Jay and Silent Bob: From Scumbags to Plot Prophets

There are some comedy duos you just know, if not from watching them then just through that strange pop culture hive mind that everyone is connected to. Jay and Silent Bob are probably one of these duos. Originating in Kevin Smith’s indie hit Clerks, the gruesome twosome went on to star throughout Kevin Smith’s view-askewniverse, even getting their own movie (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) and recently their own cartoon movie (Jay and Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie). Whilst being in all these media products (films, comics, animation and recently a book) their characters have changed a lot from what they began as. In Clerks, Jay and Silent Bob were scumbag local drug dealers generally causing trouble. Now, they have evolved into something a little different and a little bit more interesting.

Jay and Silent Bob's first outing in "Clerks"
Jay and Silent Bob’s first outing in Clerks

The first big character change was in the second film, Mallrats (chronologically taking place before Clerks). The change is best described by Kevin Smith himself in his introduction to Jay and Silent Bob’s Blueprints for Destroying Everything, he talked about how the characters were toned down, saying “instead of being scumbag local pushers…(they) became more benign…saving the day by happenstance whether they’re aware of it or not”. This is definitely noticeable; the characters are almost completely different to their earlier iteration relying more on slapstick and batman parodies. This is because the studio told Smith to change the use of the drug dealers as hired help for the protagonist as it would alienate the audience. This change from scumbags to slapstick comedians was repeated one last time in the transition from live action movie to animated series, but that will be discussed later.

Mallrats was also where their standard appearance was created. Jay’s outfit from Clerks has never been repeated since. If anything Mallrats could be described as the film that moulded them into what they are most known for. It certainly shaped the characters into what they became in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

Their appearance in Chasing Amy is mainly to move along the plot. However, the comic Chasing Dogma shows what happens to them after their 10 minutes in Chasing Amy, thus explaining how they got to Illinois for the events of Dogma.

In Dogma, yet again they are plot devices. Their roles are now as prophets, designed to take Bethany to where she has to be. Not to say they aren’t themselves in it; they use their general mix of bad humour, sheer desperation, and pop culture references (one of the best no ticket scenes in history) to their advantage. They are, however, just plot movers used to keep it going at the right pace and make you laugh when necessary.

Whilst Mallrats was one of the worst films made by Smith, it still seems to serve as the main blueprint for Jay and Silent Bob’s reappearances. This is most evident in Clerks: the Animated Series.

Jay and Silent Bob in the animated series
Jay and Silent Bob in the animated series

In this series Jay and Silent Bob are incredibly different for similar reasons, just like their character changes in Mallrats. Whilst Silent Bob speaks a lot more, the biggest change is to Jay’s character. Derek Burrow (of Derekthebard) described the changes as so; “The character was toned down to be more comically deranged instead of insensitive, substantially lewd, and downright disgusting at times”. This is definitely clear. Jay and Silent Bob turn up in strange places, teach monkeys to smoke, etc. Jay still does most of the talking, even if his character is ramped up to an almost surreal level.

Jay and Silent Bob as comic relief in "Mallrats"
Jay and Silent Bob as comic relief in Mallrats

Of course any change from one medium to another requires evolution to keep it interesting, fresh and make the most of the medium. What’s strange is to see the character almost get lost in his comically deranged persona, now selling fireworks to children. He no longer swears, so to compensate the script is littered with catchphrases. As Burrow shows in his video (link in the works cited section) it just seems wrong next to the more nuanced portrayals of the character in films such as Clerks and Dogma. Compared to Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Mallrats, there are a lot fewer changes in the animated series than you would think. This is most interesting because these two films were made four years apart with others in the middle of them.

Who knows why they get brought back in more cartoon based situations to suit the films or medium they appear in. It is worth noting that in Mallrats and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back they are main or prominent side characters in the film seeing as how they have a lot of screen time and are the primary source of humour. It can then be argued that they can only be funny in their current iteration if more visual humour is used. In Mallrats, they have to compete with a badly constructed romantic comedy A-plot as they are the sabotage based B-plot.

Jay and Silent Bob in their solo live action movie
Jay and Silent Bob in their solo live action movie

This theory may be partly disproved by Chasing Dogma. The humour is still visual but has a lot more verbal jokes too, however this material became sections of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. The main changes from the comic are the addition of more gross out moments, more clichés, and more visual humour.

