Looking at his filmography, hockey has been as much a part of director Kevin Smith's films as candid language, comic books, "Star Wars" references and Jason Mewes.
The rooftop hockey atop the Quick Stop in "Clerks." Hockey violence as a metaphor during a frank sexual discussion in "Chasing Amy," not to mention Jason Lee's questioning of the Hartford Whalers' sexuality in the same film. And the roller hockey demons in "Dogma."
Hockey plays another major role in Smith's new comedy, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," opening Oct. 31. The film, in which platonic friends Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks enter the world of amateur filmmaking for profit, features beer league hockey, scenes at The Igloo in Pittsburgh and perhaps the greatest goalie mask ever created.
Fun fact: I grew up one town over from Smith in Jersey. He's Red Bank, I'm Matawan, as I informed him at the start of our interview.
"Get out of here," he said. "But wait: Are you a Jersey native and a Rangers fan?"
No, New Jersey Devils fan, actually. Just like Kevin.
"Thank God, because every once in a while you meet those cats. All the South Jersey cats still maintain their loyalty to the Flyers, because they're like 'Hey man, the Flyers have been around before Devils and I liked hockey before the Devils showed up.' And all the North Jersey people are like, 'I've been rootin' for the Rangers for years anyway.
It's so weird that there's not more pride from people living in our own state over our own team. Like, they still feel the need to cheer on teams from two bordering states. I always just kind of found that disconcerting. I feel like if you're in Jersey, you have to be a Jersey Devils fan. Anybody born within the confines of the border of the state of New Jersey, I feel, should be a Jersey Devils fan."
And then he took a breath.
Our conversation ranged from the NHL to hockey in his classic comedies to how the word "Porno" in his new flick has caused some "Dogma"-level headaches for Smith. And yet the interview kept coming back to one basic theme: His lustful disdain for the New York Rangers fans' attitudes against New Jersey.
Smith became a Devils fan for two reasons: Jersey pride, with which he's synonymous, and a familial connection to the early years of the team in the Garden State.
"The team doctor, when the franchise first kicked off, was a local doctor in Atlantic Highlands, one town over from our town. My mother worked in his office, so she would bring me home Sean Burke's goalie stick and whatnot. So I became a fan early on, because I was getting autographed pictures from these cats at an early age," he said.
He embraced hockey as a sport around 1988, he said, while working at a rec center in Highlands. His best friend Walt Flanagan, a massive Devils fan, got him into playing hockey on tennis courts and watching hockey on television. "He filled my head with all the years of Jersey Devilism that I missed," said Smith.
Smith has become one of the most famous public advocates of Devils hockey, blogging about the team for NHL.com last season during its brief playoff appearance.
PD: I'd venture to say you're the most famous Devils fan since Joe Piscopo, which I'm sure you wear as a badge of honor.
KS: I do, man. Me and Piscopo, in the same league? I'm all for that.
I know, as a Devils fan, I've attempted to explain that being a fan is essentially like being a Jersey native. That they share the same traits: Humble, but angry; constantly defending every deficiency that you're associated with through birth or residence. Do you see the team as symbolic to Jersey as a whole?
Yeah, and for me it's no different than growing up fat. If you grow up fat, you have to try harder. Being a Devils fan, you just have to try harder. You have to be more patient, put up with a lot more ribbing from everybody else, and find your calm center.
As a Devils fan and a Jersey boy, what was it like seeing a hockey arena built in Newark of all places? I know the first time I was there, it was surreal to see this fantastic building and then two blocks over there's 10 nail salons and a guy selling discount electronics.
And two streets over from that: A mugging in progress.
It was great. I thought it was cool that they put it in the middle of Newark. It totally cleaned up that area. And it was the right thing to do. They were playing in a borrowed rink for many, many years. Stepping into The Rock for that first game last year against Ottawa was fantastic. Finally, this team has the arena they absolutely deserve.
It was great sittin' there for the first time. It would have been better if they had won that night. It would have been better if the first goal scored under the roof of The Rock had been a Devil as opposed to a Senator. I just try to erase that game from my mind and think about the next game against Tampa Bay as the first game. Because they handed Tampa Bay their asses on that one.
