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The untold truth of Jay and Silent Bob

Jay and Silent Bob are one of the all-time great comedy and screen duos. Played by writer-director Kevin Smith and his longtime best friend Jason Mewes in half a dozen of Smith's "View Askewniverse" films, the characters originated as drug dealers hanging out around the Quick Stop in Smith's first feature, Clerks, but have since gone on to fight security guards (Mallrats), renegade angels (Dogma), and an unauthorized biopic (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back). 

Jay and Silent Bob have also appeared in other movies and TV shows, and even their own animated spinoff, Jay and Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie. They aren't seen on the big screen as often as they were during their '90s heyday, but these lovable losers are still together — and with even more Jay and Silent Bob projects on the way, here's a look into the origins and history of the half foul-mouthed, half-stoic degenerate duo. Snootchie bootchies!

The not-so-surprising inspiration for Jay

Like most of the cast of the ultra-DIY Clerks, Jason Mewes landed his role in the movie because he was friends with Kevin Smith, and possessed more than a little charisma. The duo went to the same high school in New Jersey, but as Smith graduated four years ahead of Mewes, they met when Smith worked at a community center where Mewes hung out. "He used to sit and read comics and I used to harass him about comic books and ask him for free ones," Mewes told The Skinny. "He'd give me his old ones."

Smith based the loud, obnoxious, aggressive character of Jay, as portrayed by Jason Mewes, on none other than… Jason Mewes. Smith may have written out Mewes' dialogue for him, but a lot of it was very closely based on Mewes' quips over the years. "When we did Clerks, I was 18, 19. That's how I used to act, exactly," Mewes says. "I didn't have any filter, I used to say stuff exactly like that. I'd get yelled at, people would get upset. A lot of the stuff that would be said, me hanging out and dancing and saying, 'what up' this and 'what up' that, that's stuff I had said over the years that Kevin had written down."

The duo's carelessness helped fund Clerks

Smith famously self-financed Clerks — which had a paltry $27,000 budget. That's not a lot of money for a movie (a budget under a few million dollars is considered "shoestring"), but it's a lot for one guy to have to raise and then spend on a movie which may or may not be enough of a hit to earn back that very personal investment. (Nor was there a guarantee it would ever even get released). Smith cobbled the money together by selling off his extensive collection of comic books, pilfering from his college fund, and then maxing out a bunch of credit cards. As he tells it in Stephen Lowenstein's 2002 interview collection My First Movie, the rest came from an insurance settlement for a destroyed car that he and Mewes shared. Mewes warned Smith that the area where the car was parked one day was going to flood, and that they should move the car. Smith said he didn't want to. Good thing they didn't.

Playing Silent Bob turned Smith into a smoker

A standout scene in Clerks featured an anti-smoking tirade delivered by a guy who turns out to have a self-interest in the matter: a representative of Chewlies, a gum manufacturer (in other words, the cigarette industry's biggest rival in the war for those oral fixation dollars). That scene reflects Smith's real feelings about smoking, or at least how he felt about the habit in 1993-94, when the film was being made. He hated the whole idea of smoking, an opinion informed by his years of selling cigarettes all day long at a New Jersey convenience store. Nevertheless, Smith's character of Silent Bob smokes — he is, after all, a drug dealer who hangs around in front of a convenience store all day. Smith made sure not to inhale when he had to smoke in character, but those little tastes of nicotine still, slowly but surely, got him hooked. Smith eventually became a two-pack a day smoker, but gave it up in 2008 when he replaced the cigarettes with marijuana.

Mewes was almost replaced in Mallrats

Smith made Clerks himself, so he was free to cast anybody he wanted—like Mewes, his best friend, as Jay. But because studio Gramercy Pictures made the quasi-sequel Mallrats, Smith had to deal with some corporate interference. Studio executives were adamantly opposed to letting Mewes play Jay again, and instead wanted the more experienced and bankable Seth Green to step into the role. Smith convinced studio executives that Mewes was right for the role that he originated, but the studio still kept Green on call for the duration of the shoot as an understudy should things not work out with Mewes. To add insult to injury, the studio also refused to pay for Mewes to travel to the set in Minnesota or for his hotel room during the shoot. Studio executives even showed up to the first day of filming, fully prepared to fire Mewes if they didn't think he was good enough. Smith made Mewes aware of the situation, prompting him to give as good a performance as he could—and the suits finally approved.

Mewes was extremely prepared for Dogma

After Gramercy's reluctance to cast Mewes, he didn't want to take any chances. He showed up to the set of one of Smith's next movie, the epic religious comedy Dogma, extremely prepared. Not only did he memorize all of his own lines before shooting began, he'd also learned everybody else's. Yep — he'd memorized the entire script. This was because Smith met with Mewes before rehearsals and told him that he needed to do his best work, because not only was Dogma the biggest production they'd ever embarked on, but they had "real actors in the movie" this time, beyond just their core group of friends from Clerks, Mallrats, and Chasing Amy. Specifically, the legendary Alan Rickman had been cast in the movie as the angel Metatron. Mewes showed up and gave his performance everything he had because he didn't want to "p*** off that Rickman dude."

Despite doing his best on Dogma, Mewes still had trouble filming the movie because he was deeply addicted to heroin at the time of shooting. In a series of blog posts, Smith detailed the times during the shoot when Mewes was especially far gone, which is visible in the finished film. In the scene when the apostle Rufus (Chris Rock) is delivering his backstory outside the Mooby's, for example, Jay can be seen nodding off. That's a telltale sign of being high on heroin.

