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INTERVIEW: Kevin Smith Part I

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 18, 2009 5:00PM

ksmithhigh.jpg Kevin Smith may just well be the most accessible guy in Hollywood. He' has been active online talking one-on-one with fans since the mid-'90s, puts out a free weekly podcast for his fans, recently embarked on a 24-hour Twittathon where he answered any question submitted to him (no matter how personal), and tours the country answering fans' questions face-to-face for marathon stretches of time. Oh yeah, and between all this he manages to turn out some pretty great films too. He'll forever be known as the fiscally conscious indie bad boy who created Clerks, but we would argue his entire oeuvre is well worth your consideration. Smith is in town tonight for a live appearance, one of his legendary "An Evening With Kevin Smith Q&As," and he was kind enough to sit down with us and chat ahead of time. This is the first of a two part interview.

CHICAGOIST: O.K, it’s so great to chat with you for a bit. So you're coming to Chicago to do a Q&A.

KEVIN SMITH: I am, I’m already on the road and I'm on the stage in Chicago tonight, then I go to Ann Arbor the next day, then I get to go home.

C: Which brings up the question, you certainly don’t have to, so why do you do this?

KEVIN SMITH: You know, I dig it, but honestly they asked, so I’m coming. Generally the Q&As started at film festivals, right? Like when, with Clerks, at Sundance they show the movie then you get up afterwards and do a Q&A about it. So at first it was me and my producer Scott Mosier up there and he would just kind of stand there and play the Silent Bob role. Just so I had somebody to stand next to. And then slowly...

C: Which now Mosier can’t do so easily... since he is so vocal on Smodcast

No doubt, and see, now he's much more loquacious. Back then though he was just content to just kind of stand there. And then I got to a place where I didn’t need him to stand next to me and then I got to a place where we didn’t need the movie to do the Q&A anymore. (laughs) That was the strangest thing, like after going out supporting the film for a whole year doing Q&A, you would hear people go “well I don’t like the movie, but their Q&A is really funny.” It was a backhanded compliment, but I don’t care. Any way I can get ‘em, Jim, whether they like the Q&A or the movies, I'm fine with that.

C: That's one of the funny things I've seen with your Q&As, actually. A lot of times your fans kind of give you backhanded compliments as they're asking you the question, trying to be as witty as you are.

KEVIN SMITH: “I saw Clerks and it made me want to be a filmmaker because I realized if you can do it I can do it too because your movie looks like shit.” We keep an honest discourse going, me and the people that watch my stuff, me and the employers as it were.

But, I'd been doing that for a while and then I think it was, was it Rutgers maybe, one of the places, one of the schools I was talking at where I realized, we don’t even need the film. Like I used to bring the film, we'd watch one of the films then sit around and do a Q&A. Not necessarily about the film, just about everything else cause nobody … you know you look at my stuff, it's not like “Hey man, tell us what the emotional ethos was.” Some are loftier than others, some are more ambitious than others, but at the end of the day they're pretty easily dismissed -- as are most movies -- but some cats who like them really really like them, they speak them and they feel the movies reflect who they are, they identify with them and whatnot.

And those cats would come to those Q&As and you would see for 90 minutes we'd all be kind of bored because we already saw the movie many times. If you’re standing in that room for the Q&A,, chances are you've watched the movies, or one of the movies more than once. So, at that point I was like why are we even wasting our time watching the movie, we could be talking more, so we got rid of the movie and it just became a Q&A.

And then the Q&A's went from like 2 hours to 3 hours to 4 hours ... look, I’ve got no dick, I've gotta make up for it in Q&A length. I think the one in Jersey, the Q&A at the Count Basie whether it was seven or eight hours -- there was a daylight savings time involved that night, so it's either seven or eight hours. So, I've taken it that far and I've since learned, you know I can do this for three hours and everyone would be much happier.

There's some people who would be pissed because even at the end of the 7th or 8th hour at that mammoth Q&A there was still like a little under half the audience left. Usually around the three hour mark you get people kinda lookin' at each other like “is this still goin on? Like, it's funny, but is there an ending in sight?' Generally you pay to go see a show and there's a conclusion, but you go see my show back in the day and it's just like “wait a second, there's no structure, people are just talking at each other, we might never get out of here! You know, I paid for parking!”

