On the Scene: Kevin Smith at Carnegie Hall: Hilariously sullying an institution

Kevin-smith_l Last night, at around 8:10 pm, a little girl of maybe 9 walked out onto the stage of the house that Carnegie built, her mother standing in the wings, watchng. When she got to the mic, she introduced herself: "My name is Harley Quinn Smith. My dad wanted me to say some curse words, but instead, I'll leave it to the master." And for the next three hours, Kevin Smith held court in Carnegie Hall.

If you've never been to one of the hundreds of Q&As Smith has done around the world — or seen any of the Evening With Kevin Smith DVDs — the format is simple: The writer-director gets on stage, does about 20 minutes of warm-up, and then fields questions from the audience. And the stories that get woven into the answers are what draws people to these Q&As by the thousands (the Carnegie Hall show was sold out). Smith is a born raconteur, able to spin the barest of questions (like, "Will you ever act again?") into 30-minute seminars on how his Catch and Release costar Jennifer Garner has the sense of humor of C-3PO ("Goodness gracious me!") despite being married to Ben Affleck, who tells tales that make Smith sound like a choir boy.

On stage at Carnegie Hall, he spoke of being overruled by Bruce Willis on the set of A Couple of Dicks ("When Bruce talks, you listen…especially when you're making a movie with a cop or a gun in it"), the late George Carlin's dream role ("I wanna play a clergyman who strangles six children — I think I can pull that off"), and his legacy ("Longevity kills specialness: If I'd made Clerks, rode that for five years, then disappeared, they'd have built monuments to me"). Provided you don't mind torrents of foul language, sex described in pornographic detail, and arcane pop-culture references — he even dropped a Doug Henning joke last night — it's a good time had by all.

The thing that struck me the most, however, was not how funny his Q&As are, but rather how honest they are. Kevin Smith is, by all accounts, a big dude. He's the first one to admit it: "I sweat when I f—in' breathe!" Someone asked him a nothing of a question — I can't even remember what it was, it was so inconsequential — and Smith used it to tell of when he hit rock-bottom, weight-wise. It was a 45-minute odyssey of his adventures with a public toilet — complete with hilariously, sadly graphic details — that ended with him breaking said toilet, snapping it free from the wall, with his ass. It's a mortifying story but, at the end of the day, an empowering one.

Honesty has power, precisely because we hardly ever see it. When Smith gets on a stage, he strips himself bare for all to see (metaphorically; at Carnegie Hall, he was wearing a bathrobe). He uses humor not to deflect attention away from his self-image issues, but to bring attention to them — the heat of that attention functioning like a crucible, burning away the inessential and almost purifying himself in the process. No subject is off-limits, no topic is verboten. That kind of honesty is rare, especially in our public figures, and those unaccustomed to it have problems with Smith and what he does. A young female reporter for Time Out New York, armed with a slightly holier-than-thou attitude, got up to the mic and asked him for dating advice. Without missing a beat, Smith explained to her that because he looks the way he looks, he needed to bring something else to the relationship table. So he — how can I put this? — spent long hours mastering the ancient marital art pioneered by Colonel Angus (say it fast). Withered by the polite candor of his response, this young woman sat down, and Smith moved on to the next question. Check and mate.

Anyone else ever been to one of Smith's Q&As? If so, what was your favorite story? If not, why not?

Comments (35 total) Add your comment
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  • Agnes Nutter

    I’ve never been to a Q & A of his unfortunately but have watched his “Evening with’s” many times. The prince story is burned into my memory. Not just the oddness of it but the way Smith tells it is masterful.

    • Asli

      What was the prince story?

  • Nose

    He really is a brilliant storyteller and his penchant for gossip is paralleled only by a sewing circle. It makes for an entertaining evening. Whether you love or hate his movies, his speaking engagements and books are worth your time.

  • jj

    I saw him speak when I was in college and it was one of the funniest 4 hour segments of my life. He took every question an audience member had, called Ben Affleck in the middle of the show, and left many a voicemail message for students. I was very impressed by his honesty and willingness to spend hours entertaining without ever skipping a beat.

  • davidp957

    Never been live, but have seen a few videos. His recounting of his odyssey attempting to write a screenplay for a Superman movie and his dealings with Jon Peters is hilarious.

  • Frank

    I went to his Q&A at Comic-Con a few years ago and he held serve the entire time. He went to promote Reaper (which he directed the pilot), but we rolled with questions superbly.
    One guy asked him when he would stop making crappy movies. He answered politely and then started laying into the guy. It was hilarious!

  • orville

    I’ve never been to a Q&A either, but I’d love to. Like Agnes, the Prince story is a favorite. Or what he really thinks about Timothy Olyphant. It’s a wonder that he ever gets any more work with the candor he has–both about himself and about people he’s worked with/been acquainted with. He has no trouble telling the bare bones truth about many, many famous people. Or at least the truth according to Kevin. His graphic candor can be a bit too jarring at times. No one ever needed to hear that much about his sphincter. Granted, the story was hilarious, but still uncomfortably graphic.

  • R.O.B.

    If you like his Q@A you have to check out Smodcast – he does an ongoing podcast with his producer, and many of them are hysterical.

  • cbolt

    I have all the evening wth Kevin Smith DVDs and I like story about him meeting his wife and dry humping,geting the sore on the top of his D$%&. Battery Acid! etc…

  • allibee

    orville- what did he say about Timothy Olyphant? I’m curious.

  • orville

    I think it’s in the 3rd of his Q&A DVDs. He basically goes on a rant about how he thinks Olyphant is a massively snooty a-hole.

  • Joe

    I was there at Carnegie last night. It was hilarious and heart-warming all at the same time – as long as you can handle the language. (By the way – I can!) Smith is a genius and so incredibly quick-witted with hysterical rapid fire answers. Just when you catch your breath from laughing at a funny line, the next one comes and just makes you laugh harder. I’m 52 years old and it just goes to show you what a wide audience base the man has. More power to him and bless him for his honesty!

  • katy

    I’m bummed I missed it.

  • Seanathan

    Nothing tops the Prince story he told in the first DVD

  • Winona

    Never been in person, but have seen the DVDs – nothing will top that Prince story, you’re right, Seanathan – and I recall hearing the PG-13 version of the toilet story on Jay Leno a while back. I would’ve loved to have heard the (no pun intended) unsanitary version!

  • Mike Ferraro

    My favorite story came from Kev’s 37th birthday Q&A in Red Bank in 2007. It involved J-Lo, crying, toilet paper, a lengthy trip to the bathroom, and a missing set of hand towels. I dare not say more for fear of a libel suit. Those that were there know the punchline!

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