If Hollywood horror movies taught us anything, it’s don’t bully the wrong kid if don’t want him to slash everyone to bits at the high school reunion. Enter Kevin Smith, the indie filmmaker who got a seat at the Hollywood table but not on a Southwest airplane. The indie icon plans to retire the director’s chair in 2014, but he’s basically donned a hockey mask for his current slate of podcasts and live events. He humorously trashes Bruce Willis, Tim Burton, Jon Peters and others he worked with, and God help the person who admits too much, like the assistant who said Prince shops for his clothes in the boys department. His regular podcasts include “Hollywood Babble-On” and “Jay and Silent Bob Get Old,” and his classic Q&A events are often released on DVD. Many of his films are stoner classics, but if he gets his wish to make Clerks 3, it will actual be his first comedy movie as a regular cannabis user. Naturally, this interview begins with Smith’s late-age conversion.
You did not become a regular cannabis user until Seth Rogen got you into it at age 38. This begs the question, what references did you use for your stoner characters and dialogue?
What a great question because, in looking back, the present me wants to call out twenty-something-year-old Kevin Smith as a f@#kin’ fraud. “You don’t know what you are talking about, man!” When I watch those movies now and hear the references to weed and stoner culture, it is clearly written by somebody who thought, “I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I’ve heard these words.” Now I would re-write it a bit different, and those flicks would spend a lot more time talking about weed. There would always be this moment when someone soliloquies like Linus talking about Jesus in A Charlie Brown Christmas, but in this instance, the soliloquy would be about weed and how good it is and how everyone should get off its back. Thank God I didn’t have that much education [on weed], or we would have spent a lot more time dealing with it back in the day.
As far as references, a lot of it was just guesswork, and some was based on stuff [Jason] Mewes would say during his brief tenure as a stoner before moving on to heavier stuff. I based the character of Jay on who he was at age 16 or 17. That was Mewes as a crazy force of nature. There was a panel in this old Dennis the Menace cartoon book where the neighbor Mr. Wilson saw Dennis walk by and said, “There goes that Mitchell kid. He’s like a sonic boom with dirt on it.” I loved that, and I always remembered it, so whenever I heard of Mewes, I was like, “There he goes. He’s a sonic boom with dirt on it.” I lost the thread of the question. What were we talking about again?
What references you used for your stoner characters.
Oh God, we got so far-flung from that. Basically, it was the Jason Mewes of my youth. I remember everything he would say. Your brain freezes things that it recognizes as currency, and you cannot spend it because you don’t know it yourself. Whenever I heard something, I was like, “I’m going to pack that away. This is inside information. This is one of those stoners, and he knows the terminology.” It was like having an insight into a culture that I wasn’t a part of, but it was definitely a young, 16-year-old Jason Mewes who fully informed all my marijuana references in those movies, even up to the ones later in life. By Clerks 2, I still wasn’t a stoner. Was I? No, I did Zack and Miri [Make a Porno] after that.
Do you believe in the legitimacy of medical marijuana use?
Oh, hands down, absolutely, in terms of the physical comfort, in terms of inducing appetite in those who don’t have. Set aside the physical medicinal, the psychological medicinal you cannot discount. What it can do for somebody, where it can take them, and I’m not just talking about, “Hey man, it’ll take you on a whacky high journey.” Think about the people for whom medical marijuana is usually recommended, and you are talking about extreme cases. I don’t think I’ve encountered anything in my life that has made me more okay with the notion that one day I’m going to pass from this world than marijuana. If someone is going through something medically traumatic or facing down their end, heavens, [give them] anything that is going to make the transition easy. Naturally, it should not just be for people who are terminal cases. It should be for anybody. It rearranges your mind. At least it did for me. For years, people fed me the same propaganda that you’ll smoke weed and sit there on the couch and just watch movies, but for me, it is a great organizer.
How does cannabis make you more organized?
If you think about the brain as a series of folders that you keep creating, weed for me is like a program that puts them all in order alphabetically and allows you to prioritize what is important. That is how I’ve been able to spin so many plates the last few years. My medicinal problem is that I have problems sleeping, and if that is doing it for somebody who has mild medicinal needs like myself, imagine what it can do for people who have absolute medicinal need. Instead of filling them with yet another synthetic narcotic put together chemically in a lab . . . I don’t want to get all stoner on ya, but there is a reason it just grows naturally. It doesn’t have to be produced. It’s not like, “It can only grow in a certain place.” I think nature is always trying to take care of us, and it provides at all given times. We have cannabinoid receptors in the brain, which don’t have many other uses. It points to, I believe, the idea that weed is something we are all naturally supposed to be ingesting. Of course, it has a cultural stigma, but that seems to be slowly sliding away.
