Kevin Smith: ‘I’m Better than Spielberg’ (at Podcasting)

“Clerks” director opens a Hollywood theater for podcasting, and says talking is more fulfilling than making movies

Director Kevin Smith has long been known as one of the best talkers in the movie business, whether he’s doing a typically outspoken interview or delivering his raucous annual talk in front of sold-out crowds at Comic-Con. Kevin Smith

But over the past few years, the director has turned talking into a second career, launching several hugely successful podcasts, including his signature “Smodcast” with producer Scott Mosier. Smith recently signed a deal with Sirius Satellite Radio to carry his podcasts, which routinely sit atop the iTunes charts and are available on his Smodcast website. (He has more than 350,000 subscribers per week for the free shows.)

Over the summer, he took out a lease on a 50-seat theater in Hollywood and dubbed it the Smodcastle. The theater tapes live podcasts four nights a week, charging a modest admission price; typically, some feature Smith himself and others feature friends like Tom Green.

Smith met with TheWrap at the Smodcastle, which is furnished with fan artwork depicting the director and with a carpet sporting the logo of his beloved New Jersey Devils hockey team.

Why open a theater just for podcasting?
It kind of started on Twitter. I’d been doing a live tour with Mosier, and talking about how much I was enjoying that. And I was thinking, oh man, if you do a show every week, it’d be nice to have a theater where you could do it. So I became kind of obsessed with the notion of getting a black-box theater. So I started tweeting about it, and people got really into the notion.

Now, Twitter’s like hanging out with a bunch of your friends when you’re drunk. It’s like, “I wanna show my dick,” and they’re like, “Do it, dude, do it!” Nobody on Twitter’s going, “What’s it gonna cost?” But Matt Cohen, a dude that I’ve known for a few years through the website, got into the notion and became the point man. I was like, “Go find a theater we can rent for way under five grand, refurbish, paint it, do whatever we want with it.”

It’s more than a theater…
Well, it became more and more personal. When it started, it was like, we’ll just have a place to go. And then it turned into a space to hang up the artwork. We were originally sharing it an paying what we pay now. But then we started getting real proprietary about it — it’s our f—ing theater, man.

Doesn’t that get costly, when the product is something that you give away for free?
If nothing else, I’m very good at turning a nickel. I’m not good at the big stuff, but I love to take a buck and turn it into three bucks — and that works for a place like this.

So we’ve been able to not only monetize it with the shows, but now we’re heading into the thing that we think is going to pay the rent every month, which is “Smarriages.” We’re going to do weddings here, and do it as a show.

How will that work?
I’ll come out and start the show, we’ll introduce the couple and I’ll interview them for an hour, get really nitty gritty – and the last 15 minutes of the show, I’m an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church, so I’ll marry them. If we can pull off one of those a month, that would pay for the place.

At a certain point, your Q&As and podcasts and talks seemed to be focused around your movies. Now, it’s almost as if the movies are irrelevant to the rest.
So  irrelevant. It’s almost at the point where I’m like, if I can get this up and running in a big bad way, in a way that I can live off, I’ll do less and less on the movie front. This is much more interesting to me now. I mean, it’s not that movies are boring, but I’ve done movies for 15 years, and you can only add a spoke to that wheel.Smodcast

In film, I make Kevin Smith films. There a ceiling to what I can do, and I know that now. But in the podcasting world, I’m a better filmmaker than Steven Spielberg. Nobody can challenge me there, you know what I’m saying?

So where do you take it from here?
A lot of people are like, “Oh, TV!” No. It’s not visually interesting to watch two people have a conversation, I don’t give a s— what the f—ing “Tonight Show” has said for years. At the end of the day, it’s so much better in the ears.

I mean, I’m fat. I don’t want  to be seen. Podcasting brings me closer to what I’m sure I’m going after, which is every comedy album I grew up listening to when I was a kid. People don’t do that anymore – why do an album when you can do an HBO special or a movie? I have the luxury of already having a day job, and now I can experiment and play in a way that I can afford to do because it’s not my primary job. So for me, every week I can pretend that we’re making a comedy album.

And also, it’s the wild wild west out there. You can say whatever the f— you want on the Internet. Nobody’s yet regulated it to where they can shut you down. So right there, that’s way more interesting.

With your one sponsor being a sexual aid, I guess you don’t have to deal with squeamish advertisers.
No. And the freedom is just about giving the s— away for free, man. That’s all it took. I cannot tell you the amount of good will the show has produced over the years. I mean, I survived “Cop Out” based on the good will that’s been provided by Smodcasts over the years. Dudes are like, “It’s not your best, man – but you give us free comedy every week.” So they let you slide a little bit.

It reminds me of the early days of film, when it was still fun. You didn’t have to think about some f—ing agent who’s busting your balls when you know their client wants to be in your movie. You don’t have to deal with financing people who say, “I don’t understand this. What does this mean?” Or somebody who says, “You gotta put this motherf—er in your cast.”

You’ve arranged the schedule on your current film, “Red State,” to accommodate podcasts.
Yeah, I’ve tried to fashion the schedule here that way. It used to be that if I got involved in a production, people would have to wait for the podcasts. But I can’t live like that anymore. Now, I’ll almost put aside a production to focus on this. Because I like knowing that people are downloading it, that they’re looking for it on a Monday and a Tuesday and a Wednesday.

We’re slowly building a network of sorts, kind of like in the old days of TV, where the sky’s the limit. It comes from a lifetime, I guess, of watching TV and listening to comedy records. And now I’m shaping myself, I guess, into being a little broadcasting network.