At some point over the last 27 years, Kevin Smith transitioned from Dante to Randal.
Dante and Randal are, naturally, the two characters that lead Kevin smith’s 1994 debut film, Clerks. Dante is the guy that is always dependable, with a desire to please everyone even when he knows he may not be getting anything in return. He opens up the Quick Stop every day, even on his days off. Randal, on the other hand, is most interested in being who he most wants to be, and is done trying to work for anyone else at this point. (And that’s not to say that Smith isn’t just as dependable these days. Anyone who knows anything about him will advocate to how dependable he remains as both an entertainer and a human being). But while Dante is going for what is expected of him, Randal has expectations that he has set for himself and is carving out his own journey. If you want to come along, you’re more than welcome to. But Randal’s focus is always going to be on becoming who he wants to be.
Early on when Kevin Smith would describe Clerks, he was always quick to point out that “Dante is who I am. Randal is who I wanted to be.” Randal was based off of his friend/co-worker, Bryan Johnson. But in the forthcoming Clerks III, it is Randal, not Dante, that follows in the real-life filmmaker’s footsteps to make a movie set in the same convenience store that Smith once did way back when.
“I don’t know when I went from Dante to Randal,” he confesses, moved at the idea, as if he hadn’t thought about it before himself. “That is such an interesting question. In some weird way, the guy I most wanted to be in life I wound up becoming. Which is weird because the guy I most wanted to be in life is Bryan Johnson. I’m not Bryan Johnson, but like Randal isn’t anymore, either. There’s definitely shades of Bryan in the character now, but Randal’s journey in Clerks 3 more reflects my journey at this point.”
He continues, “It’s weird. I get to say things about being an artist and how shellfish it is when you’re an artist. That’s part of Randal’s journey. When you live a life that’s like ‘I want to tell a story,’ and people are like ‘Alright! Here’s $5 million dollars. Quick, do it,’ suddenly your perspective of life is a lot different than most people’s because you realize Oh, I can make pretend. I can dream something and somebody might give me money to make it a reality. And with that comes hubris. It’s unavoidable. I’m one of the most down-to-earth morherf*ckers I know. And still, there are times where I’m like ‘I’m Kevin f*cking Smith!’ And Randal goes through that journey as well.”
He adds, “It took a few years, but I got to become who I wanted to be most.”
Like most auteurs, Kevin’s life journey is very closely tied into his work. That’s a feeling you come away with when you read his new coffee table book, Kevin Smith’s Secret Stash. For any fan – casual of diehard – of his work, this is a bible filled with knowledge and information that even someone as chatty as Smith hadn’t shared before. Some of the other fun stuff included is the pop-outs, which is replicas of items from Smith’s life and career. So if you ever wanted a Mooby’s fry holder, here’s your chance!
We recently chatted with Smith about the book, how it came together, being easily misled by the internet, how Ben Affleck ruined a surprise, his future projects, and how much time he spends in the past. The interview below has been edited, but be on the lookout for the extended video of the interview coming out next week.
ORIGINS OF THE BOOK
I can take the hit for a 5 year delay. Chris Prince at Inside Editions reached out to me like 5 years ago. It was before the 20th anniversary of Clerks or something like that. He was like “Hey man. You’re coming up on a big milestone. I think we can do a coffee table book of your entire life’s work.” And I was like “I’d love that, because I love Inside Editions books. I’ve got a bunch. I just don’t know if I’ve got enough.” And they were like “No, no. You’ve got enough.” And Chris was like “We need somebody to write it.” So I was like “What’s that kind of thing pay?” He told me and I was like “Ooh. I know a guy that would do it.” And my friend Malcolm Ingram, he’s been around for all of it and knows the whole story. So he could write the guts of the book and then all the pictures could get put into it.”
So I reached out to Malcolm and I was like “You want to write this coffee table book?” And he was like “Yeah, I could write the whole story! I was there for it.” I was like “That’s what I told them.” So he was on board. He was like “Yeah, I’ll totally do it. For the money, that’s great money.” He hangs up. Five minutes later, he calls me back and goes “In a world where I’m going to be interviewing people for the book, I should just bring a camera and maybe turn it into a documentary. Malcolm’s a documentarian by trade. That’s what he normally does. So I was like “Yeah, I guess you could totally do that.” So slowly Malcolm dropped the book and just made a documentary. And it’s called Clerk and it comes out in November. It’s a documentary about my life that played at SXSW.