Tell me about the Q&A events you do around the country.
I grew up listening to comics. My father worked at the post office, and he would bring home all these comedy records. He said he bought them from a friend who sold them out of his trunk at lunchtime, but I bet my old man took a few from the Colombia Records Club as they came through the mail. I love comedians, and I have too much respect for what they do to ever consider myself in the same league. Those cats have a real job, and I’m a carpetbagger. I just consider myself, “Oh, I made those movies and answer questions about them,” but the podcasts and live stuff enable me to be more like a comic. I am able to be more observational and tell more stories, like, “When I was working on the Prince documentary . . .”
You really take it to celebrities in these events. Is the idea to let people see what happens behind the curtain in Hollywood?
Yeah, totally. You should pull back the curtain. When I started doing the Q&As, I always felt I needed to answer questions the way I would have wanted them answered. I have been to a few panels and Q&As, and nobody wants to dish. For me, I would want to know details. I would want to know who is an asshole and who is not. Before going out on stage to do Q&A or “Hollywood Babble-On” or anything else, I say this dopey little prayer. Immediately you alienate a bunch of people when I say “prayer,” and you can find Jesus in this as much as you want, but this is my dopey little prayer. I say, “Lord, please just let me be honest. As long as I am honest, everything will be okay.” I have this philosophy that people are lied to and sold to and spun so often that all you have to do is throw a little f@#kin’ candor out there and you pop for most everybody. They can recognize honesty, and then they give you a little credit for the next few things you say. It’s like, “Oh shit, he just told me his dick is small and Bruce Willis hates him, so I’ll believe the next 15 things coming out of his mouth.” For me, it was always pulling back the curtain a little bit and saying, “Look what I saw! Look what I learned!”
In the Too Fat for 40 event, you are asked to describe working with Bruce Willis. How does that question turn into a 10 minutes story about getting stoned and taking a two-hour dump?
You just got to be able to follow tangents. As long as you can land the plane . . . I saw Flight a couple weeks back, and that is kind of how I like to tell stories. Not on coke and drunk from the night before à la Denzel [Washington]’s character, but in the middle of telling the story, sometimes you got to flip the plane. As long as you can bring them in for a landing safely, the crowd will go anywhere. They will let you tell a story about taking shit even though they want to know what it’s like to work with Bruce Willis, and if I were a better storyteller, I would have summed up with how it is kind of the same thing.
You had a lot of tangents off that one question.
That was one of my proudest achievements as a storyteller. It was after the Southwest [Airlines] thing, and I had given myself over to living more fearlessly. Even though I looked like shit—in Too Fat for 40 I looked like dudes should be holding me down with ropes—I decided to go for it. I wanted to take one question and do two hours of stories that I had saved up. If you look at the stage, there is a park bench outside a fake Quick Stop and RST Video. On the floor by the park bench, I tapped down buzzwords for each story, like “Willis in Die Hard” and “Southwest” and “My Dad.” If I ever lost my place, I could saunter back there, see what stories I haven’t told yet and dive back into it. I just needed one question to begin with, and blessed f@#kin’ be, the first guy who gets up asks, “What is it like to work with Bruce Willis?” I was like, “Oh shit, I can go anywhere off this one.” It was funny because some cats got irritated when they watched it on TV and said, “It’s Q&A, and he only answered one question.” We didn’t have the heart to tell them that, after we ended the show, I came out and did another two hours of Q&A.
You also have “Hollywood Babble-On” with Ralph Garman, which features segments like Movies That Will Suck. How do you pick which segments you do each week?
Ralph is definitely the author of “Hollywood Babble-On,” and I’m the guy who sits there and reacts. The content changes every week based on the news, of course, but we hit all the favorite bits. I know he swapped out Creepy Clown for doing the Green Lantern oath through a variety of different voices and characters. You can totally expect David Bowie, and I’ll be grabbing my own boobs and trying to suck them, as per usual.
Seeing a live Kevin Smith boob suck must be better than just hearing it.