So I've since kind of decided we'll keep it around three hours. That way going in everybody knows. I also feel like alright, that’s a lot of bang for the buck, we'll get a lot accomplished, a lot covered, that gives me three hours to bring the funny. Make them laugh, send them home feelin’ good and whatnot, and it also makes people in the audience feel comfortable going “O.K., there IS a conclusion to this in sight, I can make it three hours. And some people go, “Alright, I'm gonna stay for an hour and a half, I get the idea,” and then take off. But generally once they know it's three going in, people don’t take off anymore. People used do take off? I don’t blame ‘em, “Hey man, I came to see clerks guy answer a question or two, this dude will not shut up! This dude won't leave the stage, and I got shit to do!”

C: That’s the other thing I was kinda wondering, is what questions are left to ask? You just did that 24 hour Twittathon...

KEVIN SMITH: You know, the thing is, everybody- Do you ever hang out with your friends, and you’re hanging out in a group, and then something happened to two of them away from you, or one of them away from you and that person and that friend told a co-friend that you share, and then you hear the story from that co-friend and you’re like that is awesome?! You’d rather hear it from the person it happened to, right? That's the idea. Basically you can catch me online, answer questions, listen to Smodcast you hear me free every week and whatnot, there are 3 DVDs of me doing these Q&A gigs,

But still, and I thought when we put out the first DVD, it would really negate the live Q&A because people would be like “Hey, we can watch it on DVD! This is way cheaper! You buy it once and you don’t have to pay exorbitant ticket prices to see the guy more than once!” But all it did was increase the amount of requests because I guess people just wanna see it live, but I don’t get it. Like, would you pay $40 bucks to see a fat dude sweating on stage? Not me. Unless it’s Meatloaf circa '77.

C: You might be the most accessible guy in Hollywood. You've been online actively since the mid '90s, and now you've got the Smodcast, and you've almost got a -- I try to explain the Smodcast to people and I'm like it's like Howard Stern, only funny now. But it seems to be like there's nothing off limits to you. But is there anything that’s off limits? Is there anything that you just wouldn’t touch?

KEVIN SMITH: Um, I think... Lemme see what wont we touch... I mean I don’t know, it doesn't really work like that. We just kind of sit down, we don’t even map it out. Sometimes I go, “Do you have anything to talk about?” He [Mosier] goes, “Ahh, this happened.” Or generally it's me going O.K., I've got three things I know we can go to. So I don’t go this is it, this is it, this is it, I just have them in my head so we can keep the convo going. And it just sounds -- and is -- more extemporaneous. But I mean him and I were always very good at talking to one another, so it's not like O.K. I'm gonna say this then you say this we're gonna talk about this so let’s hit this joke, you know we're both kinda like hey it's gonna happen as it happens

It's an organic thing that we kinda dig. The philosophy behind it was it would give us time each week to spend together that wasn't work related. Because you know we were friends, and then we started working together, and all that work just leads to more work, more work, then I got married, he got married, you just don’t spend any time together the way you did in the beginning. So I was like hey man, let’s sit down once a week and record it and put it out in the world and that way if there’s a sense of some sort of loose schedule, we'll make it happen once a week, we'll take that hour for ourselves.

So, we started doing it, and you know I'm a manufacture for use kind of guy, you can’t just make it and put it in a drawer -- if we're gonna make it lets put it out there in the world. So, that’s what we did with the Smodcast and people just took to it right away because it is just kinda like sittin’ there. It's like being the quiet third on a conversation of friends. Like you’re the too stoned or too drunk one to actively participate in the convo, and we're not that stoned or drunk yet, we're on our way, but you started way before us so you’re just too inebriated to join, but you can sit there and enjoy the conversation.

C: Which does happen, because you guys are absolutely hilarious, it’s amazing you do no planning

KEVIN SMITH: Sometimes I'll gather links throughout the week if I see weird stories online, but we don’t even do that so much anymore. Every once in a while it's kind a fun to be like here's a story about the Nazis they discovered in England -- I don’t even know if we covered that one … no, that’s one that’s still in my queue. Like one day we got to talk about the fact that there’s this Nazi walking around in it's either England or Australia and nobody will extradite him! It's crazy.

We'll wind up talking about World War II and the Holocaust more than people who were involved! And neither of us is Jewish but, you know, we obsess over the Holocaust, and Hitler and World War II just because it's so weird. It's weird to me that as a species we can talk about anything else, you know what I'm saying? It's such a weird, bizarre, horrible, cruel, inhuman, faux pas that you would imagine we'd still be talking about it to this day , you know like, remember the time the Germans went crazy and tried to kill a bunch of people? Remember how they tried to wipe an entire race off the planet? It was crazy! I mean, let’s ask them what they were thinking again. No, no it wasn’t us.

I don’t think the Germans like Smodcast very much.

C: Maybe you should look at the numbers and see how many downloads are from Germany. But I can see how that happens. You seem to have a really tight knit group of friends, a really strong support group which I think probably allows you to be as open and free as you are.