So he didn’t write the book. And then Chris Prince over at Inside Editions, he kept asking me “Hey, any forward movement on the book?” And I was like “Chris, it’s probably not going to happen, man. Malcolm just went and made a documentary and stuff. So I’m sorry. I wasted your time.” And Chris goes “Could I write it?” And I go “Do you know the whole story?” He goes “No, but you could tell me the whole story. That’s all we need. You talking to somebody and then I’ll transcribe all that.” And so I was like “Oh my God. If you want to do that.” I felt so bad about making him wait as long as we did. I was like “I’ll give you as much time as you want.”
So mercifully, it happened. We started this process right at the beginning of quarantine. We were touring the Reboot Roadshow tour. February 26th, 2020 was our last show. It was in New Orleans. Came home on the 27th. And a week later, the whole f*cking country was on lockdown. So at that point, there was nothing to do. Me and Chris started getting on the phone, I recorded it here on this side and then sent him the files. And we did over 20 hours. It’s a podcast series waiting to happen, man, because there’s just so much audio. So I would give the files to Chris, and Chris would narrow it down to the gold or the stuff that I hadn’t said before, structural stuff to tell the story.
So it was easy as pie on me. But it would’ve happened five years earlier if I had just let Chris go crazy instead of being like “Well, I know a guy who can write it.” Chris wound up being that guy. And when the book was done, I was like “You’ve got to put your name on the book somewhere, man.” And he was like “Yeah, somewhere.” And I’m like “No, man. You did all the heavy lifting. You asked all the questions that made me spill all the deets, and then you figured it out and shaped it into what it is.” It was for him, a dream project. And I remember talking to him about it. I was like “You never lost faith in this book, dude. Why?” He was like “I’m a View Askew fan. I always wanted to see this book.” I’m so happy for him. It’s a beautiful book. For me, it’s like career achievement stuff. “Look at this! It’s all between covers.”
BELIEVING THE INTERNET
You know, normally I’m pretty okay with who I am and where I am in the biz and stuff and in my career. But you’ve got to remember, I was a child of the internet. When they first started doing the World Wide Web, back when you could be like “I did the internet yesterday. I went to every site.” I remember in like 1999 on the View Askew message board somebody had come at my directing, they were using Dogma to attack it, and they were like “Look at that scene between Bethany and Metatron. Their sizes of the shots don’t even match.” And, you know, I had gone to a little bit of film school but dropped out. So I was like “Maybe there’s a whole course on how those sizes have to match.” So obsessively, since I read that comment from a stranger in 1999, every movie I’ve made since then I’m like “Let’s measure the coverage to make sure they’re both the same size in this shot and in this shot.”
And it was only recently on Clerks III, f*cking three weeks ago, I was telling Leron our DP “Hey man, we’ve got to make sure that our coverage matches. We’ve got to make sure that it’s the exact same size.” And Leron goes “Why?” And I was like “Because… Some random dude on the internet in 1999 told me that I’m supposed to do that.” And he’s like “That’s not true. I’ve never heard of such a thing. It helps if it’s the same size, but sometimes you make a more dramatic statement if the sizes are different. There’s no hard fast rule. Why do you believe that?” And I believe a lot of things that the internet told me early in my career. They told me that I suck as a director. And I was like “Alright. I guess they’re right.” So I guess I’ve always labored under the illusions that were provided to me early on in my interactivity with the internet. Again, I’m from a generation where the internet didn’t exist and people were civil with each other, unless they were going to beat your ass in person. People were generally civil to each other. The advent of the internet brought like incivility, the likes of which I had never been exposed to. And I also had become an artist, so they had something to attack me about. So it wasn’t just “The look of you is funny” or something. They’re like “Your work stuff.”
