Review: John Waters: Make Trouble, Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, Tuesday 15 October
By Star Observer contributor RICHIE BLACK

The Star Observer wishes to endorse John Waters’ candidacy for the 2020 American elections. 

Granted that may not have much political clout but we’re trying. You see, unless something drastic happens, in all likelihood, the other guy—the “Chosen One”, the Grand Wizard of Mar-a-Lago—will win. You know it, I know it. John Waters knows it.


He said as much during his excellent Make Trouble talk, in front of a (mostly) adoring audience at the Sydney Opera House. 

Hilariously, refreshingly offensive as you’d expect, Waters gave a fair chunk of his 90 minute-performance to riffs on 21st Century US politics, activism and you-know-who. 

John Waters on the Concert Hall stage at the Sydney Opera House. Photo: Prudence Upton/supplied.

From the outset, in fact, the current President wasn’t, uh, far from his lips (we were even asked, “Can you imagine blowing him?”). 

And then the Pope of Trash said perhaps he, John Waters, should be President. It was a neat gag to rouse the faithful at the beginning of a performance that was part career retrospective, part standup. Let’s see how literally we can take him. 

For a start, as Waters pointed out, he is highly qualified to make a good run for leader of the free world: being old, white and weird. Box ticked. 

We’ll concede he didn’t really mean it—but then, of course, Trump didn’t really mean to become President either. People liked him precisely ‘cos he was a joke politician—unlike those other deluded chumps that take it all seriously.

In Donnie’s case, the people opted for an trash insult comedian. But without being snobby about it—it’s pretty low-brow trash. It’s kinda, well, trashy. 

But John Waters delivers trash with class. He understands the goodness in trash, that shit is not necessarily a pejorative term. He has that great affinity for the elements of human experience pushed to the fringes—the messy, often funny, sometimes monstrous, business of being. 

Throughout Make Trouble, he delivered style by the steaming shovel-full—and by style we’re talking humanity, eloquence and, yeah, the iconic moustache.

And if it veered into dangerous territory—prodding certain sensitivities of PC culture until it appeared a few folk actively upped and left (or went to the bathroom together for the rest of the show)—it was done with empathy. As Waters said, “I’m PC … that might give pause.” 

By way of example, he spoke of directing a scene in 1972’s Pink Flamingos where trans actress Elizabeth Williams responds to a (male) harasser by flashing her breasts and penis. Williams, as recalled by Waters, was determined to film the sequence because it meant she “owned the joke”. 

The problem, right now—as Water pointed out—is that with Trump in charge, it’s the Republicans that have co-opted said jokes. And these pale-faced jocks, in case you hadn’t noticed, often punch in a downward direction. 

How to return the power of outrage to those who need it most? Perhaps with Waters in charge. He’d be a reluctant President—but who wants some maniac who’s keen for the job? He’s got the combative spirit too, challenging the faithful during Make Trouble, both directly and implicitly, to re-politicise the trouble-maker at the fringes.

What’s more, he has, helpfully, snuck into the establishment—maybe letting the rest of us back in too. I mean, he was performing at the Opera House, for fuck’s sake. This is a place that’s so establishment—with its concrete slabs and wood panelling—that it doesn’t care that it’s trashy. And yet, there we all sat, John Waters’ freakish fans, feeling entirely welcome to laugh at dirty jokes for an hour and a half. 

Waters for Prez!

 — Richie Black is an AWGIE Award-winning actor, journalist and playwright, and a graduate of NIDA (Writing for Performance). He is based in Sydney. 

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