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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Kevin Smith's Traveling Therapy Session

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Beginning with the 1994 independent comedy Clerks, director Kevin Smith and longtime friend Jason Mewes have worked together on more than a half-dozen of Smith's films, often playing the stoner duo Jay and Silent Bob. They step out of those roles for their latest project, "Jay and Silent Bob Get Old," a weekly live show and podcast for Smith's growing podcast network that documents recovering drug addict Mewes' sobriety in the wake of a recent relapse. In advance of the show's live taping at the Pabst Theater on Tuesday, May 3, Smith spoke to the Shepherd Express about the stigma of drug addiction, the allure of podcasting and why his upcoming hockey movie, Hit Somebody, will be the last film he directs.

What is the structure of your live show?


It's a live episode of our podcast, so basically we sit around and talk to each other. It kind of functions as this ongoing intervention for Mewes, who has famously had a drug problem with heroin and OxyContin. We've done about 30 episodes now, and the first six episodes tell his entire drug arch story. We tell the greatest hits from all the years of Mewes falling to the whims of addiction. They are horrifying stories, but with distance you're able to view them through the prism of humor. The shows are really gripping, because you're laughing one minute, and then the next he's telling these horrifying stories of his childhood. It's a really wonderful rollercoaster of an evening. And it's mostly funny, but you've got to remember: This show is more than anything else therapy for a dude who won't go to therapy. After the life he's lived, being the son of a heroin-addicted mother who used him as a bagman to deliver drugs when he was 9 years old, Mewes has a million-dollar heart, and it shines through, but his past is full of horrors and every once in a while that comes through, too.

Was it difficult to convince him to open up about those experiences?


It took a while, man. I just kept telling him, "You need to go out and talk about your problem, because the more you talk about it, the less of a problem it is. Tell people about the embarrassing heroin stories, talk about how far drugs have dragged you down at times." And he wouldn't do it. He thought people would think he's a scumbag. I think he was really afraid of being judged, because when you're a junkie you do some scummy things for heroin. There's a boy inside that man, and he didn't want people thinking, "Ewww, you use needles." The same way that as children we don't want people telling us we're gross and we have cooties, I think he didn't want people thinking about skin popping and needles.

But once he started talking, it kind of made it OK. Once your greatest demon is out there, there's a freedom. You know, as a guy who got kicked off the airplane for being quote-unquote "fat," let me tell you: When the whole world pounces on your one insecurity, you're free to do whatever you want at that point. You've got no fear left. So the idea of going up there every week and opening up has been incredibly therapeutic for him. Also, right now we've got 300,000 people listening to the podcast, and that's 300,000 more people that can keep an eye on him out in the world, so he doesn't become a danger to himself.

What drew you to podcasting?


The same thing that drew me to film: I wanted to communicate. I didn't get into film to get famous, because there was no guarantee that I would. And I didn't get into it for the money, because there's no money in the film business. I got into it so I could talk to people. It was lonely for me in Highlands, New Jersey, and not because I didn't have friends or family, but because there weren't a lot of people who thought like me, per se. So I started making flicks, and that introduced me to this audience. I thought, "If these people are going to see my movie, then they must have a similar sensibility to me," and those were the cats that I wanted to meet. Podcasting is the 21st-century version of that. Had podcasting existed in 1991, I wouldn't have even thought about becoming a filmmaker, because film is not my first language. Ask anybody who doesn't like a Kevin Smith movie and they'll tell you how lousy of a filmmaker I am.

So podcasting lets me remove what I feel is waste in the conversation. That conversation used to be about two dudes in a convenience store, or two angels trying to get into heaven, or a guy dating a lesbian—I'd show the audience all my thoughts on the matter, and then we'd discuss. Now I don't have to show them my thoughts on the matter, because I can just tell them. And also remember that film, as much as I love it, is a ridiculously expensive art form. If I was a painter, I could take a canvas, put some splashes on it and, boom, I'd have communicated exactly what I wanted to communicate to you. If I was a songwriter, I could sit down and hum some bars in my head, and maybe all I'd need is a pen and paper to jot down some lyrics. But as a filmmaker, that process goes like this: "I've got a great idea, now I need $20 million and 100 people to convey it." That's just ridiculous.

Do you think your audience will continue to follow you once you stop making new films?


I hope so, because I can't do the film thing anymore. By the time I finish Hit Somebody, I will have been working in film for 20 years, and that's an eternity in any job. My father worked at the post office his whole life and hated every second of it. Now, I've been making art for 20 years, so it's never felt like hell; it's always been heaven. But as an artist you've got a responsibility to do your best to do something that nobody else can do. And after Hit Somebody, I won't be doing anything that somebody else can't do. With podcasting, though, I can laser-focus my attention on that and get way better at that and turn that into something. So I've got the luxury of being able to jump from one art form to another and stay out of having a real job. That's always my biggest concern.