An Evening with Kevin Smith – Hammerstein Ballroom (New York, NY), 10/11/14

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Late last week I decided to see if there were any New York Comic Con tickets still available for Saturday. I had the chance to buy New York Comic Con tickets when they first went on sale, but I hemmed and hawed about; at that time, most of the announced guests were all comic book people and I didn’t think that I would get all that much out of the Con since I barely dabble in graphic novels. But once I started to see the coverage of the Con on Twitter and George Clooney made a surprise appearance, I instantly regretted not buying tickets. A good pal from college was working the event as well, someone that I rarely get to see since he lives in Los Angeles, so I was hoping that since I had nothing on the agenda for Saturday I could pop down, take in the Con craziness and hopefully catch up with my pal for a bit. Unfortunately, that was all a pipe dream, since tickets to the event had long been sold out and no additional tickets would be made available. I was, as they say, out of luck. It’s rare that my harebrained schemes don’t work out, but I shouldn’t have underestimated the devotion of the Comic Con attendees. They are a hardcore bunch.

However, in my search for last minute Comic Con tickets I discovered that there was a slate of other events that were in conjunction with Comic Con but did not require a Con badge to attend. Curious, I decided to peruse their offerings to see what else was available – perish the thought that I stay home and do something productive – and I was excited to see that one of these ancillary events was an evening with the director Kevin Smith, with a special appearance by his frequent co-star and close friend Jason Mewes. This was way better than Comic Con! I quickly procured a ticket and my weekend plans were set.

As you know if you read my post about pop culture from New Jersey, Kevin Smith is one of my favorite directors. He and Quentin Tarantino served as my entry point to the world of independent movies, a world that I’ve never left. I’ve seen Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy and Dogma more times than I can count (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Jersey Girl and Clerks 2 less often) and the films all reflect Smith’s personality and world view. He’s a pretty open guy, so I feel like I know the most about him personally than I do about most of the directors that I also enjoy. He has a high profile social media presence and isn’t afraid to share his opinion – for good and for bad. I don’t always 100% agree with him and what he has to say, but I always respect his willingness to day it and to be true to himself. I’ve watched various Q&As with him on Netflix and he’s an interesting storyteller; he may only answer one question during a 90 minute event, but he’ll spin such an interesting yarn and go off on funny tangents so you don’t even mind the limited audience participation. I actually generally dislike audience Q&A – the quality of the questions are usually crappy and people ask weird stuff- but to experience Kevin Smith live, I was willing to listen to whatever boneheaded questions fans came up with. I was slightly encouraged by the fact that Kevin Smith fans tend to be smarter with their questions than some other fan bases (soap opera fans – I’m looking at you), so I wouldn’t have to suffer as much through their asinine comments. Yes – I can be kind of judgmental.

I decided to make a day of it and headed down to NYC earlier to do some other things (which I may or may not blog about later this week) and then headed over to the Hammerstein Ballroom. I had bought a ticket for the first balcony, but seating was general admission and I wanted to make sure that I had a decent view. The doors opened at 6:30, so I wanted to be in line by six. People were already lined up by 5:30 when I walked by the theater – I wanted to make sure that I knew where it was – but it wasn’t a large enough crowd to make me nervous about my seat location, so I wandered around for a bit trying to decide if I was actually hungry for dinner or not after my late afternoon Shake Shack burger. There were no mistaking that these were “Kevin Smith” people; they all looked exactly how I imagined most die-hard Kevin Smith fans to look. A lot of them were in costume, having come from Comic Con, and by the time I finally decided to get in line I was standing behind a girl in a Batman tutu and a guy who was some sort of pirate. I felt very plain in my jeans; I’d made the effort to dress it down from my usual dresses, but since I had on nothing comic book related I still looked a little out of place. I think I was the only person in line with a purse.

It became clear to me pretty quickly that while compared to my friends I’m a pretty big Kevin Smith fan, compared to these people I was a Kevin Smith rookie. All around me were conversations about his new movie, Tusk, which I had not seen yet and the Batman: Cacophony comic book that Kevin Smith had worked on. There was even a guy in line trying to drum up support for his fan made movie adaptation of that Batman comic book; he wisely took one look at me and assumed that I was not his target audience. I was actually starting to feel a little self-conscious about being there; I didn’t feel like I belonged with this group at all. Maybe I should have boned up on my Kevin Smith trivia before the show. I accepted my role as a cultural tourist and just enjoyed listening to these passionate discussions around me. I chose not to share that my Kevin Smith fandom primarily consisted of my use of the username “Mallrat” on my friend’s message board. No one would have been impressed.

