The many phases of Kevin Smith’s career have won him tons of love and support and some criticism too. As many have onboarded, seduced by his showman’s charm and barnstorming ways, others have shrugged him off for his instinct to be in the business of being Kevin Smith. There’s also a whiplash-inducing ride going from Clerks to Tusk, and the heartrending bits from Jay And Silent Bob Reboot. This might throw off people playing the expectation game demanding a level of sameness from their creative heroes that, frankly, would make them a bit less creatively heroic. But I digress. The point is, Smith has been a pop culture institution for more than three decades with a cockroach’s level of unkillability. Literally. And he’s done it by wearing a lot of different hats, charging into a few different genres, while being ahead of the culture when it came to direct fan engagement, podcasts, and indie film financing.
When you take all of it in like a big fat meal, it’s a lot. A consequential career, though Smith half denies it, choosing to maintain a self-effacing relationship to what he’s done while, at the same time, reflecting on it in our lengthy, wide-ranging conversation with him (Marvel! Tusk 2! Hockey jerseys! Passion projects!) and in a new coffee table book/visual history that doubles as an in-depth written history of every project he’s worked on (with some testimonials from the usual suspects as well as Seth Rogen and Ben Affleck). So, without further delay, let’s get into all things Kevin Smith with Kevin Smith.
I know what the value is for fans. What’s the value for you in doing this kind of book?
It’s a glorious walk down memory lane. In order to make the book happen, I did 20 hours of interviews with Chris Prince. He’s the guy from Inside Editions who was like, “I would like to do a coffee table book.” He started the process like five years ago. Aside from just walking down memory lane, I felt proud about remembering so much. I was like, jeez, I’m a stoner. I’m an abject, degenerate stoner, and still, I could pull incredible details from the past. But there’s also a sense of like, if I had gone back in time and told the kid who started our journey, one day, there’s going to be a whole book that’s heavy enough to kill a human being, thick as a dick, and it’s about your adventures, naturally, I would want that. It’s an ego thing. When I was going through the book, I was like, “we did that!? That’s right, we did that! We did that!” When you put it all between two covers, it looks like an impressive career. I lived it, and it wasn’t that impressive. There were highlights, but there were a lot of lowlights, as well. In between two covers, there’s no high or low. It’s just one long career. There’s also this feeling of like, it’s done. It’s all on a record somewhere. Aside from feeding the audience, it feeds the ego.
It’s one more link in the chain. Just more story to tell to the audience, because at a certain point, as most people realize, I stopped being a filmmaker. Most people will be like, “Were you ever?” I really stopped concentrating on just making films and made everything the job, like just being Kevin Smith, in general. Having the book is one more great way to be Kevin Smith, professionally. One more thing to sell. I mean, at the end of the day, I wind up being a Kevin Smith salesman. That’s the only way to keep going in this business. In the beginning of my career, I didn’t have to do that. I was just interested in making a thing. Somebody else sold it. The people that sold it aren’t people that I want to be in business with anymore anyway, so I had to learn to do my own selling. I know it’s depressing when people hear that. Some people don’t like that. I’ve seen me say it in interviews, and some people talk about it. They’re like, “It’s so gross to hear him say that he’s a salesman,” but it’s like, I am.
It’s real, though. This is the age of that. I mean, anybody who would say that is cultivating their own brand, one way or another. We all do it. You’re a forerunner. So, you say the book ends, obviously with Clerks 3 and where they are in their lives, and the Ben scene in the Jay And Silent Bob Reboot… This isn’t your Quentin Tarantino, “I’m done” moment, right? There’s more to come, right?
There’s definitely more. I’m going to keep going until the heart gives out, but based on the heart attack, I know that I got limited time. Now, I changed my life. I went vegan. I hike, and I try to be healthy, but I’m still at the mercy of my genetics, which are pretty fucking bad. My old man died of a heart attack at age 67. My mother just got her third stint put into her heart like two weeks ago, so the writing’s on the wall. At this point, post-heart attack, I honestly feel like I’m living on borrowed time, so I will keep making stuff until I go tits up, or toes up, however the expression goes.
Does that change the hierarchy of what projects you want to hit?
