Arts and Culture

Kevin Smith on Heart Attacks, Mile High Comics and Mooby's at Globe Hall

Kevin Smith shows off his Mooby's.
Kevin Smith shows off his Mooby's. John Troxell
Kevin Smith is one of those Generation X guys that in a lot of ways defined the generation — or at least was one of the first to put it on the big screen. From Star Wars debates to comic-book history to Stan Lee cameos to pop-culture-infused, profanity-laced, shamelessly vulgar and hilariously funny filmmaking, Kevin Smith has been King of the Nerds for a long time.

The movie that started it all, the widely acclaimed festival darling Clerks, is now over a quarter-century old, older now than its stars, characters and Smith himself were when it was made. But the world of the film — fondly called the View Askewniverse by its legions of fans, after Smith’s production company — shows no signs of flagging. Proof of that is the Mooby's Pop-Up coming to Denver onFriday, May 28, and running through June 6 at Globe Hall.

The venue will be re-envisioned as the Mooby’s from Smith’s films in all of its purple and gold fast-food glory, complete with fan-favorite photo opportunities, a Secret Stash store for merch, and a whole “seamless interactive experience” that brings the awesome while at the same time remaining pandemic-safe and friendly-like. Reservations for that event are available now at the Denver Mooby’s website. On May 28, the man himself will be there for the ceremonial ribbon-cutting: Kevin Smith will show up to shake hands and pick up a sack of his own Moo Main and Salt-Lick Sides — not to mention one of the exclusive beers New Belgium Brewing has crafted just for the occasion.

We sat down with Smith for a Zoom call, and he spoke with us for nearly an hour. This while he’s readying himself to fly here, finishing up one film and about to start on Clerks 3. He’s a busy guy who’s clearly never too busy to spend time with fans — or to talk about his fans, his recent work, the heart attack that led him back to the world of Jay and Silent Bob, and all things snoochie-boochie.

Westword: Tell us about the Mooby Pop-Up Project. How did it get started?

Kevin Smith: It was last year, right before 4/20, we started this delivery pop-up called Mooby Meals. Guy named Derek Berry, our Mooby Maestro, who’d done many theme-oriented delivery pop-ups in the past. Very successful dude. He’d done something with Saved by the Bell, Good Burger, Breaking Bad, that sort of thing, and he was getting ready to partner with Paramount on the Clueless 25th anniversary and do something with them. Then the pandemic hit, and he was going to be screwed and left with food and employees to pay, so he came to us and said, “Hey, you guys got a fake fast-food joint in your world. You wanna do a Mooby’s?” I said, “Oh, my God, yeah, I’ve been waiting fucking years for someone to ask me that question.” So we started it. Derek decorated it, built a Quick Stop and an RST Video facade, put up artwork from the movies and stuff, so people could come in and pick up their food. We’d planned to do it for a month, wound up doing it for two, and at the end of it, we figured that was it. Maybe we’d do it again next year or something.

Then we got a phone call from Gianni’s Pizzeria, which is in Red Bank, New Jersey, the hometown where Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash is, and they were like, “We would love to do this.” We talked to Derek, and we were like, “I guess we could just move it. Yeah, man, why not?” So we moved it to Jersey, and that was the first time we saw it could be like this mobile concept, this franchise, something we’d never once thought about. After that, a place Derek knew in Chicago reached out, and at that point, by the time we’d done it three times, I thought, “I think we can keep this going.”

How many cities have you been to so far?

Denver represents our fourteenth Mooby’s in less than a year. We started New Jersey in September, so that was when the “franchising” began. It’s fun for us. No one’s getting rich — at least I’m not getting rich — off the restaurant part of it. You know, the margins on food are very small. But we sell memorabilia, too, tchotchkes — essentially, a little mobile version of the Secret Stash comes to every city, and everyone is happy and has a good time. It’s been fun, especially in a world where we couldn’t do live shows, which is a big part of what I do. Never mind the money that comes from the live shows, just the connectivity, talking to fans. That kind of went away during the pandemic, so this was kind of a welcome substitute. Go to a place, have Mooby’s, take some pictures. We have one of those giant mascot costumes that Derek wears. It’s been a blast.

So did you have a hand in choosing the menu — the options for the Moo Main and Salt Lick Sides?

It was sort of a communal effort, but we took cues from the movies. Anything we ever referenced in one of the flicks wound up on the menu. That was kind of easy. Then we got to add stuff based on the region we’re going to. Like when we went up to Canada, we added Moo-tine.

What’s on the menu specifically for Denver?

I think Denver’s the first place that we have the vegan version of the chicken sandwich we call the Cock-smoker. We found a local vendor who does pretty great vegan chicken, so Denver gets to be the home of that one.
click to enlarge NEW BELGIUM BREWERY
New Belgium Brewery

And then you're partnering with New Belgium also?

