Oral History offers the most comprehensive retelling of a pop culture artifact.
Kevin Smith is no Silent Bob. Contrary to his on-screen persona, the New Jersey filmmaker was the loudest slacker of the ’90s, and he used that voice to define his generation. At the time, Generation X appeared confused and lost to boomers everywhere, who all felt their eldest children lacked the necessary drive to figure out what should come next. Smith capitalized on that perception with a script that mined the angst and anxiety of his fellow maligned twentysomethings.
It proved successful. With Clerks, Smith joined a cadre of young independent filmmakers in the mid-’90s, who all would help usher in the next era of Hollywood filmmaking. Unlike his peers, though, Smith stuck to his guns, refusing to leave his great state, and spent the rest of the decade carving our parables in the Garden State. He created his own universe, long before his influences would go on to create theirs, and it spawned both a devoted cult following and a unique brand.
By the turn of the millennium, Smith could do anything. With Mallrats, Chasing Amy, and Dogma behind him, a pivot into mainstream Hollywood filmmaking was all but a guarantee for Smith. Instead, he turned away from the cameras, ditched the sets, and embraced the ink he grew up on to create an animated series. But not just any animated series, one based on the very film that gave Smith the proverbial keys to his kingdom.
Even now, the idea of Clerks: The Animated Series seems like a stretch; after all, it’s not like the lewd, black-and-white comedy screams for the animated treatment. But, by bringing in Seinfeld writer Dave Mandel, longtime producer Scott Mosier, and surrounding himself with some of Disney’s sharpest animators, Smith unlocked the shudders on the Quick Stop, and recalibrated his own source material into an entirely new medium and universe.
And so, Clerks: The Animated Series premiered on Wednesday, May 31st, 2000 via ABC, only to be canceled two episodes into its six-episode order. It was gone in the blink of an eye, seemingly scrubbed from pop culture, and to no one’s avail. But then something funny happened: The show eventually made its way on to DVD, then on to networks such as Adult Swim or Comedy Central, garnering a cult following that continues to thrive 20 years later. Even now, all Smith has to do is tweet a single phrase, and the show’s legion of fans will reply with their favorite quotes — all from six episodes.
It’s a magical thing, and certainly worth celebrating. That’s why for its 20th anniversary, we got the gang back together to hear all about how this animated series came to fruition. Ahead, you’ll hear from co-creators and writers Kevin Smith, David Mandel, and Scott Mosier, supervising director Chris Bailey, actors Brian O’Halloran and Jason Mewes, writers Steve Lookner, Brian Kelley, and Paul Dini, art department head Alan Bodner, lead character designer Stephen Silver, directors Steve Loter and Nick Filippi, editor John Royer, composer Jim Venable, and then-head of Miramax Television Billy Campbell.
Long before Dante and Randal were ever inked to paper, there was an earlier ill-fated attempt at bringing the film to television.
KEVIN SMITH (CREATOR OF CLERKS/”SILENT BOB”): When we got home from making Mallrats, Scott [Mosier] and I — and when I say home, I actually mean Los Angeles because Paul Dixon the editor was going to be cutting the movie in Los Angeles — went to L.A. for post. And while we were there, Renee Humphries, who was in Mallrats and played Trish, she had emailed me and said “Hey, can you put in a good word for me for the Clerks audition tomorrow?” And I called her because I was like “What Clerks audition?” And she was like, “Oh, there’s a sitcom and I’m going in on it tomorrow.”
RICHARD DAY (WRITER CLERKS LIVE-ACTION PILOT): I was on a TV show, and another producer on that show, who had a deal with Disney, came in mocking that he had been pitched Clerks as a potential series and “Isn’t that a bad idea?” And I heard that and went, “Oh my God. That’s a great idea. I want to do that.”
First of all, I really liked the movie a lot. I also thought it was this chance to do something that you ordinarily couldn’t do on TV if you were the likes of me. As somebody with no particular reputation, they would make me do like a Home Improvement rip off or a Friends rip off. Either a family show or a show with young, attractive people with glamorous jobs.
And Clerks was none of that. It was ordinary looking people in dead-end jobs who didn’t have any real ambitions. I thought that was a good idea for a show. And I thought the fact that they wanted to adapt Clerks meant that they knew what it meant to do an adaptation of Clerks, and that I wouldn’t be held to the same rules that I would have been if I had just gone in cold and tried to pitch without a movie property attached.
And I was wrong.
SMITH: I called up my agent — I was at CAA at the time — Tori Metzger and said, “So there’s a Clerks sitcom?” And she said, “Uh yes. When you did the deal with Miramax, when you sold Clerks, part of the deal included television, sequel, and remake rights. So they decided that they wanted to do it as a sitcom.” And I said, “Oh. Who’s doing it? Can I be involved? We’re done with Mallrats.” I obviously didn’t know what we were going to do next. So all of a sudden, the idea of this Clerks sitcom that I had no idea was even being talked about, I was like, “Oh shit. I can go work on that. I’ve got plenty of Clerks stories.”
DAY: Right after I sold the idea that I would do a Clerks show to the WB, I got a call saying Kevin would like to meet you meet you. I assume somebody in his world said, “They’re doing a show based Clerks, do you want to meet the guy who did it?” And he said, “Sure.” So, we had a very short meeting. There was nothing of substance really that happened at that meeting. But you know, he got to meet me.
SMITH: I met with Richard Day at Muso and Franks; the only time in my life I’ve ever been to Muso and Franks. He’s a nice guy. He went on later to work on Arrested Development. I saw his name on Arrested Development Season 3 stuff. So he’s a legit guy.
So, I sit down with him, and it must have been awkward for him in some weird way. Here he was moving forward on a project, and suddenly the guy who created the movie the project is based on shows up. Akin to perhaps Robert Altman or the author of the book M.A.S.H. showing up and being like, “Oh, I want to be involved now in the show.”
So I sat there talking to him during the meal, and we started talking about the show and what it’d be. Eventually, I said, “I’ve got an episode I’ve always wanted to do. A story I want to tell, where basically I want to do an Outbreak episode where Randal thinks the pet store down the street that has a monkey has the Motaba virus.”
Essentially, the episode of Outbreak we did for the Clerks cartoon.
DAY: And here’s what I think was really interesting about those scripts. I won’t say they weren’t Clerks, because Clerks is whatever he says it is, but they weren’t anything that anybody adapting Clerks into a TV show would have felt justified in doing to the property. He took it in a very big direction.
SMITH: And I’m not saying, “What an asshole he is.” I was new to the business, so I never even heard of this term. He goes “Yeah, that sounds like a good B story.” In sitcoms, you’ve got an “A story”, your main story, and then there’s something going on with some of the other characters in a “B story.” So, as he told me the Outbreak thing with Randal was a good “B story,” I was like, “This is never going to work out.” [Laughs.]
DAY: He’s written either two or three full scripts and I don’t know what they are for because we can’t flip one out for the pilot. The network and studio would never let you do that. And there is no show to write episodes for yet. So, I don’t want him to have wasted his time. And I just said something like, “You know, these are good. Maybe there are some ‘B stories’ we can use.” And he was apparently very insulted by that.
SMITH: In any event, we go to the auditions, and we’re there for a few hours. We saw Jeff [Anderson] and Brian [O’Halloran] audition. We saw a lot of young Hollywood audition at that point. Some of the same people we’d seen audition for Mallrats months before. And then we were there for about four hours and it was coming up to lunch time. So, me and Scott were avid cigarette smokers and I said, “We’re gonna go outside and grab a smoke.”
So we went outside to smoke, and as soon as we stepped outside, and the door closed, I lit my cigarette and turned to Scott and said, “Let’s get out of here.” And he goes, “Yeah?” And I said, “Yeah, man. This ‘aint ours. It’s so weird. I feel weird being in there. We don’t even get to say who’s good, who’s not, and who gets to be the guy. They’re not gonna use Brian or Jeff. All of this feels weird, so let’s go.” So, off we went.
DAY: I feel bad that the pilot became as laughable in the wrong way as it did. And part of that were elements outside of my control, such as who the studio wanted to cast. The best things happen, though. Because it failed, Kevin got to do a Clerks show. And he’s the one who has a right to do a Clerks show. So, I’m glad I didn’t prevent him from doing that, because certainly that was a positive experience in his life. Clerks remained a very big part in his work.
Read ahead as Dante and Randal head to ABC…
With the first attempt to bring Clerks to television having been deemed by all (including Richard Day) as a failure, it would be another couple of years before discussions started coming up again.
SMITH: I don’t remember if I was the guy going, “I want to make a Clerks cartoon.” I don’t think I’m that visionary. It’s so weird. I think about young Kevin Smith often and I can’t get my head around that guy going, “Yeah, a cartoon.”
SCOTT MOSIER (CO-CREATOR/WRITER): My memory is that Kevin had brought it up, and he had talked to his agents at CAA. And I’m trying to remember if there was like an initial round of art that somebody did or something like that. But he was at CAA at the time. So my memory is that it started early on, but it only got traction later on when we switched over to WME, I believe.
DAVID MANDEL (CO-CREATOR/WRITER): I was a Clerks fan and I was a fan of Kevin’s and we had an agent that we shared at the time at the old Endeavour agency named Phil Raskin. And Phil was always like, “Oh, do you want to meet him? Do you want to meet him? Do you want to meet him?” And I never did, because I didn’t have anything to say. I was a huge fan, but I didn’t want to just be like, “Hey. How are ya? I like your stuff,” you know what I mean? So, I had finished up on Seinfeld and I went into this deal at Touchstone, which was under Disney and they owned ABC. Somewhere along the line, this thing very early came around, which was this idea of trying to do this animated version of Clerks, and I jumped at it.
SMITH: Dave talked about wanting to use the characters, and the set up to just go crazy on pop culture and essentially do our version of The Simpsons. We were all huge Simpsons fans. So, the idea was of building a universe — a Springfield-like universe — for these characters. Since we couldn’t curse, because it was going to be on network T.V., we had to make up for that perceived deficit by bringing something else to the table. And Dave was like, “If it’s a cartoon, we could do anything. We could tell any story we want. Sky’s the limit. There’s no budget. You could do something like somebody built a way bigger Quick Stop across the street.”
MOSIER: Early on, you all sit down and go, “Well, we can’t say ‘fuck’ and there’s a lot of things that we can’t do. Well what seems like sort of a fun idea or how do we sort of expand the universe?”
MANDEL: Something we almost preemptively knew was that, along with language, Jay and Silent Bob weren’t going to be drug dealers. They sort of became mischief makers, if you will. I mean, obviously, they sort of played it almost as high as usual, so to speak. So our general feeling was, If you knew who they were and what their origins were, you would still think they’re the same, hopefully. But if you didn’t know, obviously we weren’t going to say, you know, drug dealers.
SMITH: I was already sold because I liked Dave. He had a great pedigree. Aside from Seinfeld, which I watched religiously, Dave wrote for Saturday Night Live, which was something I desperately wanted to do. He was funny, clever, a great guy, great to talk to at the table, we shared an agency, we could gossip about the business. We were all young. He was more-well trained than me. He was a Harvard kid and studied writing and stuff like that. I was more an outsider artist and stuff. But still, we got along really, really well.
MANDEL: I can remember just talking about everything in the world from like old Saturday Night Live sketches to obscure runs on comic books that we both really dug. There was just so much that we had in common. It was pretty crazy actually, as I remember it. And we really just hit it off.
