The beautiful thing about living in a conservative city like Dallas is that being a freak is still a subversive act. Pure, unforced weirdness sticks out like a dog turd on a well-manicured golf course or -- in the case of Thursday night's John Waters show at the Kessler -- pure, unforced weirdness sticks out like a lanky man with a drawn-on mustache and a Comme des GarÇons suit.
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Shortly after 8 p.m. Thursday the legendary director mounted the stage to rapturous applause from the standing-room-only crowd and launched into his one man show This Filthy World, an hour of greatest hits encompassing his numerous predilections -- specifically true crime, cinema and sexual deviance in all its myriad forms. He even threw out eye pencils like a guitarist tossing picks into the audience at a metal show, an act that is arguably even more rock 'n' roll due to its inherent danger. Someone upfront could have easily lost an eye but gained an amazing story about why they wear an eyepatch.
The thing is, after 50 years in the business, the director of some of the most gleefully offensive films ever made now exists in an era when Western popular culture has sunk to his level -- albeit often without the intelligence or wit inherent in his work. Even his most politically incorrect bits -- like the one about the 400-pound bear pushing a retarded adolescent around in a baby carriage -- elicited ready laughter from the crowd. Short of murdering audience members like Dawn Davenport in Female Trouble there's not much he could do onstage that would genuinely shock people anymore, so why bother? Better to go the comedy route and kill metaphorically, which is exactly what he did for 60 minutes straight.
Anyone who's read his books or seen the 2006 DVD version of This Filthy World will be familiar with most of last night's material, so if you're a fan who was unable to attend you can put the razor down. There's a good chance that you'll be able to catch pretty much the same show somewhere down the line. What you did miss was the opportunity to bask in the aura of the man himself as he celebrated our beautiful monsters, while simultaneously giving the finger to good taste. It's a rare feat for a performer to remain effortlessly charming while riffing on subjects like rectal prolapse, but Waters' charm is undoubtedly one of the reasons he's been "Getting Away With It" since the '60s. At any rate it was immensely satisfying in its way to hear him deliver what were undoubtedly the filthiest lines that will ever be spoken onstage at the normally staid Oak Cliff venue.
Following the show the director fielded numerous questions from the audience before retiring to the lobby to sign copies of his newest book Carsick and graciously pose for pictures with fans. And at no point did anyone ask about Divine eating dog shit in Pink Flamingos, which is basically the cinematic equivalent of yelling "FREEBIRD!!" at rock shows. We're proud of you Dallas. May your weirdness continue to flourish quietly like a pair of crotchless panties under a business suit.