Travis, Billy-Ray, and Randy are just high school kids, dorky high school kids who want to get laid. So they go online and find an older woman to fulfill their fantasy of having sex with her one after the other.
When they get to the woman’s trailer, she plies them with alcohol, and before the guys know it they are knocked out, bound and gagged by Abin Cooper, a fundamentalist Christian preacher known for protesting at the funerals of gay victims of hate crimes. He has hog-tied the high-schoolers so that his lathered-up flock, made up exclusively of his family members, can torture and murder them for their perverted, homosexual ways (after all, they wanted to have sex one after the other). What ensues is part horror flick, part comedy, part antifundamentalist polemic, and pure Kevin Smith.
It’s the rare movie that lets its villain conflate teenage boys’ sexual desires with those of gay men, but there’s nothing typical about Smith’s Red State. The movie’s release has involved a five-week-long, 16-city tour that had the writer-director riding from city to city in a bus to attend Q&As after every sold-out screening (the film is now on Blu-ray and video on demand with a select theatrical release this month). Nor is there anything typical about the straight, onetime indie-film darling (remember Clerks?) who’s become an online pioneer. Smith’s status as an outsider icon is secure, as some of his 1.8 million Twitter followers travel across the country to have him officiate their weddings (which he calls SMarriages), not to mention his 24-hour online radio network of podcasts (SModcasts).
And then there’s Smith’s unlikely activism on behalf of LGBT folks and same-sex marriage, as well as his interest in gay sex. Particularly blow jobs. “I’m not gay, but I’m curious as fuck. Not bi-curious,” Smith clarifies, with no sign of defensiveness, “just curious. I like to know a lot of shit.”
It all started for Smith when his brother, Donald, came out to him in the late 1980s. Actually, their mother told Kevin that Donald was gay. “He didn’t tell me himself and I thought, Oh, shit, he thinks I’m that fucking dude, who would be like ‘Ewww!’ ” recalls Smith, who blurted out to his brother that he knew he was gay while on a road trip from Seattle to Vancouver. With that initial coming-out awkwardness behind them, Smith grilled his brother on all the gritty gay details, like “Glory holes: yes or no?”
Smith’s new knowledge got the budding filmmaker wondering what it would be like to be a gay man having to watch so many heterosexual love stories on the screen. Smith says he began making movies because he hadn’t seen himself and his friends up there yet, and he wanted the same for his brother. So at the beginning of his career he determined that any movie he makes will have some gay element for Donald. “I love him to death,” Smith says, sitting in his tour bus last fall on the Los Angeles set of Red State. “The idea of him sitting through any flick of mine and not having something that spoke directly to him just kind of hurt my feelings, it hurt my heart a little bit. So I was like, I’m going to put something in there all the time for him.”
The scene in Smith’s 1997 movie, Chasing Amy, in which Banky (Jason Lee) questions Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams) about being a lesbian came directly from Smith’s car ride with his brother. Chasing Amy, about a guy, played by Ben Affleck, who falls for a lesbian, is kind of like When Harry Met Sally…, if only Sally were gay and Harry’s best friend a homophobe. Despite making a movie about bisexuality, skepticism about his politics lingered.
Many lesbians were wary of Smith because Chasing Amy, to them, was yet another movie in which a woman was merely lesbian until she found the right man. Not so, says Smith. “A lot of people just assumed I was homophobic,” reveals Smith, dressed in his trademark hockey jersey and denim shorts, a uniform that more readily suggests bigot than, say, metrosexual.
Smith’s longtime pro-gay, sex-positive stance hasn’t earned him the highest honors among mainstream gays. In fact, walking the thin gray line between being offensive and comically disarming—what Smith does best—got 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back slapped with a rebuke from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation for parodying homophobia to an audience that might not get it. Said Scott Seomin, then–media director for GLAAD, in a letter to Smith at the time: “We believe that satirical sophistication is not a fundamental expectation of an audience bombarded by fag jokes and gags revolving around genitals and simulated sex acts.”
Maybe GLAAD just didn’t get Smith’s brand of satire. With the exception of the bear enclave, many gay men don’t seem to know what to make of Smith, with his cuddly looks and blunt manner. Or maybe Smith just prefers his outsider status, a standing he inadvertently secured early last year when he was kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight for being over the carrier’s size limit. Publicly he had a self-deprecating sense of humor over the incident, tweeting about himself as “the fat director” and “the dude who’s too fat for the airlines.” Privately, he was humiliated by the media’s use of those terms as if fact. “They used my own words against me,” he says. “It was the most horrible moment of my life.”
Coming as it did around the same time that his Bruce Willis–Tracy Morgan comedy Cop Out was getting trashed by critics (he was a director-for-hire on someone else’s script), it was a one-two punch that changed the course of Smith’s career and life. He has retreated into a world of his own making, buying a bus that takes him to his sold-out gigs. Determined not to get on an airplane again, he set up a home for his podcasts, a theater in Hollywood he called the SModcastle, where he recorded shows before an audience and officiated weddings for fans, which are podcast for posterity. This summer Smith shuttered the SModcastle and merged it with the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club.
True to form, Smith is an equal opportunity marrier (or should we say SMarrier?). “Gay SMarriage? What’s the difference?” says Rev Kev, as he calls himself. “I imagine I’ll get a lot more details out of these guys,” he said before his first such union, in February, between Scott Loudon and Michael Wojtowicz, two die-hard Smith fans, hockey fans, and International Bear Rendezvous attendees who have been together for more than 16 years. “If you’re at a gay wedding, you’ve got to loosen up. Let’s talk dick!”
Sure enough, there was a lot of dick talk at the Loudon-Wojtowicz wedding. A lengthy description of an hour-and-a-half–long blow job led to their revealing that Scott is a “pushy bottom,” the pair have a penchant for threesomes (many of their partners were in the audience), and that they fell in love as next-door neighbors when Mike was married to a woman.
All of this fed Smith’s horny-guy ethos. In his worldview, all gay men are Peter Pan sex hounds. They’re eternal teenage boys, horny like the kids in Red State, only free to find hookups wherever and whenever they want. It’s actually Smith’s own fantasy, just with the anatomy altered. The happily married father seems to live vicariously through his gay friends and fans. When Mike and Scott told a story of their first tentative interactions, Smith cut in, “Dude, you can’t play hard to get when you’re gay! It’s like, ‘I want to fuck.’ ”
He got plenty of sex banter on his “Blow Hard” SModcasts, which Smith used to host with his good friend Malcolm Ingram, who now does it on his own. They discussed every bit of Ingram’s sex life. “Malcolm’s one of my closest friends and we can’t not talk about his world,” Smith explains. “Why would we not want to talk about his world? His world is more interesting than my world. The whole gay world is more interesting than the straight world. He does wonderful, crazy shit that only comes from being as free as he can be. I find that endlessly fascinating.” In 2007, around the time that Ingram’s documentary Small Town Gay Bar (which Smith produced) came out, the two posed together for the cover of A Bear’s Life magazine and Smith showed it off proudly on Late Show With David Letterman.
Still an outsider, Smith is dressing his own way, podcasting his own way, even making and distributing movies his own way — all of his output a true reflection of the man he’s become at 41. Red State is a messy, rambly, passionate explosion of anger, humor, and social commentary. Smith modeled the film’s villain on the real Westboro Baptist preacher Fred Phelps.
The filmmaker has no qualms about any of it, explaining Red State with a statement that could easily describe his whole life: “This is the movie that goes after all the fucking jerks.”