The doors opened promptly at 6:30 and after a quick pass through security I was in the Ballroom. Apparently the event had not sold all that well, since when I asked an usher how to get to the first balcony, he indicated that they were seating everyone on the floor. That was fine with me – I was getting a way better seat than anticipated and had paid less money than the people who actually purchased floor seats – and I found myself in the sixth row. Getting in line early had paid off; I actually could have been closer, but I figured there would people that would appreciate those seats more than me. Sixth row was as greedy as I was going to be. I wound up having a better seat than a guy who was in a full Batman costume; you snooze, you lose Caped Crusader.

The hour wait for the show flew by – after walking around the City all day, I was glad to be off my feet for a while – and before I knew it, it was showtime. A familiar looking guy came out and hyped the crowd, though I couldn’t place who he was or understand what exactly was happening. He introduced Kevin Smith and then it hit me – that was Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels from Run D.M.C. That was an unexpected treat – I did not anticipate seeing a rap legend at this event. This was already off to an interesting start.

The first 45 minutes or so was Kevin Smith just telling stories: his trials with just quitting sugar, some background info on the making of Tusk, updated on Clerks 3. It was all very free flowing and amusing; I had been especially interested in how he convinced Johnny Depp to appear in Tusk, which he did discuss. Turns out his daughter and Depp’s daughter go to school together and are friends, so Smith and Depp know each other from that. I have to say, parent –teacher conferences in that school have got to be fascinating. Both the girls appear in Tusk and are getting their own spin-off movie and Kevin spent a lot of time discussing the pride he had in being able to work with his daughter in her first movie role and how it changed his perspective on his career journey. He said he realized that his previous work was all a build up for this moment; he was being prepared to have this moment with his daughter and to shepherd her through this experience. It was a really sweet discussion; he was such a proud dad and you could tell that being able to work with Harley meant the absolute world to him. A lot of his tangents and anecdotes were really kind of uplifting – they were funny and a little dirty, but there was also an underlying message of believing in yourself and living your dreams. Smith is also very self-deprecating – he makes fun of his appearance, weight and abilities – but he also really encouraged the people in the audience to figure out what they want to do and what they are passionate about and going for it. He said that Tusk was sort of a lesson for people; he was very open about the process and the steps he took to make the movie. If he could make a movie about a guy being turned into a walrus, there was no idea that was worse or less crazy. It was all unexpectedly inspiring and made me want to go out and do something creative.

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He then opened it up to the crowd for some Q&A, warning everyone that he didn’t know how many questions he would actually get to. A lot of the people who got to the microphone cited Smith as the reason that they went to film school or designed their own comics and he seemed legitimately flattered to hear this. He really genuinely seems to love his fans – he had even agreed to officiate on guy’s wedding earlier at Comic Con – and he reflected the love that was given him right back to the audience. You could tell that these brief interactions meant so much to the people in the audience and he really couldn’t have been sweeter. He never moved on to the next question without checking to make sure the previous person was satisfied with the answer to their question and he indulged more than one person by letting them come up on stage to give him a hug. When one guy in the audience asked Smith to read his screenplay, Kevin gently let him down by citing the legal issues with him reading an unproduced script. He did take the cover letter that they guy had written to accompany the script and you could see the guy’s hands shaking as he handed it to Smith. He answered all range of questions with thoughtful and sincere responses; a question about process and inspiration was given the same respect and attention as a question about what actor he has worked with would he fight to the death. I knew that Smith was a fan-friendly guy, but the entire evening served to reinforce that notion. The word that I keep coming back to is genuine – he genuinely appreciates his fans and genuinely seems to love them as much as they love him. I already liked Kevin Smith before this event, but I liked him even more after it. Plus he told us what happens to Jay and Silent Bob at the end of Clerks 3, which hasn’t even started filming yet. Kevin Smith came off as a completely solid dude.

His time management skills were a little off, however, and the staff of the Hammerstein Ballroom weren’t letting him run over, so our time with special guest Jason Mewes was pretty limited. He made the most of the 7 minutes that he was on stage and regaled us with some hilarious observations about his upcoming fatherhood; that’s ray – Jay is going to be a dad. Try to wrap your head around that thought. Mewes was as delightfully weird and off-the-wall as I had anticipated and he definitely is not afraid of the over-share; one of his stories was a re-enactment of trying to have sex with his pregnant wife and his fear of hurting her belly in the process. I would have liked a little more time with him, but it was still extremely cool to see Jay and Silent Bob sharing the same stage in person. Their affection for each other was apparent.

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I’m glad that I stumbled upon this event and I would definitely go to see Kevin Smith give a talk again. He actually exceeded my expectations as to what kind of guy he is and now I feel very guilty for not going to see Tusk opening weekend, especially since it is no longer showing around here. It’s nice to see a celebrity that really connects with their fan base in a real and genuine way; if you are a Kevin Smith fan you should absolutely make an effort to see one of his Q&As. I learned quite a lot not only about his process and what he’s working on, but on how he views the world and his fans. I only wish the event had been longer so that I could have enjoyed more of his storytelling; the guy certainly has his own unique way of spinning a yarn.

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