So that stuff rooted deep early on and stays there. I tell you all that because the book is a nice eraser. When I look at the book, I’m like “Those motherf*ckers lied. I’m not an idiot. I did a lot of things. Like look at all this!” I remember at some point online somebody was like “He’s lazy.” And I’m looking at this book and I’m like “How could I be lazy? Look at all this sh*t that we accomplished in a small amount of time.” So the book was sort of therapeutic in putting away old myths that I believed based on some sh*t that strangers said. But that’s the game. At the end of the day, you’ve got to believe somebody. And it’s always easier to believe the negative than somebody who writes wonderful things about you. I always assumed that my mother paid them off or something. But the negative folks, that rings through, because they always find chinks in your armor and attacks what you doubt about yourself. When that cat was like “His sizes of coverage don’t match,” that ate at the root of me going like “Well, I dropped out of film school, so I probably don’t know a lot of things. My first movie got picked up. I don’t know what the f*ck I’m doing. I’m a fraud,” and sh*t like that.
And now years later, as I look through the book, I’m like “If you’re a f*cking fraud, then you’re one of those fabergè eggs that f*cking fools nine out of ten people. Here’s a genuine article. You’re an artist.” And I was always so hesitant to accept that label, because it sounds so hoighty toighty, but I looked at that book and I’m like “This is an artist living an artist’s life.” Like he certainly never thinks about commercial box office or anything like that, based on the track record here and the movies he’s chosen.
GATHERING THE CONTENT
So I love the book. I love Chris for never losing faith and putting it together. I’ve had it since it was a PDF like a year ago. So I’ve had it in every form. When it was just the photos, when all of a sudden the words started showing up. Then there were things I had no idea were going to exist, like the pull-outs. He told me that later on. He was like “We’re going to do pull-outs.” I was like “What’s that?” And he’s like “It’s exactly what it sounds like. We’re gonna put sh*t in that you can pull out of the book.” And I was like “Like what?” And he was like “Like your business card, the Mooby’s fry holder, your film school application to VFS.” I was like “Are you kidding me?”
And then I also didn’t know that he reached out to people to get little testimonials. Like that made me cry. That really blew my hair back. And I only found out on accident because Ben [Affleck] texted me. And he was like “They asked me to only write 100 words, but I couldn’t stop. So I wrote 1300. Sorry!” And I was like “What are you talking about?” And he’s like “For the book. They asked me to write 100 words about how cool you are, and I just kept going, man. The poet in me came out.”
And then I reached out to Chris Prince and he was like “Why did Affleck have to spoil it? Yes, I reached out to people that you worked with. And a lot of them wrote like 100-200 word entries about who you are to them.” I was rolling tears. Then Chris was like “We have a problem with Ben’s. Ben’s is great. Problem is, I only have space for 100 words and he wrote 1300. And I don’t want to edit it down. It’s beautiful. So we’re just gonna make it a pop-out that you can take out of the book and read.”
So the book was full of surprises for me as well. I thought once I sat there for 20 hours talking about all of the movies, then I pretty much knew what to expect. “It’ll be the same pictures that they always are.” And also, I gave them access to pictures of my stuff. Like they came to the house and photographed stuff. So I thought I pretty much knew everything that was going to be in the book. And then when I saw the first PDF’s, I was like “Oh my god. He got this and this.” He got artwork that I haven’t seen since we made the movies. There’s a few pictures from Mallrats that I’ve never seen in my life. I thought I’ve seen all the Mallrats pictures. But there’s some that apparently I didn’t see and he found them and put them in the book.
BRANDON ST. RANDY
(Editor’s note: We asked Kevin Smith the same question about Brandon St. Randy that we asked Justin Long a few weeks back).
He was almost the male nurse who encounters Randal in Clerks III when Randal has his heart attack. He is the male nurse, he plays the guy, but he doesn’t do it as Brandon St. Randy. And that was because of Jay and Silent Bob Reboot.
When we were making Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, I was like “Hey man. Just play the character as Brandon St. Randy.” And he was like “Oh my god. This is going to be great.” It would’ve been so simple to just set it up and have him say “I used to do gay porn. Now I’m a lawyer.” Then everything he said would’ve made sense. Because he gave us a half an hour of adlibbed improv gold as Brandon St. Randy. But because I never thought to set it up, suddenly you just have – for people who never saw Zack and Miri – a scene where Justin Long is just randomly playing a gay character with no explanation whatsoever, and it might have caught people in a really bad way. So I remember telling Justin “I sat down [to watch] the scene, and I realized we f*caked up and I never said that you were a former gay porn star. So all the jokes you made really hit weird.” And he’s like “Oh my God. So you have to take it out?” And I’m like “Yeah, yeah. I’m gonna shave it way down.”
