Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tough Sh*t: Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good, by Kevin Smith

So, we all know I’m a voracious reader; and as I’ve implied a time or two (or three or four), I’m a big TV watcher as well.  The last piece of the triumvirate that is my favorite form of entertainment are podcasts.  But not just any podcasts.  Rather, one of my favorite ‘entertainment industry’ past-time are the podcasts found on the SModcast network.  The original SModcast is hosted by indie film director Kevin Smith (some of my favorite films of his include Clerks, Dogma, and Red State) and his long-time friend and producer Scott Moser.  SModcast is two dudes sitting around having a conversation – and they are some of the funniest conversations you’re ever likely to hear.  SModcast birthed a plethora of other shows that I enjoy, like the podcasts Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave, Hollywood Babble-On, and the AMC original production Comic Book Men (based on TESD).  With a stable of podcasts and other entertainment mediums springing from the original SModcast, Smith created S.I.R. – SModcast Internet Radio – where all these podcasts (and oh so many more) can be heard for free.

Besides being a podcasting magnate, Kevin Smith is also very much still connected to the movie-making business; he is something of a stand-up comedian, as anyone who has seen one of his Q & A can attest to; and he’s a wickedly sharp writer.  All three (or even four) dimensions of the artist that is Kevin Smith gets wrapped up in his latest book, Tough Sh*t: Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good.

I didn’t know what to expect going into this book.  I have all of Smith’s films on DVD and have enjoyed them for years including the first three Q&As (full disclosure: I didn’t understand or appreciate Clerks until I was in my late teens, and I was less than kind to it and Smith before that); I’ve tried reading Smith’s My Boring Ass Life, but found it too aptly named to follow through but enjoyed his collection of essays Silent Bob Speaks; I following Smith on Twitter; and I listened to his SModcasts religiously since discovering them (in fact, they helped me survive the worst job I ever had).  All that to say, I’ve spent so much time with his art and creations that I feel like I know Smith personally and I’ve heard a lot of his stories.  But Tough Sh*t was new and refreshing, and not all what I was expecting.

Like the title suggests, Tough Sh*t is a combination of stories of Smith’s hard-earned experiences with a soupcon of advice thrown in to illustrate what he took away from each passage in his life.  Fans of the podcast will recognize names and certain events, and they will be familiar with back-stories, but that’s not to say fans of SModcast can’t enjoy this read.  For those interested in the workings of the film-industry, Smith walks the reader through the Weinstein’s production empire; he writes about his own experiences in creating his art; and most shockingly of all, he names names.  Smith might be considered an honourary Canadian at this point (he loves hockey and Scott Moser so damned much, how can we refuse him?), but what’s out of character with most uber-polite Canadians is his willingness to openly admit who screwed him over in what situation.  For the reader, it’s deliciously naughty to read about him telling Harvey Weinstein to shut the fuck up at a screening of Red State, but is Harvey going to be happy that that story was put in print?  Probably not.  (And it made me sad to read that that was the last time Smith ‘spoke’ to him.)

My favorite part of Tough Sh*t gives closure to one of the stories frequently alluded to on SModcast that Smith never fully explained: what went wrong with Bruce Willis.  As most people know, Smith worked first with Willis on Die Hard 4, then again on the film he directed, Cop Out.  While listening to the podcasts around the time of production, there would be hints that all was not well on the Cop Out set, but no real details.  Following production and release, those hints got stronger and more obvious, but again, no real details.  But in Tough Sh*t, Smith outlines exactly what happened.  It’s at once satisfying to be let in on the secret, and yet not at all shocking to hear about Willis’ shenanigans (he just seems like that type of dude) – I highly recommend you read Tough Sh*t if for no other reason than to burst any disillusionments you may have about Willis.

This wouldn’t be much of a book review if I didn’t talk about the writing style itself.  Anyone whose seen (and appreciates) a Kevin Smith movie knows that he’s a master of dialogue and story telling.  Tough Sh*t is just further proof of that.  The writing is fast-paced and never lags, it’s on-point and clever, and it makes you want to read more.  Again, because I’m so familiar with the podcasts, I know this is the genuine article as I can hear Smith’s voice in my head while reading it; it’s completely honest to who Smith is. 

Up to now, this entire review must seem like one long love letter to Smith (or as he would put it, I’m sucking him off).  And in some ways, it is – I really did enjoy the book, and I enjoy all his other work.  But, there is one aspect of the work that stood out as a miss for me, and that were the passages containing the ‘life advice.’  It’s not the content I disagree with (rather, some of them are really inspirational, and I hope I learnt something from them to move my own art forward), it’s the manner in which they were presented.  Always at the end of the chapter, and related to the story that chapter told, the life advice often seems like an addendum – you can literally feel the tone change, and it’s often times abrupt and jarring, not at all as finessed as the rest of the work.  Moreover, editorially, I would have rearranged the final three chapters to end with the description of the Carnegie gig – the chapters about Jen (as lovely as it is) and John Hughes are like an anti-climax, the content for which could have been presented earlier or integrated elsewhere.  As I always tell my tutoring students – never introduce new thoughts into the conclusion of your writing as it throws off the reader.  Unfortunately, Smith is a little guilty of this.

So, final verdict?  Read this book.  Watch all the Smith’s movies.  Become a devotee to the SModcast empire (it is, after all, where the puck is going in the entertainment industry).  I can’t say enough good things about Smith and all the free funny he’s provided for me over the years.  Weather you choose to read Tough Sh*t as an overview of a long and fruitful career in Hollywood, or as a Tony Robins-esque self-help guide, I believe you’ll get what it is your looking for.  Having said all that, there’s only one way I could end this review, and that’s by imploring you all to have a week.

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