Part of being a Devils fan is the incessant defense of their style of play to other hockey fans. Have you experienced this?
Oh, every [expletive] and their uncle wants to tell you that, "The Devils ruined hockey with that trap [expletive] system of theirs." You can't argue with three Cups, dude. That trap system is three Cups. It may not be exciting hockey to you, but it's not about making it exciting -- it's about winning the Cup for heaven's sake.
It's a system that works, and you know how I know it works? Because now the [expletive] Rangers are playing the trap style. Now everybody [expletive] plays [expletive] trap style.
What is your general impression of Rangers fans?
I don't think people like being Rangers fans as much as they like hating on the Devils. That's how it always occurs to me, man. Nothin' wrong with the Rangers team, but their fans ... some of them are just so insanely ardent to the point of being insulting to every other team in the league, but most particularly to Jersey.
"You guys won a Cup, and you had a parade in your parking lot. Dude, we had a parade in Manhattan."
Well I'm sorry, we're not based on Manhattan. I don't know what to tell you.
You did strike a blow for the forces of good and light last year when you requested women who are with New York Rangers fans to withhold sex from them during the playoffs.
Yes. I don't know if it worked. But it was worth a shot.
Doing the hockey blog [for NHL.com] was fun, but it also opened my eyes in a weird way to how vitriolic Rangers fans can be. It's bad enough when you're sitting at a game, and you've got Rangers fans screaming at you because of a game going on that you have nothing to do with -- expect for the fact that you're rooting for the team that they don't like.
But dealing with those people in print? Holy cow. They get nasty, man. Suddenly they start attacking your track record in film. "What do you know? You made Jersey Girl."
And I'm like, "Aw, I can't argue with this. I did make Jersey Girl."
HOCKEY IN THE VIEW ASKEWNIVERSE (a.k.a. MOVIES)
I actually saw a sneak of "Clerks" at the National Amusements Multiplex Cinemas in Hazlet (NJ). You were at that screening, signing a bunch of posters with Jeff Anderson and other actors ...
Yes! I remember that screening!
... and I'm finally going to make penance here: I walked past your autograph table to go to the popcorn stand. And while I never verbalized this, I'm pretty sure I was thinking, "These guys aren't going to amount to anything, and I'm hungry." So I want to apologize, even if I should be apologizing to myself for not having that [expletive] to put on eBay right now.
[Laughs] Exactly, exactly ...
As far as the hockey in "Clerks" goes, I always felt that in another dude's script it would have been the guy who needed to get to his baseball game or to his pick-up hoops game at the 'Y,' instead of Dante and his hockey game.
I remember reading a review with a critic who said, "This filmmaker doesn't put comics and hockey in a movie to express something; they put it in there because they like comics and hockey." And that was exactly why I did it.
I liked hockey, and I still like hockey. If these dudes are going to try and break away from work to do anything, it ain't gonna be to play some [expletive] ball. They're going to play some stick.
Originally, we were intending to do it on the street, and then I said, "Let's try it on the roof." I had never been on the roof, and that roof was actually terribly small. You couldn't even do, like, a shootout up there. But through the magic of cinema, we were able to make it look like a decent game.
I hadn't seen hockey depicted in a film since like, what, "The Cutting Edge?" Prior to that, it was "Slap Shot." And you don't want to even count "The Mighty Ducks." So I wanted to give a shout out.
Is the worst depiction of hockey ever on film contained in Joel Schumacher's "Batman and Robin?"
Hands-down. And it was made even worse by Schwarzenegger's "KILL THE HEROES!" line. Ugh.
You kind of proved the critics wrong in "Chasing Amy" by using hockey as a metaphor.
I got to bring it in and use it to express something cinematically, and I was proud of that. But I've been able to sprinkle it into almost every flick, and on "Zack and Miri" I was at cross-purposes: The story is set in Pittsburgh, so they have to be Pittsburgh Penguins fans. When we go to shoot outside the Igloo, I can't have everyone wearing Devils jerseys.
And the Pens are totally a team I can get behind because I like that team. They're good fans, and they're just far enough away from Jersey that they don't bother you.
