Kevin Smith Interview
Satirical writer-director Kevin Smith kisses his famous cameo character goodbye in new Hollywood farce
(Some questions in this interview may have come from another journalist present for the Q&A.)
Jay and Silent Bob are fictitious half-witted stoners who hang around outside a convenience store in Redbank, New Jersey. As recurring characters in the low-budget, high-dialogue cult movies of writer-director Kevin Smith, they're also two of the most recognizable and quotable pop culture icons of 1990s.
One vulgar, ignorant and aggressively sex-obsessed, the other a nonverbal kowtower who communicates through shrugs and nods until he has something perceptive to say, the pair made their debut in 1994's "Clerks" -- a sardonic, black-and-white homage to bottom-rung retail that Smith made for $25,000. Played by Jason Mewes (Jay) and Smith himself (Bob), they popped up again in "Mallrats" and "Chasing Amy," which featured Ben Affleck in a breakout role as a comic book artist who falls in love with a effervescent lesbian -- and who also draws a tongue-in-cheek superhero comic based on these two losers, called "Bluntman and Chronic."
The pair became major characters -- prophets even -- in "Dogma," Smith's controversial 1999 comedy that celebrated Catholicism but took the Catholic church to task for conspiracies and austere inflexibility (among other things). And now Smith -- the modern bard of surprisingly insightful sophomoric humor -- is retiring his trademark characters by way of giving them their own movie, "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," so they can go out in a blaze of goofball glory.
A low-comedy road trip flick crossed with a brutal Hollywood farce, the film follows its title characters from Jersey to L.A. as they try to stop Miramax from making a "Bluntman and Chronic" movie.
As Smith's rabid fan base has come to expect, this picture is jam-packed with pop culture references, movie in-jokes and homages to his favorite films. The writer-director has become so adept at such loving mockery that he even manages to turn a "Scream" spoof into an "E.T." spoof without missing a beat. "Jay and Silent Bob" is also teeming with cameo appearances -- from "Star Wars'" Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill to Affleck, Matt Damon and director Gus Van Sant spoofing themselves on the set of an action movie called "Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season."
Cameos and controversy big and small were the topics of conversation when Smith parked himself at the dining room table of his San Francisco hotel room last month to talk about this latest cinematic endeavor.
|Q: "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" reminded me in some ways of what I call 1960s speed-comedies -- like "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." Movies with tons of stars and stories that always got sillier and faster, sillier and faster. Is that kind of what you were going for?|
A: Yeah, but to me, it was going for a Looney Tunes cartoon. We were trying to do a live action Looney Tunes with more dialogue than they had.
|Q: And, of course, raunchier dialogue.|
A: Far raunchier than they got away with in the Looney Tunes! Scott Mosier, my producer, summed it up best. He said, it's kind of like "The Muppet Movie" on acid.
|Q: [Hard laugh.]|
A: It's like you turn the corner, and there's Steve Martin as the waiter. And then Telly Savalas is in the seedy bar where Fozzie's on stage, and Orson Welles behind the desk at the studio. It really is kind of like that. You turn corners in this movie, and there's Carrie Fisher, there's James Van Der Beek, there's Jon Stewart. Cameos that kind of work well. I always thought they worked well in "The Muppet Movie." They had people come in for a line and then you never saw them again. So I guess it is a pretty decent correlation.
|Q: I saw Jason Biggs listed in the credits and I was worried. But the way you used him (in a cameo as an extra-lame version of himself) was the perfect use of Jason Biggs.|
A: That's a drawback of the internet, of information getting out there so early. I remember when we put up that Biggs and Van Der Beek were in the movie, a lot of the hardcore audience was like, "You sold out, man!" And I'm like, just wait! Give me a few months. It will all make sense. Give me a little credit here.
|Q: And when you get skewered, you get skewered pretty directly. You've got those message boards on View Askew (the website for his production company). People just go ape on those boards.|
A: They do! They'll let you know. The good thing about the fan base is that they're always there for you and they'll go see whatever you put out. But they'll also let you know if you're not living up to their expectations of you.
|Q: And you'll come back at them, too. Some of your own postings are no holds barred.|
A: If they come at me with something I can't really argue with, I'll try to explain myself out of it, or just cop to it. But if they come after me with something that's completely unfair, then yeah. I will. Affleck's always giving me s**t. He's like, "Dude, why do you want to argue with a 14-year-old kid in Idaho?" And I'm like, "Because I don't think of him as a 14-year-old kid in Idaho. I think of him as a guy that buys a ticket to the movie and he's got an expectation, and I want to make sure he understands where I'm coming from." I don't know why, but I feel the need to kind of get out there and talk to everyone. Like on a real one-to-one basis. It's like, "Do you get it? Do you understand? Are we cool?" As if that would matter if it weren't cool. But it does to me.
|Q: But it's a little bit fun too, isn't it? I love it when I get hate mail. I like to write back and give as good as I got.|
A: Absolutely! I've never posted to (movie gossip site) Ain't It Cool News, but I'll go read when they put up a story about our movie and people will talk about it. There's a lot of people that just put "you suck c**k" and they spell c**k wrong. Those people are pretty easy to ignore. But periodically you'll read one that really rubs you the wrong way or says something about you that's not true. I remember reading one once...about the "Superman" script I'd written, and they said "I heard that Kevin lobbied to play Superman himself and actually showed up in (producer) Jon Peters' office wearing a Superman costume." And I was just like, that's so f**king untrue.
