The Reason Kevin Smith Barely Speaks In Clerks

Kevin Smith is not usually what you would call a man of few words ... except when it comes to his long-running character, Silent Bob, who first appeared in the filmmaker's low-budget directorial debut, "Clerks."

Since breaking onto the scene as an independent filmmaker with "Clerks" in 1994, Smith has gone on to have a career in other mediums, including comics and podcasting. In fact, he hosts several podcasts, and a quick perusal of his official YouTube channel shows that episodes regularly run two or three hours, about the length of a movie. Smith and his co-hosts and guests clearly have the gift of gab, and he's also stood on stage and told stories for hours in his "Evening with Kevin Smith" series of Q&A sessions at colleges around the U.S., as well as San Diego Comic-Con.

You wouldn't necessarily peg Kevin Smith as the first choice to play the silent type, and, it turns out, Silent Bob wasn't actually his first choice of roles in "Clerks." While speaking to The Guardian for a 25th-anniversary "Clerks" retrospective, Smith explained:

"The main character – Dante, the slacker who is trapped but thinks he's meant for something else – was based on me. Randal was Bryan Johnson, my friend who worked with me at Quick Stop Groceries and RST Video, where we shot the film. He didn't give a f**k about what anyone thought. He would fight with people, make fun of them to their face. He was the guy I secretly wished to be. I was going to play Randal, then I realized I couldn't memorize dialogue. So I took the role that had none – Silent Bob – and Brian O'Halloran played Dante."

Silent Bob Speaks

In the same retrospective, Smith revealed that he and his cast and crew shot "Clerks" after hours in the store where he actually worked, filming from 11:00 P.M. to 6:00 A.M. with the shutters closed (which is why the front window remains closed in the movie). It was already a big undertaking for a first-time filmmaker, and Smith was wearing many hats, in that he wrote, directed, co-produced, and co-edited "Clerks" himself. Adding the supporting role of Randall to that workload, along with his day job as a real clerk at that same convenience store, would have been a lot for anyone to juggle.

In addition to a key moment at the end of "Clerks" and a great throwaway line in "Mallrats," Silent Bob would most significantly break his silence in 1997 via Smith's third film, "Chasing Amy." While chewing his fingernails in a diner, he would use an utterance of the film's title to segue into a whole monologue. By then, Smith was able to memorize dialogue better than he was when he was first starting out. In 2005, he even published a book called, "Silent Bob Speaks." 

The Library of Congress added "Clerks" to the National Film Registry in 2019, thereby minting it as an American movie classic that is "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." Smith may not have gotten to play Randall or say many lines, but with "Clerks," his overall efforts as a filmmaker still paid off. We'll see if they'll continue to pay off when the forthcoming "Clerks III" rolls around.