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.

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – 12/12/12 edition

Happy 12/12/12 day – or to the good people of Wisconsin, Happy Aaron Rodgers Day! (I refuse to acknowledge what Bostonites are referring to today as.) I’m not really sure what we are supposed to be doing today to commemorate the last time we’ll see a date like this in our lifetime, other than pointing that fact out, but it’s still kind of fun. Mostly is has resulted in newspapers and news programs trying to find something interesting to say about today; my local paper went with discussing the significance of the number 12 in religion, math and myth. Seems like a stretch to me, but whatever.

So while you are pondering what today means in the grand scheme of things, take a little break to catch up on some of the pop culture stories that you might have missed in the last two weeks.

  • Fred Armisen and Bill Hader couldn’t hold it together during dress rehearsals for a sketch that didn’t make the final SNL broadcast.

 

  • I am sooooo loving the new Twitter account (@SeinfeldToday) that imagines contemporary Seinfeld episode premises. The person behind this nails it.

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Get the gang back together. I would totally watch this!

  • Google has a fun Easter egg for Seinfeld fans. Type Festivus into Google and see what appears.
  • This one is a head scratcher – AMC has a comedy pilot in development titled We Hate Paul Reserve that centers on two brothers liking in Colonial Boston who don’t like Revere. Ooooookkkkkkaaaaayyyyy.
  • A sequel to the 2010 Angelina Jolie film Salt may be happening. I wonder if there is any chance that they will film here again – I missed out on stalking running into Brad Pitt last time.
  • Kevin Youkilis is now a New York Yankee – a move that seems to have managed to upset Red Sox and Yankee fans alike. I personally don’t care – we needed a temporary 3rd baseman and he was the best we could get – but it’s going to be an interesting season.
  • FX has ordered a pilot from the producers of Homeland. I hope it is better than this season of Homeland; the show when from great to inconsistent far too quickly for me.
  • Gwen Stefani joined her husband’s band Bush on stage over the weekend.

 

  • I’m fascinated by the people who do the set design and props for movies and TV shows. Entertainment Weekly talks to Parks and Recreation’s prop master about her favorite pieces.
  • A new trailer has been released for Man of Steel, the new Superman movie.

I’m pretty meh on this franchise; I’m usually all in for superheroes, but Superman isn’t doing it for me.

  • Busy Phillips (Cougartown, Freaks and Geeks) announced on Twitter that she is expecting her second child. She’s one of my faves, so I was happy to see the good news.
  • Avril Lavigne has covered a song by her fiancée’s band Nickelback. God help us all.

 

  • The Buffalo Bills have once again let me down. I’ll have to wait yet another year for the possibility of seeing a winning season.
  • The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced the 2013 inductees. Congrats! Flavor Flav! Better luck next time, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and N.W.A.
  • DMX performs Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Fantastic!

 

  • I have no idea what to make of this rap battle between Santa and Moses (the latter is played by Snoop Dogg), but I’m pretty sure I can’t unsee it.

 

  • Loyal blog readers know that I am a fan of the mashup. I couldn’t resist this one – It’s Always Sunny in Homeland

 

  • Reading Rainbow Remix!

 

  • A man shot his girlfriend over an argument about The Walking Dead.
  •  And finally, what if the Breaking Bad credits were done in the style of The Wire? Wonder no more – feast your eyes on this epicness.

 

Jersey

This past weekend I was in New Jersey for the wedding of one of my sorority sisters. It was a nice time and I was glad to be part of the couple’s special day and catch up with some old friends, but it also meant that my pop culture consumption was pretty limited this weekend. However, you can find inspiration anywhere and my road trip got me thinking about the plethora of pop culture that I enjoy that have a connection to Jersey. I was surprised what a lengthy list it wound up being. Who knew that Jersey had so much to contribute to the world of entertainment? So as we await the imminent arrival of Hurricane Sandy, here are some of my favorite things with ties to the Garden State:

The Sopranos

Probably not the stereotype that New Jersey was hoping to get saddled with, but David Chase’s examination of “connected” men and their families – both of birth and business – really couldn’t have taken place anywhere else. Tony Soprano was a terrible man that did terrible things, but you somehow couldn’t help but root for him on some level. The audience’s acceptance of his moral ambiguity helped open the door for other great shows like Breaking Bad, so for that alone we owe Chase a great debt.  I’ll probably always remember where I was during the series finale – we first thought that the cable had gone out – and the ending will continue to be debated for years to come (my take – Tony wasn’t killed).  Re-watching the series is on my to do list; I have all the seasons on DVD, but just have to find the time. My favorite episode is an early one as it was only the fifth episode of the series. In “College,” Tony takes his daughter Meadow to look at colleges in Maine and runs into someone from his past. Not as bloody or complex as some of the later seasons, but this was the episode that had me completely committed to the show.

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons

I mentioned how much I enjoyed the musical Jersey Boys when I went to see it with my mom earlier this year, so it’s not a surprise that they made the list. Though I don’t do with the same frequency that I did immediately after the show, I do often play their music at work, especially if I’m having a bad day. The songs are just so catchy that you can’t help being in a better mood after you hear them. I also enjoy the puzzled looks that people have when they walk into my office and hear Frankie Valli coming through the speakers. Not what you expect someone my age to be rocking out to.

