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Baltimore Filmmaker John Waters Plays Not My Job

Filmmaker John Waters.
Carlo Allegri/Getty

When we were preparing for our show in Baltimore, people in the know told us that the city isn't really the urban dystopia depicted in The Wire, nor is it the cornucopia of baked goods from Ace of Cakes. No, the real Baltimore can be found in the work of cult filmmaker and Baltimore native John Waters — the man behind Pink Flamingos, Hairspray, Cry-Baby, Pecker and many more.

We've invited Waters to play a game called "Please, dear, do have another cucumber sandwich, won't you?" Three questions about the great British tradition of high tea ... for a filmmaker whose Pink Flamingos tagline was "An exercise in poor taste."

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PETER SAGAL, Host:

And now, the game where we ask people who know a lot a few questions about the little they don't know. When we came to Baltimore, we were told by people who know that we shouldn't expect to see the urban dystopia depicted in the TV show "The Wire," nor the cornucopia of baked goods you see on "Ace of Cakes."

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: No, the real Baltimore, they told us, can be found only in the work of cult filmmaker and Baltimore native Mr. John Waters. So here to explain this strange world to us, John Waters.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

M: Thank you.

SAGAL: So I was surprised to find out that you did not actually grow up in the city.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Yeah.

M: I wanted to come downtown and be a beatnik. Even in grade school, I knew something was terribly wrong, but I was happy.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

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

M: 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

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

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

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

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.

M: I make documentaries.

SAGAL: Really?

M: Just take a walk.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

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

SAGAL: Yeah.

M: 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

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

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

M: Yes.

M: You could get a screwdriver and a screwdriver.

M: Yeah.

SAGAL: Yeah, exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

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...

M: They were very tolerant, and mortified.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: Some of the best - my last movie, my father - at the premiere - said: It was funny, but I hope I never see it again.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

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

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

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

M: 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: That's hard to do.

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

M: Yeah.

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

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

SAGAL: Right.

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

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

SAGAL: It really is.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

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

M: Yes.

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?

M: 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

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

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

SAGAL: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Would there be a John Waters, at least in terms of your career, if you hadn't grown up Baltimore?

M: Who knows? Because I did, and I still live here. But everybody in wherever you live, if you learn to celebrate what people try to hide about your community, you can have success.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

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

M: 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.

M: Awesome.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: You have to pay extra for shot.

M: We're not that cool here.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

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

M: Yeah, I'm a good uncle.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

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

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

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

CARL KASELL, Host:

"Please Dear, Do Have Another Cucumber Sandwich, Won't You?"

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

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.

M: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

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?

M: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

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.

M: I think they're all wrong.

SAGAL: You think they're all wrong?

M: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

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

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: Were you in the alley outside the hotel?

M: No, no.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: To me, the three things you said, I don't believe are true.

SAGAL: Well, one of them is true. Either you can drink beer at high tea, you don't have to dress up, or that it's actually known as low tea.

M: I guess beer. You could. I don't know - I mean, I guess you could. They're not going to throw you out. But I mean, certainly I've never seen it where you didn't dress up. But I did it in fancy places. Maybe you can have high tea at, you know, the Bloody Bucket.

SAGAL: That would be fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: That's a good bar here.

M: We've learned so much here.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: You said one of them is...

SAGAL: One of them is actually true.

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

SAGAL: No. Actually, it's C.

M: Low tea.

SAGAL: It's actually called low tea.

M: 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.

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

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

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

M: Yeah.

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

M: Oh.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

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.

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

SAGAL: One of these is a rule.

M: Yeah.

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

M: The finger thing seems like such a cliché 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.

M: That's more Japanese tea.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: I think maybe that's rude.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

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...

M: 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.

M: One is wrong?

SAGAL: One is right.

M: Oh, one is right.

SAGAL: And two are wrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: OK. Say it - I'm sorry.

SAGAL: So it's curdled butter balls.

M: Yeah.

SAGAL: Fish-paste sandwiches or fried acorns. Butter balls could be a character in one of your movies, it appears to me.

M: Yeah, I know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: I'll go for the fish.

SAGAL: Fish paste?

M: Yeah.

SAGAL: You're right, sir.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

SAGAL: Fish-paste sandwiches.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: British delicacy.

M: Yeah.

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.

M: Yay.

M: All right.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

M: Do you ever give walking tours of Baltimore?

M: In private, yeah, because a lot of times the press wants me to do that. But it's kind of rude to butt into a bar and say: There's one, with the hairdo, look! You know?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: It's kind of condescending to do that.

M: Yeah.

M: Yeah.

SAGAL: I want to give you a chance because, you know, we have a national radio show. I want to give you a chance to speak to the nation and say: This is why you should come to Baltimore. Go.

M: You should come to Baltimore because we have a great sense of humor here. It's the only city in the world, if you say I'm moving to New York, people say, why?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: John Waters, ladies and gentlemen. Filmmaker, comedian, writer auteur.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

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.

M: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

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Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!