How Jerry Vile got John Waters to make this year’s ‘Dirty Show’ a little filthier

Sex sells

View 19 (NSFW) works of erotic art from the Dirty Show here.

The essayist Robert Anton Wilson famously remarked that "it only takes 20 years for a liberal to become a conservative without changing a single idea." But Jerry Vile's Dirty Show proves that number might actually be closer to 16.

Now a Detroit institution, the Dirty Show is almost unrecognizable from its modest origins as what was originally intended to be a one-off art show. What used to draw accusations of pornography (and threats of being shut down) has now grown into an event that spans two weekends and fills the Russell Industrial Center's new 36,000-square-foot expo space (last year's Dirty Show was the first public event to be held there) with erotic art from around the world.

Need more proof that times have changed? Vile notes that this year the Dirty Show falls on the opening weekend for Fifty Shades of Grey. "I was watching TV this morning because I didn't watch the Super Bowl, and they were going to show all the good commercials and everything, and they're like, 'Oh we got Fifty Shades of Grey!'" Vile tells us by phone. "And they're all talking about it, you swear that Matt Lauer and them were going to go to the hardware store as soon as the thing was up."

But even if we live in an era where soccer moms around the country now fancy themselves S&M enthusiasts, this year's Dirty Show is extra special. Vile pulled off a coup by getting cult filmmaker John Waters — the pencil-moustached perv behind such cult films like Pink Flamingos and Polyester — to perform a special engagement of his "This Filthy World" one-man show at Thursday's opening preview.

"He's making it filthier and dirtier for us," Vile says, noting that Waters' routine has been updated and expanded. "In some ways it's like a lecture, but it's too funny to be a lecture. And it's not like stand-up comedy because it's talking about weirder issues."

Vile says Waters is "his idol" — "If it wasn't for underground comics, John Waters, and other things twisting my sense of humor at a really young age, I don't know what I would have turned out like."

How'd he score such a big name? "I blew him," Vile deadpans. In reality, he says he pursued Waters for years, even cornering him at a VIP meet and greet at a Royal Oak appearance with the Dirty Show pitch a few years ago.

"I had a whole thing typed out with pictures on it, like 'This is the Dirty Show,' but I kept it really short because I knew he'd be busy," Vile says. "I put it in front of him and he takes a Sharpie and writes his name right across it."

Vile explains that this year is also something of a "Best of the Dirty Show," rounding up some of the biggest selections from years past. And other big names, hand-picked by guest curator Genevive Zacconi, include fetish photographer Steve Diet Goedde (who will hold a book release Saturday), the late surrealist H.R. Giger, and painters like Ron English, Michael Hussar, and John John Jesse.

But Vile says some of the best stuff comes from people who aren't necessarily big-name artists — or even erotica artists at all. "If they're honest about it, then it's probably a really good piece," he says. After all, you can't fake sexual chemistry.

To the critics who accuse Vile and Co. of crass objectification (who are dwindling these days), Vile responds that he tries to be "an equal opportunity exploiter," noting that the show features "boy-lesque" acts and plenty of female artists, depicting the vast and colorful spectrum of human sexuality.

"There's way less cock pictures than other pictures," he admits. "But when you take our audience, I would say that if you add girls and men that like cock, it's probably the largest percentage of patrons," he says. "But then you have to subtract lesbians. But add the lesbians that like cock. If I figured it out, I could probably get a Nobel Prize."

The Dirty Show runs from 7 p.m.- 2 a.m. Feb. 12-15, and Feb. 20-21; Russell Exhibition Center, 1600 Clay St., Detroit;; tickets are $30 in advance.

About The Author

Lee DeVito

Leyland “Lee” DeVito is the editor in chief of Detroit Metro Times since 2016. His writing has also been published in Hour Detroit, VICE, In These Times, and New City. He once asked porn star Stormy Daniels to spank him with an issue of Metro Times. She obliged...
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