Kevin Smith

Though not everyone’s cup of tea, I really enjoy the works of director Kevin Smith. Jersey Girl was probably my least favorite, but it was a sweet movie that was primarily a causality of everyone being sick to death of “Bennifer” (it’s hard to believe that Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez were almost married). His movies can be crass, but they are also clever, smart and a lot of fun. Dogma has some very interesting things to say about religion and Clerks helped to inspire a whole new generation of independent filmmakers. His latest film, Red State, is a scary look into religious extremism and is one of his best movies. My favorite of the bunch has always been Mallrats, which is actually one of his least popular films. Maybe it is the presence of Shannen Doherty, maybe it is because I used to like hanging out at the mall or maybe it is the New Kids on the Block joke that the movie contains – for whatever reason, Mallrats always makes me laugh. His movies are endlessly quotable; just the other day I dropped an “I’m not even supposed to be here today” on someone, who thankfully got the reference. And even as a non-Star Wars fan, I’ve always enjoyed this scene from Clerks:

Kevin Smith the man is also pretty interesting. He can be brash and over the top, but he speaks his mind and stands behind his convictions. I’ve watched a few of his specials and they are always amusing, even if he usually only answers one question from the audience because he is so verbose.

Garden State

I will admit that I didn’t immediately take to Zach Braff’s movie Garden State. It took a second viewing for the film to really win me over. The quirkiness of the film felt a little forced the first time around – and I’m not sure that it isn’t – but once I went with it I really enjoyed it. I knew Braff from his zany antics on Scrubs, so it was interesting to see him in a smaller and somewhat quieter role as he stars as a man who must return home for the funeral of his mother. Natalie Portman and Peter Sarsgaard co-star and Jim Parsons (Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory) even has a small part. The film also has a tremendous soundtrack and helped to introduce me to many bands that at the time I wasn’t familiar with at the time, like The Shins and Iron & Wine. The film also features one my favorite heartbreaking songs, “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” by the amazing Colin Hay.

Bruce Springsteen

I don’t think it is possible to think of New Jersey and to not think of The Boss. My love of Springsteen is well documented on the blog, but to not include him in this post would be heresy. He’s never shied away from referencing his home state; odes to Jersey are peppered through his entire discography. If I could figure out where to put it, I would order this map of New Jersey that is based on Springsteen lyrics.

Jon Stewart

Though he was born in NYC, Stewart grew up in New Jersey and makes frequent reference to it. I was a fan of his before he took over The Daily Show – I am one of a handful of people who actually liked Death to Smoochy – but my admiration of him only intensified afterward. Under his tenure Stewart managed to make a show on basic cable that satirizes the news into one of the most respected and honest sources of political coverage that we have today. It’s still silly and still satirical, but The Daily Show has become a way to hold politicians accountable and to point out hypocrisy. Somewhere, Craig Kilborn is kicking himself for ever leaving the show. Stewart is a smart man and while he is not covert about his political affiliation, he is an equal opportunity offender. I would always encourage my students to watch The Daily Show back in my teaching days and it is one show that I always try to watch. Stewart is the reason for that. Though they have an amazing team on the program – working for them is actually my dream job – it is Stewart’s presence that really makes the show as great as it is. He’s kind of my hero. If you missed his debate with Bill O’Reilly, it’s on Youtube:

Cheaper By the Dozen by  Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

When I was a kid, one of my favorite books to read was the 1948 book Cheaper By the Dozen. I’m not 100% sure how an older book found its way into my hands, but I re-read it and its sequel, Belles on Their Toes, religiously. The books are biographical and chronicle the Gilbreth family and their 12 children in Montclair, NJ. Their father was a motion study and efficiency expert who often used his brood to determine the best ways to do things. These books were partially responsible for my early desire to have a lot of children, back before I understood how much work having kids really was. Now I’d be happy with just one and even that seems daunting. The books also provide an interesting glimpse at what life was like in the early part of the twentieth century; as a girl, I remember being especially intrigued by their discussion of the Roaring 20s and flappers. Even today, I try to re-read these books once a year and I rarely re-read books so that gives some insight into how much I enjoyed them. And thankfully the book has nothing in common with the movie abomination starring Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt, other than a name and twelve children.

Bon Jovi

I’ve been a fan of Bon Jovi for almost my entire life; I remember Slippery When Wet coming out when I was in elementary school and it was the only album that gave Madonna and Michael Jackson any competition for our attention. And even at ten years old, I knew that Jon Bon Jovi was very good looking. I’ve liked their music ever since. Their run of hits has been pretty impressive and though Jon can’t hit all the same notes anymore, they were still a lot of fun when I saw them in concert a few summers ago. Play this song on the jukebox of almost any bar and you’ll have people singing along in no time:

So hopefully I have done my extended family in Jersey proud with this post. Now it’s your turn – what is your favorite Garden State inspired pop culture?

This post seems especially poignant given the destruction that Hurricane Sandy caused to much of the East Coast. If you are looking for a way to help, please consider donating to the Red Cross at  www.redcross.org, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999.