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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.