A noted comic book fan and champion of geek culture, it should come as no surprise that Kevin Smith (“Clerks,” “Red State”) has something to do with the first reality series set inside a comic book store. It should also come as no surprise to fans of the writer, director and podcaster that the February 12-debuting AMC show is not only set in the Red Bank, New Jersey comic store he owns — Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash — but also features Smith’s longtime friends and employees Walt Flanagan, Bryan Johnson, Ming Chen and Mike Zapcic. Smith is known for employing his friends in his films, but he’s also shared the spoils of his success in other ways, helping them out in various creative endeavors including setting Flanagan, Johnson and another friend Brian Quinn (“Impractical Jokers”) up with a podcast called “Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave,” a project that lead directly into the creation of this new show.
After a Q&A with the cast and producer Charlie Corwin held at Carolines in New York City yesterday, Smith sat down with four reporters including CBR News. He spoke for about half an hour and answered four questions. Considering he spent one hour answering a single question in his 2010 special “Too Fat For 40” stage show and fills several hours of podcast time every week on shows like, “Smodcast,” “Jay and Silent Bob Get Old,” “Plus One” and “Hollywood Babble-On,” this also should come as no surprise. But, even though only a handful of questions were asked, Smith brought his characteristic honesty and humor to the proceedings, weaving his answers around a few basic concepts like an appreciation for the friends that helped shape him in his younger days, how important podcasts can be and a desire to show the world that comic book geeks aren’t the basement-dwelling virgins some people want to believe they are.
After regaling the gathered reporters with a recent tale of a man who set his house on fire with his children inside, Smith used the tale to illustrate why the world needs shows like, “Comic Book Men.””Because it’s the opposite of that. It’s so light and fluffy. There’s no episode where people are like ‘Man, those children are dead.’ When we talk about dead things we talk about cats that died and came back, like Superman and Bucky. ”
If podcasts existed in 1992, would you still have done films?
Never. Oh my God, it would have been podcasting, ’cause I always gravitated towards that which seemed easiest. Comics were what I wanted to do, but that seemed really hard to get into because you had to be British and I wasn’t British. I wanted to write and it was like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison — those were the writers I admired. Film seemed easy because Richard Linklater made “Slacker” and I loved it. At the same time, I was like, “This counts? There’s no plot, structure here, there’s no cast per se. There’s a lot of cast, but there’s no main character. It flaunts all convention, breaks the rules.” We learn by seeing and then want to imitate it like, “Ooh, that appeals to me.” That seemed like the most accessible art form for me at the time. I can’t paint, I can’t sing, but having seen “Slacker,” I went, “I think I could put together a story like that. I would have three acts and blah, blah, blah and tell it about my world.” I hadn’t seen a movie like, “Clerks.” The only reason it exists is because I wanted to see a movie about me and my friends and I’d never seen one so, fuck it, I’ll just make one.
So, once you do that, once you put that in place — I forget the question, where did we start?
Would you have gravitated towards the internet or podcasts over movies if you were coming up today?
Had a podcast existed at that point, I would never have made “Clerks” because me and Johnson were really big [Howard] Stern fans growing up and what not. That would be the dream job, a guy who literally sat around all day talking about his life, cracking on people, the same shit we did. And we were like, “He is paid so much money to do it.” And even people on the show like Jackie the Jokeman once said, “I make a thousand dollars a week,” and we were like, “Holy shit!” — granted it was like 1986 — “Holy shit! A thousand dollars a week?! Could you imagine being paid that much to talk to your friend?” So, had podcasting technology existed, I just would have gravitated towards that. I wanted to be Howard Stern more than anything else. Not Howard Stern, but doing what Howard did, sitting around talking about my life and being honest with people. That was always so appealing to me, the candor. A lot of people are like, “Oh, he likes the lesbians and the butt bongo shit.” Yes, all that stuff is part of the entire pastiche that is Howard Stern, but it was the candor, the refreshing honesty. Most people put forward an image and talked in a certain way, presented in a certain way and this was a guy who’s like, “My dick’s small, my wife doesn’t have sex with me nearly enough.” He was being honest and that is where we would have went. But podcasting didn’t exist, so we went into movies.
But, as you can see by my career and my willingness to be like, “Fuck film,” podcasting is where my heart is because it doesn’t require talent. I’ve always been about the democratizing of it, man. I would go out there after every film and be like, “Anybody can fucking do this.” If I did this, anybody can do it. And you should because it makes you feel fucking good and your shit could work out, but that requires money. It still requires a camera, some people to believe in your shit and recruit them into the world to help me for no money, but podcasting is like, I’ve got a laptop, we’ve all got laptops, you don’t even need to jack mics in anymore, but if you want to you, can jack them in.