Yeah, and they made us some good-looking beer, man. A team of Bluntman and Chronic beers? The cans are works of art in and of themselves. I’m sure the beer inside is tasty as well, but the cans are tasty as fuck.

So was Mooby’s a direct parody of McDonald's originally?

Yeah, in the original draft of Dogma, it was actually McDonald's, like the real fast-food joint. And I think it was Scott Mosier who said, “Have you read your own script? Like, fucking McDonald's ain’t gonna let you use their name for a movie with a fuckin’ rubber poop monster in it.” So I was like, “Oh, you’re right.” And it’s always more fun in the movie business when you get to make up your own stuff, and we already had Mooby as a concept in the script, with theme parks, TV shows — kind of like Barney amplified by Disney. So at that point, I was like, “Fuck, they can have a restaurant.”

Serendipity, I guess.

Yeah. I remember when we were shooting, Chris Rock looked around on set [at Mooby’s] and said, “Someone should do this one day.” And I was like, “Yeah, it’d be fun.” And it took like twenty fucking years, but somebody did do it.

So is it possible that we might see a brick-and-mortar Mooby’s someday? Maybe over in Red Bank?

If we were ever going to do a stand-alone, fucking this-is-gonna-stick-around version of Mooby’s, it would probably be in the Jersey area. That would make a lot of sense. Give the fans who are there to see Jay & Silent Bob’s Secret Stash a place to go eat. I wouldn’t say that’s the dream, but I ain’t against it. Lord knows I’m no restaurateur.

Speaking of Red Bank and the Secret Stash, how’s the store doing?

It’s good. We moved this year during the pandemic from our old location — the one we were in forever, the one we shot the TV show at. I’d reached out to try to get some fuckin’ rent relief, because we weren’t open for like two months, and I was like, “Hey, we’ve been here for 22 years, wonderful tenants, never had a problem" — all that shit — and we were like, "Can we stall this for a couple months until the world goes back to normal?” And they were not into that. I was like, “You’re kidding," but all right. So that gave me a minute to think and look around. I told Mike, who runs the place, I was like, "See if there’s any other space." He found a place with a lot more room, including a lot more storage space, and we meant it as a stalking horse so we could go back to our original place and say, “Hey, we got this great deal down the street, so…” Turns out that what Mike found was an unmatchable deal — more space for less money. So we made the move, and it cost a little bit to fix up the way we wanted it, but it’s beautiful. We can spread out, there’s more room in there, and in the age of COVID, that’s been helpful. We’ve got an entire Quick Stop facade in the back so fans can take a picture in front of it. Or ten minutes down the road, you can take a shot of the real fuckin’ place.

Any chance of the show [AMC’s Comic Book Men] coming back? That was a fun show.

It was, man, wasn’t it? It was such a fucking nostalgic show. It was like mainlining nostalgia. Like “Remember this fucking toy?” You know, Bryan [Johnson] and Walt [Flanagan] do this podcast called Tell ’Em Steve-Dave with Brian Quinn from Impractical Jokers, and I’ve heard rumors of them trying to bring it back on TruTV. I’d be all for it. I was always shocked that they kept renewing that show. I thought after the first season, they’d be like, “Eh, this was fun, but we don’t need any more of this.” But they kept renewing it. I used to think it was because I was friends with the guy that used to run AMC. When they renewed us for season five, I was like, “Charlie, man, thanks…I know you only do this because we’re friends,” and he was like, “You think I fuckin’ put your show on the air because we have some fun times? The show earns money. That’s why you get to stay on the air.” But I always thought we were riding on the long-ass dick of Robert Kirkman and The Walking Dead. We benefited from one of the best lead-ins in television. I was shocked we got to season seven. Ninety-seven episodes.

It’s a damn impressive run.

Right? The only time I ever thought we were going to get renewed was the final season. Because I’d had a heart attack, and I was like, “There’s no way that they cancel the show now, man! I just had a fucking heart attack!” And that was when they were like, “No, man, we’re done.” But it’d be magical if Quinn or someone wanted to bring it back.

Speaking of your heart attack, how did that change your point of view on your work and the world of all things awesomely nerdy?

It made me painfully aware that, you know, there’s a ticking clock. Like, I remember the old George Carlin bit about the two-minute warning, where he talked about how there should be a two-minute warning when you’re about to die so you could get your shit together. That heart attack was my two-minute warning. It just made me appreciate things even more. I was a fucking weepy guy before that, but now I wear my heart on both fucking sleeves.

It also made me go like, for years I didn’t really head back toward the View Askew characters. It wasn’t until the heart attack that I was like, you know what: I don’t give a shit what anyone thinks. I love these characters. I’m going to play with my toys. Makes me feel young. We pushed the Jay and Silent Bob Reboot through ’cause I was like, “This is my post-heart attack movie, and I don’t know how much more time I have to live, and I’ve gotta make this one.” And then I was like, “Now I have to do Clerks 3, and that’s what we’re moving to next.” So it’s not me going, “Let me think of the newest, latest thing.” I’m just playing with my toys, and I don’t feel as judged for it. Or if I am judged for it, I just don’t give a shit at this point.