SMITH: So once we meet Dave at the diner, and we go through what this could be and we tell our agent, “Yeah, we want to do this,” they start getting ready to pitch it around.
BILLY CAMPBELL (HEAD OF MIRAMAX TELEVISION): I was hired to basically start Miramax Television, and one of our goals from the beginning was to really utilize as much of the Miramax relationship or relationships as we could. And I ended up meeting with tons of different personalities. But one of the things that was really exciting for me and fun was being introduced to Kevin. I was just thrilled that I had the opportunity to sit and get to know him and talk to him. And from the very beginning, he was so easy to work with. Here’s a guy who had not only great success, but also a cult audience. If you were a Kevin Smith fan, you were a devout Kevin Smith fan. So, we weren’t sure how that would translate into broadcast television, but it was fun to just sit and creatively talk about it.
SMITH: We pitched it everywhere. When we went to pitch to all these places, you name it, we went there. Any place that had a TV network, we went and pitched at.
MOSIER: At the time, we were at Miramax, and they were owned by Disney, and so there was this sort of synergy idea that was floated.
SMITH: At ABC, we pitched to Jamie Tarses, who was like the bigwig at that time in Los Angeles. So, we pitched to her, and she maybe smiled during our pitch, but it didn’t seem like it was for her or ABC at all.
MANDEL: The other place that was very interested in it at the time was the very new Paramount network, UPN. And nowhere else seemed to care as much, but those were the two places it came down to.
SMITH: Dean Valentine, who ran UPN, had come from the ranks of Disney. He was a Disney exec. And then when they started running UPN, they grabbed him and bam, he’s over there running that. So after our pitch, he loved us and we got along great and shit. He was like, “This is UPN. You could run forever on this network. Sky’s the limit here.”
MOSIER: They had just done Dilbert. So, I think it was part of their initial branding attempt was to be the animation network.
SMITH: And Dean Valentine was offering 12 episodes on the air. Bang. Like 12 episodes. It was a half a season order, but they’ll go right on the air. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts, man. But it was at UPN. But we didn’t care. And Dave was like, “Look, I’ve been to big networks. I’d much rather be at UPN and own this place than go over to ABC and have to deal with notes and censors. You don’t want to deal with that. At UPN, we’ll have a lot more freedom.”
CAMPBELL: Dean responded really well. And we thought we got a great opportunity. At the time, they had acquired Dilbert. So on the business side and creatively, we were all excited. I thought, This is perfect. That would be a great night of programming. Animated on UPN, a much younger audience, a much more alternative audience. They weren’t a traditional broadcast network.
SMITH: So we were all like “Let’s do this shit.” Meanwhile, Dean Valentine calls up his old boss Michael Eisner and says, “Hey, I just heard the Clerks pitch. I want this show. I think it’ll pair up real nicely with Dilbert. Dilbert first, Clerks second. Two cartoons back to back. So, do me a favor, man. Help me get this, ‘cause we’re friends.”
And I wasn’t in the room, but apparently Michael Eisner was like “Okay” and then hung up and was like “What is the Clerks cartoon and why does Dean Valentine want it?” So he found out that we had pitched to Jamie at ABC and he said, “I want to hear this pitch. Bring this pitch to me.”
The other name — get ready to clench your asshole — that pops up in these proceedings, who wasn’t intimately involved but periodically, was Harvey Weinstein. So, Harvey Weinstein tells us at one point that we have to pitch again in New York to Michael Eisner, the head of Disney, and then the guy who was in charge of ABC, a man named Bob Iger.
MANDEL: Not the most popular name to reference, but Harvey Weinstein was definitely very interested in this thing. They had just been bought by Disney, and he actually came with us to the Disney pitch where I think Eisner was in the room and certainly Iger, who was number two, was as well.
SMITH: And we go upstairs, and Harvey tells us, “Look, this is where we want to be. I know Dean Valentine made that UPN offer and stuff, but ABC, this is where we want to be. This is a real network. So let’s do this right. And I’ll make it work. I’ve got this.” You know, he’s going to “save the day”, as if there was a day that needed saving. We already had an offer from a great company on the table.
MOSIER: My memory of it was mostly just sort of that out-of-body experience of, “Why are we in a meeting with Michael Eisner and Bob Iger?” [Laughs.] Especially the out of body idea of like when you’re sitting on set of Clerks making the movie itself. Like if somebody was fast-forwarding it to the moment where we’re all in New York City in a glass tower at a giant conference table sitting across from Michael Eisner and Bob Iger as they try to convince us to make a Clerks animated show for ABC. Clerks has been a source of many, many surreal moments over the course of our lives, and that was one of them. Like you’re going “Michael Eisner, why are you dealing with this?” It just felt like he got called to move a desk or something and he was brought down to do this thing. And you’re like “Why? What’s going on over there that you need to be the guy to lead us in?”
SMITH: So we go into our pitch. We pitch as best as we could and stuff, and then after it was all done, they’re like, “Alright. We’re gonna think about it.” So, we left the room and went home back to Jersey. Then, we had a conference call that night. Harvey called, and it’s me and Mos on the phone and Dave Mandel. And he says, “Okay. I’ve heard from ABC and they are offering us six episodes, not guaranteed on the air.” And we were like, “Okay. But UPN is offering us 12 episodes put on the air. So that’s a better deal, right?”
And he goes “Wellll, you’ve got to think ahead. You’ve got to be visionary. You can’t just go for what’s in front of you. You’ve gotta think. Now ABC and Miramax are owned by the same company, Disney. So this is really just them taking money out of one pocket and putting it into the other pocket. So if we go with ABC, maybe we don’t get 12 episodes on the air like UPN is offering, but they’ll let us run forever. Why would they cancel us? They own the show. You understand?” Then he says this. “Every once in a while, the brass ring comes around. ABC is the brass ring. You could do a UPN show, but anybody could do that. ABC is the brass ring.”
CAMPBELL: I told Harvey from the very beginning, “The problem with ABC is the expectations are going to be higher. So it’s going to be tough for us to hit those expectations with this type of project.” What I really was worried about was that ABC at the time had the most stringent Broadcast Standards and Practices department, which really meant that language, content, almost all of the really funny things that Dave and Kevin and the team came up with, we either had to take it out, we had to mute it, or we had to dilute it. And, unfortunately, that for me was the biggest disappointment.
MANDEL: CBS had, even still then, all the old people watching and NBC had all the young people watching and ABC has nobody watching. And that was a thing that was a big problem for them. And so, I think they looked at us at the time as something very hip and cool. And, by the way, them being in last place, and their — if you will — desperation was one of the reasons we did go with them. I mean there was a method to our madness of making the wrong choice.
MOSIER: ABC was in third place in the ratings. They were at that period of “How are they going to reinvent themselves?” And so, I remember it was the year of taking chances or whatever. It was us and I think they bought a show by Peter Berg called Wonderland that was sort of like ER in a mental hospital. So, they had all these midseason replacements that were sort of more geared towards testing the water in different directions.
MANDEL: It sort of came down to this idea of like the small pond versus the big pond, and I don’t want to blame anyone, but I will definitely say from the Miramax side there was definitely a lot of pressure. They wanted to, I think, appease their new owners of Disney and so they were definitely pushing hard on the ABC side of things as I remember.
CAMPBELL: I think in the end, Harvey really forced us to take the Disney/ABC deal. And I told him that that was a huge mistake. And in the end, he said “I hear you. You may be right. But we’re part of Disney and that’s what we have to do.” And so then you just have to say “Okay.” And I told the guys, “This is what we have to do. So let’s do the best we can with it. You’re gonna be frustrated at times,” which I think they were and everybody was. But I said, “Let’s do the show that you want to do and I’ll try to handle the other stuff.”
SMITH: I realize now that Harvey couldn’t tell us what to do. Because they didn’t have the cartoon rights for Clerks. Miramax didn’t and neither did Disney. They had the TV sitcom rights, which is how they made that one-off Clerks sitcom pilot, but they didn’t have the rights to do a cartoon. I had to grant them that permission. Scott reminded me of that recently. He was like, “You had to sign over a license deal so that they could even do the Clerks cartoon.” So if I had had known how much power I had, I might’ve been like, “Yeah, but a bird in the hand is two in the bush,” and gone for where they wanted us.
MANDEL: We made the decision ourselves. And we made it wrong. We should have picked UPN and we picked ABC. And I guess right there you could argue was technically the beginning of the end. [Laughs.]
Read ahead as Dante and Randal get animated…
Now that the show was officially set at ABC, it was off to the races for Smith and the team…
SMITH: Once we said yes to the ABC deal, we set up offices in Los Angeles. I was living in New Jersey at that point. The kid was just born. This was all post-Dogma. Harley is like barely a year old. And we rent a place in Los Angeles and move out there for six months to work on the Clerks cartoon. Basically it’s writing scripts and creating the look of the show.
MANDEL: We got hooked up with the Disney Animation people, and we used those folks as a basis to put the show together. And then we went out and we found Chris Bailey, who was this wonderful head animator guy. He had done Mickey’s Runaway Brain, which was a very sort of unseen Mickey Mouse gem. He had, I think, written and directed it or at least participated in writing or directing it. It was this wonderful thing where Mickey’s brain gets put into a big monster and vice versa. It was really funny and a little subversive. Kevin and I really hit it off with him.
CHRIS BAILEY (SUPERVISING DIRECTOR): I was directing animation for the Inspector Gadget movie for Dream Quest and Disney, and I got a call from Peter Schneider, who is now in charge of the film and television division, who I worked with during my tenure as an animator Disney Feature Animation. He said that Kevin Smith wanted me to direct his new animated TV series Clerks based on the fact that he saw my cartoon Runaway Brain.
He thought, Anybody that could make a short cartoon at Disney with Mickey Mouse retooled into a shark tooth monster would be perfect for this series. So, I think the first step was meeting Dave, and we bonded immediately over our love of collection original comic book art and animation and politically incorrect humor. Then I met Kevin and it was all just, “Let’s get started.”
SMITH: The look of the show, that came with Chris Bailey. But Dave put Chris through his paces. Like, I’m a first draft guy. So when Chris draws something, I’m like, “Oh my God, it’s fucking perfect.” But Dave would be the one who would push. And not in a shitty way. But it was his show. So, he’s not going to be like, “Yeah, yeah. That’s fine.” He wanted everything to be like pitch perfect and stuff.
BAILEY: I had never done TV before, and the schedule was, for me, like blazingly fast. But I think, in terms of look, we all liked comic books and there had been some Clerks comics. Kevin and Dave weren’t dictatorial at all. They were saying, “Look, we want you to design it for sure, but there’s something we liked about what Jim Mahfood was doing in the comics with the thick black lines, which was fun for me because that harkens back to early Hanna Barbara and The Flintstones with that super thick black line.” And so I loved that idea.
SMITH: Jim Mahfood then was working with a very thick outline style on his characters. So, if you look at the Clerks comic books that we did in the mid-’90s, the outlines of all the characters are very thick. They’re not a thin line. And so I remember when we did the Clerks cartoon, Jim Mahfood felt for a minute like “Wait a minute. You guys ripped off my style.” Because Chris Bailey also had thick lines on the animated versions of the characters. But he didn’t take that from Jim Mahfood. He was an artist and that was his style. So, the look of it came from development with a bunch of artists, but everything went through Chris Bailey.