You can sit down with anyone, it doesn’t require talent. It just requires someone to have lived something of a life — you can’t podcast with a baby. I’ve tried and it doesn’t work. But if they’ve lived some semblance of a life, you’ll get something out of them. These cats, I’ve known these cats for years, they’re far more interesting than anybody I’ve ever met in this world and way more interesting than any character I can create because my characters are always fictionalized versions of my friends. So, with this, with the podcasts and to a larger extent “Comic Book Men,” but very much the podcasts, it’s almost like someone said, “Ladies and gentlemen, never mind Dante and Randall [from “Clerks”] or Brody and T.S. [from “Mallrats”], here are the real deal people and they’re way more interesting and you could live an adventure with them every day.” With “Mallrats,” you get 90 minutes of Brody and T.S. and it’ll never be more than that and it’s the only story. If you listen to “Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave,” you can hear an episode of “Mallrats” every week to some extent, and with this show, it’s true, man. I wish I was the guy who was smart enough to go, “Let’s just do ‘Clerks: The Reality Series.'” It wasn’t until they cut it and put it together that I was like, “This is fucking sharp, man.”
It reminded me of this thing — “Entertainment Weekly” has two critics. There’s the girl and the guy, Owen Gleiberman. In 1994, he reviews “Clerks” and said, “Pay attention, in ten years — or 20 it might have been — this is what a sitcom will be like.” And, I remember thinking at the time, “He’s out of his mind.” But he’s not wrong, especially with this. Technically, this isn’t a sitcom, but the girl in the [Q&A] audience nailed it, she’s like, “Dude, this show is funnier than most sitcoms.” And that’s cool, man, because it’s the show I produce, but my friends are fucking funny. You just turn cameras on and they’re going to generate. You don’t need to hire a writing staff, they’re interesting visually, they interact well with each other and they fucking generate like that. [snaps fingers]
So, at that point I realized, all that time I wasted making movies, I should have just been documenting reality. But the truth of the matter is that movies made us interesting. The movies instigated the conversation. Otherwise, I’m just some dude in Jersey who likes talking to his friends. One thing opened the door to everything else. And rather than just ride movies into the ground and shit, because that’s what everyone expects you to do once they let you, like ,”I would do it forever,” I can jump horses because there’s something over here and I can go a lot further on that horse than I can on this horse.
For 20 years, almost, I’ve been trying to tell stories with pictures, and sometimes I’m successful and a lot of times I’m not, I keep working on my craft. But, man, if I could eliminate pictures? I got anybody, I can capture anybody if I could just use my fucking mouth as opposed to being like, “Here’s what it looks like.” That’s when it falls apart. In that fight, I’m always going to be out-duked, but the moment you take pictures away and shit, then I can do it. It’s that moment in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” when he’s like, “Can I move?” And he’s like, “What,” and he’s like, “Can I move?” because he’s not supposed to move to fire a gun, and he’s like, “Yeah, go ahead,” and he’s like, BANG. If I can move, I can fucking break through. Podcasts allowed me to move and now it’s like some weird extension where, again, if I would have planned it, it wouldn’t have happened, but podcasting lead us back to a visual medium. Thank God I don’t have to take these pictures [for “Comic Book Men”]. I’ve teamed up with people like Original Media. They know how to frame this stuff and shoot good and do all that stuff. So, all I get to do is introduce talented people to those cats and go, “Just turn your cameras on and walk away, because these cats will talk and you’ll get something out of them.”
When I first came to set and did the podcast wraparounds [for the show], the Original team was just like, “You have no idea what you have in these friends of yours. We shoot people all the time, and real people aren’t quick like your friends.” they’ve got an edge because they’ve been podcasting for a fucking year. In some weird way, they’ve kind of written their own tickets because these are the cats without whom we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I am who I am because I hung out with Bryan and I hung out with Walter and their passions became mine. â€¨â€¨Walter is the comic book man, he is the hockey guy, but because Walter is so passionate about that shit, it translated over to me. Then I’m the guy who just goes out and keeps spreading that because I like that feeling. There’s this dude who at one point in my life told me that it’s okay to like the shit I like and nevermind what somebody else [says]. And, it sounds like a stupid lesson that we should know and learn and maybe they get it at a younger age now, but when I was a kid, they didn’t celebrate differences. They still don’t, let’s be honest, but at least online there’s some semblance of like, “Yeah, yeah, differences are accepted.” Back then, they really didn’t accept differences, and when you’re a kid, you like fucking sports. And if you didn’t, what were you? I didn’t like sports, I liked going to the movies and I liked reading comic books. So suddenly, you hang out long enough, it all comes around. If you just maintain — I remember early in the day, I’d say, “I like comics and shit,” and they’d be like, “Yeah?” and I’d be like, “Yeah.” I’ve held onto it for this long where now comics are in vogue and I’m like, “I still like comics. I’ve been waiting for your fuckers to show up.” So, it kind of worked out.
