NOTE: The following article contains material of an adult nature
By his own reckoning, Kevin Smith's last appearance at Wizard World Philadelphia three years earlier went very well at first. However, the director and comic book writer's father, who was in the audience for 2003's question-and-answer session, passed away that same night.
"Goddamit, my Q&A was so good," mused the creator, "that it iced my old man." Things went much better for him this past weekend, when he returned to the Philadelphia Convention Center to field questions, preview a clip from the upcoming film "Clerks 2," and reminisce about cohort Jason Mewes.
Smith entered the room to a standing ovation from hundreds of eager fans, and began a two-hour conversation with questions ranging from the earnest ("Will this film live up to 'Clerks?'") to the ludicrous ("Will you eat this chicken nugget on the floor for $5?") to the outright obscene ("Does your wife do anal?").
The answers are: "I love it more than anything I've ever done," even nudging the previous record-holder "Chasing Amy" aside; an accounting of his dignity required to eat the nugget; and an admonition to the crowd's low "Booooo" that Smith himself had explored far more obscene ideas than the bold question.
Even at low points of inquiry, he retained his characteristic humor, honesty and charm. And, of course, the salty language. His fans ask seemingly inane questions not to pursue answers, but to reach out and grab a little bit of dirty humor for themselves. He obliges with the same attitude that makes them love his films: a Chaucerian love of human nature and its various functions that destroy barriers between the filmmaker and fans. He makes their conversations with friends into adventures. That's one of Smith's roles: he's one of them, the fanboy who made it.
So it was illuminating to learn that after Miramax producer Harvey Weinstein passed Smith the "Green Hornet" film on a plate, the director was honest enough with himself and his employer to say that he was "not a very visual director." He then enacted the Kevin Smith version of Green Hornet and Kato: two dudes standing around asking each other if they got laid before dispatching trouble off-camera.
The truth, as fans know, is that two dudes standing around inevitably proceed from vulgarity to self-discovery, much like when one attendee asked what was the most important lesson Smith had learned from making the original "Clerks." "If you want the cat to shit on cue," he whipped back, "keep the cat away from the litter box," before moving to the slightly more serious response, "How to make a movie: set the camera up and let shit happen." The answer he settled on, however, was to follow your passion right now in the moment and "Take a fucking chance! The worst that happens is...you go deep into debt," which is actually pretty bad, he mused.
More informative to "Clerks 2" than "Clerks," surprisingly, was his previous film, "Jersey Girl." Returning to "Clerks" was not a retreat to safe ground following "Jersey Girl's" failure to meet popular expectations. After the hullabaloo surrounding stars Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, Smith said he wanted to make a film where the attention was on the story first and the stars second.
"Clerks 2" dominated the conversation, with anecdotes like cohort Jason Mewes (a.k.a. "Jay" the dope-peddling misanthrope) dressing out his hotel room with Target furnishings and refusing to abandon his new home after the shoot's completion. Smith described his lifemate as "a big cheerleader" on the set.
The film was well received at Cannes, where it garnered an 8-minute standing ovation. Smith recounted trying to leave after the first few minutes, when a stern look from Weinstein kept him rooted to the applause.
"I'm so trying not to oversell it," he said, "It lived up to my expectations and surpassed them by a thousand degrees, but I have very low expectations. I don't want to jinx it." He added that for him the film is a personal success because "I just feel it."
At one point he brought a member of his website's message boards onstage for the "Everyman" testimonial. The film was described as having the passion of "Chasing Amy" and the humor of "Clerks."
Smith also announced a straight-to-DVD Clerks animated movie, "Clerks: Sell-out," in which characters Randall and Dante make a movie about working at the Quick-Stop. The room burst into cheers, when Smith dryly inserted, "Don't applaud that," for the first of many times. "I announce things and they don't come out for years."
One of the first things the audience wanted to know, of course, was whether anymore comic book work lay in the future. On that front, the horizon is bleak, but there will be a collected edition of "Clerks" comics with a new 22-page story drawn by Jim Mahfood.
The session ended with a clip from the new film, in which Randall taunts a coworker and customer with the inferiority of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy to "Star Wars." Closing out the scene, Smith's avatar Silent Bob played music to allay Jay's boredom, causing him to re-enact "The Silence of the Lambs'" transvestite Buffalo Bill scene. "Would you fuck me?" Jay asked the camera.
As answer, one could only think of Smith's response to an earlier question about whether he'd consider doing other sequels besides "Clerks 2": "It's like fucking Mewes. I've thought about it...but I wouldn't do it."