From Silent Bob to 'Silent But Deadly': The comedic universe of Kevin Smith

From Silent Bob to 'Silent But Deadly': The comedic universe of Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith (Getty Images)

Kevin Smith's nearly two-and-a-half decade career is a strange roller coaster that's hard to wrap your head around. In the last two decades, everything the man has done should technically make him a revered auteur legend on par with the likes of Richard Linklater and Quentin Tarantino. But the story is far from it. Somehow, Smith has managed to always chip away at the edge of the mainstream, amassing a relatively small, devout audience that has stayed true to his unique style.

To call Kevin Smith just a filmmaker would be blatantly dismissive. He's definitely much more than that. In 1994, with his film Clerks, he broke out onto the scene as a pioneer of lo-fi slacker cinema. The comedic duo of Jay and Silent Bob, portrayed by Jason Mewes and Smith himself, has gone on to become an icon of modern comedy. Under the thin veneer of Smith's films, be it The Clerks series, Chasing Amy(1997) or the strangely wonderful Ben Affleck and Matt Damon starrer Dogma(1999), there lies some strong stuff. A strong grip on the post-modern aesthetic, a defeatism that is ever prevalent in modern society and several levels of intertextuality between works has led to Smith transcending genres, which is evident when you consider the fact that Smith managed to create a unique fictional universe like no other - what fans refer to as 'View Askewniverse' - named after his own production company View Askew Productions.


Kevin Smith's 1994 cult film 'Clerks' is what kicked off the 'View Askewniverse', establishing a market for his unique brand of comedy. (Image Source: IMDb)

Of course, Kevin Smith still makes films from time to time. Films that celebrate the strange and incongruent instead of shunning it. Films that are as loathed by critics as celebrated by his fans, putting him in a truly unique position as a filmmaker. His most recent efforts as a filmmaker - the string of horror flicks that include 'Red State' and 'Tusk,' and the 'Yoga Hosers' - were all thrashed by critics, but something tells me that Smith would take that as a compliment.

Smith's focus today has changed from just films to something more overarching. Kevin Smith's greatest material today is Kevin Smith himself! Always one to center his artistic style around dialogue which often touches on the mundane and the existential, strongly underlined by a gritty sense of humor with ample profanity thrown around, Smith has veered his entire career direction towards his ability to rant and ramble endlessly.

Kevin Smith is an active podcaster, co-hosting several shows on his own SModcast Podcast Network, including 'SModcast', 'Fatman on Batman', and the live show 'Hollywood Babble-On'. He produces and appears on the AMC reality show 'Comic Book Man' which is set in his comic book shop, Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash, in Red Bank, New Jersey. He preaches to a congregation of 3.37 million on Twitter and 2.8 million on Facebook and he tours the world with his elaborate and long comedy sets. Smith manages to keep himself quite busy. But all of this, including his filmmaking 'career' is simply a platform for the business of promoting the persona that is Kevin Smith.

The appeal of this persona is actually more relevant and understandable in today's age than ever before. For a generation that is bombarded with infinite amounts of content, any scripted comedy that doesn't feel genuine is immediately dismissed in search of the next genuinely funny act. Comedy is serious business these days, especially with millennial comedy nerds dissecting your every move on Reddit. And in the landscape of this scrutiny, not just by fanbases, but critics as well, Kevin Smith's brand of comedy comes forth as earnest as earnest can be.

Whether he's just talking about incidents on set, filming his TV show or giving us gratuitous details about sex with his wife, the straight-from-the-heart delivery and honest humor stands out, carving a comedic niche for the brand that is Kevin Smith. That's exactly what you can expect from Smith's upcoming comedy special 'Silent But Deadly', which premieres via Showtime on Friday, 11 May.

Speaking of straight-from-the heart material, this is a good time to provide some context about Kevin's heart. The special was filmed at the Alex Theater in Glendale, CA on February 26, as part of two stand-up shows. But right after the first show ended, he suffered a near-fatal heart attack. In this hilarious set, Smith riffs on marriage, fatherhood, friends and his work (or lack thereof). Though unaware of Smith’s condition then, both he and the audience would later learn that Smith had suffered a massive heart attack caused by a 100 percent blockage of the artery known as “the widowmaker.” A look at one of the promotional clip from the Showtime special shows Kevin talking about a new approach to his diet. In the context of his 'widowmaker' heart attack, the promo is almost eerily prophetic.

In this context, the title of the special 'Silent But Deadly' seems almost in bad taste, but it's something that would totally fit in with Fatman's canon of works. As the multifaceted artiste recently announced on Twitter, he was more than happy for Showtime to pick up the comedy special.

There's almost this grim smile-in-the-face-of-death air that hangs over this comedic special. No matter how hard you try, it's almost impossible to view it outside the context of the fact that it was filmed the day we almost lost a comedy legend of our times. But Kevin seems to have sprung back from his tryst with the reaper by flipping his lifestyle around. He's reportedly lost 32 pounds by switching to an all-plant diet after doctors discussed genetics, nutrition, and drug use as possible causes for the massive attack. Smith was recently on The Jim & Sam Show as well as The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to promote his upcoming comedy special and it looks like he's already started adapting his near-death experience into his material. 

In his first interview after his heart attack, Kevin admitted that he plans to lose 50 pounds. “This is the weight I was when I met my wife, so this is a good weight to be at. Last time I was at this weight, I scored, big time,” he said. “I joined Weight Watchers, and they made me an ambassador. It’s me, Oprah and DJ Khaled, I’m in pretty good company.” Classic Kevin Smith!

It's exactly this never-say-die attitude that has kept Kevin Smith thriving in the margins of the entertainment industry. The ability to get a distanced, third-person view of your own life and then turn that into pure comedy gold is not something everyone can pull of well. Off the top of my head, maybe Kevin Hart and some of Bill Hicks would fit the bill, but this brand of self-deprecatory humor which celebrates the burnt-out, underachieving American beta male is definitely rare. Going forward, it is this unique ability of Kevin Smith that still leaves a chance for him to enter the mainstream. But whether he gets into that limelight or not, one thing is for sure - the Kevin Smith fan base will never be satiated by his niche brand of humor and will keep coming back for more Kevin Smith.

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