It’s a good time. “Babble-On” lets me exercise a bunch of muscles I didn’t get to exercise while I was just making films, particularly the early films when it was all about being a filmmaker. “I don’t make movies, I make films, cinema.” There was precious little call for, “Pardon me while I grab my boobs and try to suck my own nipple.” In the moment, you go anywhere for the laugh, and the audience is a comfortable net. With age and the copious smoking of tons of weed, one learns to be more courageous up there. I am doing stuff in “Babble” that I never could have done with the Q&A events 10 years ago.
The latest Hollywood news is that Hit Somebody will be a television miniseries and Clerks 3 will be your final movie. Is that still the plan?
I’d been trying to get Hit Somebody done for two years as a flick when I realized, if I turn it into a miniseries, I can take my time telling the story I want to tell. That change opened up what I call my “last slot.” There is a self-imposed “I’m getting out of directing feature films,” but I need one last movie. For the last year, people kept asking, “If you are really going to retire, why are you doing it with a hockey movie? Why don’t you do it with Clerks 3 instead?” I thought, “That is a bit obvious, isn’t it?” For the very reason you ask, as an artist, I think I should not do Clerks 3. However, once I started talking about Hit Somebody as a miniseries, I immediately started seeing tweets. “Hey man, if that’s not your last film, then what about Clerks 3?” That is the wonderful thing about Twitter . . . you get instant feedback on all your decisions. Finally, I decided to let them know what I’d been thinking for a while. If this becomes this, that does free up my last slot to be Clerks 3, but the question mark is always going to be getting Jeff [Anderson] aboard.
Do you think it will happen?
I’m happy to do the movie. I love these characters, and I built my entire adult life—in the imaginary world, in the real world—on the backs of Dante and Randal. I have stories to tell, and I have one that closes it all up. Jeff Anderson, who plays Randal, absolutely has to signoff and jump onboard. He is Randal. It’s not like you can just recast him, and why would you want to? It is a journey that a few of us have taken together over the last 20 years. That would be me, Jason Mewes, Jeff Anderson, Brian O’Halloran, Scott Mosier and David Klein. If I can keep that core together, I have something special to begin with, but I couldn’t imagine doing it without Jeff. His whole thing is, “I didn’t want to do the second one, and then we did it, and I liked it a lot. But for the same reason I didn’t want to do the second one, and now at the crossroads of the third, why do we need to do it? Is there a need to tell the story?” I guess he is our Jiminy Cricket who keeps us honest. We are hopefully slowly cruising toward a 2014 start and finish, so I essentially have a year to convince him. The story is good. The story will convince him once he reads it—hopefully, hopefully—but I have a backup plan. Russians don’t take a dump without a backup plan, as they told us in The Hunt for Red October, so you always got to have something to back you up. 2014 is the 20th anniversary of Clerks, and we’re going to mark it in some way. Hopefully it will be with a movie, but if not, it will be with something else.
Tell me about the pushback you experienced from the film Red State.
I was at the epicenter of two pockets of hate over the last few years. With Red State, I got to see a lot of gay hate by virtue of the fact that the [Fred] Phelps [clan] came out and protested a few screenings, and those cats do mean f@#kin’ business. You talk to their relatives and ask, “They are kidding, right? They are just lawyers trying to make money?” They’re like, “No, no, no. They believe this shit.”
The other pocket of hate I dealt with was size-ist. When I went through the “too fat to fly” thing with Southwest [Airlines], a lot of people came out of the woodwork like, “F@#k you, fatty, why don’t you just lose weight and shit?” It felt like the last publicly accepted bias or prejudice is for people of size, fat people. Thin people in this country can’t stand fat people, and fat people usually don’t like themselves that much, so it seems to be an acceptable hate. You can say shit about fat people in public, and it’s not considered a hate crime or an offense or anything like that.
I have been in both pools, and I don’t understand when people turn negativity on total strangers . . . If people want to eat a whole pizza instead of one slice, that is their prerogative, so back the f@#k off. Why do you give a shit? I never understood why people get up in the grill of others. Sadly, I have seen it firsthand quite a bit lately, and that is why I live in California. Everybody here seems to be a bit more free with each other, and I like it.
Too Fat to Fly
What’s the price of cheap airfare? Apparently, harassment and discrimination. Smith was removed from a flight after being judged that he was too obese to fly safely, though Southwest tried to justify this with contradictory (and privacy violating) statements. Smith dubbed them “The Greyhound of the Air” and has not flown with them since.