e didn’t dream where we were from,” says Kevin Smith of his childhood in Highlands, N.J. “Nobody had an example to point to and say ‘Hey, someone came from Highland and did something big.’ And no one from my family had done anything like that.” Indeed, Smith was rooted in a blue-collar existence, watching his dad go to work at the post office every day. The elder Smith hated every minute of it. “All he wanted to do was be with his wife and kids,” Smith explains. When Kevin once asked his father what his dreams were when he was his son’s age, Dad replied: “To get married and have a family.” Everything else, it seems, was secondary. Spending more time with the family often involved Dad calling off work, a practice that was fairly common. Kevin had to make the call one day and was dreading it. “I called and said ‘Tom Smith won’t be at work, he’s sick.’ The guy was like ‘OK.’ It was the most non-confrontational thing, but Dad hated doing it.” It was his father’s unhappiness with work that would drive Kevin’s creative aspirations, but not overtly. The two went to the movies often, but never really had in-depth discussions about the films that they saw. “He never walked out of the theatre and said ‘Hey, you could make one of those.’”
To the young Smith, making movies or TV shows was something that happened in some remote place, far removed from New Jersey. “I had an uncle who was into acting,” he says. “And he was interested in being in movies and whatnot, but he never really got anywhere. When you see a member of your own family go through that, you think it’s an uncrackable field.”
It wasn’t until he saw Richard Linklater’s film Slacker in 1991 that Smith realized he could make films. “This guy was telling stories about his friends in Texas and I thought, ‘Why can’t I tell stories about me and my friends in New Jersey?’ ” Two years later, he was filming his own seminal movie Clerks. Shot on a budget of $27,000, the film grossed over $3 million. Its release on video was even more successful. “For every copy they sold, they made so much money back,” says Smith. “It also had the distinction of being the most stolen film in video store history.” That’s because people wanted to not only see the film over and over, but share it with friends. “It was a sort of cultural currency.”
Smith made several more films, including Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Clerks II, all of which include the characters of Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) who are first seen in Clerks. Had it been a few years later, though, things might have ended up quite differently. “If podcasts had existed back in 1991 when I saw Slacker, I would have gone home and recorded a podcast about how awesome Slacker was and never would have thought about making a movie myself.”
Of course that’s exactly where Smith finds himself today: making podcasts. In February 2007 he launched SModcast with his pal Scott Mosier. The podcast is extremely popular and has spawned an entire network of sorts, with more than two dozen podcasts, many of which stream live on the site. Most are produced by Smith’s friends, while he produces and co-hosts several of his own, including Jay and Silent Bob Get Old. That particular podcast is co-hosted by longtime friend Mewes. The show is often performed live at venues across the country, and it makes a stop at Covington’s Madison Theatre Friday.
Jay and Silent Bob Get Old is, as Smith describes it, an “intervention podcast. It’s to keep Jason clean and sober.” For years, Mewes battled addiction, and only in the past few years has he been able to control his demons and get a handle on his finances. “Even after all the money he got from the movies we made, he could never hold on to it. He’d shoot it up his arm, or buy Oxycontin. Now thanks to Jay and Silent Bob Get Old, he was able to buy a house at the age of 37.”
Smith has done his share of live Q&A shows, but finds that format to be limiting. “All those questions have been asked in one way or another,” he says. “So you get into a zone where people say ‘You’re good at Q&A’s.’ Not really. I’ve just told this story so many times that it’s turned into a well-honed anecdote.” Jay and Silent Bob Get Old is more of a conversation between two old friends, and while they do have some favorite topics and stories, it’s never the same show twice.
Predominantly a comedy show, the laughs are linked to some heartbreaking aspects of Mewes’ youth and subsequent battles with addiction. “Like the time when he was six years old and his mother dropped him and his sister off at stranger’s house. They were locked in a closet for six hours while she went and shot up.” Mewes tells more cautionary tales, and things can get quite serious. “The floor drops out from under you,” says Smith. Just when you think it’s reached the point of no return though, Mewes quickly turns it around. “You think the plane is going to crash, but at the last minute he pulls up and it becomes this hilarious insightful anecdote. Jason has become an adept public storyteller.”
There are silly moments as well, where the audience can get involved. “We’ll pull someone out of the audience and give Jason and that person the name of a made-up sexual position,” Smith says. “They go backstage, and come back out and demonstrate it. It’s non-penetrative, simulated sex. No bodily fluids are flying anywhere.”
For fans of Jay and Silent Bob’s movie appearances, seeing the show live without first having listened to the podcast can be a bit of a surprise, as audiences in the UK discovered. “We sold out the venue in London and thought ‘Wow, they love the podcast over here.’ ” Turns out many in the crowd were expecting the two to be in character. “They thought we would come out and it would be one guy cursing and the other guy not saying anything. But we won them over.”
If you’re headed to the show here, Smith has one request. “Please don’t bring weapons to the show,” he says, laughing. “We hate being shot at.”©
The Jay and Silent Bob Get Old tour stops at Madison Theatre Friday. 730 Madison Ave., Covington. 859-491-2444,madisontheateronline.com .