MANDEL: And what I always remember saying — as sort of our mantra, if you will — was that we wanted these characters to look cool. So, if you saw Silent Bob, you wanted to stick him on your skateboard or put him on a shirt. We were trying to see if we could differentiate ourselves from all animation but also a little bit from The Simpsons. We wanted it to look human but still cartoon-y. But again, by sort of emphasizing on thick lines and certain rules where we got to — it definitely had a unique look.
SMITH: I remember saying to Dave, “Would it be in black and white?” That’s how limited my vision was. It’s like Clerks is a black and white movie, so the cartoon might be in black and white.
STEPHEN SILVER (LEAD CHARACTER DESIGNER): I was working at Warner Brothers, and I had a friend of mine who worked on production over at Disney. And they said, “They’re working on this new Kevin Smith Clerks animated series, and they’re looking for a character designer. You should submit your portfolio.” So, my friend introduced me to this production guy who already started working on Clerks named Wade. Then he took my portfolio and gave it to Chris Bailey. And Chris Bailey saw my portfolio and then they asked me to take a test, just to see what I came up with.
I came back with a bunch of drawings and sketches. I think, at that time, from what I had heard, they had already gone through about 13 to 20 different character designers trying to find someone to the style. So, when I met with Chris, he liked all the variety that I had in my portfolio. And they gave me a test. I had to design Mr. Plug. And then they wanted me to do a take on Dante and Randal. And I did a bunch of drawings and they really liked the direction I was going in. And then they brought me on full time as the character designer.
BAILEY: A lot of times, Dave and Kevin were very picky on the character design. And, you know, there were a lot of changes and, frankly, we were falling behind. Silver once came into my office, because he was nervous. He’s a young kid at the time. He came in and was like, “How am I doing, director Bailey? Is everything okay?” Because he was thinking that he wasn’t being successful. And I was like, “Yeah, absolutely. Stephen. You’re the man. Don’t worry. Everything’s great. I know it’s a little bumpy right now, but we’ll get it.” Because I knew. Stephen was the fastest, strongest drawer I ever knew. And once we hit on the exact style for the other ancillary characters, we’d be able to run and he’d be able to catch us up. But there were discussions from my line producer at Disney like, “Maybe we need to let him go and find somebody else.”
SILVER: And Bailey always had confidence in me. He told them, “No, no, no. He’s gonna get it. He’s gonna get it.” And from there, I switched my mind. So I’m just like working harder like, “I’m gonna get this. I’m gonna get this,” and then I just ended up being on the show the whole time over the course of the six episodes that we did.
SMITH: I remember the idea of like this big Silent Bob with tiny pin legs. I was like, “Why’d you do that?” And Chris is going, “Look at you. Most of your body is thick but you’ve got these really weird open calves that are thin.”
BAILEY: I like the fact that the characters are pretty cartoony. Like if you were to look at The Simpsons or The Flintstones or the cast of Bugs Bunny characters and you’re to fill them in and silhouette and put them next to each other, the shapes are so broad that you can tell who’s who even if they’re drawn badly.
So, the idea was that Kevin would be this little shape with little skinny legs and the hanging coat, and Jay would be always be drawn in an S curve with the big baggy pants. He’s like, a more fluid triangle shape and Kevin is like a brick with little short legs. You know, that Laurel and Hardy [type], for lack of a better term, I think, is intrinsic of the design.
SILVER: Bob had already been pretty much somewhat designed. So that’s what they knew the series was gonna look like. Dante and Randal came pretty quickly from what I recall. Jay and Bob, they already exist. You don’t have to think about their costume design. You don’t have to think about long hair, short hair. And so that really helps the process.
SMITH: Finding the Jay look I remember was a big breakthrough because people when they try to caricature Jay they tend to go for his nose a lot or something like that. And that wasn’t the key to the character. The key to the character was the eyes. And they nailed this blank, childlike expression that we all fell in love with and went, “That’s totally it.”
SILVER: What we’re doing is trying to formulate a language where I end up drawing everyone’s eyes. If you look at the series, you’ll notice they all have a B shape to them. So, this is partly just trying to unify a style and trying to make your work so you keep all the characters consistent. Using the hard angles gave the character a little bit more of a grown up look, and then we just went with the little b’s basically for Jay’s eyes and made him look cute. But Jason’s eyes can look very sinister — it looks like he has this angry look, but he’s not angry — and that was where we kept messing up until the dot eyes came around.
BAILEY: In retrospect, I probably would have pushed the cartooning and the animation even more cartoony, only keeping the designs the same. Like, when Randal walks to the Quick Stop from the video store, he’s leaning way back. It’s almost like a goofy Bugs Bunny walk. It was hilarious. I wish we had done more of that.
ALAN BODNER (ART DIRECTOR): I had just finished working on The Iron Giant, and I had always wanted to work at Disney. And so I started to put my feelers out and, lo and behold, I met Chris Bailey, who was just starting to do the conversations with Kevin Smith about a Clerks project. And after talking to him, I thought that sounded pretty good because I always enjoyed the Clerks films and they’re such funny guys that I thought that would be really kinda neat. And it’s very contemporary and very different than I think what Disney was doing. It certainly wasn’t their standard project at all. And I thought, That would be a nice thing to get involved with.
BAILEY: Alan Bodner really wanted it to be flat like a comic book, so he would only do a maximum of two gradients per shot. All the color had to be flat. His idea of going very realistic with the architecture and stylized with the graphic treatment really went hand in hand with my wanting a grounded and clear space for the characters to move in.
BODNER: I thought it was a great opportunity to use the black colors, because, at that point, I don’t think you saw a lot of heavy black in cartoons. I always liked real stylized things, though, so I was happy to get back into that mindset.
NICK FILIPPI (DIRECTOR): I was doing storyboards for Disney, and had directed one episode of the Buzz Lightyear show. I’m not sure how, but I was put on a list to meet Chris Bailey for a storyboard supervisor position on the Clerks show. And so I met him and what was great was we could immediately tell that our interests were the same. We were both big Marvel comics guys, and we just had so much in common about what appealed to us. About classic movies, classic animation, comic books, and we immediately had a rapport. So, I came on as the storyboard supervisor with Chris as the director and producer of the show. And then we found out, just by the amount of work that needed to be done, we were gonna need to get some more people in there. And that’s where Steve came in.
STEVE LOTER (DIRECTOR): I had been with Disney TV animation for a little while, and I actually came on to Clerks a little later than most. I came on when they felt they needed a third director, just because the work load was too heavy. Because really, for six episodes, that should be a one director series or a two-director series. It was unusual to have three. For primetime animation, that’s the system now, but it wasn’t then. And I have to say, it was an interesting time for Disney TV animation. Because prior to that, a lot of the shows that they were making were the softer side of Disney TV animation. It was Doug, a lot of the film spin-off shows like 101 Dalmations, and things like that. So, for Clerks being what it is to have been done in the same environment and building as those shows was a bit of a culture clash in a way.
FILIPPI: Steve, Chris, and I all ended up directing on it just because there was so much of a, “Let’s try things. Let’s experiment. Let’s figure out what’s funny here,” especially with the first couple of episodes. There’s an exploration of “What is going to work for this show?”, and that’s what makes it so fun. What makes the show so interesting is we’re trying a bunch of things, and then as you see as the episodes go on, we figured out what was really fun and funny about the show.
LOTER: I was fortunate that I had experience on a couple of subversive shows. I directed on Ren and Stimpy, I directed on Duckman, so I knew what this show was walking in. I understood where the humor was, what lines you can cross, and how to be prepared for that level of controversy, whereas maybe some of the other guys on it had not.
MANDEL: ABC had not done a lot of animation, if any, at that point. So, they didn’t necessarily fully understand the process. We did do table reads, and I think they did give notes here and there, but I don’t think they were too familiar with how to look at animatics and rough animation and things like that. And the truth of the matter is, throughout the process, we operated very independently.
Read ahead as Dante and Randal secure a writers’ room…
As animators continued to flesh out the new View Askewniverse, Smith had to start hammering down the stories that would take place within it.
BRIAN O’HALLORAN (“DANTE”): I remember thinking, This would be awesome. We have four core characters: Dante, Randal, Jay, and Silent Bob — that would be the four characters. And we’re all pretty much caricatures of what those characters were in the film. And when you have a cartoon world, an animated world, the sky is the limit as to what we can do. You could go to different planets, you could go to outer space. So, it was a lot of fun.
JASON MEWES (“JAY”): I don’t really remember specifically him being like, “Hey we’re doing Clerks animated and we’re going to Cali.” We didn’t live in Cali then. So, for me, it was more like, “Oh wow. We get to go to California again and spend a few weeks there in a hotel. That’s awesome!”
MANDEL: [For the writer’s room], obviously it’s me, Kevin, and Scott. We’re there to begin with, and we didn’t have money for a giant staff, but the two guys that we hired were Steve Lookner and Brian Kelley. They were guys I had gone to school with, I had known them forever, we were on the Harvard Lampoon together, and I brought them to Saturday Night Live and then hired them for this.
BRIAN KELLEY (WRITER): I had worked on News Radio for three years, and then that sort of came to an end, and I was looking around for something to do. And Dave actually convinced Disney, who he was developing for at the time, to sign me to an overall deal to have me in house. We worked on a pilot and this show.
STEVE LOOKNER (WRITER): When I first moved out to LA, there were a lot of us from college who all moved out at the same time and would hang out together. So, this thing just came up, and Dave came up to me and Brian and asked if we wanted to be involved in it. And it’s like, “Of course!”, because I was a huge fan of the movie and a fan of Kevin’s. There’s not many jobs where you get to work with people you already know who are great and then other people who are great. There was no hesitation upon saying, “Yes, I’ll do this.”
MANDEL: It was very much me trying to put together a room that I thought Kevin could sort of deal with because Kevin Smith is not somebody that goes into a writer’s room. I think what he learned very quickly was I certainly don’t do a writer’s room like a stereotypical writers’ room with everybody making everything worse.
SMITH: It was very weird being in a writers’ room experience because I had never done that before. Clerks and Mallrats were self-generated, and I didn’t sit around in a room with other people and throw out an idea and have anybody go, “Yeah, I don’t know.” When you’re writing your own material, nobody is telling you, “Yeah, I don’t know.” Writers in a writers room, particularly comedy writers, they’re very used to that. Dave had come from SNL. He brought people like Brian Kelley, who’s since gone on to The Simpsons for almost 20 years at this point. So, those cats came from that world. They came from rooms where, you know, you sit around and go, “What if we did this?” And somebody’s like, “That’s fucking stupid.” You don’t even take that personally. You just move onto another idea.
KELLEY: The idea of rewriting Kevin Smith seemed ludicrous to me. But what was really fun about the writers’ room was that there was no ego. No one was precious and attached to everything. It was a really fun room. And in his movies, Kevin would write these big, long monologues, and he’d write them for the show, and they’d be hilarious. But he’d be going, “Boy, we’re just going to be showing the drawing through this whole thing.” And I’m sure the first time I said, “Hey, maybe we should cut this speech down,” I was terrified, and he could not have been nicer. He was really great. I don’t know how he writes his movies, but it felt like he had been in a writers’ room his whole life.
