Smith, writer and director of some of the 1990s' most iconic indie films, loves to tell stories. And he’s good at it. In 2005, he held a seven-hour Q&A followed by a nearly four-hour meet-and-greet and another five-hour Q&A later that night. In 2007, he co-founded SModcast, an hour-long weekly podcast about whatever, man. He’s since established SModCo, a successful podcast network with some thirty-six podcasts and a devoted bunch of daily listeners. Smith co-hosts no fewer than five of these shows per week.
Sometime in 2011 — after Southwest Airlines unapologetically removed him from a flight for being too wide — Smith bought a bus and toured the country doing live podcasts with his buddy, Scott Mosier. Fans flocked to intimate, 100-seat venues to hear the two friends shoot shit. These days, Smith is back on airplanes again and co-hosts live versions of most of SModCo’s podcasts around the country.
For such a casual guy — he’s seldom not seen in a hockey jersey — Smith is a commanding speaker. He doesn’t really ramble, never lectures, and only occasionally falls into a rant. He controls a conversation's direction like a politician. He speaks passionately about everything with an energy that makes each statement seem considered but freshly thought. He’s expectedly funny and often insightful. And he preaches what he practices.
“Your voice is your currency,” he tells New Times, in an endorsement of grassroots podcasting, “All you need is 1,000 people who support what you do, who like your point of view, and you can make a living off of it. It just needs to connect. It doesn’t even have to be good. It’s punk rock without four chords."
Smith's film work has a powerful sense of place, often his hometown in New Jersey. “The neighborhood was like a third character in Clerks,” he says. "It was Dante, Randal, and Leonardo, the small town.”
Though not all set in the Garden State, most of Smith’s most memorable movie creations exist within the “View Askewniverse,” named after his homegrown production company, View Askew. This fictional universe ties Smith's films together, but View Askew's rootedness counters Smith’s personal desire for unbordered human connection.
After seeing Richard Linklater’s Slacker, Smith realized he could connect with tons of scattered people by depicting what he knew simply and honestly through independent film. “Clerks plays more like a documentary,” he says, “It’s a snapshot of my life and my friends.” But it was also a message to millions of potential buddies out there in the wider world. “I got into film in the first place because I thought, ‘Let me see if there’s anyone out there who thinks like me.’ If we had the internet back then, I wouldn’t have even made movies. I would’ve just hopped online and found like-minded individuals, kicked off friendships and whatnot.”
Smith credits much of his success to “the golden ticket that was Clerks.” The film’s appeal enabled him to connect with fans, traveling from California to Cannes, which the internet couldn’t have offered. And now takes his place of origin, the proverbial snapshot of his life, around the country in the form of live discussions with longtime friends. He’s happily displaced and interconnected — often jetting from Los Angeles to New Jersey to Florida and back.
Why, Bry? is one such discussion and it's coming to the Palm Beach Improv this weekend. The live podcast sees Smith and Bryan Johnson (the inspiration for Clerks’ Randal Graves) engage in whimsical, outlandish, unscripted storytelling. The two met in high school in New Jersey. They're good friends but not best friends, so Johnson’s stories are often new to Smith too.
“I go into it completely dry. He’ll tell some horrific stories that make me go, ‘But why, Bry?' It’s better that I just don’t know anything going in.”
After a couple hours, Smith will field questions in a separate show, An Evening with Kevin Smith. It's like Leonardo’s Quick Stop banter, brought to your neighborhood.
"Interacting with the audience has always been as important to me as making the movies,” he says. “Over the course of my career, I’ve fallen more in love with talking to the audience about making movies, than the actual making of movies.”
And then there’s an uncharacteristic pause before he admits, “It’s easy to like people who like what you do."
Kevin Smith. With Bryan Johnson. A live podcast of Why Bry? at 7 p.m., followed by An Evening with Kevin Smith at 9:45 p.m. Saturday, April 18, at Palm Beach Improv, 550 S. Rosemary Ave., West Palm Beach, 561-833-1812; palmbeachimprov.com. Tickets for Why, Bry? cost $40 plus fees via palmbeachimprov.com. Tickets for An Evening with Kevin Smith cost $40 plus fees via palmbeachimprov.com. There is a two-drink minimum for both shows. Ages 21 and up.