It’s an achievement to span a film series, cartoon show, comics, and books and it’s interesting to see the changes that spanned their careers. If the rumours about Clerks 3 are true, we have to wonder what changes will happen next. We can only wait and see what the future holds for these scumbag plot prophets.

Works Cited

Smith, Kevin and Mewes, Jason(2014) Jay and Silent Bob’s Blueprints for Destroying Everything, New York, Gallery Books

Burrow, Derek (aka Derekthebard),(2012) Clerks: The Animated Series (What We Watched) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gc8HrhMx0-M

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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20 Comments

  1. Amanda Dominguez-Chio

    Cool and insightful read. Nice job!

  2. There was a time when I would have bust a gut to see Kevin Smith live.
    That time has passed.

  3. Didn’t like Clerks or Mallrats much, but Dogma is almost my favourite film ever.

    Jay has so many funny, fucked-up lines and moment in that film. So, so many of them.

    • wierdbuthatsok

      Dogma is my favourite too, its the film that not only shows that he can write women (he can’t in anything else) and is the most enjoyable

  4. August Merz

    Great piece wierd, I’m glad to see it out 🙂 It’s funny that the only movie of theirs that I haven’t seen is the one in which they star, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and to be honest I have absolutely no desire to see it. It feels like Kevin Smith, perhaps unwittingly, thought that these great supporting characters should become lead characters, and that to me ruined the whole idea of these two. As you said, they are “prophets” in their own way in the sense that they guide the main character through the story and offer wisdom and help when they can, though it’s usually Silent Bob doing the wisdom-ing. To make them the main character defeats the idea of them being guides and thus lowers the quality of their characters. Needless to say, I was glad to see them go back to their roots in Clerks II. Again, this was a very fun article. With so many analysis done of popular characters, it’s good to see a little attention devoted to these two.

    • wierdbuthatsok

      you see I quite like Jay and Silent Bob strike back its flawed but a good ending to the saris, it ties it all up. I never liked Clerks 2 because it was pointless it just felt tacked on as a money spinner rather than a worthy part of the series.

  5. I thought JS strike back was really funny when I saw it in the theater, but it didnt age well for me. The next time I watched it, years later, I couldnt even get through it. A friend has a theory about Professor Frink, that he is funny because his appearances are often short, and leave you wanting more. What humor is to be found in Jay and Silent Bob appears to be in brevity.

    • wierdbuthatsok

      I think you are right. Bits of JS strike back are still funny mainly the dialogue but the visual gags have died over time. i think the problem they were completely overstretched. they need short moments of dialogue to be at their peak its just a shame they never got shorts or something that could have worked. the animated series was good their bits were hilarious because their dialogue was so well written just a shame it seems like that won’t happen again.

    • Exactly. Just started watching it on Netflix, remembering how much I loved it back in middle school. I only made it about 20 minutes in. I mean, I knew it was lowbrow even back then, but it is utterly unwatchable.

      • wierdbuthatsok

        I know what you mean. The same thing happened to me with “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”. I think the biggest shame with strike back is that the comic its based off is so much better and i wish he’d put more of that in than just create a mess of parody so large that it loses itself

  6. McCaggers

    Great’article! I’ve only seen the duo in Chasing Amy, I had no idea they were recurring characters. Smith really seems to be hit or miss these days.

    • wierdbuthatsok

      They feature in every one of the view-askewniverse series. I recommend Dogma its probably his best. I don’t know though Kevin Smith is mainly miss these days

  7. Jamie Tracy

    What I like least of all the view-askiew movies is Jay and Silent Bob. It’s funny to me to have watched these characters that I never really liked become icons. Kudos to them, apparently they don’t need my approval.

  8. Marcell
    0

    they have jumped the clerk…

  9. I think what is so interesting about them is the way they are used as a plot device. They are almost a sort of Deus Ex Machina in Mallrats (Which I think is amazing), and they are actually sent by God in Dogma.

  10. Venus Echos

    I enjoyed them in scripted moments, however when I heard them speak without a script my impression was altered. But I enjoy looking at the photos and remembering how they made me laugh. Thanks

  11. This is a great article. I’ve never really noticed the subtle changes in Jay and Silent Bob’s characteristics until now. While I definitely do enjoy the subtlety of their performances in Clerks, their intro rap in Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back will always be my favorite moment between them.

  12. To me this is what makes Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back so great: it is completely aware of their limitations as characters. In fact, the entire plot is pretty much founded on the doubt towards their ability to function as protagonists in their own movie. It’s the meta-fictional elements that make the movie work.

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