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

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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?