John Waters: “Make Trouble,” remote controls, and the crazy people in his life

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Sat. (March 18), 8 p.m.
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Truth be told, John Waters can do these phone interviews in his sleep. What more is there to say after a career like his, which, fortunately for New Orleans, includes what feels like an annual pilgrimage to brush up on his “This Filthy World Tour” as he holds forth on the many things that landed him the title “Pope of Trash” and many other witty titles.

And yet, he always surprises you with a few curveballs and changeup pitches.

Some of that is captured in the feature in this week’s New Orleans Advocate article as well as in a podcast interview for “PopSmart NOLA.” Waters’ assistant was kind enough to also provide a “John Waters through the years” set of images for a nice photo gallery, so it seemed appropriate to provide a post of his recollections of the many crazy and special people in his long and colorful life, with some photos of him and the others included.


Would you be game if I threw out a few of the names of the folks you’ve worked with over time? Would you mind giving me a first impression?


I’ll start with Johnny Depp.
At the time of Johnny Depp in “Cry Baby” (1990), he was basically Justin Bieber. (At the time, Depp was the star of the TV hit “21 Jump Street.) He was a teen idol and he hated it. I think he made a wise decision to come with us because he could make fun of the whole thing. Then he moved on and made “Edward Scissorhands” and became a serious actor.

Debbie Harry.
I always loved Debbie. (Debbie Harry appeared as Velma Von Tussley in 1998’s in “Hairspray.”) She was from the very beginning, like a goddess to me. She’s a really good actress, too. I’ve seen her lots of different movies, independent films. It was great to have her. She was so excited to have Sonny Bono play her husband.

Ricki Lake.
Well, Ricki’s still a very dear friend. (Lake starred as Tracy Turnblad in “Hairspray.”) She’s had tragedy recently over her last husband. I don’t know if you know about that. I didn’t know. He committed suicide. It’s in People magazine this week. Anyway, she is a dear friend. I wrote the introduction to her autobiography (“Never Say Never: Finding a Life That Fits”). We’ve stayed in touch from the very beginning. She was even in “Hairspray,” the NBC thing, and a cameo thing. Ricki’s a dear, dear friend I’ve known forever. When she came in, she was Tracy Turnblad. She was in college, hated it, wanted to be an actress. She always told me she wanted to be a TV star and she became one.

Kathleen Turner.
Oh, she’s great. I still see her. We just went over and recorded something for the new “Serial Mom” (1994) DVD/blue-ray that came out. Kathleen is a brilliant actor and she works constantly. She does a lot of theater. I don’t know. She’s got a great sense of humor. She doesn’t suffer fools, but I love to be with her when she doesn’t suffer fools.

Traci Lords.
A good friend. (Lords starred in “Cry Baby.”) She was only a porn star for, what, a year and a half or something. She’s been doing everything else for the rest of her life. Traci and I hosted a big punk rock festival in Oakland last year, called Burger Boogaloo, and I’m hosting it again this year. She was great because she said for the first time ever, you know how to meet and greet, which for her can be not a good. All the lineup was mostly all women. She said, “I’ll sign their tits but those guys? I ain’t signing their tits.’ They all had their haircut from “Cry Baby” and Traci Lords tattoos and everything. It was great.

Tab Hunter.
Tab Hunter is a friend. I certainly saw him. I’m in the documentary about him. If it wasn’t for him, “Polyester” (1981) would have never crossed over to what it did. Tab is somebody that you never can predict. He’s a Republican. He always makes me laugh. He does it just to defy me, too.

Mink Stole.
Mink and I are great friends. She moved back to Baltimore after living in New York and L.A. for years and years and years. We’re very good friends. She came up to the big Writers Guild, Lifetime Achievement Award I got. Mink’s a very, very close friend. She’s like family.

What do you think of the music album she put out a couple of years ago?
It’s so good! She could sing. (“Do Re Mink,” 2013.) I said, “Why didn’t you tell me you could sing?” She said, “I didn’t know it, either.” She’s like Julie London. She can really sing.

Patricia Hearst.
Patricia is certainly my friend, I hope. (Hears appeared in “Cry Baby.) She’s somebody who, it’s all over. She doesn’t care about it, she doesn’t think about it. Her life has evolved so much further. She’s got great kids. She’s something, that like from a time warp that that happened in. She really has no interest, or there’s no trace of it. She survived it. She was always telling the truth and that’s why she’s alive.

Iggy Pop.
Iggy Pop! He’s a headliner at the punk rock festival, Burger Boogaloo, this year, both nights that we’re hosting in Oakland. I saw Iggy recently. I did his radio show (“Iggy Confidential”) with him. We talked about scary Halloween music together.

Pat Moran.
Pat Moran’s my best friend in the world. She has cast everything from all my movies, then she went on to “The Wire.” She’s, I think, won an Emmy two or three times (“Veep,” “Game Change,” “Homicide: Life on the Street”). She’s been nominated (seven) times. She was also with me at the Writers Guild (ceremony). She and her husband are my closest friends.

What did you think about her as a talent? What made her special to you?
Well, because she could just recognize people that could do it, and were believable. She knew all types. You always believed the people that Pat cast. She went to different communities to get people that maybe wouldn’t have been actors and helped turn them into them.

Finally, Divine.
Divine, I miss him. Divine would have wanted to be in every single “Hairspray” that’s ever come out. He probably would have played many different roles. By the end, when Divine died, he was playing male roles. He probably would have wanted to play, I don’t know, Corny Collins.

“PopSmart NOLA” on WHIV (102.3 FM), Ep. 5: Extended interview with Alexandra Scott, helpful links on sexual assault and harassment

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(NOTE: Regretfully, it appears due to a technical glitch, Ep. 5 might not be saved for archival purposes. Until this is figured out, please enjoy this extended version of the Alexander Scott interview, which was incredibly revealing and offers some of the most sobering examples of what New Orleans performers go through on a regular basis in terms of sexual harassment. Also check out the helpful links and other resource info at the bottom of the page.)

Even before Donald Trump was elected president of the United States back on Nov. 8, women across the United States were horrified at the language about and attitude that Trump has expressed toward women — and those most horrified might well have been women who have experienced some form of sexual assault, abuse or harassment. As increasingly more women come forward to share their experiences, especially on social media, those numbers become more apparent.

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Ellen DeGeneres among recent Presidential Medal of Freedom honorees

15123032_10154778555078281_3903710774946231520_oEllen DeGeneres, the greater New Orleans native who evolved from a stand-up comic to TV sitcom star but also a pioneer for LGBTQ rights, was among the many honorees for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, it was announced Wednesday (Nov. 16).

“In her work and in her life, she has been a passionate advocate for equality and fairness,”  the White House said.

Other honorees include Academy Award winners Tom Hanks, Robert Redford and Robert De Niro, musician Bruce Springsteen, NBA Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and “Saturday Night Life” creator Lorne Michaels.

DeGeneres was one of the most popular stand-up comics of the 1990s when she landed her own sitcom, “Ellen,” in 1994. She caused a major stir when in 1997 she came out as a lesbian, and as she incorporated this into her storyline, ratings for the show dwindled and “Ellen” was canceled in 1998. A subsequent sitcom also failed, but DeGeneres regained her footing with her wildly popular daytime talk show, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” which has been on air since 2003. She has been a vocal supporter of LGBTQ rights throughout the course of her career, and in 2008 married her partner, actress Portia de Rossi, in 2008. DeGeneres also has hosted the Emmy and Academy Awards ceremonies. Her brother, Vance, also is active in the entertainment business.

DeGeneres also offered words of support for the nation in the aftermath of the recent presidential election.

People have been very passionate about this race. And I think it’s because we all love our country, we just have different ideas about what’s best for it, which is part of what makes America great. And I believe we can all come together because if you take away the labels, you realize we’re far more alike than we are different.”

Though she is often referred to a New Orleans native, she technically was born in Metairie. She initially attended Grace King High School before moving away to Texas, where she graduated from high school, and returned to New Orleans and spent a semester at the University of New Orleans before working a range of jobs in the area and getting into the local comedy club scene in the early 1980s. While her show has limited her film work, she is perhaps best known for her voice work in “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory.”

The rest of the Presidential Medal of Freedom honorees: actresses Cicely Tyson and Diana Ross, retired Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, polymath physicist Richard Garwin, Bill Gates and wife Melinda Gates, architect Frank Gehry, mathematician and computer scientist Margaret H. Hamilton, artist Maya Lin, attorney Newt Minow and President of Miami Dade College Eduardo Padrón. There will be two posthumous honorees: Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, known as “Amazing Grace” and “the first lady of software,” and Blackfeet Tribal community leader Elouise Cobell.

“PopSmart NOLA” on WHIV, Ep. 2: A.J. Allegra, Gary Rucker, Jason Brad Berry and Corey Mack

PROMO 11-5-16.pngOur sophomore effort of the radio version of “PopSmart NOLA” on WHIV (102.3 FM) was, if nothing else, a very fun time — an “Outsized Political Discussion” episode with interesting observations, an embarrassing technical difficulty (my bad) and Donald Trump showing up in the most unlikely places (in the conversation).

We welcomed director A.J. Allegra and co-star Gary Rucker of Rivertown Theaters’ current production of “1776” and its relevance heading into Tuesday’s (Nov. 8) elections, investigative journalist Jason Brad Berry of American Zombie, and comedian (and guest co-host) Corey Mack. We also had a chance to hear southwest Louisiana journalist Herman Fuselier read an excerpt from his new book, “Ghosts of Good Times: Louisiana Dance Halls Past and Present” (University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press), a coffee-table book in collaboration with photographer Philip Gould. (My apologies to listeners for the minute-long gap of dead silence, cleaned up here in the edit.)