MANDEL: I would take things that Kevin wrote, and I would do a pass on top of them and add jokes. And that’s me doing that to Kevin Smith. I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I think at first there was a moment of: “What’re you doing?? Oh, this is okay.” Because what he then quickly realized was if he said, “Well, I don’t like this. What about that?” I went, “Great.” It wasn’t me or any of those guys going, “Here it is.” I think what Kevin realized very quickly was that it was not going to be a writers’ room full of precious writers, where when they write a joke, it was that joke or nothing. So, I think he was very pleasantly surprised when it was like: “How about this?” And then if Kevin said, “No,” then it was like “No problem. How about this? Or this? Or this? Or this? Or this? Or this?” And I think he soon understood how a writers’ room can be great.
SMITH: I could sit there with the guys and go, “What about this? What if we did this?” And they weren’t like, “Well, since Kevin came up with that idea, that idea has to work.” They were trained to be like, “Well, this idea’s good, but this idea could be funnier. Or what if we took that and we built upon that as well?” It was an interesting process to enter into.
MANDEL: The way we worked was that there were definitely discussions of outlines and story ideas, but then it was really handing off those outlines and having the writer writing it themselves. Then everybody would just punch on top of it to make it good. It wasn’t a group writing in a room from scratch, which is the kind of writing I hate. What can I call it, shitty sitcom writing. It was what I was used to from my life and career, but it was definitely very new to him.
SMITH: Even though people associate the movie Clerks with me, I associate the cartoon of Clerks with Dave. Like I defer to him constantly because I thought he was funnier than me. I thought, Well shit. We’re not doing the movie Clerks, so we’re off the grid at this point. So it doesn’t really matter whether or not I created this shit or not. Now we’re just trying to make this shit as funny as possible. I love the show for what it was and what it became. It wouldn’t have been that without Dave Mandel. I doubt it would have even made it to a cartoon.
MANDEL: Ultimately, it was his baby. But, you know, I got to come in and help raise it for a while.
MOSIER: We were like “Oh, this is the show. This absurd thing that sort of references and pulls from all this stuff that we grew up with.” It really felt like, “This is the show coming together.”
LOOKNER: It was so mellow. Kevin and Scott would come in, and then we’d go to a room. Me, Brian, Dave, Kevin, and Scott and we’d just hang out. And it was very loose and fun. It was never like, “We’re sitting here and pulling our hair out. This is such a pain.” It was really laid back, shooting the shit, hanging out. Not a lot of charts and storyboards. Just sitting there and talking about the show and throwing around ideas and stuff.
CAMPBELL: Kevin is not only a genius but also a humble, fun, and unique personality and guy. And then to pair him with Dave Mandel, who is a comic genius and has done so many interesting television experiences — most recently running Veep. As you can imagine, being together in a room with those guys was always a laugh riot. They were usually a step or two ahead of everybody else.
MOSIER: I was there all along pitching out ideas. It was probably the place where I got my feet wet. And I also feel very fortunate to have been in the rooms with all those people. I got to be in the room with Dave Mandel and Kevin Smith and all these other great writers throwing out ideas. I was learning the process. For me, it was a huge fun learning experience.
PAUL DINI (WRITER): It was completely by accident [how I got involved]. I didn’t plan on it, but I had been good friends with David Mandel for a long time. We shared a common love of movies, comics, animation, comedy, all that stuff. And so we got together fairly regularly just to socialize and see what cool new artwork he was getting. [Clerks] sort of came up one day. He went, “Hey, I’m gonna work with Kevin Smith on this animation project.” I said “Well, that sounds like fun.” He goes, “I don’t know what the writing is going to be on the show. But would that be something that you’d be interested in?”
It was more like being aware of than actually working on because they didn’t know what was actually going to go on with the series. So I said, “Sure. That sounds great.” I remember David and I drove down from New York to Red Bank, and I met Kevin for the first time in his offices there. I hung out with him and had lunch. And I knew that Kevin liked comics certainly, but also he was a big fan of Batman: The Animated Series, which I worked on and things like that. I just found him to be a very nice, genial, funny guy. And he was really looking to take the most absurd elements of the View Askewniverse and doing an animated series based on it.
O’HALLORAN: When Kevin brought on board Dave Mandel and Chris Bailey and the whole writing staff, they all got it. Everyone got what we were about humor wise. They got what Kevin was about.
SMITH: It was this one little perfect moment in time where it looked like, “Wow. We might be fucking animators for the rest of our lives. We started doing indie film, but we may turn into fucking Jim Brooks and Matt Groening.”
KELLEY: We were all Simpsons fans. We all had sort of the same interests in the same movies. But Clerks, the original movie, was a surprise. You’re watching it and it felt like something you hadn’t seen before. And that was the goal of the show. To make an indie network animated show, if that makes any sense, which it doesn’t. But that’s what Kevin and Dave set out to do and I think they did it brilliantly.
LOOKNER: We were on the Disney lot, and it was funny because it was this very modern office building. It’s like the opposite of what you expect for Clerks. It’s like a modern office building. I remember it wasn’t set up like a writer’s place. It was just this floor of this office building.
BAILEY: We produced the show in the same building where Disney TV animation produced Recess and all those other shows. And it was fun because we were just these bad kids in the corner, you know? Doing all the naughty humor. And some people thought it was really cool and other people were just like, “Oh it’s terrible that Disney is making such a show.” But we enjoyed every minute of it.
BODNER: It’s funny. Here I am wanting to go into Disney for all those years. And the first thing I get is something that is so not Disney. It was an interesting way to tap into it.
KELLEY: There was a sense that it was almost as if we were getting away with something, being able to do the show on ABC. It sort of didn’t make sense that we were being given the shot to do all our dumb pop culture jokes. It felt like we were getting away with something, so we might as well get away with as much as we could.
Of course, there’s no show without the the jokes, the ideas, and the stories.
SMITH: When people in the business talk about the Clerks cartoon, it’s generally people going, “I remember the second episode was a clip show and that was so smart.” And that idea came straight from Paul Dini.
DINI: I would just occasionally get together with them [over dinner] and just sound out weird ideas. And one idea I had was “What if for the second episode, you do a clip show? And you do clips from the pilot and episodes that nobody’s ever seen and nobody will ever see.” Because that’s the way they were going. They just wanted to go into absurdity and make fun of not only things in the Clerks world, but also the conventions of doing television and comedy and animation and everything. They just wanted to put the whole thing on its ear, and it seemed to be a really good vehicle for it. And they very kindly gave me a co-story credit on that episode.
SMITH: Nowadays people go, “What is that?” But back in the heyday of the sitcoms, you’d have an episode of the show that is made up of clips of previous episodes and they only have to shoot for like one day for buffer material, and then the rest is just flashback type stuff. So, the idea of having episode two being something where we’re flashing back to episode one and episodes you’ve never seen before, pretending like the show’s been on for a while, is so fucking smart, man. And it came from the guy who co-created Harley Quinn.
FILIPPI: I think the flashbacks themselves were the ones that were the easiest to figure out because we had the previous episode, we had a lot of the concepts, and the fact that we were being so repetitive with the gag to increase the humor. Then we kept on going back to the Batman climbing up the building moment. Some of the things that were maybe a bit more complicated to stage were just things like: “Wow. How are we going to convince our audience that they’re stuck in these places?” Because there was the running gag that they keep on getting stuck. So, we always had to figure out what’s going to play: either they’re actually stuck or they’re not stuck and they think they’re stuck and they’re just really being idiots.
SMITH: And for the Outbreak script, I had written half of the script to give to Richard Day when we met at Muso and Frank’s. So, I had a partial script written and then didn’t touch it until the Clerks cartoon happened. So, I polished it off, finished it, gave it to Dave, and Dave was like, “Oh my God. This is great.”
MANDEL: I think, by that episode, things were just building. They were getting richer and more interesting plot wise and story wise. And I think we were just jamming them full of jokes.
FILIPPI: For the fifth episode, that one was different in that it was really epic. It was this big cinematic episode referencing a lot of films — being much less of a staged-in Quick Stop episode.
O’HALLORAN: I was a huge fan of the original movie Bad News Bears with Walter Mattheau, and the whole concept that Coach Dante sponsors a little league team and we find out Jay is really good and we put him on as the older kid on the team … it’s just really funny that we got to do it.
MANDEL: For episode six, there was a grand joke of trying to go back to the rules that Kevin was hindered by when he was making his indie. Basically, just being in the place and talking about stuff as people come in. And, obviously, we then took it to sort of an animated extreme, but it’s very much the Clerks episode closest to the original movie.
SMITH: That’s us trying to do damage control in advance. In case people are like, “This is nothing like the fucking movie,” we were like, “Let’s try to do one like the movie.” And so, it had that whole, “We’re in the store. We’re not leaving the store. Everything amazing is coming to the store and happening at the store just outside the doors, but you don’t get to see it.” And then once we go outside the doors, we’re in Warner Brothers territory.
LOTER: That was a really interesting episode to work on because the first half and the second half were so different from each other. The first half was a bottle episode where they were basically in the Quick Stop the whole time, and they were being made aware of what was happening just outside their door, but they never left the place. So, all the chaos came to them. And then the second half, of course, was a loving tribute to Chuck Jones’ Duck Amuck, where we threw the characters into as many embarrassing situations as humanly possible. And I think what’s also great about that episode is, I wouldn’t say it had a level of closure, but it definitely felt like, “Okay, we’ve taken this journey.”
Read ahead as Dante and Randal go anime…
Whenever you bring up the animated series to fans, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll say three words to you: “Bear is driving.”
BAILEY: The anime sequence in the script was literally just a long paragraph, and the director Steve Loter said, “Look, I want to pitch you an idea for it — and it’s out there.” He was very careful and felt he was really going out on a limb. So, he pitched me what he was going to do with all the visuals, and it was like, “Oh my God. That’s great. Yeah, please do it.” It was all Steve Loter.
LOTER: The first episode I had done was episode four, which was the anime sequence. There are a couple of things that I think my work is known for, and that’s easily maybe number one or number two with a bullet. I get asked about the anime sequence constantly. And the great thing about the anime sequence was how it was scripted. I remember the script for the episode was vague, and I remember there were some things that I knew Dave wanted to see. He wanted to see characters get into a transformer, the transformer opens up, and ultimately kills and squashes the characters. I knew that was an ask.
MANDEL: One of my absolute favorite gags is the people in the car and then the car transforms into a robot and the people inside clearly are crushed and the blood drips out of the transformer. Again, a joke you’ve never seen before, and is one of my absolute favorite things.
LOTER: But I think a lot of it was left up to us, saying, “Just come up with really funny visuals.” So that sequence was basically me and the story board artist Tim Maltby, and we just threw these crazy ideas in. Whatever made us laugh, we threw in there. And there wasn’t a lot of aware anime parodies at that time. So, it felt like what we were making fun of was pretty open territory. It hadn’t been really done. So, we said, “Okay, we can really exploit this and make this really play for the comedy.”
SMITH: I remember the day we did the voice-over track for the Korean animation ending of the courtroom episode. Dave’s concern was, “This is going to be about a minute or so of animation with no dialogue. It’s just gonna be music. Maybe we should put a dialogue track down.” And we’re like, “What kind?” And he’s like, “Well, the idea would be this is like the Korean animators, since they were left to their own devices; they’re just telling the American studio back home what’s going on for the voiceover and stuff. Like a scratch track.” So, we were like, “Well, we’re here. Let’s record it. We don’t have to use it.”