|Q: [Laughs.] Like, what are you, Sean Young? (The actress infamously auditioned for Catwoman in "Batman Returns" by showing up in costume.)|
A: So I click on the dude's address and wrote him an email. Nine times out of ten they're just like, "Oh, man, I was just f**king around. You're the best." They're lying, but still. But periodically you hit that one person who is like, "I'll say what I say." There was this one guy I'll never forget. He said "I just say things to get the (message board) conversation moving. I like to see these geeks fight with each other. But that aside, I don't like your movies." Well, fair enough. If you've got that much free time, be my guest.
|Q: In "Jay and Silent Bob" you get away with a whole lot of Miramax-bashing -- which they so deserve.|
A: Yeah, for a company that really built its reputation on quality pictures, they're putting this one out. What happened? (But) I gotta give them credit. They were good sports about it. They never really said, "Hey man, ease up!" I think they were just, "At least he's doing it under our banner, rather than somebody else."
|Q: But they stuck you on Dimension (Miramax's lower-brow horror/sci-fi division).|
A: We went to Dimension. I went to Bob (Weinstein, chairman of Dimension and co-founder of Miramax) and said, "I want to make a road movie with Jay and Silent Bob as the leads, and I don't think I should do it through Miramax." Because to me Miramax makes classy flicks, and I don't want to be another "She's All That" where people are like, "Why is Miramax putting this flick out?" Bob was like, "Come here and do it." Bob loved the script. Harvey (Weinstein, chair of Miramax and Bob's brother) on the other hand, finally read it while we were in production, and he's like, "What did I ever do to you?"
A: I said, "You dropped our last movie." And he said, "Fair enough." (After the Catholic League objected to "Dogma," Miramax got cold feet and sold the film to Lions Gate for distribution.)
|Q: I understand you got a letter from GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) attacking this movie.|
A: I did. I got a letter from GLAAD saying that they felt the movie was homophobic. I've always thought we were very gay-friendly in the movies we've made, with "Chasing Amy" being the most obvious example. For some weird reason we wound up taking heat on this movie. But I just couldn't see it. I was really hurt and offended by it. I was like, "Homophobic? Are you f**kin' nuts?" There's so many people you could be out there attacking. Me? In this movie? I mean, I don't get it.
Yeah, there are an abundance of gay jokes in the movie. But they're not gay jokes at the expense of the gay community. There are just as many gay jokes as there are straight jokes, as there are jokes about racism, as there are jokes about Miramax. But again, the jokes that are being made aren't attacking the gay community, calling them (names) or something like that. It's just talking about the straight male terror in regards to any c**k that's not their own. And that's where the humor is. I can't see it. I can't understand why they would come out against us. (GLAAD backed off two days after this interview when Smith donated $10,000 to the Matthew Shepherd Fund.)
What it comes down to is that you just can't make jokes anymore. It's that simple and kinda sad. We went through this s**t last time. I mean, it'll never be as bad as it was last time with the Catholic League and "Dogma." But it's just getting to a point where you're better (off) not to (joke) at all.
|Q: I liked "Dogma" quite a bit, but it was aiming for something a little higher than this picture was.|
A: To say the least! I mean, that movie had a lot on its mind and was really ambitious -- probably more ambitious than we were able to handle at that time. That aims for something, where as "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" aims for very little -- or aims below the belt. But there's nothing wrong with that if you have everyone laughing for 90 minutes.
|Q: The crowd I saw it with was loving it. It was a Kevin Smith crowd.|
A: The danger of that, though, is what if everyone who really wants to see it already saw it in test screenings?
|Q: [Huge laugh.]|
A: And then we think we're doing really well, and it opens up and it just crickets because the hardcores went already!
|Q: Speaking of below the belt, I've been trying to figure out what the secret is to sophomoric humor that is genuinely funny as opposed to laughless raunch like "Tomcats" and "American Pie." Those movies sucked monkey. This movie and, for example, "South Park," are on the same bent, but they're hilarious. What's the secret?|
A: I don't know and I wish I knew because I'd put it in a book, sell the book (in Hollywood) and make a bunch of money. What differentiates this from any number of below-the-belt, gross-out comedies that have been out there for the last two or three years? I don't know. I think it's because we err on the side of intelligence. There's really low-brow humor in the movie, but it's mixed in with smarter, more intelligent humor. Having said that, I know we're not doing Beckett. It's still dumb, even in its intelligence. But if you credit the audience with enough smarts, they'll appreciate that. Maybe we're over-thinking it, and at the end of the day funny is funny.
|Q: In the credits "Chasing Amy," you have a thank-you to your parents that says "I know I have a PG in me somewhere."|
A: [Sheepishly] Yeah, I know.
|Q: So now that you're done with the Jersey flicks...? The next movie is from a "Fletch" book, right?|
A: Yeah, but I don't think that would be PG! But who knows what they'll hold me to. There's a series of books (and) we're doing one called "Fletch One," which was the seventh in the series but really goes back to tell the first Fletch story and how he got his job on the paper. It's a younger Fletch, so we're going to use Jason Lee (Banky in "Chasing Amy," the demon Azriel in "Dogma"). But I'm not sure if that's going to be immediately next or if we'll do something before that one.
|Q: Somebody else I would never had suspected of having a PG in them is Robert Rodriguez ("Desperado," "From Dusk Till Dawn"), and this year here comes "Spy Kids!"|
A: I know! He did it!
|Q: Anything like that appeal to you?|
A: Not a kids' movie. I don't know if I could make a kids' movie. Ironically enough, I guess I've wound up making kids' movies, because 11-year-olds come up to me and want me to sign (autographs). I'm like, "Who are your parents that they let you to see my movies?" I don't know if I could make one expressly for kids, but Robert did it really well. His thing was that he wanted to make a movie he could show his kids. He's been a father far longer than I have.