So he sounds like Brandon St. Randy, but all his finest material didn’t make the cut of the movie because I failed as the filmmaker to set up the joke properly. So going into Clerks III, there was a moment where I was like “Oh my God! He can be Brandon St. Randy!” But it’s like “No. This didn’t work last time. You can’t do it this time.” Next time he plays Brandon St. Randy, it’s got to be a whole Brandon St. Randy movie. Every time I see Justin, we always talk about Brandon St. Randy, and muse about like “We should just do it! Just do a whole feature with him and Bobby Long.”
[I reflect] all the time. I live in the past more than the f*cking present. Most of my work – I realized two years ago – I was like “Wow. Everything I do is predicated on the past.” You know, I used to be a futurist. Clerks was “ahead of its time” they said at one point. With Dogma and Chasing Amy, I used to be ahead of the game. But for the last 10 years, easy, I’ve become the look back guy. We had seven seasons of Comic Book Men. And the whole show was predicated on “Remember this sh*t that you grew up with? Remember your toys? Remember your comics?” Masters of the Universe, the gig that I just did for Netflix that I got a lot of sh*t for, that was predicated on the past. Jay and Silent Bob Reboot is not a new idea. It’s predicated on the past. Clerks III, predicated on the past. Everything that I do is predicated on the past at this point.
I spend a lot of time looking back. And in Clerks III, the plot device is Randal makes Clerks essentially, which allowed us to really look back. Like naval gaze at our own origins and stuff. So I spend a lot of time looking in the rear view. And post heart attack, even more so. I certainly live in the moment, and I’m certainly going to keep doing things in the future until my heart attacks me again and wins. But ever since the heart attack, as reflective as I’ve always been, you’re even more so. I sat there on the table when the doctor was like “You’re having a widow maker. In 80 percent of the cases of 100 percent blockage you’ve got, the patient always does. But you’re going to be in the 20 percent, because I’m good at my job. Hearing that I’ve got an 80 percent chance of dying, I did a damn big look back that night on the table.
You know how people tell you “My life flashed before my eyes.” I literally started the movie on myself, where I was like “Well, I may not make it out of this room, so let me look back on everything.” And when I did go from cradle to near grave, I was content, man. I was very happy. And some things of course you wish “I had done this or this.” But no true regrets. I wish I had eaten better so I wasn’t laying on a table about to possibly die, but I couldn’t feel unappreciative. I had this like weird, wonderful adventure of a life that was unlikely. It wasn’t like manifested or written in the stars like “You’re gonna go on an adventure and stuff.” But life took me on this wild adventure where I got to be important to some people. To people I’ll never meet and some people I did meet. Strangers said nice things about me and strangers said horrible things about me and stuff. Not me, but the work I’ve put out there. I got to self express. I got to bring my friends and family into it as well. So in that moment, looking back on my entire life, I was like “You know what? If it ends tonight, I’m good. I mean, it sucks. I wish I was still at the party. But it’s been so good, I can’t complain.”
So yeah, I’m Mr. look back at this point. I wonder if I will ever look forward again. I don’t know if it’s a statement about me as an artist or a hack or whatever the f*ck. But I’m trying to think if there’s anything. I know next up we’re talking about doing Mallrats 2. That’s predicated on the past. I know I want to do Moose Jaws, which sounds quasi-futuristic, but it’s also predicated on the past. It’s Jaws with a moose instead of a shark and it’s based on my love of Jaws and Strange Brew. So even that, it’s like nothing new. I just don’t have new ideas. And I don’t know if it’s because I can’t conceive of a new idea or if I love my old toys so much. When we wrapped Clerks III, Jeff Anderson gave me this piece that he had commissioned from this artist Chris McDonald. The piece is Dante, Randal, Jay and Silent Bob, and Becky but done as rag dolls with button eyes and sh*t. And the quote that he pulled from me – because I kept saying it all throughout the rehearsal – was “I just want to play with my old toys.” And so it says “I just want to play with my old toys,” and there they all are.
So I think it’s less to do with me not having something original to say and more to me wanting to say new things with my old characters and play with my old toys, so to speak. That was definitely what was at work in Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, and now in Clerks III as well. But I’m okay being look back guy, man. The past was wonderful to me. I love thinking about the 90’s. I was king in the 90’s. So looking back is awesome.
Kevin Smith’s Secret Stash is available to purchase in stores now.