And Dave’s like, “We’ll just do one take. Do me a favor, just play the animation,” because we actually had the animation at that point, “and I’ll just go through it.” So the studio ran that little clip of the Korean animation, and then Dave just literally sat there and stream-of-consciousness did one fucking take. It wasn’t even, “Oh, let’s go back and sweeten that joke.” Because we didn’t even know if we were going to use it. But it made us fucking laugh, especially when he’s like “Who is driving? Bear is driving. How can that be?” So, at that point, we went, “Let’s just make it part of the episode.”
LOTER: And that, to me, is a true collaboration. Because I think that we just drew in this image that the bear was driving, and then Dave came up with in the booth: “Oh, bear is driving.” So, I don’t think he knew ahead of time: “Oh, we’re gonna have this bear driving the car and I can come up with this iconic funny line later.” I think it was just of the moment, and I think that was the joy of that sequence. It was just so unbridled, and it was so spontaneous, that it was able to have that added level of lunacy all the way down the line.
MANDEL: Yes, I’m the voice of the semi-racist Korean animator. [Laughs.] If memory serves, I did two takes, where I just narrated what I was seeing. There was not a lot of writing. I just got behind the mic and played the sequence and I just went, “Oh my god, Pikachu,” and I just said what I was seeing. At some point, it was just like: “Who is driving? Oh my god. Bear is driving.”
LOTER: Also, there’s the mouse character that’s whipping them. I had done the first design on that and I know that had to clear a number of hurdles to get us to there — to get away from a certain famous mouse. So, that took a little bit of effort. There was definitely a redesign phase on that, and we were nervous because we loved and appreciated our vendor animation studio. And we knew how hard it was to animate and do these shows. And here we are making fun of it. We were a little nervous. And we were hoping they got the joke and they were in on it, too.
BAILEY: We thought the shows were just getting better and we were just hitting our stride. They always say in TV it takes half a dozen episodes to really find what you’re trying to do.
MOSIER: It felt like we were all becoming more and more accustomed with the process, and not just the animation. Sort of understanding what we could do and what we couldn’t. You could feel everybody sort of getting excited.
KELLEY: I had just come off a show, News Radio, that was always on the bubble. We were never sure it was going to be picked up. So it became incredibly liberating once we stopped worrying about the next year. We started doing fantasy episodes: We made the radio station into the Titanic, and were sinking it into the ocean. We changed the backdrop so that the radio station was in space. And that’s what happened with Clerks. Once it felt like the series probably didn’t have a future, ironically that could lead to some of the best comedy.
Of course, there’s no cartoon without the talent behind the mic — and Clerks was no exception. In addition to our slacker protagonists, the short-lived series had quite a rolodex of special guests.
MOSIER: I feel like the addition of the Leonardo Leonardo character was an add-on that started to show, “Well, what is this world going to be?” That’s my memory of it. You really felt it push away from the specifics of the movie, and he became a big part of the show.
SMITH: Originally, we had Alan Rickman as playing Leonardo Leonardo, which is why Leonardo Leonardo looks like Hans Gruber. We were coming right off of Dogma, and I was like, “Do you want to be in our Clerks cartoon?” And Alan’s like, “Of course.” So we’re like, “This is going to be amazing!” And Alan came in to record, but Alan was like, “I’m not comfortable doing my voice. I don’t want to do Hans Gruber. Can’t I just create a character?” And we’re like, “Okay.” And he’s like, “Alright, so he’s a billionaire kind of guy?” So Alan went for a more Ross Perot type of delivery in an American accent, no less.
MANDEL: When I think back about it, in my mind, he was too good an actor for us. He took very seriously everything we put into the script. One of the bigger stumbling blocks was that we had written in this idea that Leonardo Leonardo was from New Jersey, but he didn’t want to admit that he was from New Jersey, and spoke with a British accent. And so Alan came to play with this, [using] what I remember being this sort of strange New Jersey’s person’s version of a British accent, which may have been actually pretty accurate for all I know.
But our joke was simply, “No, he sounds like a British person, but he’s from New Jersey, and he doesn’t like to admit it.” And he’s going to say the joke, and it’s difficult sometimes to tell somebody who treats the texts very sacredly and prepares, “No, no, no. Just throw it away.” And unfortunately, as I remember it, there was just a disconnect. How do I put this? We’re a bunch of fucking idiots, and we just wanted Hans Gruber doing the part of Leonardo Leonardo. That’s all we wanted. But Alan Rickman doesn’t do that.
SMITH: The whole time we were writing the show and designing the show, it was basically Hans Gruber as Mr. Burns. But we never told Alan: “Hey man. We’re gonna do this guy as Hans Gruber.” He was an artist. He wanted to do something new and original. And he did, and I remember we sat around talking after the record going like, “It’s not how I ever heard Leonardo Leonardo. Do we want to commit to this voice? Because we’re going to hear it forever, if this is the case.”
MANDEL: It was unfortunately on Kevin who had the relationship with him. And, I honestly never got into “What was the conversation like where you told him we were re-recording it?” Because he definitely initially did it as a favor to Kevin. So Kevin sort of got stuck with that one.
SMITH: And Alan was totally fine with it. He understood. He was like, “I’ll be a different voice down the road,” but we didn’t have a down the road.
MANDEL: I had done SNL before Seinfeld, so I had been there. Alec Baldwin had hosted all three years that I was there, and every time he came, it was fantastic and you sort of saved stuff up for when he came. Like if you had a really good idea, you were like, “I’m gonna hold this ‘til Alec Baldwin comes in.” It was that much fun. And I was lucky enough that he and I hit it off and had this beyond-the-show relationship where we were trying to find something to do.
SMITH: Dave Mandel was like “Well, I worked with Alec Baldwin on SNL. We got along really well. What if I reached out to him?” And like we all loved fucking Hunt For Red October, so I was like, “Oh my God. Yeah, please. Let’s see what he says.”
MANDEL: It was a little bit before he started doing nothing but comedy. And so, at the time, it was this incredible thing to get Alec Baldwin, and he just got it. He knew how to play this sort of pomposity, which made the ridiculous things just sound even funnier. So, to some extent, it was not exactly Alec Baldwin doing Hans Gruber, but it was basically that. And, unfortunately, of course, we couldn’t get the guy who did Hans Gruber to do Hans Gruber. And it isn’t exactly an impression, but it’s the silly version that we wanted. It’s just a very over-the-top, big broad sort of accent of a fancy person. I don’t know how else to say it.
SMITH: He came in for one day and banged out his episodes. Like it was probably two hours max or something like that. And for me, I had never met the guy, but I was a huge fan of fucking Beetlejuice, obviously Hunt For Red October, I was a huge fan of Working Girl, Married To The Mob. I love Alec Baldwin. So, having him in the Clerks cartoon was a huge get for us.
O’HALLORAN: I remember that we got to have so many great guest stars come in and work on it. Dana Gould was on it. Mario Joyner was on it. Michael McKean was another voice on it. It was knowing that we were working with some really great talent in general that I enjoyed.
SMITH: Most of the cool people came from Dave. We got Bryan Cranston before he was on Breaking Bad because he played Tim the dentist on Seinfeld and Dave worked on that episode. So, Bryan Cranston is the “It’s okay to be gay” guy talking to Dante during the Outbreak episode. I remember the Miramax side provided Gwyneth Paltrow to do a voiceover. She was like, “But I have a membership card. Paltrow, Gwyneth.” Also Brian Posehn. I loved News Radio, so we got him. James Woods came from Disney, because he was Hades in Hercules. So, Disney casting was like, “What about James Woods?” And we’re like, “Oh my God. Of course.”
MANDEL: At the time, I had been writing a lot, but I had never directed anything. So, I really remember watching Kevin direct the voiceover session, and I learned so much from that. Because I just remember with James Woods how it went from being read very military-like — because he was written as a general — and then having Kevin get him to embrace his inner James Woods. And he just did it very James Woods-y like. Like, “Yeah. Come on. Come on. Come on.” It was just such a different read, but it was so perfect.
SMITH: Judge Reinhold was such a huge get for us. Not only because it was a funny fucking joke, but then we got to do the run of the Beverly Hills Cop stuff where he’s like, “Axel!”
MANDEL: I love the sports guys. We got obviously Charles Barkley all throughout, and we wrote him in everywhere we could. When we realized that we got Barkley for that one episode, and we were writing him a certain way, we were then able to write in and add these other little cameos. And so, all of a sudden, from the couple hours he did with us, he’s doing six episodes worth of shows.
SMITH: All the basketball and the sports jokes would come from Dave’s side of the thing. I don’t know if Brian Kelley and Lookner were into sports, but I didn’t follow basketball at all. So, the jury ended up being the Lakers and various basketball players, and the jokes came from those cats.
O’HALLORAN: It was just so much fun. Just like your normal sitcom, we would have our table reads on a Monday, Tuesday we would get any changes that came out of the table read, and then Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday is when we would go into the studios to record.
SMITH: The thing about the Clerks cartoon was all the actors loved it. Because you could go in wearing whatever you want. And for multiple takes, you’re just standing in front of a fucking microphone. You could ask any of them. Brian, Jeff, Jason. That was their favorite version of Clerks to do because they’re like, “Oh my God. It was so easy and fun and stuff.”
MEWES: I remember having fun. I remember loving that we were doing an animated cartoon and hoping that, Oh my Gosh. This is something that could go 10 seasons if we’re lucky like The Simpsons. And it would be really fun!
O’HALLORAN: It was a dream come true. I was always a cartoon fan as a kid and I was always doing voices anyway. To be honest with you, they limited me to not doing more voices. I wanted to do more voices, but they were like, “No, no, no. We just want you to do Dante.” I was like, “Okay.” Because I could do other voices and stuff, but they just weren’t going for it.
MEWES: There definitely were times where while we were doing the dialogue I would want to throw a “shit” in there. And I want to say it was hard [not to curse], but it wasn’t hard. Because also I feel like when you’re shooting live-action, and you’re shooting a scene with someone, and you’re on-camera, and you’re in the suit, and you’re doing your thing, then I want to like “eff” it more. But this was us sitting at a table and reading the script and just going off the script and trying to go with the animation. So, it was a little easier to try to keep it together. But, it was weird not being able to throw a joke in there, or a cuss word. It would’ve been nice.
O’HALLORAN: Me and Jeff always recorded together. We were always in the same booth together to bounce back and forth of each other. Sometimes we would hear dialogue from other guests, who couldn’t be there on certain days we were recording. So, we would hear pre-tape voices. Or, we would just talk to nobody, and then Kevin or Dave Mandel would just give us the scratch track, as they like to call it, for us to hear.
Read ahead as Dante and Randal huff and puff to the finish line…
As deadlines quickly approached, it was time to start putting the rest of the pieces together.
JIM VENABLE (COMPOSER): I was working on some various animated shows and had been speaking with a music executive over at Disney named Bambi Moé. And she had brought me in on a few different shows that were in development, but nothing had really stuck. I had a couple meetings and maybe tried submitting some stuff, but nothing had really taken off. It was interesting, because I reached a point where I go, “I don’t know. Maybe I’m not the right fit for say a Disney show. I’m more Power Puff Girls or a little bit less of center. It’s too bad that they’re not doing anything that’s a little more edgy.”