Smith helped Mewes get off drugs

Mewes first became addicted to heroin around 1995, and it was Smith who urged Mewes into rehab. After his relapses during Dogma, Mewes moved back in which his mother, who had been diagnosed with AIDS. She shared some of her prescription painkillers with him to help ease the symptoms of withdrawal, a kind act which backfired, as it left Mewes addicted to OxyContin. Shortly thereafter, Mewes was arrested for heroin possession and sentenced to drug counseling and community service.

In an attempt to get him clean once and for all, Smith invited Mewes to live with him and his family in California after the filming of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Still struggling with drugs, Mewes stole Smith's bank card, withdrew cash, and used it to buy heroin that he had shipped to a hotel where he and Smith were doing press for Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Undeterred, Smith kept checking Mewes into a series of rehab clinics, none of which lasted long. Mewes says he hit rock bottom on Christmas Day 2003, when he woke up on a couch that was on fire — which he'd started after getting high and falling asleep near a candle. Mewes returned to New Jersey and attended court-mandated drug rehab. As of 2017, he was seven years sober.

Why Jay and Silent Bob show up in Scream 3

Jay and Silent Bob work best in small doses, punctuating the action with their brazen ridiculousness in Smith's movies. But they're such pop culture icons that they've shown up in other places, too, such as the 2000 movie Scream 3. Like many of Smith's films, Scream 3 was distributed by Miramax. Studio head Bob Weinstein called Smith and told him he had an idea for a Jay and Silent Bob cameo in it, which had a plot about the filming of a movie, and took place on a movie set. Smith came up with some lines for the scene on the spot, and Weinstein approved them. Jason Mewes was down because he liked the perks of the easy gig: a $300 per diem and a free T-shirt. He told Smith, "We should do this all the time. We can pop up in every horror movie, and get three hundred bucks a day and a shirt!"

Clerks: The Animated Series

In 2000, Disney-owned ABC commissioned an animated series based on Clerks. While the film's dialogue and plot points are downright filthy, that kind of thing just wasn't going to fly on primetime network television. As a result, the family-friendly network required some alterations from the source material. Among them: Jay and Silent Bob are not drug dealers on Clerks: The Animated Series. Rather, they're just kind of pranksters who hang out outside the Quick Stop, and occasionally sell fireworks to kids. 

Only two episodes aired before ABC canceled it, and even with that, one of the shortest runs of any show in network TV history, the network bungled it.  The second episode of the show parodied the old sitcom filler trick of "flashback" episodes, in which characters would remember fun things that happened (in the form of clips). In the second episode of Clerks, the characters looked back on just the first episode. A funny, audacious bit… but ruined by how ABC ran the flashback episode before the pilot episode it referenced.

Drake was Upset to see them

Movies, cartoons, horror movies — Jay and Silent Bob show up just about everywhere. Even Canadian teen soap operas. In 2004, Smith and Mewes (and Jay and Silent Bob) showed up in three episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation. Smith is an unabashed fan of that Canadian TV franchise, peppering his movies with many references to its many iterations. In their arc, Smith and Mewes played "themselves," who head up north to Degrassi High School to film a (fictional) movie called Jay and Silent Bob Go Canadian, Eh! While in Canada, they also get into the educational spirit of Degrassi and work hard to get their diplomas thanks to the help of a principal portrayed by onetime collaborator Alanis Morissette (an actual Canadian, she portrayed God in Smith's Dogma).

Probably the most famous Degrassi "graduate" is actor and musician Aubrey Graham, or, as he's better known, Drake. In 2018, he paid homage to his past with the video for "I'm Upset" taking place at a Degrassi High reunion. Even Jay and Silent Bob, who make a brief cameo, apparently got an invite.

Virtual insanity is what they're living in

Back when Jay and Silent Bob made their auspicious onscreen debut in 1994 with Clerks, lots of people thought visual reality would be the "next big thing" in technology and entertainment. Consumers would simply strap on a high-tech helmet and submerge themselves in fantastic, unreal worlds. Well, only now, well into the 21st century, is virtual reality starting to happen in earnest, while Jay and Silent Bob are still around to explore the possibilities of the medium.

In 2018, Smith announced that he'd write and direct a live-action, interactive television series called Jay and Silent Bob VR. Viewers will take in the action as they assume Silent Bob's point of view, while Mewes, as Jay, "leads the way through a string of idiotic adventures," according to press materials. Produced by STX Entertainment's Surreal division, the show should hit VR apps and headsets sometime in the not-too-distant future.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back…strikes back

Jay and Silent Bob, or rather Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes, are not immune to Hollywood's current obsession with remakes and reboots of well-liked and successful older things. They are, however, not lazy enough to just rehash the old hits without doing something new, or at least make fun of the whole endeavor. In August 2017, Smith tweeted that he and Mewes were about to shoot another entry in the "View Askewniverse" of Smith's films, a direct "follow-up flick" to 2001's Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back called Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. "If you remember Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, it was a movie in which Jay and Silent Bob found out Hollywood was making a movie about them so they went cross country to Hollywood to stop that from happening," Smith explained at a Q&A. "In Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, Jay and Silent Bob find out that Hollywood is making a reboot of that old movie that they had made about them, and they have to go cross the country to Hollywood to stop it all over again… It's a movie that makes fun of sequels and remakes and reboots while being all three at the same time." Smith hopes to have the film ready for release in 2019.