This thing, I wish — I could say this is the ultimate payback to a guy who got me going without even thinking about it. Walt Flanagan was like a fucking Jedi master without even knowing it. And he didn’t even want it. His dream came true when I was like, “Here’s the store.” The show is a bit of an inconvenience for him, but he sees it as a means to an end. He’s like, “If there’s a TV show on the air and that means five more people are going to come in, then that’s good enough.” You’ve seen him up there, and I love him to death, but he’s just like ,”I don’t want to answer a stupid question, I have nothing to add.” It’s a lack of ego. It’s one of the things I find appealing about him. The dude, to this day, he’d come and guest on “Smodcast” back in the early days and I’d be like, “Dude, people fucking love when you and Johnson are on. They just think you’re funny.” And Flanagan’s like, “No, they just like you, they’re just nice to us because they like you.” And I’m like, “Dude, that’ll get them to listen to you for the first time, but every time after that, that’s you. They find you as interesting as I find you as hard as that is for you to fucking understand.”
I don’t know, when I saw him in “The New York Times” the other day, I had to write him an email going like, “I know you don’t like this shit at all, but, THIS IS AMAZING. THERE’S A HALF PAGE PHOTO OF YOU IN ‘THE NEW YORK TIMES’ and they call you ‘Mr. Flanagan!'” And he’s just like, “I’m glad you’re happy.” He’s always been the same person he is. You can never count on people in your life to be constant, because people are always changing and evolving, and we should, but when you find the people who are like Rocks of Gibraltar, people that — like, I leave Walter and come back in 20 years, and his opinions are still the same. He’s still the same person and he hasn’t sold out on who he is, he’s still most like himself.
I’ve never met anyone else like Walter Flanagan, never met anyone else like Bryan Johnson, and I’ve met some cool people, some famous people who are supposedly very interesting, but nobody’s as interesting as these two fucking people. For years, I’ve just been like, “How do you fucking do it?” and not in a “you’re freaks” way, but just like, “God, I want to be like these people.” And I did take everything I liked about them and tried to make it work for me. I tried to be the guy who was like, “These are the things I like, these are the things I believe in. If you don’t like them, I don’t give a shit if you don’t like ‘Degrassi.’ ‘Degrassi”s fucking bad ass for a teen soap opera.” Embrace those things and be proud of those things. It’s shocking how many doors it will ultimately open up. Yeah, you’ll definitely take some shit, some motherfuckers will always kick you in the teeth for liking this, that or the other thing.
It reminds me, Mm and fucking [Jason] Mewes were at this acting class at Brookdale Community College. It was before the movies and shit. I wanted to stay vital and acting sounded like a cool thing. I brought Mewes to this one class and we were doing this exercise where everyone’s doing a one act play and doing scenes. I grabbed a Grant Morrison issue of “Animal Man” where Buddy Baker meets Grant Morrison [#26], and then we did the issue of “Sandman” where Dream comes to face Lucifer and Lucifer’s like, “I’m shutting Hell down” [#23]. So, we did those as dramatic re-enactments. I played Grant Morrison and another dude played Buddy Baker, Animal Man. He had a mustard sweatshirt, not a hoodie, but a sweatshirt, and he just put a big A in electrical tape [on the shirt]. And then a chick played Morpheus and I played Lucifer.
So Mewes came and he tapes the whole thing. It was fucking cool, and everyone else is like, “Hey man, this is from ‘Streetcar,” or “Hey man, this is from fucking whatever.” We did something nobody else knew about, we did it in 22 pages and it took you places and there was adventure. But there was one fucker in the class who literally was just like, “Are you kidding me? Are you doing comic books? Comic books are for kids.” I remember being like, “Well, some people think so…” Meanwhile, the whole ride home, Mewes — who was taping and never once jumped up to get my back — the whole ride home he was like, “We should have punched that guy.” I was like, “You did nothing. He went after comics and you let him do it.” And he was like, “Yeah, well next time I’ll hit him in the face.” I was like, “There will be no next time.”
There’s always going to be someone out there kicking you in the teeth for having a good time, liking what you like, trying to diminish your interest in it and trying to make you feel less than they are. It’s the sports analogy. For years, I always thought all people who like sports are adults and only kids like comics, but it’s the same fucking thing. There’s no difference — sports and movies and entertainment. It’s just a different kind of entertainment. It doesn’t mean anything. I mean, it’s great that you can throw a football really well and catch a football really well. I can’t do any of that shit. But it ain’t gonna stop the world from wars, it’s not going to cure one fucking dying baby or anything like that. It’s entertainment, it’s the shit we look at to forget about the dying baby, to forget about the dude who killed his fucking two kids and shit. Show me a football game so I can forget about how fucking horrible the world is.
