PASADENA, Calif. - When filmmaker-writer-producer Kevin Smith was kicked off an airplane three years ago for being too fat, little did he know it would incite a series of events that would change his life.
At the time, it was a tragedy, he says. "That was the worst," he says. "For a dude who was at that point so sensitive about his (expletive) weight, that was my Achilles heel. There were 5,000 Google articles. It stayed at the top of Google for the next three days. That was beyond trying. That was the worst."
That incident spiraled into a vortex of activities, including his latest gig on AMC, a reality series, "Comic Book Men," which is based on his real comic-book store in Red Bank, Monmouth County.
Smith, 41, has always entertained along the fringe. He began with his grainy cinema verite, "Clerks," 20 years ago and parlayed that into films such as "Mallrats," "Chasing Amy" "Dogma" and "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back."
He continues to explore all forms of the information age. He travels cross-country doing standup or Q&As about his career. He hosts a daily podcast show at smodcast.com.
But the incident on the airplane was so disturbing, he abandoned air travel. "I had a Q&A in Houston and Austin, so I called this bus company called Coast to Coast Coach. I asked, 'Can you rent, like a Partridge Family bus? They said, 'Yeah. How many in your party?' 'Just one.' 'Are you the too-fat-to-fly-guy?' 'Yes. I am.'
"So he rented me a bus and I fell in love with it. When you are on a bus, you open the window and see the world in such a beautiful way. I saw it in such a way I haven't seen since I toured the country with my family when I was 9 on an Amtrak train."
But he began to consider it wasteful to travel by bus with just one person onboard. That led to his podcast with his longtime fellow performers.
"Getting kicked off that plane, I can find a line directly to the AMC show," he says. "It's ironic. If you'd told me in the moment I would've said, 'I don't want it because it's painful.' But we got through the pain. And you can see how one thing leads to another. The decision to start changing is based on the things that happen to you and the things that shape you. So I changed the path just a little bit and eventually it aggregates into the boys having their own show on AMC."
An earlier rumor about him also led to a life shift. Word had spread that Smith had written a draft of the script of "Good Will Hunting" when, in reality, he'd only delivered it to Harvey Weinstein, chief at Miramax, as a favor to its real authors, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. He was asked by Miramax to do an interview clearing up the misconception.
"I'd just released a 'Clerks' comic book and the chick that they sent to interview me was this girl Jennifer Schwalbach. And she came to the Hotel Bel Age in Los Angeles, and I'd just had Chris Rock in my room. He was shooting 'Lethal Weapon 4' at the time. I said, 'I might go have dinner with my ex-girlfriend. And he said, 'Don't do that, man. That's ridiculous. You've got to move on. Go (have sex with) a stranger, you don't want to go see your ex-girlfriend.' I said, 'All right, I'll think about it, Chris.'
"Chris leaves and this chick comes to the door. I open the door to someone younger than me - gorgeous ... Before she could say, 'I'm Jennifer Schwalbach from ...' I thought she was a prostitute that Chris Rock had sent to my room. Sure enough, she ended up being a journalist. We talked for two hours and talked for two hours more once the tape was done. It went from there."
He and Schwalbach married. "Hands down everything that's happened in my life, everything I've done, she's brought the most difference to my life. She brought me from a single to a couple. She made me a father. (His daughter is 12). She's the most important person in my life. That's something you don't get from everybody."
Movies have been a passion for Smith, 41, ever since he was a little kid. His dad, who worked the night shift at the post office, would pick him up from school every Wednesday afternoon to take him to a movie.
"I've been trying to figure out why he did it," ponders Smith, who lost his father to a heart attack. "Did he do it because he was, like, 'This is how I bond with my kid'? Like the same way I do certain things with my daughter now? Or did he do it because he's like, 'My kid is not interested in anything but TV and movies, might as well hang out and go see those with him?'
"Whatever it was, it really laid the foundation. And he never really said, 'You can do this.' Because that wasn't the world we were from. Not like he was, 'You can't do this' either. But it never occurred to him. It was like you could go, you could fly to outer space. We just weren't from that world."