Yes. What a great question. It absolutely does. What it makes you do is go, “I don’t have time for anybody else’s stuff.” That’s why Masters Of The Universe was so special, because I’m like, “It’s not mine, but all right, I’ll do this,” because I could tell a comic book story through those characters, and that appealed to me. Generally speaking, post-heart attack, it’s all about, like, tell your stories. There was a minute where I did Cop Out, and I was directing CW shows. I was just spreading it around, but after the heart attack, I’m like, you don’t have the time or the lifespan to spread it around. I know there’s a lot of stuff you want to say in this life. Make sure you’re saying it if you do drop dead.
The hierarchy becomes, like, I’m at a place in my career where I should really be thinking about what makes money, and what is going to get me paid, what’s going to maybe get me awards, or whatever like that, but the hierarchy post-heart attack is like, I just want to play with my toys. That’s what Jay And Silent Bob Reboot was all about, man. It was me going, you know what? I feel old as fuck after nearly dying. You know what’s going to make me feel young? Playing with my 20-year-old toys, man, the toys I played with in my 20s. Clerks 3 was another extension of that, even better than Reboot, in terms of getting back to the soul of it all. Jay and Silent Bob are a happy accident in my life and career. They were never the plan. That was just a side thing, but then the side hustle became the main hustle. Dante and Randal, if I could have, I would have made 19, 20 different Clerks movies, like just chart them. Really, I should have made a series, a TV series, but that sort of thing wasn’t open to us, back in those days and stuff.
For me, to go, like, I’m going to spend time on a set, and try to make a thing happen, which is not as easy as it was back in the day… It took us seven years to make the Clerks 3 happen. Then, when it happened, it took six months. My two producers, Jordan and Liz, we were working on Mallrats 2 with one of the arms of Universal. It ain’t a Fast And Furious movie, so they can drag ass. It’s not a priority. It’s more of a favor to us than anything else. Liz was going, “I bet you, dollars to donuts, I know you want to write Clerks 3. If you write it right now, I guarantee you we make that movie before Mallrats.” I was like, “All right.” I knew what story I wanted to tell. I’ve been talking about it since the heart attack, so it was a matter of like, let’s see if Liz is right. In December, I guess, of last year, I sat down and started writing this current incarnation of Clerks 3, and turned it in in January, and we were shooting by my birthday, August 2nd. When it happened, man, did it go fast, but it was seven years of will it, won’t it? Getting close with another version of the movie, and then it’s falling apart.
At this point, knowing that time is limited, it’s all about my characters and my toys, less so about other people’s stuff. We live in this era now where it’s like, I should be romping from comic book movie to comic book movie. I’ve been talking about this shit since the ’90s, so I should be out there doing it, but number one, I’m not that talented. Not talented enough to pull off comic book movies. You need visual style to do that sort of thing. I don’t think visually. I think in words. Even my favorite comic books have more words than pictures in them and stuff like that. Number two, it’s more satisfying for me to create my own stories. As much as I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe… Part of the reason I love those movies so much… it’s breathtaking how they take the stories I knew as a kid and bring them to life now as movies. I don’t have that kind of ability.
Creative control is also part of it, right? Not to start a Marvel thing. I don’t want to make you the latest director to comment on Marvel, but…
[Laughs] Who was it this morning?
It was Denis from Dune.
Let me just say unequivocally for the record that I suck the dick of Marvel movies. I think they’re brilliant. I think they’re fantastic. They’re my favorite form of entertainment, and Kevin Feige is my favorite living American filmmaker right now.
[Laughs] All right, so, I crossed that off. Now, I’ve got to ask you about bathing habits. I think that’s the next thing I’m supposed to ask.
[Laughs] I have to do it all the time. I got a wife. She don’t like when I stink, so I have to bathe.
Checked all the boxes off, great. No, but, I love Marvel movies. They don’t check every box for me, but I’m not the target audience, necessarily, which I accept completely. But the notion of, it’s a big fucking corporation. You’re not going to have as much control as you have with your toys and your characters. I assume that’s also part of it, right?
I mean, yeah, but let’s be honest, they’re not knocking. Kevin Feige’s called me twice in my life, and never once to be like, “Come work with us.” One was after the heart attack, and they were like, “Call from Kevin Feige,” and I was like, oh my god, man.
Like Make A Wish!