I’m so tired of people being like, “Oh, comics is kids stuff, but sports is for adults.” Bullshit. Sports is for grown children. That’s it. It’s just people who are like, “I like to watch people do the same games we used to play as kids, man.” And, in this world at least, when you’re a geek about something, if you’re a football geek, there’s no chance you’ll ever play football in the NFL. You can like it a lot and you can have your fantasy league team, but you can’t cross over. In this world, you can like something and love it so fucking much that you can be a part of it one day. You can write that comic, you can fucking make that movie, you can make that website that brings you into it. It’s not like, “Sit on the sidelines and watch as the masters do it.” It’s something that says, “Look, can you add a spoke to this wheel? Then come on in. If you have a good Batman story to tell, why not you? Come tell that story.” It beckons, man, and unlike some fucking siren that brings you to rocks and picks your bones, you get there and it’s Shangri-La. You get there and you realize, “Shit, not too many people try it,” and because you’re trying it, you’re one of the people who get in the door.
So many of us go, “What’s the point? That’s what other people do.” Why not us? You know what I’m saying? That’s where “Clerks” came from. You watch so many movies and you’re like, “Why them, why not me? My story’s as interesting as these cats’.” And you just keep applying that to everything. You apply that to the podcast, you apply that to the fucking TV show. As long as there’s that relatability there, as long as they can turn on that show and smell that authenticity, see that we genuinely like each other and know that we’re not being frauds. Like, they’ve got the camera on them and Johnson’s saying the same shit he’d say if there was no camera there, it’s going to read. They know we’re serious, they know we care. We care about the genre.
That’s what I like when some people go, “Oh it’s just going to be dudes in their basements masturbating,” and I’m like, “No, why would I fucking do that? Go watch that show with David Duchovny. You can watch ‘Californication,’ that’s all about masturbation.” This is a show about real geeks and shit, people who are like, “Hey man, my life is settled in all other ways. I’ve got a family, I’ve got kids, I’ve got a wife, everything worked out happily ever after, but my passion is still alive. And my passion just so happens to be Boris Karloff dolls or fucking ‘Planet of the Apes’ or fucking Harry Potter or ‘Star Wars’ or Batman, Superman. I like watching adults get into stuff they’re not supposed to get into–and not like fucking children, which is disgusting, but I mean stuff they’re not supposed to get into like stuff that’s normally reserved for kids.
We spend this much time [brings his hands together to form a circular hole about the size of a silver dollar] of our lives developmentally enjoying play and then they’re like, “Get to work.” And then it’s about, not just work in the real world, but homework, responsibilities put on your shoulders pretty fucking quickly because nobody wants to sit around and watch a kid 24-7. Shove them in a school, shove them over here. So we don’t get to play as adults. Geeks get to play forever, just like actors and athletes get to be grown children forever. People who like this kind of shit maintain a youthful kind of exuberance because that passion, we wear it on our fucking sleeve. We might go to jobs nine to five, but on weekends you might find us in fucking St. Paul’s basement trying to find an issue of “Grimjack” I haven’t had in years or something. That kind of shit will keep you young. The hunt will keep you young.
You guys are the first to look into the world of comic book culture [in a reality TV show.] Wwhat do you think about MTV and the producers of “Jersey Shore” trying to go into that with “Fandom Rising?”
I’m all for it. I’m one of those guys that’s like, “Do as many geek shows as possible, because I’ll watch them.” I’m a stoner, know what I’m saying? You put on a geek program and I will sit there, smoke weed and watch that show. So, if theirs is remotely good, then I’m all for it. If it’s one of these kind of like, “These guys couldn’t get laid with your dick” [things] I’m not interested in that kind of shit. I’ve known too many geeks that get laid, chicks and guys who get pussy and cock. That stereotype is dead. So if they’re doing something kind of like what we’re doing, where it’s the real deal, these motherfuckers live and breath — they just like this stuff a lot, but they’re real normal people, I’m all for it and I’m happy to see that. It’s nice to be first, I’ll tell you that. It’s always nice to be a little ahead of the curve — makes you look smart.
