My teenage years are easily defined by my two biggest loves: pro wrestling and Kevin Smith movies. I spend a lot of time talking about wrestling, but not as much about Kevin Smith. Today, I’m going to change that.
My introduction to Kevin Smith began with Chasing Amy. I didn’t know who Kevin Smith was and I was only familiar with Jay and Silent Bob from the Magic Eye Mallrats ads that seem to run in all the comics in 1995. I had heard of Clerks, but other than being in black and white I didn’t know much else. Chasing Amy… now that was another story.
I discovered Chasing Amy late one night on Starz, Encore, or HBO. I caught part of the movie and was floored by how gritty and relatable it was. Not relatable in the whole dating a lesbian thing, but relatable in guys talking like normal guys. It was geeky, funny, and full of heart and I searched the movie listings so I could set my VCR and record the whole movie. One I watched the entire movie I was blown away. It was so unlike everything I usually watched and I loved it.
A few months after discovering this masterpiece, my dad got help moving a hot tub by an old Navy buddy and his son. His son was in his early twenties and I was just entering high school. I didn’t really have much to talk to him about, but somehow my interest in filmmaking came up and he started raving about some director named Kevin Smith who had a new movie coming out soon called Dogma. The more he talked the more I wanted to watch all of his movies and that’s when it finally clicked that this was the same guy who did Chasing Amy. I immediately set out to watch Clerks and Mallrats and found myself soaking up every tidbit of his career and films on the internet.
Kevin Smith was great with the early internet. He was very active and had a fantastic View Askew message board where he interacted with the fans. I watched from afar with dreams of attending Vulgarthon and visiting all the iconic filming locations in Red Bank, New Jersey. As DVDs were released, I discovered his wonderful audio commentaries ported over from his laserdiscs and that’s when my fandom went to a whole other level. Here was a fat guy, like me, who loved nerdy stuff and made movies with his friends. His movies all took place in the same universe and overlapped and had great inside jokes for die-hard fans. The guys talked closer to the way that I talked than anyone else that I had ever seen. It was almost magical, how in love with the View Askew Universe I became.
I bought everything I could from the Secret Stash. I watched all of the produced movies like Drawing Flies, Vulgar, and my personal favorite, A Better Place. I began following the View Askew actors onto other projects and became a life long defender of both Jason Lee and Ben Affleck. I quoted the movies constantly and I was there opening night for Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Jersey Girl, and Clerks 2.
Heck, I even rocked this Jersey Girl shirt for a very long time and practiced some early lightsaber graphics in Paint Shop Pro.
I wanted to be Kevin Smith and thanks to his openness and all the access he provided fans with massive DVD extras and commentary tracks, I felt like I was part of his world. Walt Flanagan, Bryan Johnson, Jason Mewes, Vincent Pereira and so forth seemed like the group of friends I wished I had. Guys who constantly cracked on each other and were unabashedly themselves. It’s not too surprising that years later I’d bond with Jimmy over our love for Kevin’s early films and it was even less of a surprise that my friend Michael was equally a die-hard fan.
I bought every DVD Kevin took part in, even ones he just recorded commentary tracks for. I loved his standup specials and his time filming Degrassi. When Clerks 2 came out, I ordered the special edition that came in a Mooby lunch box and contained a cup and visor. I’ll never forget slowly pausing the film to find my name in the credits which made me feel like an official part of the world that I loved.
The next day, I decided to check out the commentary track on my Clerks 2 disc and that is when the first crack in my Kevin Smith fandom emerged. Prior to this commentary track, my only real issue with Kevin was his constant bashing of Mallrats which eventually turned to Jersey Girl. It was almost as if he couldn’t take the bad reviews and failures, so he turned on his own work and called it shit before anyone else could. He wanted to be in the joke and not be the joke. This was small potatoes, but this commentary track was a bit more severe.
As the movie was coming to a close, I found myself laughing with the cast of Red Bank misfits. I haven’t listened to this commentary track since it came out, but if I recall correctly Walt Flanagan said something about listening to the commentary tracks and Kevin made a comment about sad, pathetic guys listening to it alone. I looked around my bedroom, where I sat by myself and I felt a twinge of insult. What did my hero just say?