How does hockey fit into "Zack and Miri?" I know I saw Seth Rogen as part of some kind of beer league team, and did I see some photo of Jeff Anderson with a wicked hockey mask?
Yeah, Jeff Anderson's character Deacon wears a wicked goalie mask that's the old style mask, and it's got a puck planted in it. Like he got a puck slapped into his face so hard that it embedded in his mask.
In the movie, they play for a team called the Monroeville Zombies. There's also a lot of Pens paraphernalia hanging up in the movie. And one of the sequences in the third act takes place at the actual Igloo. Which I was really happy to do, because they're building a new rink there, and it was nice to kind of memorialize it in a movie that wasn't the Jean-Claude Van Damme/"Sudden Death" movie.
Do we actually see Rogen on skates?
You don't see Rogen on skates, but you see Rogen on ice. I assumed as a Canadian he would know a lot about hockey and skating, and he was like, "Dude, I may be the worst Canadian on the planet. I don't know anything about hockey and I can't balance on skates." So you don't see his feet. And that's because he's on sneakers.
Where did the concept of "Zack and Miri" come from? Personal experience, or do you have an appreciation of amateur porn like I do?
Like every red-blooded American male, and some red-blooded American females, I absolutely adore homemade porn. But if you scrape away the trappings of porno, the movie's kinda about how we made "Clerks." It's a story about a bunch of people who get together to make a movie, when they have no expertise or knowledge in the area of cinema at all.
In our world, that was "Clerks." In this movie, the movie they're making is a porno.
And of course, now you're seeing the "Dogma" effect again, where people are prejudging the flick based on their own moral code.
Yeah, we're taking a lot of heat for having that word "porno" in the title. But it really doesn't concern me that much, because most of the people who would object wouldn't see the movie in the first place anyway. You could call it "Zack and Miri Make a Movie," and it wouldn't matter because they're just not inclined to see an R-rated comedy.
What's the over/under on deleted scenes for the "Zack and Miri" unrated DVD?
I'm thinking about 45 minutes. Maybe a little more. Nothing that's "too hot for theaters" though; all the good stuff stayed in the movie.
How do you feel about the gripes regarding "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" ads playing during sporting events, like on Fox?
It initially happened during a Dodgers game, and people started calling in because there was an ad for "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" that ran in the 10 o'clock hour. Some guy was explaining to his kid what a bunt was, and then his kid turned around and said, "Oh, what's a porno?" because the commercial was on. And I guess that raised dander amongst some people.
All we keep hearing is that sporting events are family entertainment, so it's tough to run these ads without removing "Make a Porno" from it. And I just find that odd, because you can watch any number of "Monday Night Football" games where you'll see any number of commercials for erectile dysfunction drugs. How come it's cool to run a Viagra ad -- which, in essence, is an ad that says, "If you can't [expletive], this pill will make you [expletive]" -- but you can't run something that says "porno" in the title?
Which also clearly isn't porno! What's the last porno you saw that had "porno" in the title?
But I was so proud of the fact that at one of the last Devils games, they made the announcement in the third period: "Devils hockey, brought to you by ‘Zack and Miri Make a Porno.'" And I was like, "Yes!"
A question we ask all our interview subjects: Your beer of choice, sir?
This is gonna make me less of a man: I don't like the taste of beer. Booze, in general, doesn't do it for me. I'm more of a Yoo-Hoo kinda non-man.
What's more disconcerting: Seeing yourself on the Jumbotron at a hockey game or on the big screen during a film?
Since the Jumbotron is still more novel, I'm gonna go with that. Although it's better at a Jersey game; the Pens put me on their Jumbotron once, and I got some good-natured boos from the Pens fans in my section.
If you were in charge of the NHL's marketing for one day, what exactly would you change?
My commercial would just be, "Hockey: It Will Get You Laid."
Finally, what happens first: A good "Star Wars" spinoff movie/TV show is produced, an above-average Superman film is released or the New York Rangers win another Stanley Cup?
Dude, I still have to go to New York every once in awhile, and I don't wanna have to fear for my life while doing so.