You said a little while ago, “Fuck film,” but I’m wondering, with “Red State”, with the buzz, I’m getting friends who are like, “You haven’t seen it on Netflix? Oh my God–“
I love that movie, but it did exactly what I wanted it to do. It made me happy about filmmaking again. It made me engaged with filmmaking again because it forced you to be creative. A lot of us get lazy because somebody does the other jobs. We make the movies and then somebody else puts the movies out. If you’re part of that equation, you’re staying part of the creative process, it’s gonna force you to be creative in a new way. They’ve got one way to put a movie out, put a bunch of commercials on TV and it comes out two weeks later. If you can just say, “Hey man, let’s try a new way and be creative with it,” it made it fun for me, fun for the audience in that way. But, it’s still not sustainable. It’s not like, “Shit this recharged my batteries for another five, ten years!”
That’s what I was wondering, if it recharged you in any way.
Only in as much as, “Boy, that was the right thing to do,” taking the movie out by ourselves. Also it helped us build nine other things at the same time. We’re sitting here having this conversation because I sat on a stage at Sundance one year ago and was like, “I’m gonna go off by myself.” That opens up fucking doors. We wound up with a TV show on AMC, we wound up shooting a pilot for Telepictures, I wound up writing a book for fucking Gotham, for Penguin because I stood on that stage and said, “I’m going to be a little bit different.” People like that kind of thing. They’re like, “Clearly this guys has an idea whether it’s a good idea or not.” It’s a different idea.
“Red State” paved the way for all of this shit, it kind of legitimized the podcasting business in a weird way. Everyone with podcasts has been trying to figure out how to make money off of them. You can run ads and stuff and that’s fine — one day, years from now, people that buy ads are going to understand the value, the infinite value of a podcast because you’ve got 300,000 dedicated listeners to, say, “Smodcast.” If you put a commercial on that, they’re going to listen to that, but advertisers don’t get that yet. They will in time to come, but until then, if you like podcasting enough to make it your life, you’ve got to figure out a way to fucking monetize it. If advertising ain’t going to be it, you figure out something else.
For us, it’s been going on the road. The podcast, which we did a bunch for free for years, we started putting ads on saying, “Hey, we’re going to be in your town, come see us.” We put up the website SeeSmod.com, and so those podcasts, which, all of them are free, fuel everything else. When I show up in someone’s town, they buy tickets to see us live. That’s how we monetize the podcast, or we take one and turn it into a TV show, “Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave” becomes “Comic Book Men.” That’s an interesting way to monetize them.
But everyone keeps looking for, “How do I get paid for podcasts?” Anytime I talk to somebody about ,”Oh, you should do a show on our network, we’ve got all these shows, come do a show on our network,” nine out of ten, the first thing they say is, “When do you get paid?” I’m like, “Man, if that’s your question, you don’t even want to do this shit. This is about doing it for the sake of doing it.” It reminded me of back in the day, whenever you’d make a movie and go to put it on video, they’d want to know if you wanted to do a commentary track. “Fuck, yeah,” ’cause you wanted to. Some people would be like, “Well, how much does it pay?” And they’re like, “It’s bonus value — you do it because you like the movie or don’t.” And some cats bow out. I think Arnold [Schwarzenegger] famously was like, “I’m not going to do a commentary,” on one flick because they’re weren’t paying him or something. Ben Kingsley I think I heard at one point wasn’t going to do the “Gandhi”– every once in a while, there’s been people who are like, “Look, time is money and I could do other things and I get paid for my time.”
And I don’t fault those people, I get it. They’re smart business people, but you’ve got to let go of the money if you love this field. If you love to entertain people or if you love to find new ways to entertain people, interconnect with the audience, you’ve got to let go of the money. You can’t have both. It’s like having your hand on the banana in the box. It’s like, either let go of the banana and you’ll get your hand out or you’re trapped in the fucking box. And when you let that go, man, it’s utter freedom, baby. Because, out here, you’re not trapped in a box with a banana in your hand. You can grab all the fucking bananas you want. So, that was more appealing to me, just let go of that. You’ve got to be willing to let go of the money. And podcasting was really about letting go of the money. There’s no money in it at first, at least at the beginning or apparently from the start, but the more you do it, you figure out, oh, this will work, let’s try this. I didn’t want to be one of the shows that runs a bunch of ads like a TV show, so let’s monetize in a different way. If I’m willing to go out on the road, maybe people will show up, so we start bringing all those shows out and that helps build it in a creative way.
I like figuring things out for myself. I’m not one of those guys who goes into a garage and — I can’t build you anything and shit like that. I interviewed Tom Cruise once and this is how he described Scientology: “Scientology allows me to break down a car engine and rebuild it in two hours perfectly [snaps fingers] and the car works.” And I was like, “That’s Scientology?” And he goes, “Yeah, Scientology just teaches you to read and understand why things work as they do.” So right then and there, I was like, “I could never be a Scientologist. Cars, man? I don’t want to deal with cars.” But, the longer you do anything, the more experience you get at it, the more you start to go, “Oh shit.”
