"I have experience with making something that the world doesn't fucking dig."
Kevin Smith knows exactly where he wants to die: the Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank, New Jersey. It's where the veteran filmmaker was born, where his mother recently spent time for a minor illness (she's fine now), and it's in the town where he grew up—where his comic-book shop Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash (the staging ground for Smith's AMC reality show Comic Book Men) is located, and where the current Los Angeles resident sometimes wishes he could spend the rest of his life.
"If I'm lucky, I'll get one of those old-person illnesses where it takes a while to take you out or something—then I can go to Red Bank, so I can die in the same hospital I was born in," he says while reclining on a cushy leather couch in a conference room in his New York publicist's office. "That would be intense, dude!" A phone starts ringing, and Smith exasperatedly rises from his position to hang it up before flopping facedown on the couch with his chin resting on the armrest—a position he stays in for the remainder of our interview. Today he's decked out in a backward baseball cap, a hockey jersey styled with the logo for comic-book hero the Flash, jean shorts, and scuffed New Balances—the closest thing to what you could call a uniform for the indefatigable indie filmmaker.
Uniforms—and, by extension, the costumes superheroes don both when they're saving the world and when they're trying to hide their identities—play a role in Smith's 12th feature film, Yoga Hosers. A spin-off of 2014's horror-comedy Tusk and the second installment in his Canada-focused "True North" trilogy, Yoga Hosers concerns two yoga-obsessed teenage convenience store employees who tangle with murderous satanic paramours, cryogenically frozen Nazis, and pint-size Hitler-resembling bratwursts ("Bratzis," as the film calls them). Yoga Hosers is a sensory overload of silly puns, Harry Styles jokes, digitized social-media imagery, spilled maple syrup, and creature-feature oddities that come together to form a movie that feels explicitly comic book-y, even without any connection to an existing franchise. By the end of the film, the convenience-store uniforms donned by heroines the "Colleens" (Lily-Rose Depp and Smith's daughter Harley Quinn) might as well resemble superhero outfits—all they're missing is capes.
Yoga Hosers is good-hearted, knowingly dopey, and cartoonishly violent all at once, a pretty rare combination. This singularness may be partly responsible for the somewhat brutal reviews it's gotten since it premiered at Sundance earlier this year, but despite the negative press, Smith seems proud of making a truly unique film. "When I showed it to some of Harley's friends, there was this one boy who was like, 'It's not like any other movie I've ever seen—it's not like The Avengers.' I was like, 'That was a successful movie, so no, it will never be like The Avengers.'"
Indeed, one element that Smith's kept intact well into the third decade of his career is his capacity for self-deprecation—a way of kicking against the critical pricks, maybe, but also a capable method of deflection that enables him to continue his impressive working pace. "I've been taking shit for this movie since Sundance," he laughs. "People on Instagram keep saying, 'Just give us Clerks 3!' I get it, that's totally fine. I just want to make the movies I want to see."
VICE: Something that stands out about Yoga Hosers is how feminine-focused the film is. What have you learned about women from raising a daughter?
Kevin Smith: So much more than I knew when I started making movies. The female characters in Clerks were written by a guy who didn't know any other females besides his mom and his sister. All of my characters tended to sound a bit like me, including the female characters. My wife is a hardcore feminist, which bleeds into who I am—and rightfully so. I do feel like my feminine side was always there. Most people say, "You're a girly man," because I've got boobs, but I felt like having a wife and kid really put me in touch with my feminine side. There's no way I would have made this movie had I not met either of those two.
With Yoga Hosers, I couldn't write or direct 15-year-old girls better than they could write and direct themselves, so I turned to them all of the time and said, "What would you guys do? What would you say? How would you feel?" It's easier to leave it up to them, and that's one of the things you to learn—sometimes you have to just let other people take the lead.
You were an early adopter of social media. Taking into account the increase in online harassment toward women, how have you seen discourse on the internet change since you first started using it?
When I jumped out on the net, there were two filmmakers on there—me and Peter Jackson. Peter Jackson got smart and started directing Oscar-winning movies, and I'm still on the internet. So I've watched the slow decline from civility. You just see the free-floating hostility. As far back as 2001, though, people were just merciless—so has it changed that much? It's gotten much less civil, and it can be a blood sport for people, but that's always been the case.
There are a few bad apples, but you can't let it spoil the bunch for everybody. This technology allowed a lot of us to find one another. When I was a kid, I didn't know any other people who liked the shit that I liked, so I felt alone. Then the internet happened and I was like, "Oh my God, you love Star Wars too? I thought there was nobody left." It's a wholly good thing, but unfortunately, from time to time, people fuck around with it.
There are two paths in life: creation and destruction. Destruction is easy, but creation requires you give a little bit of yourself and risk something. As long as you understand that going in, you get to make things and feel good at the end of the day. I have a sneaking suspicion if shit never worked out for me, I'd probably be a motherfucker online. So I have an understanding in my head and heart for it. But I also wouldn't ever be that because I wouldn't let myself. You never get anywhere attacking people online.
As a comic-book fan who understands the nature of fandom, how do you reconcile negative reactions to your work with what your understanding of fandom is?
You can't not make shit just because you're not guaranteed success. Some shit is worth doing just for doing—I learned that from Mallrats. It died at the box office, everyone hated it, then ten years later, everyone is like, "Mallrats, I fucking love that movie!" I have experience with making something that the world doesn't fucking dig.
The worst part of making movies, for me, is releasing them theatrically. It leaves you wide open for people to say, "You fucking failed!" Failure is immediate to people. They don't see the long game—or, in my case, the long con, which is, "It might not work for you now, but if you give it a minute, maybe it'll work then." If you're doing something different, you're going through the door first, and the first person through the door is the one who gets shot—so you have to decide if it's worth getting shot. To me, it always is. I look at JJ [Abrams] and think, Goddammit, I wish I was like JJ. Everything he does, everyone loves. But I'm Kevin Smith, and I like being Kevin Smith—it fucking rocks!
Yoga Hosers is based in Canada, but you've featured your home state of New Jersey throughout your previous work. What is it about the state that keeps calling you back?
It's credibility! Very few states that have that aura. I think I get a lot of passes for being from New Jersey. It's instantly relatable to people, and it makes you more authentic and real in their eyes. It's a big part of who I am, and I always come back to it. Being from Jersey puts a chip on your shoulder because you grow up next to Manhattan—you always feel like you're living in someone else's shadow. But it gives you a thicker skin, and it makes you try harder.
Follow Larry Fitzmaurice on Twitter.