Friendly Misfire

By Michael Reid Busk

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Posted November 19, 2009 in Arts & Culture

So you’re standing in line at the Whole Foods and in front of you is a pair of stoned thirtysomething guys, jibber-jabbering about vasectomies, angry Jesus and Stalin’s secret monkey army. They’re funny enough, so you put down your People and its article about Kim Kardashian’s magician of a make-up artist to listen to them ramble on about Helen Keller, the Second Coming and Alanis Morissette getting mugged. They say things like: “And then I took my shirt off and started playing the saxophone” and “If you’re too old to believe in Santa, you can’t believe in magic . . . or Jesus.” You chuckle as they pay for their Twinkies and beer, smiling to yourself as they head to the parking lot, trying to hear what they have to say about Hitler and dachshunds. 

Now imagine the same situation, but on the day before Christmas at Walmart, that hellish nightmare scenario in which all the registers are on the fritz but one, and each of the 30 people in front of you has a cart overflowing with food and last-minute presents . . . including the two guys in front of you, who keep talking and talking and talking. Slowly but surely their wacky what-ifs and musings about Satan’s chances as an ultimate fighter fade into an unending stream of stories about sex with their wives, sex with senior citizens, sex with dogs, sex with victims of cerebral palsy, sex with Helen Keller.

If the second scenario were to take book form, it would be Shootin‘ the Sh*t With Kevin Smith: The Best of SModcast. Smith, the highbrow/lowbrow auteur behind Clerks and Dogma, has been podcasting weekly for the past two and a half years with his longtime producing partner Scott Mosier, and the book is a collection of the best segments’ transcripts. But the title is telling: the book is like a dirtier, more tangential version of the banter you might catch during a televised sporting event’s timeout, but instead of being 45 seconds, it’s an entire hour. And as anyone who’s ever tried hosting a radio program can tell you, speaking on-air in anything less than repetitive gibberish is hard. The good souls on NPR generally manage it, as does Rush Limbaugh (although his trick is sounding like he’s saying something new when he’s actually being repetitive), but Smith and Mosier, in any of the podcast transcripts that run longer than three pages, simply rehash the same joke over and over and over again. Helen Keller’s sex life: it’s funny the first time, and unquestionably not funny the sixth.

This is unfortunate not merely because it makes the 350+ page book the literary equivalent of a marathon through knee-deep mud, but because Kevin Smith is actually a very smart guy, and what often seem like trivial gross-out hypotheticals are often very interesting, such as the following scenario: your wife is killed in a car accident but her brain is transferred whole and intact into the body of an eight-year-old girl. The situation raises fascinating questions about what it means to be a person, and is in fact an excellent crucible in which to think about the mind/body problem central to much of contemporary philosophy, but Smith and Mosier use the situation to chit-chat instead about whether it would be ethically acceptable to give oral sex to an eight-year-old.

Most of Smith’s movies suffer from this problem, settling for the cheap laugh from material that could have been mined far more intelligently. Kevin Smith is trapped in his own sort of mind/body curse, in which he possesses the brain of a very smart adult, but is condemned forever to think about grown-up issues with a theoretical apparatus no more sophisticated than a high school kid’s. But Smith is 39, and the word that comes to mind to describe this book, as with so much of his work, is, regrettably: sophomoric.

Shootin the Sh*t With Kevin Smith: The Best of the SModcast, Titan Books, Paperback. 384 pgs. List Price $14.95.


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