I took one passion once before and turned it into my work, my career and got paid for it. You get greedy where you go like, “Oh shit, I wonder if I could do that here, too.” I love this as much as I loved film back in the day. In fact, I probably love this more because I can sit down and do this shit with my mother. My mother’s an interesting woman, but I can’t put anything with her in a movie. She played a milk maid at the end of “Clerks” and “Clerks 2,” that’s it. But if I sit her down in front of a microphone and be like, “When’d you fuck Dad? Why’d you get married at 18? Have some weed cake, tell me the truth,” it’s interesting listening and it’s accomplishing multiple things. Number one, you’re out there and people listen to you talk with your mother, it actually makes them want to go out and improve their relationship with their mother. They go, “You can just sit around and talk to your mother about that shit? I should do that with my mom.” Number two, I’ve a permanent record of my mother having this wonderful conversation with me, and when my mother dies — and I really believe she will one day — it’ll always be there. I kick my ass every day of my life when recording a podcast going, “Why didn’t I ever sit down with my father and put my father on tape.” I’ll never have that shit. I can talk to people who knew him, I can talk to his wife and shit, and I knew him as well, but I’ll never know his thoughts and feelings, man, and I should have. I should have thought to just stick a fucking microphone in front of him. Why not?
The only problem with this now is that every waking moment of your life you’re like, “Is there a microphone on?” because you don’t want to live off camera. Not “off camera,” off mic, because you just sit there going, “Shit man, if we can’t share it, it didn’t really happen, did it?” Immediately, you just want to share it with people. The problem with doing multiple shows is you get people going, “You told that story already, you fucking dick.” My wife [who co-hosts the “Plus One” podcast] gets so mad. She’s like, “You told that on Smodcast? That was our story.” But being able to incorporate those people that you love, the people you think are funny — we’re always told by people in the media, “These people are fucking funny,” and they put them on the covers of everything and you’re like, “Yes, they’re fucking funny, I understand, I will obey.” I like introducing people, like, “You’ll never see these cats on the cover of a magazine, but these fuckers are funny, man.” They’re unlike people you’ve seen in other things, or if they’re like anybody, they’re like those characters I wrote in the movie and that’s because I stole them from these fucking guys.
So, putting those cats out front and center, man, feels like the move. Rather than inventing characters, just, “Ladies and gentlemen, my very interesting friends.” And they buoy you along. Think about it. I could stand up on stage and answer Q&A for a while, so that’s one man with a microphone. If you’re not into fucking me and the shit I do, you ain’t there. But, if I have all these other shows with all these other interesting people, there’s aspects that I can share. I can be one guy on “Plus One,” another guy on “Smodcast,” a different guy on this one and whatnot. I’ve got people who are like, “I hate your shit, but I love “Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave.” The best thing you did was introduce the world to Walt Flanagan.” And I’ll take it at this point. Back in the day I’d be like, “No, you’ve gotta love me for what I did.” Now, I’m like, “Like anything I do,” because I do so much that I don’t give a shit if you like [just] one thing, that’s good enough for me. That’s why I do so many so many fucking things.”
It seems so limiting with films where you get one bite at the apple. You put the movie out there, and if they didn’t like it, fuck, you’ve got to wait another year to try to get them again. With everything else, you spin a bunch of plates. You didn’t like the movie? Don’t worry about it, here’s a podcast. You don’t like that? Don’t worry about it, here’s a stand-up special. You don’t like that? TV! You just keep throwing something at them so you always keep them engaged on some level because you accept the fact that not everything you do is ever going to appeal to even every fan of yours. You sit down with people that really like my shit, you’ll still hear people who are like, “I didn’t like ‘Jersey Girl’ as much,” or, “I didn’t like ‘Cop Out’ as much,” or some people are mysteriously like, “I hate ‘Chasing Amy.'” It always blows my mind. That one? You always lose them here or there, but if you can keep other things going to engage them on that level, they’ll let you slack here. Like, “Your motherfucking movie sucked, but I love this podcast, so I’m gonna let it ride.” And I’ll take that. The older you get, the more you realize you’re just happy anyone’s paying attention, particularly because there’s so much fucking competition.