And then Bambi calls me a week or two later and said, “Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier are doing an animated show, and they’re going to be doing it out at Disney. And they were familiar with your work from Power Puff Girls, so they want to meet you on the phone.” So, at that time, we set it up where I drove over to Bambi at her office and then we did a conference call, which was, to our knowledge, just supposed to be an introduction. Then Kevin said, “Hey man. We love what you did for Power Puff Girls. We’d love for you to come do that for our show.” And Bambi looked really surprised. I was super thrilled, and that really began the beginning of Clerks and that whole journey.
JOHN ROYER (EDITOR): I was working on the show Buzz Lightyear: Star Command at the time, and we had a little lull in production, where we’d have, I guess, six to eight weeks of no shows coming back. And I got a call one day saying, “Hey, why don’t you come over here? We want you to work on Clerks.” And I was like, “Oh, okay.” So, I went over and I met with Kevin. And Kevin went, “Well, everything sounds great, but I’d love to see your edit reel.” In animation, it’s really hard to have an edit reel because it doesn’t mean anything. What ends up on the air is what ends up on the air. So, I just told him, “Kevin, just watch anything that’s on in the afternoon or on Saturday morning and you’ll see my edit reel.” And he goes, “Oh. Okay.” So, I ended up getting the job, and that’s how I wound up on Clerks the Animated Series.
VENABLE: When I first started doing the theme, I remember I listened to a lot of the music from the movies Kevin had done, especially Clerks. And my first stab at the theme falls in line with the grunge scene that was going on when Clerks was made. And I remember Kevin saying to me, “Hey man. I dig these first attempts. They’re really cool. But what I want to hear is the Jim Venable sound. I want to hear Jim Venable’s take on what the Clerks theme is.” And that sort of gave me the idea to jump into it in a new way, and that’s what gave birth to the theme that is the Clerks theme.
ROYER: I got to work with Kevin, Scott, and Dave, who were big personalities. Kevin is stream of consciousness. Speech after speech, talk, talk, talk. Great guy. Scott is subdued, easy to talk to. And Dave is just an over-the-top kind of guy. So, you get those three personalities in there when you’re editing a show, and it was fun. It was easy. We would listen to ideas, try things out. But Kevin and Scott really knew what they wanted. So, it was just really easy to do.
VENABLE: Anytime that a composer gets asked to do anything in the vein of John Williams [for the Temple of Doom parody], that’s always something that sends us shivering in our boots. And I remember when that came up, being like “Oh man. That’s some huge shoes to fill with a John Williams Indiana Jones approach.” So, I do remember doing a lot of research. Also with Clerks, because they were doing it with Disney, I remember a couple of conversations with the Disney musicologists to make sure that we were handling those kinds of spoofs properly, because we didn’t want to step on anybody’s copyrights. And at the same time, we want to make sure that we get the joke across with something that’s paying to homage to it.
FILIPPI: I think the biggest challenge was the production schedule, and the production resources were basically designed for a show that was a normal Disney show and not a primetime comedy. Because most shows at that time, aside from The Simpsons and some other primetime shows, did not use the animatic as a tool as much as we do today. So going in there, we saw how much we needed to use the animatic as a tool and how much time we had to spend, how the schedule had to be adjusted, and the resources had to be adjusted.
LOTER: We were off schedule constantly. I mean, we had a schedule. It was on a wall. We saw it. But no one actually used it because there was an opportunity to make the show as great as it can be.
SILVER: Artists had a hard time just trying to meet deadlines. I remember we were forced to come up with the model pack pretty quickly. We were on tight deadlines. So, there was the pressure with that, and then me having to come up with so many characters per episode.
FILIPPI: I think the other challenge was just that I had never worked on a show like this before then. A lot of folks who had been on the crew had not worked on a show like this before — and there was a learning curve. We were exploring and discovering as we go, and a lot of that ends up making it better. It’s great to have experience. You want to have experience and reference to make these decisions and make these impactful moments. But a lot of times, that exploration, coming from something from a completely different viewpoint, will give you fresher things than having done it before.
FILIPPI: A lot of things developed in the animatic phase where you have the script, you storyboard the script, and you load that storyboard into the animatic, which is basically the storyboards with sound effects and audio and the voice recordings. And that’s where a lot of the creative process happened. Again, you’ve got these really funny scripts, really funny concepts, we’re staging them in the storyboard and acting them out in the storyboard. But then when you get into the animatic, and you really see what’s playing, what might be missing, what you have too much of, you try to figure out your timing.
LOTER: I have to admit, the best versions of the shows exist in the animatic. Because my biggest disappointment in the series is the animation of it all. Because I think we were pioneering a style. Just the thick lines and all the great stuff that Alan Bodner and Stephen Silver had done. But it was very well designed. It was very unique. And I think Saerom, the animation studio that was doing it, struggled. And probably over time they would have figured it out and the shows would’ve started looking as great as they should have. But the timing got messed up, the line work was clunky, the animation wasn’t as poppy or as energetic as it should’ve been at time. So, in my mind, the animatics were the premier version of the show because the timing was just dead on. And it felt a little bit more authentic.
MANDEL: They have a name for it when you call for a redraw. I don’t know what they call it, and I think we joked about it in some of the commentaries on the DVDs. We soon very quickly realized that on the sixth episode, there were two or three animation teams. The chief animator on Team A, he was the good one. And I don’t remember the breakdown, but episodes two and five looked very good, because he did that one. And then somebody else sucked. And with those two, lots of redraws. I guess they definitely had a lot of them. More than they were expecting, I guess. That’s how I remember it.
ROYER: Everything that came from overseas was like that. It was rare that you got something that you just sat back and went, “Wow. That was just a great animated episode.” A lot of it was, even to this day, “Let’s see what we can do. Let’s try to save it as much as possible.” We had a lot of retakes on the show, just in terms of things that were just flat where the overseas studio didn’t follow what was sent.
MANDEL: I remember, not fighting, but I definitely remember [producer] John Bush wanting us to leave things. And I mean Kevin and I were bristling at that, rubbing up against him sort of like “No, we have to fix these things. They’re wrong. They’re not right. It needs to be right.”
At this point, Clerks was on track for a Spring release, around March. The biggest indicator that things were looking well? The show was offered a 15-second promo in the Super Bowl that year.
MANDEL: The honest answer is they loved it. They had faith in it. They thought it was their next big thing for at least a minute and a half. And so we got a Super Bowl ad. And yeah, it was incredible. It was truly incredible.
SMITH: While we were making the show, while it was in the process of animation, ABC had the Super Bowl that year. So Miramax TV got a 15-second spot. There’s a little piece of animation and dialogue and then “Clerks. Coming soon.” So we had like a fucking Super Bowl spot, and the intention was like, “Oh, this is going to be on mid-season.” We were going to start in March.
FILIPPI: It was like, “Hey. They are behind us. They are promoting us. This is going to be big.” So, again, the thought of that happening was very encouraging.
MOSIER: It’s a vote of confidence, right? The network people like it, or you could translate it that way. It’s like a big vote of confidence in the show to at least to sort of kick it out there. So it felt amazing. “Oh wow. They’re gonna do this. They must really believe in our show.” And then, however many months later, it was the opposite of a Super Bowl ad.
Once the show was sent overseas to be animated, ABC, the third place network, suddenly leapt to number one again. The culprit? Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, which premiered in August of 1999, and quickly became a runaway smash. And needless to say, all of their eggs went straight into Regis’ basket.
MANDEL: When they were airing Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and they were in first place, that’s when everything had changed. They’re airing Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, I always joke, 11 days a week. And they just had no interest in Clerks and they were done with it.
SMITH: When they said, “Alright, go make the show,” ABC was a third place network just looking for a hit. And, while we were making the show and while we were waiting for the show to come back from overseas, they had Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, which was kicking all sorts of ass. So, they started airing it three times a week, and suddenly, they were moving back up to the first place network. By the time our episodes were done and we were ready to show ABC the first fully animated episode, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire was already a big hit.
MOSIER: The numbers were huge, and ABC basically was just running the shit out of it.
SMITH: And I’m sure they saw the show and were like, “Oh, this is cute, but who gives a fuck. We’ve got Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.” They took it from one night to three nights a week or something like that — and it was boosting them. That show was fucking huge. It was a phenomenon for a while. So, at that point, they didn’t really need us. When we went into pitch, they were like, “Oh my God, we’ll try anything to get on the fucking board again. We’re third.” And then when we showed up, they were like, “What is this? A Clerks cartoon? We’ve got Regis. Fuck you guys.”
Read ahead as things fall apart for Dante and Randal…
Surprise, surprise, ABC had some issues with the material.
BAILEY: When people are struggling, that’s when they start reaching out and experimenting. Because they’re looking for something that hook. So, I think that’s why they were so excited about Clerks. But then I think their conservative nature took over because, in between the time where we started going into production, they’d become number one again with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and some other stuff. And, all of a sudden, they’re like, “Wait a minute. Maybe we don’t want to be in that edgy deep end part of the pool.”
MANDEL: When they didn’t like it, and we were trying to finish it, that’s when the censor notes and the legal notes started really coming in really hard and fast. And they had problems with everything. And they had problems with things that, when I look back now, you just wonder if they were just trying to cause trouble. Because they had problems with even the notion of like you’re saying that that’s a celebrity. Like “You’re doing the celebrity in your show. You’re calling him Patrick Swayze.”
SMITH: Dave is the one that’s like, “Let’s get Patrick Swayze.” Well, Patrick Swayze doesn’t want to do it. In fact, the word was that he was insulted by it. I guess he didn’t think it was funny or whatever. But Dave’s like, “Alright, let’s get Gilbert Gottfried to do Patrick Swayze’s voice as Gilbert Gottfried.”
CAMPBELL: There was a tremendous sensitivity to not using his name, and not being critical or making fun of him or his movies or whatever. And [Swayze] would definitely not do it. So, they had a whole fun thing about how they were going to use Patrick Swayze’s voice or have someone would do his voice.
MANDEL: And it’s why we have that crazy voiceover note at the front of every episode like lunatics. Like “These people in the show aren’t necessarily real,” and just things that you don’t see on other animated shows. And again, I don’t know if that was them hating us and trying to find ways to make it go away at that point. But, in those final days, those notes were coming hard and fast.
CAMPBELL: Their job was to be as funny as they possibly could, and push the envelope, which they did. And I tried as hard as I could to get that envelope to the screen censored as little as possible. And we won some battles that worked and we lost some battles.
MOSIER: They also bought an animated show based on a rated R movie. So, they might have been pleasantly surprised that they didn’t have to deal with as much as they thought they might have. Because there was a little bit of just like “Look, it has to have a little bit of edge or push certain buttons or try to do some things.”
CAMPBELL: ABC never should’ve bought it. That was the travesty of the whole thing. It was not an ABC show. The only reason that we even pitched it at ABC was because we were forced to. And that was because we were part of the ABC family. And had Eisner and ABC management not said, “Okay, we’ll offer you six episodes,” we would’ve been happy as clams being on UPN or somewhere else. And, I think, ultimately, we would’ve been much more successful.
SMITH: The thing that did it for me, where I was like, “Oh my God, I want this so badly,” was when Dave goes, “I’ve got ideas and jokes I’ve always wanted to tell and this is the way I can do it.” And I was like, “Like what?” And he’s like, “Well I want to show Dante and Randal watching a movie in the video store. Because we can do all these one-off movie jokes and stuff since he works in a video store. So, I’ve got this idea. Remember how Steven Spielberg produced The Flintstones movie the same year that he directed Schindler’s List?”
