Animated Clerk: Kevin Smith Influences the Masses
by Brandon Judell
America can never thank Red Bank, New Jersey, enough. Besides giving us Count Basie and Natalie (Gilligan’s Island) Schaefer, this little city with lots of moxie has of late bestowed upon us a modern film icon, Kevin Smith.
Selling his comic book collection, Smith, who will turn thirty August 2nd, was able to fund the hit “Clerks” (1994) which he not only produced, wrote, edited and directed, but also starred in. Mick Martin and Marsha Porter described the cult favorite in their annual Video Movie Guide as a “trash-mouthed, smart-alecky, often hilarious deadpan comedy about attitude in the minimum-wage trenches.” Who’s to argue? What followed in quick succession were “Mallrats” (1995), “Chasing Amy” (1997) and “Dogma” (1999), making Smith into a sort of blue-collar Woody Allen (or an intellectual Todd Phillips) to his fans.
Now, this summer, on six Wednesdays in a row at 9:30pm EST, comes “Clerks,” the TV series. Yes, ABC has decided to broadcast an animated version of “Clerks.” Well, supposedly they’d rather not broadcast it. After the six episodes get shown, “That’s all there will ever be,” says Smith. “It’s all done.” And his relationship with ABC finished. “To say the least,” he now responds.
At a press conference for the series during happier days, Mr. Smith shared: “I guess to understand, like, why we went with this choice of animation or animation at all, you have to understand the history of the project. ABC at first approached us and asked us if we wanted to do a game show, and they pitched us this crazy stupid notion of Regis hosting a game show. And we were, like, that will never fly. So we pitched our version, which was Kathie Lee hosting a game show. Something to the effect of ‘Guess how many sweat shops she’s operating now.’ And they wouldn’t go for that.”
“So we said, ‘Well, can we do a cartoon?’ And they said, ‘Yeah.’ So we came up with this.”
To get a little bit more dirt on the project, indieWIRE sat down with Mr. Smith last week and ended up discussing liberalism, homophobia, and film as an influential force.
indieWIRE: Now you’ve changed a lot mentally since you did the film “Clerks.” Suddenly you’re being this great liberal, erudite force in the industry.
Kevin Smith: I try, but you know to be quite honest, it’s so easy to be liberal. All you have to do is fight the establishment. You thumb your nose at the establishment and you’re instantly a liberal. I sometimes think that the liberal sense of humor is the easiest one to have. Anyone can do it so long as you rail against the establishment or even kind of position yourself with the underdog. And it’s easy to position yourself with the underdog for me because I am the underdog. Lord knows I’m not a child of privilege and I wasn’t born into the business. I had to kind of struggle to get in there, and I’m still making . . .
I mean I definitely got something of a reputation, and my films have been seen by people but they’re still smaller films. Marginal films. So it’s easy to kind of position yourself with other marginal groups and kind of get their backing. It’s just easy and fun and right at the end of the day.
iW: But you’re one of the few directors around whose films people will go to just because your name is attached to it. It’s your product.
Smith: A small audience but, yeah, some of the cats will go out just because it’s me. Maybe it’s three of them, but I’ll take all three. I’ll take that eighteen dollars. But the thing is what I’ve found is fun to do with that audience, the built-in audience — predominantly young white men, right, from the burbs all across the country — it’s nice to throw them a curve ball to kind of maybe enlighten them just a bit. Broaden their horizons, for example. I’ve gotten at least three, four, may five people posting on our web site in the last month alone, asking, “Hey, why did you make Jay gay all of a sudden?” Because in “Dogma,” Rufus, the Chris Rock character, supposedly sees things, knows a lot of things. Because he’s been dead, he gets to watch the living. And Jay is like “Tell me something about me.” And Rufus goes, “You masturbate more than anybody on the planet.” Jay goes, “Oh, everybody knows that. Tell me something nobody knows.” Rufus goes, “When you do it, you think about guys.” There were some people who are fans of ours, young white guys, who identify with that character, who were just like “Well, what the hell does that mean? Why is he all of a sudden gay? And what does that say about me?”
Which is something we heard on “Chasing Amy”. Like the Banky character that Jason Lee played. I remember we had a test screening of “Chasing Amy,” and there was a cat in the audience in the focus group afterwards who said, “Hey, I watched all Kevin Smith movies and like I loved ‘Mallrats,’ and I identify with Banky’ the Jason Lee character ’cause I am that guy. I read comics, I go to the mall and I wouldn’t fuck Shannen Doherty either. “Which I thought was a real funny line. The guy identified with Jason Lee’s character in this movie but all of a sudden at the end he turns out to be gay. “What does that say about me?” And we’re sitting in the back like “Well, it says you’re fucking gay. What do you mean, what does it say about you?”
But it’s great to throw them a curve ball once in awhile because you don’t want to become the filmmaker that people know exactly what to expect from. You don’t want to keep saying the same thing over and over. It’s nice if you have people who are tuning in, who are going to be listening to what you have to say. To broaden their horizons a bit, man. Well, say, look with a character like Jay, whom you consider to be a real guy’s guy and say this dude thinks about guys when he jerks off, obviously it’s okay, isn’t it? Doesn’t it make it okay for you as well? Some people become a little more tolerant. You know you’re in a position to do some good while you’re entertaining.
iW: So you think film does have an influential force?
Smith: To some degree. Absolutely. It’s not nearly as influential as the government would have you believe. It didn’t influence Columbine as far as I’m concerned. But sometimes you can kind of impart a decent message depending on whom you’re taking to. Like the predominant audience for our movie are people like you know fourteen to twenty-five. They fall into that age group. Those are impressionable minds. And if you can impart something to them that’s positive or impart something to them that maybe they wouldn’t think about normally or something that they’re on the fence about. . . If you can convince one of them to be less of an asshole about something that is foreign to them, whether it be the gay community or the black community or just something that they’re not a part of