KANSAS CITY, Mo. — You don’t expect piety from a potty-mouthed guy who made a movie called “Dogma” that savaged the religion of his childhood.
Nevertheless, Kevin Smith says he always prays before going on stage for one of his “Evenings With Kevin Smith.”
It’s a simple prayer — “Lord, let me be honest” — but it says a lot about Smith and his relationship with his fiercely faithful fans.
“People love it when you get real,” the 39-year-old Smith said in a recent phone conversation. “When you treat them honestly, they respond.”
It’s not stand-up comedy, Smith said. No jokes, no impersonations, no script.
Instead, it’s a Q&A between Smith and the audience, who typically barrage him with queries about his career, his films and his personal life. These evenings are crammed with hilarious show-biz anecdotes, Smith’s often sardonic opinions on current events and, occasionally, some dead-serious musings.
“I answer everything,” Smith said. “At a recent Chicago show the last question was about the night my dad died. I told them, ‘Bear with me because I might get emotional.’ And in fact I started crying at the end.
“I remember getting offstage and thinking, ‘Man, I’m going to be slaughtered on the Internet tomorrow. People didn’t pay to see a fat guy bawl.’
“But people dug it because it was honest.”
Few modern celebrities have the sort of intense relationship with their fans that Smith enjoys. His blog (www.viewaskew.com) is hugely popular (currently it’s dominated by Smith’s dissection of a recent incident in which he was thrown off a Southwest Airlines flight for being too fat). He tweets a dozen times a day at www.twitter.com/thatkevinsmith.
“Back in the day when I first started out, the only way to gauge how you were doing was to read the critics or check out the box-office figures. Now I can wake up in L.A. on the day my movie opens and on the Internet I’m already hearing from somebody who saw the first show in New York.”
While his fan base skews young, Smith said he’s always tickled to look out over an audience and see “blue hair.”
“In the beginning that used to catch me off guard. I was tempted to announce that ‘You, sir or madam, are definitely not part of my demographic.’ But I realized that this means something good, that somebody brought their grandparent to the show and now they’re bonding over my (penis) jokes.
“I’m going to heaven for that. Anyway, that’s what my mom tells me.”
While many know him only as the writer/director of outrageous films like “Clerks,” “Chasing Amy” and “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” Smith’s followers — who often refer to themselves as citizens of the View Askewniverse — faithfully keep up on his many enterprises: making movies, producing TV shows, writing comic books, doing his live show.
Given all this, you might assume that Smith is some sort of workaholic. No way.
“My father’s dream was to have a wife and three kids,” Smith said. “Mine is to never have to work again.
“My wife claims that all I do is work, but it’s not work to me. I’d do this stuff for free. For me it’s all about putting as much content out there as possible. When I shuffle off this mortal coil — and I expect that will be today based on my sedentary lifestyle — I want to leave lots behind.”
Directing films is a well-paying gig, he said, but there’s plenty of time to fill between movie projects.
“While I love making movies, it’s now just one part of what I do. Back in the day in ‘94, if I was told film was just one of things I’d be doing in 2010, I’d have answered, ‘What’s the other? Masturbation?’
“Now, though, I have all these outlets. When I make a movie, I get to be Richard Linklater, one of my favorite directors. When I do a podcast, I get to be Howard Stern. When I write a comic book, I’m Stan Lee. When I do a live show, I’m George Carlin.
“It’s not about money. I’m paid handsomely to make films — hell, they over pay me. The Q&A gigs and the movies earn me enough to do all this other fun stuff.”
It’s also about longevity.
“If you do just one thing, people will eventually get sick of you. The longer you stick around, the more people can’t stand you. So it’s important for me to spin lots of plates, just in case people want to knock one of my plates off the stick.
“The end game is to be just successful enough to do what I love to do, which is to be paid to be a professional teenager.”
Smith’s Q&A shows are notorious for their length. His longest clocked in at nearly eight hours, but he now wraps things up in three to allow theater employees to go home.
“It’s like a Springsteen show — you try to outlast the audience. I’ve found that at the three-hour mark people start leaving. At five hours, you’ve got only half the original audience. After six hours, the questions are like, ‘Boxers or briefs?’
“So three hours is what I aim for.”
Smith was especially upbeat during this phone conversation because the day before he finally had obtained financing for “Red State,” his long-dreamed-of film inspired by Fred Phelps, whose anti-homosexual campaign and protests at funerals of American military personnel are now at the center of a First Amendment case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“This has been the hardest film to get made,” Smith said. “It’s not commercial. It’s a dark, twisted little political horror flick. I figured I’d have to pay for it myself, but someone came through.”
No word yet on who’ll star in the film or where it will be shot. But Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church has announced on its Web site that members will be picketing Smith’s show this weekend in Kansas City.
No problem, Smith said. Inside the theater he and his fans will be enjoying a “lovefest.”
“It’s a trickle-down thing. If the guy on stage is happy and mellow, it’s contagious.”
Nothing is off-limits, Smith said.
“There’s no such thing as a dopey question. In fact, the worse the question is, the better for me, because we can have some fun with it.
“Of course, some of the stuff people say haunts you. You carry it the rest of your life, like herpes.”
“One guy at a show came up to the mic and said, ‘Let’s say your wife is in a horrible accident and the only way to save her is to put her brain in the body of an 8-year-old girl.’ And then he wants to know what our sex life would be like.
“Marty Scorsese never gets questions like that.”
KEVIN SMITH FILMOGRAPHY
“Clerks” (1994) The cult classic follows two slackers who spend the day tipping over caskets and arguing the ethics of blowing up the Death Star.
“Mallrats” (1995) After being dumped, two buddies search for redemption, revenge and comic books.
“Chasing Amy” (1997) Joey Lauren Adams is a wisecracking lesbian who breaks a hipster’s heart.
“Dogma” (1999) Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are fallen angels trying to game God’s system.
“Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” (2001) The duo hits the road for hot chicks and an escaped chimpanzee.
“Jersey Girl” (2004) Widower Ben Affleck tries to raise his daughter with his dad’s help, then finds love.
“Clerks II” (2006) This sequel moves the action to fast food, with one guy engaged to the wrong girl.
“Zack and Miri Make a Porno” (2008) The raunchy title says it all, except that they fall in love, too.
“Cop Out” (2010) Police search for a missing baseball card in Smith’s first try as a hired-gun director.