I was like “Yeah.” So he goes, “I want to do a joke where Randal’s like ‘Let’s watch Flintstone’s List.’ And when you watch the video, it looks like The Flintstones cartoon, but then it’s a bunch of cavemen being loaded onto a train by other Flintstone-looking cavemen that are obviously in charge and wearing helmets and stuff.” I’m like, “Oh my God, Dave.” And he goes, “Not done. Then, once they’re all loaded onto the train, their feet come out of the train and the train walks away.” And I go, “I can’t tell that joke. I’m not Jewish.” And he goes, “I am. So I can totally tell that joke.”
MANDEL: It was something that started at Saturday Night Live when John Goodman hosted, who was Fred Flintstone in the movie. Myself and another writer at the time, Lou Morton — who didn’t work on Clerks, but I’ve worked with a whole bunch — we had talked about this sort of Flintstone’s List idea, and I think we may have even written it up. And, of course, nobody wanted any part of it. [Laughs.] So, it was a joke that I had in my bag, if you will, waiting for the right place. And look, I’m sure John Goodman in a live-action Flintstone’s List would’ve been good, but really the place to do it is animation.
MOSIER: I feel like the understanding was, “There’s no way this is going in the show.” And there was just a movement towards like, “But wouldn’t it be awesome if we just have it?” There was a push to do it.
MANDEL: That was something that was in the script. It was obviously somewhat of an integral part of the script, and while it’s a joke and the subject matter of the joke is the Holocaust, it’s not making fun of the Holocaust. It’s not belittling anything about the Holocaust. And I, myself, as I’m always very fond of saying, I’m a Jew. I don’t have any problem with it, so what’s the problem? And what they really were saying was, I guess for them, it was just, “We don’t find it funny.” And it’s like “Who are you to say that?”
It was very disappointing. We fought it as far as we could fight it, and eventually, of course, lost. And, at some point, when they started airing them out of order and stuff, what the fuck did it matter? And, luckily, we were able to put it back in on the DVD’s. And I think it’s a very good joke. It exists now in the world, and it hasn’t really caused a second Holocaust. I mean, maybe it caused this Trump thing, I don’t know. But it’s a joke. I don’t know what else to say. But it was very infuriating at the time.
MOSIER: My memory is that Dave was wearing that one. Dave was in the thick of that. I just remember it wasn’t as if Disney was like, “Oh fuck yeah. We’ve got to put that in.” It wasn’t as if they were like, “Let’s do a whole show that way!” I remember they had deep reservations. They probably just looked at us and went “Just let them do it and we’ll take it out.” [Laughs.]
After rounds of aggravating notes and pushbacks, ABC continued to delay the release.
MANDEL: I think we were going to premiere during sweeps at some point. And forgive me at this point, I can’t remember if that was going to be February sweeps. There’s multiple sweeps and I can’t remember which one it was, but it was a whole big to do. And then I remember there was this period where it arrived, and I seem to remember not knowing exactly. Like we kept waiting to be told the date, like the actual date, and we kept not being told the date.
SMITH: We were supposed to start in March. And then, because of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, it’s like “Well, we’re not going to start the show now. This show is killing. So we’re going to wait and start you guys in the summer.” And Dave, who knows a lot more about TV, was like, “Oh my God, we’re dead.” And I said “Why?” And he goes, “Nobody debuts a show in the summer. Only one show ever debuted in the summer that went on to be a TV hit, and that was Seinfeld. And they aired that trying to burn it off. They didn’t think it was going to work. If they’re putting us in the summer time, they don’t give a fuck about us anymore.” And he turned out to be absolutely right. We were starting in the summer and suddenly the marketing dollars behind the show weren’t as high as they had been.
MANDEL: And then the cherry on the shit sundae, as I always like to say, was we never even got a phone call. I read about the show being moved to the summer in a Variety article. And I think, later on, I discovered, after the fact, that they called my office and left a message. Let’s say it was a Wednesday night. They left a message for me at, like, I don’t know, nine o’clock pm to tell me the news. Like as if that’s where they thought I was at nine o’clock on a Wednesday. I mean, very purposely didn’t want to tell us, did not want to find me or call me or anything like that. And I just could not believe it.
MOSIER: When we got moved from sweeps week, that’s my memory of when everyone was like, “Oh man. This is not good.” Because that’s what we were working towards. That was the big reveal. And now you can put shit out whenever you want. Especially right now. Everybody’s sitting at home. There’s no rules. But definitely back then, we were part of the old version of the television series and all the rules.
MANDEL: It was just so depressing. I actually left town. And if I remember correctly, I recorded a message on my answering machine, basically saying that I left town because of this. I drove down to San Diego to visit some friends, but I left this message that was like, “If you need to get a hold of me, I’ve left town because this is what happened. And if you’re calling from ABC, go fuck yourself.” And when I came back, it was clear that someone had heard the message and then started telling people about it. And so I had all these hang ups of people calling to listen to the message, and then hang up.
MOSIER: I don’t remember when we knew [that it was over]. It wasn’t like by the time the show hit the air, we were all like, “Fuck yeah. Let’s wait.” The writing was on the wall, and I don’t remember exactly what it was. I don’t know what the other guys said, but I felt like there was a certain point where, “These are probably the only six shows that we’re gonna get to do.”
In addition to moving the series to the summer, ABC also made the decision to air the episodes out of order, starting with episode 4, the court room episode.
MANDEL: The move to summer was such a gut punch. By that point, once you’re numb, who can tell what else is hurting you. So yes, everything bothered me. The jokes were exquisitely set up. You don’t have to agree they’re exquisite jokes, but we spent a lot of time setting these very specific things up, that just no longer made any sense once you started messing with the order.
MOSIER: And for us it was like, “You were the ones that wanted us to do this pilot.” It’s not abnormal [for the studio to ask for a pilot]. Basically it’s like, “Create an introductory episode.” And so you create the introductory episode, and then you do the second episode where you’re not bothering trying to do any of that stuff, and you’re just trying to be funny, and then everyone’s like, “Well, now the second episode’s just so much better.” And you’re focusing on the type of notes about like introducing characters, the world.
SMITH: At least the pilot would’ve introduced people to a bunch of characters they didn’t know. Whereas by airing the courtroom episode first, you’ve got to have some sort of working knowledge of the relationship of these characters and who they even are and why Jay sues them. So we were dispirited as hell.
MANDEL: So, at that point, a lot of what they were doing to us just felt punitive. I mean, again, I can’t speak for them and I’m not sure they could speak to themselves. A lot of it almost felt like a punishment. Like, “It’s bad enough we’re burning it off, now we’re going to really fuck with it.” That’s how I felt.
The series went to air. The first airing got a 5.2 rating. Smith went on The Howard Stern Show the morning it was set to air, and made it pretty clear that there was no future for the show at ABC. The ratings he deemed at the time made Mallrats “look like Citizen Kane.”
SMITH: I just remember that [5.2] million people watched the first episode. And that wasn’t good enough. I’d be The Big Bang Theory if I had [5.2] million people watching now. But by that standard, I’m sure we would’ve fallen off, too, and only had like half a million watching. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good enough for ABC.
MANDEL: I remember driving down to Jersey with a buddy of mine. We went to Kevin’s house, and we watched it together you know, whenever that was. It was like 9:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night — and the numbers just could not have been lower.
LOTER: I do remember that the crew got together. And I remember that there was a basketball game going on. So, we kept getting pushed back. But ultimately we aired, at whatever time it was, and we were sitting there and we were watching it all together. I don’t remember what time the game was scheduled for, but I think it ran a half hour or 45 minutes later. So, I think the thing that happened was it didn’t air on the half hour mark. I think it aired at like 9:50 p.m. or something like that, which means, “Oh yeah. No one’s going to know it’s on.” So it’s like, “Yeah. It’s done.”
SMITH: I’ll tell you what, it would’ve been beautiful for UPN. UPN would’ve renewed us and we would be on the air still. We probably would’ve made the jump to the CW if we had made it that long. Although the Dilbert cartoon didn’t, so maybe it wouldn’t have lasted. But we definitely would’ve had more episodes for sure.
MOSIER: When finally came out on T.V, the party was more of like “Hey, it came out on TV.” There was no sort of hope that it was going to be picked up. I mean, maybe there was. Maybe there something like if in some crazy world, if people watch it, maybe it’ll keep going. But it felt like we knew the funeral was sort of coming already for a while. It’s like when you finally get to the moment, it’s not like a punch to the gut. It’s kind just like a queasy feeling for months and months and months. But yeah.
Read ahead as Dante and Randal rise from the ashes…
By the time the second episode aired, the numbers dropped further to a 4.1. By the third week, Clerks had closed up shop, leaving four episodes unaired.
SMITH: We already knew that the writing was on the wall, that they weren’t really happy with our show. And after the second week, after the second episode aired, that next day, we got the phone call from Billy Campbell going like, “They’re pulling it.” And we’re like, “What do you mean?” He’s like, “They’re not even going to air the other four.” And so, there was fucking two weeks of depression. Not depression, but just like, “Aw it’s a bummer.” I think Dave took it really hard.
CAMPBELL: They were very professional and they were big boys about it, and didn’t make me feel bad about it. But I felt terrible about it. Because you always want to give your team — people who have worked so hard and done great work — good news. When I was with Warner Brothers and we did ER, and to be able to call the team at ER the next day after the pilot aired and they did a 40-something share and tell them, “We’ve just set some network history,” it’s one of the greatest calls you ever get to make when you’re doing creative things. So, the opposite of that is when you have to call someone that you really like, and they’re doing exactly what they pitched, and, quite frankly, even better than they pitched. Those guys were knocking it out of the park on the creative side. They were living up to everything that they promised they would do and more. So, to have to call and say, “I’m sorry guys, they pulled the plug on it,” that was a hard thing.
SMITH: I mean, I guess whoever was in charge of ABC just didn’t really care for the show. And then when we had the numbers that we had, that was not good enough for them, and totally allowed them to be like, “Let’s kill this show.” Sadly, my only big beef with that is that they killed it after two episodes. I mean, we only made six. And we were in the fucking summer. And they never did. Instead they put on reruns of The Drew Carey Show. So, for our third episode, instead of airing Clerks, they just aired a rerun of The Drew Carey Show. Really ignominious. And I’d be curious to see if the numbers the next week when they ran the rerun of The Drew Carey Show, if it was more. If it did better than our first-run cartoon, then it makes sense what ABC did.
Editor’s Note: The Drew Cary Show rerun pulled in 6 million viewers
MANDEL: Look, studios dump movies all the time that they don’t think are gonna do well. TV stations, too. People do this all the time. They gave it a good chance. They went from all the faith in the world to no faith, and they were cowardly about it. At the end of the day, all these years later, I stand behind the comedy. So, them not liking it, I don’t agree, but that’s an opinion. Again, it’s just all these years later the cowardly behavior just still rankles me.
SMITH: I was a young kid, so I shot off my mouth and wrongly and obviously fucking foolishly. Certainly, I don’t feel this way now. I compared the experience of working with Disney to Prison Break. It was something that was obviously a complete over-fucking-statement. I did, as you would imagine, get in trouble. I mean, we were already dead at the network, but I did catch some blowback for that. Especially because online, in the early days of the Internet and people going like, “Hey, I can make GIF’s or a meme”, there was this GIF of an animated Mickey Mouse fucking an animated Silent Bob. Not graphic with like, “Look at the insertion.” I don’t know who did it, but it was on the View Askew message board. And so, I had responded to it, which then highlighted it and stuff. And so then I remember getting a call from Miramax TV going like, “Disney is telling you to take down that drawing.” And I was like, “You need to tell Disney that’s not how the Internet works. I don’t control that drawing.”
