Written by Laura Dengrove & Al Mannarino
Kevin Smith might be the busiest man working in Hollywood. Over the last few years, the New Jersey native director has gone through a creative renaissance. Whether it’s crafting weird films set in Canada, producing hit television shows, or watching over a podcasting empire; Smith is consistently finding news creatives avenues to explore.
While promoting the new season of the AMC series Comic Book Men, Smith talked (at length) about the origin of the reality TV series and the possibility of seeing another one of his Smodcast Network podcast adapted for television.
Can you talk about Comic Book Men and the beginning stages of it?
The boys really have all the say on the “stories” that are on the show, I mean that goes like, “Hey, let’s get Peter Mayhew on the show,” and that’s a story. And then one day we will have William Shatner who wants to talk about his motion comics, and we are like, “Oh my God, we get to talk to Captain Kirk.” Most of the other episodes are just transactional episodes, and the boys have all the say on that as well. I just get an email that tells me these are the story lines they are doing and every once in a while I may have a suggestion, but I tend to stay out of it because we made it to Season 5 without me doing anything but going like, “How bout we do a show that’s like Pawn Stars but with comic books?”
Everything else has been done by far more talented people than I. My role is to just to show up, and for those guys to tell me a story. They are programmed to do that; we have been doing that for years. I read an article in The New York Times going back three years now and they were talking about like how my generation was taught, “Go to college, learn, get a good job, and that’s the American dream.” Also in that article, they were talking about how todays generations parents are saying,
“Figure out what you love and figure out how you can get paid for it.” That is the new American Dream. This is an example of the people at Comic Book Men.
They are doing what they love, and I stay out of it. Ming really wanted this to happen, was the happiest for this to happen, would have probably killed someone for this to happen (laughs) maybe that is why it happened, I don’t ask the Dark Lord those questions (laughs.) Zapcic was happy about it, but Walt and Bryan just really didn’t want to do this, they fought it in the beginning. Biggest chip on their shoulders about it, because they come from that part of Jersey where they were worried it would make them look stupid. It took me a lifetime to convince them to do this.
When the idea for this show was brought up to me, I was told that AMC was looking for a geek show. They felt that they had a big turn out for The Walking Dead Season 1 and they felt that it was a geek audience. They were going away to shoot season two and were afraid that audience was going to go away, so they needed something to keep that audience there. And I just said, “And they think I would know what that!?” (Laughs). I told them what I would watch, which was if they did Pawn Stars in comic book stores. The genius behind the show is a guy named Bryan Nashel. He does an excellent job with putting it all together, but the real people who create the show are those four boys. They sit there everyday, and all that shit is really just those guys just riffing and talking. They didn’t do it because they wanted to; I mean I kinda had to push Walt into it.
Three years prior I told Walt they we may have to shut down the Secret Stash, because I mean there were no more Jay and Silent Bob movies why do we need a Jay and Silent Bob store. So when I pitched him on this, and we I got pitched on this, I called up Walt and I told him AMC wants to do a show set in a comic book store and he hung up on me (laughs). I called him back and asked, “Dude, what the fuck, why did you do that?” and he just said, “I don’t want to do that.” I asked why, and he said, “I don’t want to be Snookie.” I basically told him I was out of magic tricks, because after Red State I told him I wasn’t going to be doing movies anymore and I wouldn’t be able to supply the store anymore. I told him if there was a TV show, that would be promotion for the store and maybe more people will come and we could keep it open a little longer. He said he would do it for that.
When I called up Bryan about it and told him AMC wanted to do a show at the comic store he just said, “That’s fucking stupid.” And I told him what was even stupider was that Walt won’t do it without you. He said he didn’t want to do it and look stupid. I joked that was exactly what Walt said and he asked me what he said exactly. I told him he said he didn’t want to look like Snookie and Bryan just said, “Why wouldn’t he want to be like Snookie? She made a lot of money last year.” (Laughs). He had to get knee surgery so I told him that if the pilot went through for the show, we could afford to get his knee done easy peasy, so he agreed to do it. We were finally moving forward.
So they went and produced the show, and I just showed up the first time to do the podcast/roundtable thing that we do and I hadn’t seen any of the footage before but I just told them to tell me the story and that became the device. It worked so well that we never changed it. It’s been amazing to watch them pull it off, and again I say it like these people are chimps and they aren’t chimps. I just mean, these were the most unlikely of people to do this; they weren’t interested in the entertainment industry at all. I was always interested in it, fucking TV raised me, so the notion of having a TV show I was like oh my God finally, those guys weren’t like that. They aren’t showy, the fact that they generate that show every week fucking astounded me.
As a man who has truly done what you love, you’ve written for Batman, partied with Stan Lee, are there still moments where you just have that childhood joy and thrill?
I’ll give you one that happened just the other day. I was pulled into this thing we were shooting for Greg Gomberg, really nice guy and he took us to this place called Karmsar Collections. This guy James Karmsar has been collecting, since he was a boy, television. He started with little knick nacks, and then Carson, who he thinks of as a patron saint, because after the Tonight Show ended, Carson gave him the curtain in front of which every famous comedian for a thousand years has started their careers. So he started building his collection, and that gave him legitimacy, and every TV show that would wrap up he would just ask for pieces from the set and he would store it in a museum. He’s been collecting this stuff for thirty years.
So we went to shoot a segment there here we would just be, “Oh hey, look at this.” You could literally watch the entire history of television by walking through his storage unit. The thing that really blew my mind, and I got really sweaty thinking about it, was the Batman 66 pilot costumes. He pulled them out, and this was the show that meant the world to me, so seeing those suits was like the inner child in me was like, “This is Instagram click bait right here.” (Laughs). Once he pulled them out and I could see it and touch it, one thing truly blew my mind about it. One, the Batman symbol on the chest was made of cardboard. Somebody just painted it yellow, and stenciled that bat onto it and fucking taped it, wasn’t sewn, and just put it on the fucking chest. Just being able to see it and touch it, I mean this show really changed my life. I mean all of this was made by real people and turned these characters into mythological gods. It was juts amazing, so I geeked out over that.
Do you think there is a possibility for Fatman on Batman or Hollywood Babble-on to get a show?
We actually did a pilot for AMC for Hollywood Babble-on and then this time last year AMC killed its unscripted division and Hollywood Babble-on was part of it. They’ve since re-opened it and they still hope to do Babble-on, but it feels like Ralph and I do a pilot for it every other year which means there is always renewed interest in it. Fatman on Batman, there’s actually some odd, weird TV heat on that.