Kevin Smith almost died in jorts.
That’s not exactly a shocking revelation from his new Showtime stand-up special, especially for long-time fans who would be shocked to see him wear denim that reached the ankle. But considering the backstory surrounding his performance, it’s hard not to acknowledge how “Kevin Smith: Silent But Deadly” functions as both a warm reminder of Smith’s gifts as a storyteller and a chilling reminder that one of life’s cruelest tricks is how it can end so quickly.
And that means watching Smith on stage, chatting with confidence about his career, his love of weed, and his combative yet loving relationship with his wife, knowing that minutes after dropping the mike he would have a near-fatal heart attack at the age of 47.
The special is bookended by segments featuring a now-seemingly healthy Smith, hanging out in the dressing room where the heart attack occurred, providing the context for what happened. Which might feel unnecessary until honestly, we consider how much scrutiny we’d give this special were it not framed by such a shocking circumstance. After all, in recent years Smith has provided no shortage of opportunities to hear him speak, making the iconic character of Silent Bob increasingly ironic.
As Joni Mitchell says, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone, or nearly gone in this case. And thus in this context “Silent But Deadly” becomes a heartfelt portrait of a performer we nearly lost, drenched in curse words and indulgences and modesty and genuine human kindness.
Smith’s skills as a stand-up extend from his natural ability to simply talk to people; when you listen to him on stage, there’s no sense of him having finely honed pre-written bits. Instead, he really is just doing what comes naturally — talk about his life, frankly, with the signature casual wit that made his early feature films so beloved, and his later embrace of podcasting and stand-up a logical turn.
It’s rare that anyone gets to pick their actual last words, but if “Silent But Deadly” had been Smith’s, here’s what would be left behind: An honest and occasionally caustic but loving portrait of a marriage that’s lasted nearly 20 years. His pride in being a father. A genuine love for what he gets to do, every day. And his urging his audience to “make sure you go out and bullshit before you leave this world,” telling them that he doesn’t feel what he does requires any real talent.
“I’ll take it one step further,” Smith adds, “it doesn’t take talent at all to work in the movie business. You think it takes talent to stand there on a movie set and say ‘I’m Batman’? Ben Affleck does it so I know it don’t take fucking talent.”
Smith is being modest here (at least in regards to his own talents) but it fits perfectly with the ethos established all the way back in 1995 with his first film, “Clerks.” The incredible success of that film, especially on an indie level, proved the power that a unique voice can have in this industry, no matter the budget, cast, or production value.
And that’s where Smith underestimates himself, because from the beginning, the basis of Smith’s popularity and ascension into the Hollywood ranks has been built on the fact that whether it be through his characters or himself, he has something interesting to say, and he says it like nobody else. There are countless hours of Smith talking available now, via his DVD commentaries, his podcasts, his “An Evening With Kevin Smith” Q&A specials, and more. Can’t get enough there? Go to Twitter or read one of his many books.
Even if you’re not a die-hard fan, he remains compelling to hear or read, and watching “Silent But Deadly,” knowing that this could have been his last hurrah, is at times emotionally tough (even as he packs in the laughs). One of the stories about his wife, for example, ends with a realization about their sex life which concludes with him joking about how they could make a change going forward: “It’s never too late!” he exclaims about the potential promise of daily blowjobs. It’s the sort of thing you say when that feels like a genuine truth, and not a literal falsehood; there is such a thing as “too late.”
Check in on Smith’s Twitter feed today, and he seems in good spirits, active and happy — praise be to modern medicine and the doctors who saved him to speak another day. Because beyond the reminder to treat life as finite, to live each day as best we can, one of “Silent But Deadly’s” most profound impacts is serving as a reminder that Silent Bob’s voice, when it ever leaves us, will be sorely missed.
“Kevin Smith: Silent But Deadly” premieres Friday, May 11 at 9 p.m. on Showtime.