CAMPBELL: Very simply, the reason the show didn’t work was because the ABC traditional audience, they were not Clerks audiences. So we had a hard time sort of attracting an audience to come watch it there. It was hard to promote it to come watch it there. And then when we did come on, we didn’t have a lot of support with a lead-in or lead out or PR or any of that. And it just didn’t do the ratings that they wanted. So, that’s why they pulled it after two.
O’HALLORAN: We thought that the fan base was there to do it. And the fan base was there to do it and to understand it. I believe it was more the Disney and the ABC executives in programming that just didn’t get what we were trying to achieve.
MOSIER: It’s sad because you know we’re most likely not coming back. And you’re even sadder because I thought we started to hit our stride and you’re like, “Imagine what a full season would’ve been like. Or a season two.” The disappointment, a lot of times, is related to like, “Oh. Think of all the things we didn’t get to do up to that point.”
BAILEY: You just know with something that’s edgy and that’s just reaching out there that there are going to be hits and misses and it’d either be this phenomenal hit or it would be six episodes.
SMITH: And the little rescue that we had was when I was like, “Hey, let’s do home video. Let’s take it to DVD. I’ve got an audience that buys the movies that we make, so I think they’ll go for it.” So we were able to put all the episodes together and then record commentary tracks and do a little thing and stuff like that and put it out there. So, at least people who gave a shit got to see it.
MANDEL: People that saw us, and were the right age at the time, loved it. I know they had a copy of it, and people were into it for a while at the Harvard Lampoon, which is where I graduated out of. And so, you know, cool comedy people come out of the woodwork and really dug it.
O’HALLORAN: I know that Adult Swim, every once in a while in the summer, would air for six weeks in a row the episodes of the cartoon every once in a while. And Adult Swim would always tell us, “Hey, we got great numbers. Even though it’s one in the morning, people enjoy the series.”
LOTER: When you finished an episode, at that time, you were given a VHS copy of that finished episode. So we all had these unreleased episodes in our video library that we couldn’t really show anybody. But we had them. It was really frustrating, because I worked really hard on this. I really wanted people to see it. So, it was a really great feeling when people finally got to see it because we put a lot of work into it.
BAILEY: [Some of the fans] don’t have a knowledge of Clerks beyond the cartoons. They sort of learned it from the cartoon. And then they sort of pick up a knowledge of Kevin and his whole universe after the fact. And then a lot of people were brought to the cartoon from Kevin Smith. But it’s all over because things have a tendency to live forever now. I think they find their audience because of streaming and DVD and all that.
FILIPPI: It was less when I was at Disney, but when I went to some other studios and people would ask, “Oh what’ve you worked on?”, and I’d bring up Clerks, there was a lot of enthusiasm for that.
LOOKNER: A couple years ago, I was getting some car work done. And the guy was like, “Wait a second. You wrote for my favorite show. Clerks: The Animated Series!” So it has this strong fan base, way out of proportion to how many people watched it when it was on the air.
KELLEY: And even after all these years, I’m so proud of those six episodes. I played a very small part in it, but it was a really cool thing to be associated with.
LOTER: I would say that, at least once a month, sometimes more than that, sometimes less than that, I will get an email, a tweet, a message. And sometimes it’s just, “BEAR IS DRIVING”, in all caps.
ROYER: I met a lot of great people on the show and I kept in touch with them over the years. And it was a great experience to work on because it was completely different just in terms of working with the personalities. And, unfortunately, I was hoping it would lead to other things. But the show was buried and only aired two episodes.
SMITH: Years later, I forget who, but somebody did a similar thing about doing a clip show early in the run. I was always happy when other people did shit that we did. Like, for example, Arrested Development, when they did Judge Reinhold. My head fucking exploded. And as I’m watching that episode and they did Judge Reinhold, I’m like “Oh my God.” It wasn’t this thing of like “Hey, they stole our joke.” It was more this validation of like, “Holy fuck, we were good. We did have clever ideas in a stupid way.”
MANDEL: I think there were a lot of jokes that we did first, and dare I say, and this is not a criticism of anybody because people just didn’t see the show. I don’t think it’s like anyone’s stolen anything from us. I just think no one knew we did it.
DINI: It was like going to a once-in-a-lifetime party. “Hey you coming to the party?” “Oh, I don’t know. Is everybody going?” “Yeah, come on by.” And then when you wake up Sunday morning in the rose bush, it’s like, “Boy, that was fun. When are we doing that again? What? The house burned down? Never? Okay. Well, at least we have our memories.” And it was like that for me at least. It was a shit ton of hard work for everybody associated with it, the artists, the designers, Kevin, David, everybody. And you’ve got a generation that’s grown up with it. People that were aware of it when they were around ten or something, and now they’re around 30.
BODNER: I always say whenever anybody brings it up to me, “I was happy I got to work on the il-fated Clerks show.” But I laugh because on some level it made it even more of something people wanted to look at, the fact that people started to hear that they canceled it. It got even more attention.
SILVER: I remember during the show, there were some things happening where he needed logos and different things done and then I would do that for him or other things. Then after the show was long done and they started doing action figures, that’s when he got in contact with me and asked me to design those. So, that was a blast. I had a great time. It was almost like the relationship went on for a lot longer.
VENABLE: I wasn’t sure if I would hear from Kevin again, if he was going to do any other shows or if he would grace me with a phone call to jump across into the movie world. And so I was blown away when he called about Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, which sort of turned this opportunity that seemed like it was coming to an end and then all of a sudden it blossomed into that and that lead to a whole bunch of other great stuff.
LOTER: What’s really funny about Clerks is that Clerks was the precursor to Kim Possible. Because all you really have to do is bring in Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle, and you have the Kim Possible team. It basically came out of Clerks. So Alan Bodner, Nick Filippi, Chris Bailey, myself, Stephen Silver… We basically trained ourselves on Clerks to be on Kim Possible.
BAILEY: It felt like “Wow. I worked on this little thing. It came about because of this little sort of naughty Mickey Mouse cartoon that I managed to get made. And then that lead to the six episodes and that lead to this thing really having a life of its own.” I’ve identified with it as much as anything I’ve ever done.
SMITH: It’s a lesson for everybody that you’re not always wrong. Sometimes you’re just early. I always felt like we were early on the Clerks cartoon. Because Family Guy came back a few months after that. Fox gave it another try after they sold a bunch of DVDs and stuff. And suddenly it was back on the air. Sometimes the timing is terrible and it just doesn’t work out. It doesn’t mean you were wrong. So, clearly 20 years later, it still works for people that like it.
MANDEL: I am as proud of some of those jokes as anything I did on any of the shows that I have done that have perhaps had more acclaim. I’ll simply say, we wrote some really great jokes, stuff no one has seen before, and that, to me is the most important thing in the world.
Two decades later, it might be time to get out the shoe polish again.
SMITH: Every year since, whenever I see Dave, we talk about doing it again. Like, “Oh my God. Wouldn’t it be great to do the Clerks cartoon again?” Over the years, it has found an audience and people love it. And they’re always like, “Can you do that again?” And, the fact of the matter is we can, in many different ways, do it again.
MANDEL: We’re always quite happy when we get to see each other and talk, even if it’s like five minutes on the street. And periodically it comes back up. And you know, there’s still a sort of master list of some of the ideas that we always wanted to do. One of them was the Single White Female idea with the KIT car, where Randal or Dante was gonna buy the KIT car. And then it starts dressing like him and taking over his life a little bit. Like, so we have a list of ideas.
There was a Die Hard in a theater showing Die Hard. A bunch of different things. At one point, there was a movie idea that we had played with. They were going to make a movie that was basically like Clerks called Store People. And it was going to go and get very Hollywood and they were going to go to Hollywood to deal with their movie. We have lots of other little bits and pieces of ideas and things. Whether it ever happens, I can’t speak to that. But I’ll simply say I’m game.
SMITH: Figuring out who owns the fucking thing has honestly been the biggest struggle of the last decade. Because we didn’t know who owned it. It was a Miramax television product, and Miramax certainly doesn’t exist the way it did back then. It was a Disney thing, but it’s never show up anywhere on any fucking Disney outlet. So, for years, we were trying to figure out who owns that version of the Clerks cartoon. And Scott figured it out fairly recently. It’s owned by Disney, but Disney would never do anything with it unless we went in and said, “Hey what about Hulu or maybe FX or something like that?”
MOSIER: It certainly makes sense to me and sounds like a good idea. I would love to dive back into that show. It feels like it would be an exciting thing to do, because it’s been so long. It would be fun to sort of start from that idea of coming back after 20 years.
SMITH: Scott’s point was like, right now, post-quarantine when this business opens up again, they’re trying to figure out how to put a bunch of people on the TV set or the movie set. How to work together and still socially distance. But everybody could still make animation. Maybe walk into Hulu and say, look, this is the story. Here we did these six episodes. Disney owns them. You guys aren’t doing anything with them. We have all these designs and a bunch of people we’d like to be involved. The voice cast could come back, a bunch of the writers could come back and stuff. But all the heavy lifting has been done. It’s been time tested and vetted. So, all we have to do is turn the lights back on. It’s not like, now we’ve got to create all new designs. We have the basic designs. We have all that artwork and stuff.
That rendition of Clerks [Disney] owns. So that’s why the Hulu thing is the only play. That’s the only play to make that version of Clerks. But if we went in and Hulu was like, “We don’t wanna do that,” then I could walk over to any place and be like, “I want to do a Clerks cartoon.” In fact, I could go, “I want to do a black-and-white Clerks cartoon.” Fingers crossed. In a world where everyone is content heavy, and content hungry, where people are like, “Hey we need work. We need content,” but nobody’s going back on a set to shoot something, animation is claiming up. Lots of animation houses are getting a lot of calls from people going, “What do you got on the shelf? I don’t care what. We just need something for the pipeline.”
Work’s stopping, so it’s going to affect everybody down the road when they’re looking for new entertainment. So, there’s a world where this is an easy trigger to pull. It’s not like, “Oh, we gotta cast this fucking thing. What’s it look like?” Literally, you could watch six episodes and be like, “Would you like to do this?” The pitch is almost unnecessary. It’s like, “Watch this and decide if you’d like to do this again because we could do this very inexpensively right now.” And 10 episodes of the show could come out next year.
O’HALLORAN: I know that I would do it again. I know, for a fact, that Jeff would do it again. Jeff had a great time doing it. And I know obviously Kevin and Jay are on board already. So, from that point on, it’s a matter of just calling up favors from people. And the technology has advanced so much from 2000 til now, that in that 20 years, everybody has high quality audio equipment at home. Especially now with the pandemic going on, everybody seems to be building their own home studios. It’s something that could be done quite simply now.
MEWES: There’s been many talks about it and I really hope we get to do it. Because again, I do remember it being fun. But it’d be way different now. I’ve been almost 10 years sober. So, it’d be a different ball game now.
SMITH: And right now, we’re like, “Maybe now is the time.” Timing is everything and also a willingness to do it. Lord knows if I’ve shown anything over the course of my career it’s a willingness to step right back into the past. So, I hope it comes to pass. Let’s see if this is possible.