Walt went on to defend people listening to commentary tracks alone when Kevin doubled down on how pathetic it was and how a bunch of friends should sit around and listen together.
It wasn’t enough to kill my love for all things View Askew, but it was the first dent. I still followed Kevin’s path into horror, his launch of his podcast network, and even attended two live events. The message board was long gone, but Twitter had emerged and eventually Comic Book Men made it onto the air. It seemed like Kevin was even more famous than before, but something was different. His movies didn’t quite hit the same way that they used to. He started announcing tons of projects that never happened. He started having falling outs with long time friends and collaborators, and as each year passed, my interest and fandom declined. His movies were no longer something I had to see opening weekend, but were now something I’d just catch when they were streaming for free. I even stopped the constant rotation of rewatching all of his previous films and commentary tracks and just moved on. I figured I just outgrew Kevin’s films.
Earlier this year, I decided to take a trip back down View Askew Memory Lane after many, many years away. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed watching the classic films. Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma… they all hold up so well. I remembered all the great special features, deleted scenes, comic books, and everything in between. Whether I liked it or not, a huge part of my interests and personality were shaped by these films and characters. Hell, in someways I feel like I grew up to be way too much like Dante Hicks.
After my glorious trip to Wrestlecade, I came home feeling a little empty. I had some upcoming wrestling events, but I really wanted to do something more. I think between having a desire to have something to look forward to and a feeling that I’m getting older and need to start doing the things I want to do, I remembered my trip to Mecca… Red Bank, New Jersey.
I hopped online to see if all the usual places were still there so that I could virtually formulate a trip. That’s when I ran across some startling news, Walt was no longer at the Stash. Lots of rumors have circulated, and the core of it is Walt called Kevin out of his addiction to weed and somewhere along the lines he resigned or got asked to step down. They moved the store and Walt and Bryan moved their Tell Em Steve Dave Podcast into its own space and separated completely from Kevin’s podcasting network.
I quit listening to Kevin’s podcasts years ago once he started smoking weed. He went from being my favorite speaker to a dumb stoner almost overnight. I didn’t have a lot of patience for the stoner kids in high school and I certainly am not going to volunteer my time to hear a grown man giggling and telling dumb stories while spreading as much pro-weed propaganda as possible.
I did listen to Tell Em Steve Dave and I really enjoyed it. I was listening as they aired though and stopped somewhere around episode thirty-five. Over the years, I’ve gone back and tried to listen to one of the dozens started and stopped podcasts Kevin’s done, but I never revisited Tell Em Steve Dave. Then, I noticed they were celebrating their 500th episode, so I added it to my favorite podcast app and began my commute home.
It didn’t take me long to realize that I didn’t outgrow Kevin’s movies. Kevin had just lost touch with his inspiration. Walt Flanagan and Bryan Johnson were the basis for the Dante/Randal and Brodie/TS relationships. It was the Holden/Banky connections that made those movies so good. His friends were amazing, quirky, and funny, and the moment he stopped using them for inspiration, things began going downhill.
Listening to Tell Em Steve Dave this week felt like going home. The timing of the jokes, the constant joshing, and the unabashed honesty reminded me of why I fell in love with Kevin’s movies and commentary tracks in the first place. These were just normal guys, who were friends, and liked having a good time. They have a very similar sense of humor to myself and they truly know who they are, something I feel that Kevin has forgotten.
In a strange way, I’ve been inspired as the week has gone on by TESD. I think it helped me get back in touch with a version of myself who gave a little of a damn about things. A guy who had no problem telling someone they were being an asshole. Don’t get me wrong, the younger version of me wasn’t all that mature, but I do feel like I’ve lost some authenticity within myself trying not to rock the boat.
In my humble opinion, Tell Em Steve Dave contains the spirit of View Askew. It’s funny, self-deprecating, and smart. Every episode I listened to reminded me of the same joy I used to feel engaged in Kevin’s movies, and that’s when I realized my mistake. I didn’t want to be Kevin, I just wanted to have Kevin’s friends.