Yeah, that’s what I said! I was like, “I almost died, and now they’re going to offer me a Marvel movie. I’m going to have to turn this guy down, but this is lovely.” He called, and he said the loveliest things, man. He goes, “Look. When I heard about the heart attack,” he’s going, “it really affected me, because, as a kid from New Jersey who made a movie, you meant something to me. Your journey meant something to me. I’m so glad you’re alive.” I’m like, “Thanks, man. That means a lot.” I expected him to be like, “Okay, so, now, let’s get down to business,” but he was like, “All right, Kev, be good,” and hung up, and that was it. Then, he called me one other time to tell me about the Stan Lee cameo in Captain Marvel. Even then, that time, I was like, I think he’s about to ask me to be in Captain Marvel and co-cameo with Stan. He was like, “No, we’re just looking for Stan’s voice.”
I think everyone knows what my relationship with the Marvel movies is… particularly at Marvel. They’re like, “He’s a fan, and he will remain a fan, as far as we’re concerned.” That’s for the best, man. I don’t have that kind of vision to pull that stuff off. Look, I’ll be honest with you. This is the call that I really want, Kevin Feige calling up and being like, “Will you be in one of these movies?” That would be far more valuable to me than making one of those movies.
I’ve been friends with Edgar Wright for a long time, and I remember when Edgar Wright was working on Antman. It wasn’t a fight. He didn’t leave angry and stuff, but Edgar is an independent filmmaker like myself, has his own voice, his own style, and everything like that, and it did not mesh with their plan. I respect that, and he respected it. He walked away, and he’s done great things ever since without Marvel and stuff. He’s an auteur filmmaker. When I saw him go through that, I was like, look, if Edgar had a hard time, me? Never. I mean, I wouldn’t even get near the gauntlet. They go for young, talented kids and stuff. I think I was at my speed in CW land, because in CW land, they make those shows over the course of eight or nine days, and the directors get replaced every episode, so even if you drop the ball horrendously, the machine is so well-oiled that it will still produce a pretty watchable episode, and if you don’t like it, don’t worry, another episode happens next week.
It’s interesting, though, the Edgar thing almost feels like it’s this huge waypoint in the direction of those films, because I feel like they’ve opened up more to specific visions since that happened, since they got trashed for that.
I agree completely. It felt like it was a teachable moment. Where it wasn’t like Kevin Feige had some sort of come to Jesus… I don’t know, I wasn’t in the room, but we have seen auteur Marvel movies since then, hands down, so it looks like they are, I wouldn’t say loosening up, but I think they’re letting people bring more of their style into it. They’ve got a blueprint. They’ve got a story, a never-ending story that they want to tell, and I want them to tell that, but it is breathtaking when you see somebody come in and do something different with the movie. He doesn’t get enough credit, man, but Shane Black’s Ironman 3 is, I think, one of the first auteur Marvel movies.
That’s a good point, yeah.
That movie felt like Shane Black. It felt like Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. It even felt like the Lethal Weapon movies, even though he didn’t direct those. I feel like more of that is starting to happen, but I have nothing to offer Marvel beyond my money for their movies. [Laughs]
When you talk about playing with your characters, your toys, obviously for so long that’s meant the View Askewniverse and Jay and Silent Bob. Does that extend to characters from Red State, from Tusk? I’ll tell you what, I had a thought, and this was before the J-Lo/Ben stuff started up again. Jersey Girl 2 would make sense. Coming off of the scene with Ben in Reboot, that would hit. Emotionally, that would hit.
I wish I could go back in time and tell Uproxx that one day they’d be going, like, “You know, a Jersey Girl sequel might work.” [Laughs] I’m very familiar with Uproxx. It’s funny if you live long enough, the shit people hate that you did, they eventually come around to. Mallrats was definitely that. Now, everyone talks very highly of Mallrats, but as the guy who lived Mallrats, I had to eat shit for 10 years about Mallrats. It wasn’t until the audience found it and made it what it is today on video that that movie was reclaimed and stuff.