KEVIN SMITH: Oh absolutely. I could probably do that with anybody, but it's just nice that it's with those cats. One of the by-products of Smodcast for me that I've always enjoyed is that it give me a chance to showcase people that I've always thought were funny or interesting, who wouldn’t usually have a voice for that kind of thing.

My friends were never interested in that kind of thing. My whole career has been about trying to express myself, and I've always felt that need from a child on like “Hey, I wanna share!” It's the arrogance that allows people in the arts to do what they do, this weird sense of oh, “I have to share what I do,” as if it’s important or something. It's a bizarre kind of conundrum that I've dealt with for years where it's like you feel so full of yourself and arrogant to go like I'm gonna put this podcast out into the world! And ultimately it’s like, why? Why you doin’ that? What a waste of time and why you think anybody wants to listen to your podcast? But you need that certain degree of arrogance to kind of do what we do, to take that step.

I'm not saying it makes us better than everybody else, but for years I've been trying to figure out what makes me different than, say, Walt Flanagan. Walt Flanagan, dear friend of mine who I think is very, very talented, very clever, has amazing insights and stuff, and this dude just can’t see himself in that way. He's a big favorite Smodcast guest amongst the listeners -- they love when Walt’s on saying, “Oh you gotta have Walt on more often!” and I try - but he never listens to it when we're done. He doesn’t live in the online world at all, and I'll tell him, “Oh that the Smodcast we did where we talked about the cloning was fuckin’ HUGE dude, people loved it!” And he's like, “Really?” He's like, “They only listen to it ‘cuz it's you, they don’t care about me.” But I read comments from people that are like I like Walt Flanagan more than I like Kevin Smith.

That’s the world I'm from, so Smodcast is, for me, a way of being like see, this is why I thought I could do it because you could do it too, because anybody could do it, Anybody’s voice is viable now. The democratization of film, of communication, at least by way of the internet has been the biggest boom to the arts in the last 10 years I think, because now, anybody can do it.

For years people would just watch a movie screen or TV screen and be like, “Wow it’s amazing -- how do they do it. I wish I could do it.” And you can! You can get a camera for less than 200 bucks now, you can get editing equipment for cheap, heck you can hack it for free online. And then you can shoot something, cut something and put it out into the world. There’s even a distribution service -- many of them all over the web -- called YouTube, College Humor, any of these sites that put up clips. Everybody could feel the way I feel when I made Clerks. Even if it's like for two minutes or if they go the distance and do a feature version.

That’s what’s been awesome. Seeing it go into everybody’s hands. The sad thing is now people's expectations are different. It's like look, it should go into everybody's hands, but what should also accompany it is a sense of reality. If everybody's successful at this, if everybody’s quote unquote famous, then nobody is. So not everything’s going to punch through, and not all fame lasts.

You may get five minutes of, “Oh my god I got a million hits on YouTube and that’s it, that’s enough for a lot of people. And then there’s gross slobs like me that can’t just do film, we've gotta do comics, books, I’ve got a book coming out, we have to do the podcast, we have to keep generating this stuff and I don’t understand why, but I love that Smodcast gives me the opportunity to put somebody who most people would not give a second thought to in the co-pilot’s seat and suddenly that person is completely reconsidered as smart, intelligent, quick, really funny, stuff like that. Nobody ever says shit like that about Walt Flanagan, you know, until the podcast, but that’s what I've been saying about Walt Flanagan for years. So now you give people a public forum to agree with you and g, “Yeah, I understand what you’ve been saying and it’s a small thing and I'm sure if Walt Flanagan heard this interview he'd be like, “Kevin you’re so retarded, what are you talking about this for?”

But it’s something that means something to me, you know? Cause all those people that are on this podcast or yet to be on it, they’re all largely responsible for shaping who I am. Naturally, every person I've ever met has shaped me to a lesser degree, but these are the concentrated focused people who I took a lot from, and they gave a lot, and shaped me. When I think about these people I think without knowing these people, I couldn’t... We would not be having this conversation. I'd be the guy maybe going to somebody else's Q&A -- probably not in Chicago, probably in Jersey -- but thanks to those people, I can do what I do. So Smodcast is a way of being like thanks, now you do it.

(Tune in for part two of our interview on Monday Tuesday wherein we discuss Smith's up coming movie with Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan A Couple Of Dicks, flexibility on the set, and his choice for the man who should have been Fletch.)

Kevin Smith appears tonight, September 18, at The Chicago Theatre, 175 N State, 8 p.m., tickets still available!