By Alan Scherstuhl
By Mark Holcombe
By Scott Foundas
By Nick Pinkerton
By Michael Atkinson
By Scott Foundas
By Keith Phipps
By Alan Scherstuhl
Kevin Smith is leaning into the frayed, yellow piece of newspaper that I've just laid on his hotel room table. It's the article I wrote about him in City Pages after the last time we met—just before Clerks came out—in 1994. "You can't deny that it's kinda cool seeing your name in print and stuff like that," the New Jersey clerk-turned-cult auteur told me then. Now, looking back, he says, "It's so weird to see quotes from 10 or 12 years ago." Do they still ring true? "Yeah—very much so. Like this part: 'Smith says the citizens of Leonardo, NJ [appreciate Clerks], though he thinks they "don't really get it—they're more into action flicks and shit like that."' It's nice to know that I was just as candid—and vulgar—back then as I am now."
Like Clerks II, the dozen-years-later sequel that finds Dante and Randal punching the clock at Mooby's, home of the Cowtipper, Smith appears much the same: Still chain-smoking cigs, still comfortably clad in a baggy baseball jersey, still peppering his laid-back banter with philosophical insight (and the F-word). But in the case of both the new movie and its thirtysomething director, it's the differences that are most compelling. To make Clerks for $27,575 in '93, Smith was forced to relinquish his beloved comic-book collection, then valued at $3,000; Clerks II, albeit a movie about downward mobility, collected its $5 million budget in foreign sales even before the first frame had been shot. That baggy baseball jersey? Now it has Smith's name on it.
City Pages: Dante and Randal haven't fared as well as you have in the last dozen years. Is it harder for you to relate to the characters now than it was in '94?
Kevin Smith: Not really, no. When you look at Clerks, you see that it's not really about working at a convenience store: It's about everything one does not to work at a convenience store—how Dante and Randal create this elaborate world in which they can basically forget what it is they really do. It's the same with [Clerks II]. When I was writing it, I never thought, "God, I'd better go get a job at a fast-food joint so I can put myself back in a wage-slave state of mind." For me, it was more about concentrating on how the characters feel about being in their 30s and perhaps not accomplishing what they had wanted to accomplish.
CP: Do you relate to that?
Smith: I would never bitch about where I am in life. I've been lucky enough to do a bunch of shit that I would've never thought possible 12 years ago. At the same time, because I work in a career that promotes kind of an ongoing, eternal adolescence—I pretend for a living, that's my job—I've never really had that I have to become an adult moment. Some people have adulthood thrust upon them: They have a kid or they get married or they're forced into a job market and have to fuckin' earn no matter what. Me, I got so fuckin' insanely lucky with Clerks that suddenly I had a career where it never felt like I was working. I had to seek out my path to adulthood in a different way.
CP: Would you say you charted that path in Jersey Girl?
Smith: Yeah. Jersey Girl was about having a kid and thinking, "What would it be like if I had to raise the kid by myself?" Ultimately, the movie was a very fantasized version of that story. I realized that not everyone has the luxury of making the same altruistic choice as [the Ben Affleck character], who's like, "Well, I could take that really great job in New York, but if I take a job as a garbage man in Jersey, even though I'd make way less money, I'd have a lot more time to spend with my daughter." A lot of the reviews really seized on that. They said, "It's very easy for Kevin Smith, who's in a financially well-off position, to make a movie in which the choice is in favor of a financially less well-off position." In reality, I never had to make that choice, you know? If someone was like, "In order for you to have a better relationship with your daughter, you have to quit making movies and work at a fuckin' Burger King," I'd be like, "Well, maybe I'll get to know my daughter a little later in life."
CP: Your dad worked a lot, didn't he?
Smith: My father worked at the post office and he hated it. Every day of his life, he would go to work from 11 at night to seven in the morning. It was a soul-killing experience for him. He did it because he had to support his family, and I guess he never thought about trying anything other than that. He never sat me down and said, "Son, the important lesson in life is to get a job that you don't fuckin' hate." But that's what he imparted to me nonetheless. He took early retirement, he had a couple of heart attacks and a stroke and then another heart attack that eventually killed him. I think it was probably because he hated his job so much.
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