So no interest in doing a big-budget thing? Like directing the next Marvel flick?

Too big. Too big and too expensive. Too great a height to fall. Lots of expectations with those movies. I’m so not that guy. I’m not a visionary. I so love those movies, and if they said, “We want you to be in one,” I’d say oh, fuck yes. Because they put you in shape, man. You see what they did to Kumail [Nanjiani, who plays Kingo in the upcoming Eternals film], he looks like a god cut from marble. But making one sounds like a lot of work. And I think it requires more talent than I can bring to the table.

I don’t know about that. You had the Superman movie in your wheelhouse back in the day.

True, but just for this part. [He wiggles his fingers as if typing.] Just for the writing. But if they’d said, “Hey, man, we want you to direct this thing,” that was never going to happen. There are tons of kids coming out of film schools who want to make that sort of movie. I say let ’em.

So what about writing a Marvel movie? Any interest in that?

Maybe writing. But I’ll be honest with you: There are expectations there as well. The closest I’ve gotten is this Netflix show we’ve been working on, Masters of the Universe: Revelation. Comes out in July. Our mantra going in was like, “Let’s make this a Marvel movie for He-Man fans.” When I go into a Marvel movie, I see all the shit I remember from my childhood, remixed and made more grown-up or whatever the fuck, and I enjoy the shit out of it. So I was like, “Let's cook like they cook, man.” Honor the intellectual property, honor the characters, honor the world, just grow it up a little bit. In our version, we get to cross swords, which is something the kids' cartoon never got to do. When we ended it, I was like, “Oh, shit, I love what we’ve come up with. It's just tremendous.” And after that, I thought, “Hell, maybe if they asked me, I could pull off writing a Marvel movie."

It would be great to see what you’d come up with for Marvel, but I can appreciate what you’re saying about going back and playing in your own Clerks sandbox. There’s got to be a lot of love there.

Truly, truly. And with the ticker, I like to think of it like I’m living on borrowed time. Like I was supposed to be dead on that fucking table. There was an 87 percent chance that I was going to be dead.

Any heart attack is bad, but I didn’t realize it was that bad.

Yeah. I’d been told by my own doctor that it was 80-20 against me, but a more recent doctor said, "No, it’s actually 87-13." And I was like, “I had a 13 percent chance of not fuckin’ dying?” So with that in mind, you change your habits, which I did, and you change your eating, which I did. [Smith went vegan in his recovery and remains so.] But you’re at the mercy of your biological makeup. So what if I drop dead on a movie set, which is very possible? I almost dropped dead at a comedy show. So then the question becomes: Do you want to be on someone else’s movie set? Or you want to be on your own movie set? You know? I’d rather be on mine.

Talk a little about your connections to Colorado. You’ve been here a lot, yeah?

For sure, for sure. About five years in a row, we did this Christmas tour. We’d do different cities: Colorado Springs, Denver, Aspen, a few others, and do those throughout December. The state has always embraced us, even before it went weed-legal. But once it went weed-legal, getting out to Colorado was a no-brainer.

Any favorite spots?

I remember making my own pilgrimage out to Mile High Comics. I tell Chuck [Rozanski, owner], “You’re a fucking rock-star, bro.” When I was a kid reading comic books, Mile High Comics had a double-page spread in a lot of them, with the price guide, everything. So when I finally got to go to that place, it was like I was gobsmacked. It was like, “Oh, my God, this is the place. Who knew I’d actually get to be here someday, this place I’ve read about for so long?” It’s the feeling people tell me they have at the Secret Stash, and I’m like, “Oh, thank you, I’ve had that same feeling at Mile High Comics.”
John Troxell

Any last things about the Mooby’s experience you want to say to the Colorado fans?

Bring an appetite, man, the food is always good. That’s the secret weapon of this place, because it’s usually the last thing we talk about, because we always start with the concept and the fun and stuff, but Derek’s point is always that if the food sucks, this all ends. It's one of the things I’m happiest about — that the food’s fucking good. It’s tasty.

And one last thing I’d love to shout out to the audience for is when we do the pop-up, because of the reservation system and the fact that since folks pre-order their food, there’s a chance that folks, especially in a pick-up situation, don’t necessarily feel the need to tip — you know, because it’s not quite the same dining experience. Our fans have been so fuckin’ wonderful with all these pop-ups. As much as they’re buying the merch and enjoying the food, they’re also looking out for the help. And that means something to a kid that used to work in restaurants.

Makes sense — most Kevin Smith fans have delivered a pizza or two.

You’re not fucking kidding. So true.

Kevin Smith will be cutting the ribbon at Mooby’s Pop-Up the morning of Friday, May 28, at Globe Hall, 4483 Logan Street. The pop-up runs through Sunday, June 6. For more information, go to the Globe Hall website.
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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen