Have you ever spent an evening at a bar with a friend who’s so great to listen to that you can’t do anything but listen and laugh? What if that conversation took place at the Pabst Theater and what if that friend was Kevin Smith? Well you have the same evening I had last Tuesday.
Kevin Smith brought his eclectic background as a director, producer, writer, actor, speaker, comic book writer, author, podcaster and more to the Pabst Theater. You may know him from films such as Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jersey Girl, Red State and most recently the dark horror film, Tusk. Or you may know him from the many talks that he has hosted around the country. Whatever the case, fans of his work were given a rare opportunity to see him up close and personal as he decided to hold another talk in Milwaukee.
As his hockey jersey and backwards cap-clad self took the stage, Smith began by talking about a tweet that he received from his friend right before the show. He first gave us some backstory about his friend, who identifies as a bear. Bears in LGBT culture refer to husky, hairy & rugged gay men and cubs refer to younger, skinnier men who date bears. I can’t recall the entire exchange they had over Twitter, but I do remember that Smith’s friend once had a threesome in Milwaukee in which “two bears came in, one cub came out” or something along those lines.
The thing about Smith’s entire talk was that it really felt like, well, a talk! His conversations often took many twists and turns as he weaved between anecdote after anecdote. While his talk would sometimes appear winded and unfocused, it was essential to the honest and relaxed atmosphere of the talk. I felt like I was in a pub listening to Kevin Smith being Kevin Smith (with a few pints in our systems, of course). Plus, the tangents often lead to some great stories. The exchange above included a detour about how everyone in his family but his dad knew that his brother was gay all because his mother kept dragging her feet to break the news to him, which lead to a detour on the sudden drag show at his brother’s wedding, which lead to a detour on how his parents got a bit frisky during the wedding’s reception.
The rest of the show was dedicated to a Q&A session that Smith promised would go for the rest of the two and a half hours we all had together. Fans were encouraged to walk up to a microphone and ask Smith anything they wanted. Smith warned us in advance that his Q&A sessions were more “A” than “Q”. The consensus in the audience was nothing but gratitude, as that meant only more great stories from him. While I can’t talk about everything he said, I can share the highlights.
You get a real sense of Smith’s experience as a filmmaker and how much film and geek culture means to him when you hear his stories of working in the industry with all of his connections. And we got that insight after a fan asked him what if felt like to tour the set of Star Wars: The Force Awakens with director J.J. Abrams. When Smith walked onto the set for the interior of the Millennium Falcon, each step he took made him feel ten years younger. The first two steps brought him back to when he was making Clerks and Mallrats and was putting Star Wars references everywhere in the film he could. The third brought him back to the first time the original Star Wars really captured his imagination.
He then went on to talk about how Abrams accidentally ruined his panel at San Diego Comic Con last year. After the Force Awakens panel, everybody was invited to join a Star Wars outdoor concert outside of the building. This was right before Smith’s panel was supposed to go. While Smith still had an okay turnout, Abrams was so distraught that he asked Smith to voice a Stormtrooper.
The talk took a more somber turn when one woman in the audience told Smith that she and her mother were able to grow closer together through his work as her mother slowly died from cancer. Smith responded that stories like that counter all of the toxicity from angry trolls and make his self-expression meaningful. He went on to say that the woman’s story alone made coming all the way to Wisconsin worth it.
Smith then talked about how much comedian George Carlin meant to him in his life. His father would sneak him records of his comedy sketches. While his mother was initially disgusted, she was able to latch on to a less rude but still funny sketch. Smith was so impressed that humor was able to bring everybody together.
He also learned that you can curse as much as you want as long as you sound smart and honest.
And when Smith eventually worked with Carlin, Smith was elated by Carlin’s conscientiousness and professionalism. Before meeting with Carlin in May of 1997 at the Conan O’Brien show, Smith brought his script for Dogma so he could ask him if he wanted to play Cardinal Glick. But shortly before the show, Carlin’s wife passed away from cancer. Carlin kept his booking for Conan, but Smith decided not to show him the script that night. But the script eventually made it to Carlin and a month later they met at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles to discuss the role. He agreed to take the role, but he asked if he could wear a bandage over his finger to hide his wedding band. While it didn’t make sense for his character to wear a wedding band, he wasn’t ready to take it off yet. Smith said that he wanted Carlin to be his father after that.
The talk was heavily focused on the power of self-expression, and that continued when a fan asked him advice on what to do after leaving his friend’s band after a disagreement. Smith told him that you need to step towards every goal you set for yourself and that you can incorporate all of your experiences good and bad into your art. The best revenge against your enemies is to move on with your life. And it’s not the end of your career, it’s the start.
We were all blessed with Smith’s presence that night. While his talk was sometimes disorderly and often vulgar, you can tell that he holds a wealth of knowledge and experience. And sharing all of that is indeed the best gift you can give to anybody.
So thanks for stopping by, Kevin Smith. And I hope our giant pretzels and beer treated you just as well as last time.
Couldn’t make the show or you just want more Kevin Smith? Then I recommend that you check out the several podcasts he does on Smodcast.com or his blog, Silent Bob Speaks. Of course, you can also check out his Twitter and Instagram.