is to celebrate the transcendent glory of marginalised figures taking a perceived disadvantage and turning it into a triumph. For all his waspishness, Waters’ comedy is bereft of cruelty.

You have to admire a monologue where allusions to Susan Sontag and Cy Twombly sit comfortably alongside gags about Justin Bieber and 1950s B-movie showman William Castle. Tonight’s Papal sermon was a reminder of this simple truth: whether a piece of art is judged as high or low is irrelevant. All that matters is if it stirs the soul.

Seen on 14.11.14