There’s more competition now than when I started. I remember in ’94, Sundance, they were like, “400 films were submitted and we chose 16.” I felt like, “Jesus Christ.” You know how many films get submitted now? Five fucking figures. Somebody has to watch 10,000 movies to find the 32 or whatever they put into those two separate sections. The number keeps going up and up. We’re competing with everybody, now. The great democratization of a podcast, the wonderful thing about anybody can do this, is that everybody can do it and everybody is starting to do it and realize they’re their own content generators. They’re turning off the TVs and other programming and creating the entertainment themselves, and that’s fucking thrilling. At that point, you’re going to find cool shit you wouldn’t have heard otherwise because tastemakers allow for a certain amount to ever enter the mainstream and the people who hold the pursestrings dictate the things we hear and find funny and see. When you start hearing podcasts from people who would fucking never in a million years be in front of a microphone, you’re starting to hear senses of humor you would never hear otherwise and that’s where you find the fucking gold. That’s where the Treys and the Matts [Parker and Stone of “South Park”] come from, up from the depths.
It’s like Francis Ford Coppola said,: “The next cinematic genius is some little girl with a video camera in the middle of the country,” or something like that. He was definitely not far from the mark, man. It’s everybody’s time now. For years, we used to sit there and be entertained. “You, sit here, we’ll fucking show you shit.” You can do that now, that’s your choice and there’s wonderful entertainment that we can all engage in. But now we also have the option to be like ,”Fuck it, I’m going to do it too. This looks fun.” You go to the circus and it seems fun and you go, “I want to try that.” We can all go to the circus. You can at least try.
The technology is such that it doesn’t even cost that much to do anymore. Us doing “Clerks” seems far more financially risky now than it did then, in the moment. But now, it’s just like, technology being what it is, we should have shot “Clerks” on a fucking cell phone. So, however you can do it, to get your voice into the mix, man, why not? You’re as interesting as the other guy. And that guy’s as interesting as the next guy. We’re all content generators and each one of us has this awesome back pocket story that we know we can whip out at any occasion and be like, “Shit, I ain’t got the room? Watch this shit. [bangs the table] ‘One time I ate a human being.’ And then, boom, you’re off and running, you’ve got the room’s rapt attention. Chances are if you’ve got one, you’ve got a few more. That means that everybody has these stories to tell and those stories buoy you through the other content. Everything can’t be an amazing fucking adventure story, but the shit in-between, that’s life, the marrow of life. That’s interesting as well and people sometimes just like to hear how other people live and go, “Whew, there are other people like me.” I made “Clerks” because I wanted to see if there’s anyone else out there who felt like me and my friends and I found out, yes. Making those podcasts, you get it confirmed almost daily. Throw it out there and they’re like, “We’re just like you and your friends, you’re not alone.” That’s a good feeling in a weird cold world.
You’ve shifted your creative energies to different mediums like podcasts and books from film and seem to be facilitating other people with the Phase 4 deal and the podcasts. What necessitated that in your life or drove it?
You know what it is? It’s not so much “necessitate.” If you stick around long enough and you have longevity on your side and you don’t let them run you out of fucking down, you become elder statesman. When you’re an elder statesman people just listen to you even if you’re fucking wrong. Chances are, more of the things I’m going to say are right than wrong, but in the elder statesman status role, you can use that, not to your advantage, but for other fucking people.
Because, I’ve had my breaks and I’ll continue to make my own fucking breaks time and time again until everyone’s like, “We’re fucking sick of you.” And when they are sick of me, I’ll find one new thing to keep them hanging on just a little bit fucking longer. I don’t ever want a job, I just want to do this until the day I fucking die. In that world, it just makes utter sense to just be like, “Let me introduce you to these cats.” It’s not even altruistic of like, “Hey man, these are the funniest people I know.” That happens to be true. It’s more like, “Let these guys entertain you for a while, I’m going to go over here and create some shit and I’ll be back in a little bit.” It takes less out of you. I sit there on stage Q&Aing by myself, but I’ll be honest — it’s much easier to sit next to Mewes and be like, “What’d you do this week?” It’s much easier to sit next to Mosier and be like, “Did you know the Nazis invented Fanta?” It’s much easier to sit next to Ralph Garman and be like, “Liam Neeson’s cock is fucking huge.” It’s a team. I don’t have to generate nearly as much. I only have to generate half of much and sometimes not even half as much, man, because you’re generating with a team member and then you’re also generating with the audience and the audience becomes part of it as well.
It came mostly from — I’m an elder statesman. Sometimes people pay attention to what you’re talking about, let me fucking shift them in a direction and be like, “I think this is funny, do you guys agree?” It’s good for business too, if it takes off, I get a piece, I get to wet my beak a little. That’s kind of sweet, like a middle man, but one that actually does something. More importantly, it’s like, “Hey man, I thought these cats were funny and now, do you feel they’re funny as well?” So far so good on that front.