This week’s playlist:
Tupac Shakur — “Changes”
“1776” soundtrack — “Sit Down John”
“1776” soundtrack — “Piddle Twiddle and Resolve”
Vivaldi — “The Four Seasons”

[Read more: A.J. Allegra’s Top 5 political-themed musicals]

Tune in next Saturday at 3 p.m. for our next episode, in which we examine the Affordable Care Act and its impact on New Orleans musicians and other artists, now that the registration period has opened. Until then, keep following along on Facebook as well as on Instagram (@popsmartnola) and Twitter (@dlsnola504), and please remember to keep the intelligent conversation of New Orleans culture going.

TV show “The French Quarter,” adapted from book by “Gangs of New York” author, gets green light: Deadline Hollywood

French Quarter.pngApproval has been given for a TV series version of Herbert Asbury’s book, “The French Quarter: An Informal History of the New Orleans Underworld,” according to Deadline Hollywood.

Asbury’s well known for his “Gangs of New York” that inspired Martin Scorsese’s Academy Award-winning 2002 movie. That book was published in 1927; “French Quarter” came out in 1938 but has been re-released in recent years.

According to the Deadline Hollywood article, two different Louisiana-based production companies (Vermillion Entertainment and Rubicon Entertainment) will oversee the show, with cast and crew still to be determined:

Being from New Orleans, we were naturally drawn to the material that showcases an incredible time in history spanning pirates and riverboat gambling to voodoo and politics,” Vermilion president Todd Thompson was quoted as saying. “We are excited to further our great relationship with Rubicon.”

[Read more: The New Yorker on the forgotten crime novels of Herbert Asbury]

Vermilion got in the news recently for announcing a planned anthology series based on Alfred Hitchcock’s works, while Rubicon plans an adaptation of Stephen King’s “Drunken Fireworks.”

Should be fun. Stay tuned.

(Hopefully it will be better than “French Quarter Undercover”)

Variety: Steve Zissis in “Togetherness” is one of the “Breakout TV Performances of 2015”

Steve Zissis in HBO's "Togetherness" (HB)

Steve Zissis in HBO’s “Togetherness” (HB)

As the year-in kudos machine cranks up for 2015, it’s cool once again to see New Orleans native and Jesuit High graduate Steve Zissis to continue getting the recognition and success he’s due. Variety on Wednesday called Steve Zissis’ turn in HBO’s comedy-drama “Togetherness” as a struggling, overweight Hollywood actor one of the “Breakout TV Performances of 2015.”

Wrote co-authors Maureen Ryan and Brian Lowry:

Another indie-flavored half-hour show about moderately miserable people in a coastal city? You’d be forgiven if deflation was your reaction to the one-sentence description of “Togetherness,” but skipping this HBO show would have meant missing out on Zissis’ fantastic performance. His shaggy character was an everyman actor who was sure his time had passed, but the quiet passion and wily subversiveness he brought to the role were beyond impressive. In a cast full of capable actors with higher profiles, Zissis’ versatility, skill and warmth easily stood out.

A lot of the credit, naturally, goes to Zissis’ keen ability as an actor to mine the emotional and comedic possibilities of what some might dismiss as a stock comic foil. But then there’s the obvious reason: He’s a co-creator along with fellow New Orleanians (and Jesuit grads) Jay and Mark Duplass, who teamed with Mount Carmel grad Stephanie Langhoff, who runs Duplass Brothers Productions. Check out TV columnist Dave Walker’s coverage here. As Zissis told Walker:

I think an open story was part of the plan, but that was what was new about TV for them. In feature films, obviously you have to wrap everything up in a bow in an hour and a half, which is challenging. And I know that Jay and Mark loved being able to tell an open-ended story. I think in some ways it’s also allowing them to go deeper into character study than what you can maybe do in an hour and a half. I think these are probably the most complex characters they may have created so far. It may just be because, by the virtue that it is an open-ended story, you get to live with them longer. They’re loving it.

Zissis is in very talented company, including personal favorites Titus Burgess in “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and Krysten Ritter in “Marvel’s Jessica Jones” — both on Netflix. You can hear more of Zissis jib-jabbing with awesome co-star Amanda Peet below. Season 2 is currently underway.

Discussing historic New Orleans theaters on local media (links)

John McConnell The SpudcastAs noted previously, my article on the return (and future) of historic New Orleans theaters in the downtown area (and beyond) graces the November issue of Biz New Orleans. It’s an interesting look at the variety and viability of these beautiful theaters, each of whom can, if properly run, can fill a need in the New Orleans entertainment scene. There was a lot to talk about with this article, and so I did:

You can check out my appearance on WWNO’s (89.9 FM) “Inside the Arts” on Tuesday (Nov. 10), with Diane Mack.

You also can check out my appearance on John McConnell’s WLAE-TV show “The Spudcast,” which aired Wednesday (Nov. 11) but also repeats on Thursday at 2 p.m. and Saturday at 6 p.m. Here’s the YouTube clip below: