Kevin Smith at the Pabst
Kevin Smith can talk. He’s not necessarily eloquent or quick to the point, but practice has made perfect over the past ten years and on Sunday night, the filmmaker/writer/comic-book savior/television producer/podcasting king took the stage at Pabst Theater in Milwaukee.
His talks run the gamut and back again, but this time the focus was on his new book, Tough Sh*t: Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good. Everyone who bought a ticket received a signed copy. Smith’s long tangents during the 2+ hour Q&A session often orbited a kind of empowerment seminar. He’s no Tony Robbins, but then again a tall man with perfect hair in a suit pacing the stage was not the man who should be preaching to last night’s crowd.
After being introduced by host Next Chapter Book Shop, Smith was greeted with a standing ovation from self-proclaimed geeks and big guys. By now, Smith’s career has spanned almost 20 years and his focus is now more about speaking engagements, “smodcasts,” and other projects. Much of his patter glides on self-effacement and charm.
Smith said he is getting out of the movie business because he has nothing of his own left to say, after being left with bitter feelings trying to direct other people’s scripts. In a sense, he notes, Clerks and Red State are bookends, but also complimentary to each other. For both movies, he didn’t have to respond to backers or worry about promotion or any of the trappings that make filmmaking a pain.
Although there were two long lines of audience members waiting to ask questions, this ardent fan base also knew that Smith can go off for an hour on one question. He almost did this at one point when someone asked if he ever had concerns that actors would not be able to handle the long monologue lines that are a keystone of Smith’s films. The man on stage never really got around to answering the question, but instead gave a lecture on how anybody can do what makes them happy, creative, and productive if they stop listening to the “why” doubts in your head and instead embrace the “why not.” Smith noted that when a project of his falters, everyone comes out of the woodwork with spitballs. When a project successfully comes back, “it’s fun to say [taps on microphone], Clerks is back and alive like Jesus!”
As to be expected, there was a lot of swearing and off-color stories, which the audience consumed with appreciation. Like extras in a play, the audience was key to the show, and they were hungry to find out the latest on pet projects like the second limited edition of a Batman series or the Jay and Silent Bob cartoon movie. They wanted to hear about Jason Mewes (Jay), who appeared with Smith in Milwaukee last May for the successful “Jay and Silent Bob Get Old” tour. They wanted to know when he would be back in town again — the answer, in about six to eight months with more “Hollywood Babble-On” tales.
Besides life advice, the most telling aspect of the evening was Smith’s assertion that he has very few of his own stories left to tell. During an amusing tale, he talked about Mewes running out of stories for smodcasts so he would stop the tour bus in front of a Wal-Mart “looking for an adventure.” Smith believes that as a celebrity, you stop having a life of your own and give it all to the craft. He wishes he could go back to in-person book signings because he rapturously listens to every stranger’s story and holds up the line for 15 minutes at a time.
Even if he runs out of epic stories recorded elsewhere, the lovefest will continue. All Smith has to do is stand on a sparse stage with a microphone and talk, and people will laugh and be comforted. For him, it’s more about fans drawing inspiration from his words than being an entertainer.