It also comes from being raised Catholic and shit, there’s a sense of appreciation. I get it, I look around every day and realize I hit the fucking lottery. I did the right thing at the right fucking time and if I didn’t do that, none of us are having this conversation. You guys are having this conversation with someone completely different. Every day of my life I get up and go, “I get it, I get it.” And you want to pay that back. Maybe not pay it forward, you don’t want to Spacey it, but you want to pay it back. You definitely want to make sure other people get breaks because it’s so easy. It doesn’t take much to help people out, man. They have to do it on their own merit. You can definitely shine a light on people and be like, “Ladies and gentlemen, these fuckers,” whether or not people will remain interesting is up to them. Can they generate stuff for them?
But it ain’t no thing to be like, “Here’s the spotlight, put it over there.” I like being the center of attention, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t need to be it 24/7 and I’m always happy to be like, “Here’s somebody way funnier than me.” I learned that when we were making “Dogma.” I used to tell actors “You can’t make up any fucking dialog, you have to do all the words that are in the script.” Then I sat down with fucking Chris Rock and you’re like, “Oh, my God, I have a comedy ninja, a guy who is a thousand times funnier than I’ll ever be and I’m harnessing him.” You know what I’m saying? It’s like [having Wayne] Gretzky and having him start on the fourth line every other game. That’s the dude you want right on the first fucking line.
At that point, I was like, “You know what? The nature of collaboration, it’s stupid to cut yourself off from it because you always get the credit anyway.” People go, “Great fucking thing,” but I’ll tell you what right now, probably something nobody fucking knows: For the rest of my life, people will come up to me and be like, “Bear is driving, how can that be?” That’s from the “Clerks” cartoon and it’s wonderful, it’s great, but I didn’t write that. [Executive Producer] Dave Mandel wrote that, but I get credit because it was in the “Clerks” cartoon and people think I wrote it. I’m like, “I was there when Dave Mandel did it and I was crying,” and he was like, “How can that be?” I was like, “Dave, that’s hysterical,” and he was like, “Let’s see if it hits, let’s see if it works.”
You wind up getting some credit for things and you can go out into the world be like, “It was this guy,” or you can just bring him in and be like, “Ladies and gentlemen, these guys,” and that’s been good for me. It keeps me interested. This sounds weird for me to say, as self-involved as I can be. At a certain point, even I’m like, “Eh, I’ve had enough Kevin Smith,” and I like to put my attention on something else. “Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave” has been that for me, “Hollywood Babble-On” has been that for me. All those shows have been that, where I can kind of put attention on other people who I think are funny and hang out in their shadow and live off their fucking energy and stuff like like that. It’s smart. It’s self- preservatory and it’s a smart thing to lift somebody else up, not just because it’s a nice thing. We all look for entertainment, we’re all looking for something to take our mind off the fact that, one day, we’re going to fucking die. Any time I hang out with Bryan and Walter, I feel immortal. I never think, “Oh, God. One day I’m gonna die.” If you can impart that to people through the show or if they can get that same feeling I get from hanging out with those guys, it’s a worthwhile endeavor. We can get it through in a podcast, now let’s see if we can get it through in a TV show.
[After finishing the official interview and speaking to the reporters for a few minutes, one said that Smith inspired him to get into filmmaking. Smith responded:]
I like that. I like that you got into filmmaking, because it means one day I might look at something and go, “That fucking rocks.” That’s the beauty of patting some fucker on the back. You go, “Good job, keep at it,” or something like that, and one day, they produce the thing that you’re like, “Oh my God, that fucking moved me.” Your movie becomes to me what my movie was to you once. It’s a trade off. I look for that too, man. As much as I like making entertainment, I like being entertained. You’re always looking for shit. You want that currency that you can share with other people. I remember seeing “The Spirit of Christmas,” the first thing that Trey and Matt had done before “South Park.” It was given around Hollywood as a kind of studio Christmas card and it felt like you found fucking gold. You were sending it to people and — this is before the internet where you would easily send something — you would literally take a VHS to peoples’ houses and be like, “Watch this fucking cartoon where these kids watch Santa fight Jesus. It’s amazing!” You’re always looking for that, and not just because it would be nice to be the guy who presents something like that, but for nothing else, for no other reason like, “Shit, that was funny and I was there and I saw it first.”
There’s that chance where everyone else finds it funny and then you don’t even give it a chance because so many other people have come up to you and been like, “You’ve gotta see — ” I still haven’t seen “The Hangover.” All these years, because everyone goes, “You’ve got to see ‘The Hangover.'” It was just like Cartman when everyone was like, “You must like ‘Family Guy'” and he was like, “Why?!” Same thing. I haven’t seen it yet. One day, a few years from now, when there’s no hype whatsoever, I’ll be able to enjoy “The Hangover” clean, the way everyone else did the first time.
AMC’s “Comic Book Men” premieres Sunday, February 12 at 10:00PM EST. A new podcast featuring Kevin Smith appears almost daily on Smodcast.com.
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