Jason Mewes discusses the origins of Jay and Silent Bob
As Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) embark on a tour of the UK, we catch up with the former to discuss chat-up lines, his long-lasting friendship with Smith, and people crapping their pants
Jason Mewes is recalling how he came to know his very good buddy, cult director Kevin Smith – Silent Bob to his mouthy Jay. “Kevin says that I would come over all the time and just kinda force myself on him.” He pauses to check himself, laughing, “Not on top of him! I would just wanna hang out with him!”
Although they both attended the same New Jersey high school, they only got to know each other once Smith, who was four years ahead of Mewes, had left. “After Kevin graduated he started working at the local community centre. I used to go there as a 13/14-year-old and that's when I started to get to talk to him, ’cause he used to sit and read comics and I used to harass him about comic books and ask him for free ones. He'd give me his old ones.”
Five years of friendship later, in 1994, Smith recruited Mewes as part of his ensemble cast of mates for his very low-budget debut feature, Clerks. The black-and-white film was shot at the Quick Stop convenience store where Smith worked, and focused on a day in the life of the store's fictional clerk Dante (based on Smith) and Randal who works in the video store next door, plus a random collection of friends and oddballs who drift in and out. The dialogue is filthy, frank and questioning. It went on to be picked up and distributed by Miramax, win numerous awards and garner acclaim from critics.
Smith continued to make films that many cite as being definite cult classics – the likes of Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, as well as Clerks II. That first film also marked the beginning of Jay and Silent Bob, two very small-time drug dealers who hang out together – the former streetwise and full of bad chat-up lines and the latter largely silent but for occasional words that contain a surprising amount of worldly wisdom.
Fast forward 20 years and they're still working together and not just on films (though Clerks III is apparently imminent). Mewes produces a lot of Smith's work and there's a regular podcast, Jay and Silent Bob Get Old, that they record live. It's billed as an 'intervention' for Mewes, who has been clean from his openly-spoken-about heroin addiction for almost four years now.
“When we did Clerks I was 18 – that's how I used to act, exactly. I didn't have any filter" – Jason Mewes
The UK tour they are about to embark on is a mixture of that podcast (as well as, on some dates, the Hollywood Babble-On podcast, which Smith records live with actor and radio host Ralph Garman), a Q&A and a screening of the latest Jay and Silent Bob animated outing, Jay and Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie, which Mewes, as producer, is particularly pumped up about.
“The whole process for me was awesome. I got to sit there and watch these guys – Neil Gaiman, Ralph Garman, Eliza Dushku, Stan Lee – do their thing in a sound booth and give the script character, elevate it with their voices. Then Steve Stark, who animated and directed, he's gonna take the voices, mannerisms, the eyes, mouth and arm movements of them and animate them.”
The podcast meanwhile may well be a chatty conversation between Mewes and his old mate, but it will see some preparatory notes being scribbled as well as a certain amount of research, as Mewes always likes to take in the place he's gigging in for a few days beforehand. “I like to go do some stuff and see things and hang out. Usually something will happen, whether it be a guy crap his pants on the street – something usually happens.”
So given that there's a freewheeling nature to the podcasts and that there must be a ready-made Jay fan base out there, has Mewes ever considered stand-up? Turns out he has at least considered it: “Stand-up seems to be like you have to be on, it's all you by yourself and if people aren't laughing then you've got to be... 'Whoa, what about these doughnuts!' I don't know, it seems a lot different. I thought about trying it because I think it's very similar, it's storytelling but it's timing and jokes and all that too so I haven't done it but, maybe... I've been thinking about doing it so we'll see.”
Though it was Smith who wrote the vast majority of Jay's lines in the films, Mewes would provide ad libs and was more than just a slight inspiration for Jay. “When we did Clerks I was 18/19 – that's how I used to act, exactly,” he confesses. “I didn't have any filter, I used to say stuff exactly like that. I'd get yelled at, people would get upset. A lot of the stuff that would be said, me hanging out and dancing and saying, 'what up' this and 'what up' that, that's stuff I had said over the years that Kevin had written down. 'I'll fuck anything that moves!' I used to yell that out of the car window when we were driving. Just goofy and silly stuff.”
So did he ever use any of those truly unsubtle chat-up lines? “Not really,” he laughs, “I definitely have joked around and said that, but they never work. I had my real obnoxious sort of forward lines that I used, but not so obscene! Not now because I've been married for years, but before I was able to master feeling out people that I could maybe be a little obnoxious with – but never what I did on film, that was just real messy. Jokingly I've said things like that but after I knew that things were already involved.”
These days the nearly 40-year-old man talking on the phone is far more polite and respectful than Jay and his 'pussy' lovin' ways, yet Jay's timeline through Smith's films does mirror Mewes' own. “In Clerks II I had really just gone into rehab and got sober and so he made the character sober. He adjusted the persona to fit what's going on in my life.”
You'll no doubt get the opportunity to meet the real Mewes and see for yourselves if you go to the show, as he always pops out front afterwards. “I go out and sign stuff and say what's up and take pictures and hang out as long as I can, it's just interesting. [In the UK] I love the accent of course – I try to imitate it but I'm horrible at imitating accents. I always sound half Australian and whatever, Cockney stuff all mixed in. Last time [we did a show over here] a lot of people hadn't listened to the podcast but they heard Jason and Kevin Smith, Jay and Bob, are coming to whatever city it was and it sold out within a week. That to me is awesome and flattering. You guys are a ten-hour flight and I'm like, 'Wow, these guys want to see us!'”
It's not a bad job is it?
“Not at all, not at all,” he agrees, with another one of those good-natured laughs.
Jay & Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie, O2 Apollo, Manchester, 3 Jul