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PRANKS! Excerpt: John Waters

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R/S: Can you think of any pranks from early childhood?

JOHN WATERS: When I was little I loved cigarette loads—you know, you put them in cigarettes and they go pop! I put one in my mother’s cigarette, then sat on the porch and waited for something to happen. She lit the cigarette and something was wrong with the load—it was like three of them stuck together, and it blew up in her face—she went, “AHHHH!”, threw her arms over her eyes, and her whole face was black and-blue. She was sitting there with this broken-off butt in her mouth, like in those Tom & Jerry cartoons (tweet tweet tweet). And my father came running—she was injured; the thing went off in her eye. She didn’t die or go blind, but she had to go to the doctor immediately. I just sat there stunned: “Ohmigod, I’ve killed my mother . . .” because I’d expected just a little pop. That was a prank that backfired.

I had whoopie cushions, flies in the ice cubes, squirting flowers, cans (when you opened them a snake popped out)—I still love all that stuff. I think they’re great fun . . .

The first film we made, Hag in a Black Leather Jacket, I remember we stole the film—a girl named Mona who starred in it worked at a film lab. She also stole the developing. It was just 8mm film. Later Divine kept getting busted for stealing when we were making Pink Flamingos; I’d have to get him out of jail so we could shoot the next day. We never figured out why he did that; he stole the back covers to directors’ chairs and he didn’t even have a director’s chair.

I hate having people play pranks on me. I hate April Fool’s Day—I find that obnoxious. [laughs] I love to see little kids play with practical joke toys; I think it’s fun when you’re a child. But if somebody shakes my hand today with a hand buzzer . . . there are limits!

Did you see Pee-wee Herman’s show last Saturday morning? He took a shit on TV. I’d never seen his bathroom before; you could see the bathroom and he was sitting down leaning out, sticking his head out of the door: “All right! All right!” Then he came out and a piece of toilet paper was stuck to his shoe for the rest of the scene. I thought it was amazing they had that on a kiddie show. That show is so good.

R/S: Pee-wee’s one of my favorites . . . Did you ever do any phone pranks?

JW: Sure, we called up people out of the phone book and did all the standard jokes like: “Is your water running? Then you better catch it.” I used to be obsessed by surveys, like what was the number one record, or like the Neilsen Surveys. So I’d do it for real. As a kid I would call up and make lists: “What TV show are you watching?”” and they’d tell me and I’d go, “Thank you.” I’d make all these calls and then figure out what was the number one TV show in my neighborhood. I’d do that for records, too. But that wasn’t a prank—I was serious.

When I hooked school, my parents would drop me off—I’d say, “Bye,” and then walk right back out. I’d go up to a stranger and say, “Would you call up and say you’re my mother and that I’m sick?” and if you picked a woman hairdresser, they’d always say yes.

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