In terms of other characters beyond View Askewniverse, yes. Here. This is going to terrify everybody, but the other day, I was like, you know, maybe in like five years I can hit up Harley and Lily-Rose and try again with Yoga Hosers. Like, not the same movie, but just, what would happen if those kids grew up and stuff? Lily-Rose is huge now, and Harley’s got her own career, so when we first made Yoga Hosers, they needed me to help them. If I was ever to do it again, I would definitely need them to help me. They got more juice in their careers right now, so, it lingers. There are thoughts like that. Red State I could never do again because you need Parks. Parks is gone. Now, Tusk, I could do without Parks, even though I wouldn’t want to, but Parks died in the movie, so we’d have to do it without him anyway. I always whimsy, like, Justin’s character, Wallace, we showed him as the human walrus at the end. He opted to live that way, but there’s a version of a Tusk sequel where he becomes the Parks character. He becomes Howard Howe. He was driven mad by his experience, and so he wants to visit that on somebody else.
Justin [Long] is such a magical actor who I love being on set with. Not just for what he does for, “here’s your script, please do these lines,” but then he ad-libs, like Seth Rogen, 10 other movies better than yours that are ad-libbed within the world of your movie. I could see a world, 10 years from now, where I go to Justin, and I’m like, “Let’s Tusk it again, but this time, you’re Howard Howe. You don’t have to put on the walrus suit until the end.” I could see possibly doing that. It’s always predicated on the people you get to do it with. In that instance, it’s purely about hanging out with Justin for the three weeks that it would take to make that movie and writing fucked up dialogue. That was the most fun about Tusk was just writing this weird, fucked up dialogue, knowing that Parks would deliver it like music, about this land-locked old man who loved the sea and was fucking batshit crazy.
I could get away with that with Justin Long, but it would require Justin Long to be like, “All right, I’ll do it again.” You would have to talk to Justin. He still says nice things about Tusk, but I have a feeling that it didn’t help his career one iota. Art school kids love him, you know what I’m saying? But I don’t know… He directed a movie with his brother that’s out right now, but that has nothing to do with Tusk. I’m just saying, he might have had to go in a few different directions post-Tusk. It’s a weird movie.
It’s a great movie.
I have one more question. It’s a dumb question.
Ain’t no such thing.
The hockey jerseys that you used to wear, we don’t see them anymore. As a large person, I understand the comfort of a hockey jersey. How many different versions did you have? Was there this closet of just hockey jerseys? I’ve got to know.
If you go on my Instagram and deep dive to almost the beginning of my Instagram I put up a photo of my closet, and it looked like Doug’s closet from the cartoon. Because they’re all next to each other, you don’t see the crest. You just see the side of them, same number, same color. You could get a blank, and I had tons of blanks. Then, basically, I would hit up my artist friends and be like, “I’m looking for this,” and they would draw it and stuff, and then we would have it made as a patch, and boom, it went on. At its height, I think the most jerseys I ever had was 85. Then, post-heart attack, I stopped wearing them. Not because I was superstitious, but I did almost die in a jersey. So, I was like, maybe I’ll try something else. I started losing weight, so suddenly I was like, I’ll put on a jacket. Suddenly, I shifted back to jackets, which is what I wore circa Chasing Amy, but I loved the hockey jersey era.
Somebody recently beat it out of me, because we did a first episode back at the bar of Fat Man Beyond. It was after a particularly eat-y week, where I had been munching on a bunch of shit, and I hadn’t exercised, so I was looking pretty bloated. Somebody wrote online, “Uh-oh, time to go back to the hockey jerseys.” Just… the good folks at Geeky Jerseys made these beautiful, beautiful Quick Stop jerseys, man, that we used in Clerks 3. They made the new Leonardo Reapers jerseys. They made a movie jersey. They’re gorgeous. I can’t put them on, because of that one stranger in the audience who’s like, “I know if you put on a hockey jersey, that is some sort of admission of failure on your part. I can read you, Kevin Smith.” It made me more honest. I doubled up my workout that week and started leaning out what I was eating, because at first, I was mad. I was like, fuck this asshole. Then, I was like, you know what? This guy, that comment, it wasn’t designed to make me feel good, but it will keep me off a fucking operating table in the future if I listen to it properly. So, yeah, as much as I love the hockey jerseys, now, apparently, if I wear one, people are like, “Kev must have put the weight back on.”
‘Kevin Smith’s Secret Stash: The Definitive Visual History’ is available on Amazon and wherever else you get your books.