Kevin Smith, right, with his longtime co-star Jason Mewes, aka Jay of “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot,” Smith’s latest movie featuring the characters. Photo courtesy of the State Theatre

Watch out, Portland, Silent Bob is coming to town.

“Wait a minute,” you might be saying, “isn’t that a sort of belittling to filmmaker, podcaster, actor and all-around nice guy Kevin Smith, who’s coming to the State Theatre on Thursday?”

“Well,” I’d respond to your indignant yet oddly specific complaint, “when you look at Kevin Smith’s career arc to this point, he’s sort of asking for it.”

Smith, who is accompanying his new movie “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot” at screenings across the country, is undeniably an American indie film pioneer, his scruffily, scabrously funny 1994 DIY film “Clerks” both enough of a shock success to establish Smith’s subsequent career and a legendary filmmaking underdog story. Aspiring filmmakers the world over took up Smith’s instantly famous example of dogged perseverance and ingenuity (“Clerks” being shot in the after hours of the New Jersey convenience/video store where Smith worked, for a painfully scrounged $25,000) and started filling video stores with low-budget, independently produced flicks. To someone clerking at an independent video store at the time (RIP Matt & Dave’s Video Venture in Brunswick), Smith – the clerk made impossibly good – was nothing short of an aspirational figure.

In his mid-20s when “Clerks” was released, the suddenly celebrated Smith had plenty of paths open to him as a filmmaker, and chose the one that led right back to the beginning, over and over again. His broader studio follow-up, “Mallrats,” exposed some of his lingering technical amateurism, while reintroducing Jay and Silent Bob, the stoner comedy duo/Greek chorus from “Clerks” (played by Smith’s similarly nonprofessional pal Jason Mewes and Smith) as, once more, the respectively motor-mouthed and close-mouthed fringe ding-dongs. The connective tissue didn’t stop with Jay and Bob’s antics and catchphrases. Smith seeded characters, places and anecdotes through both films that gradually formed into what Smith called his “View Askewniverse” (named for his production company, View Askew). 

Jay and Silent Bob have followed Smith all through his career. They played a larger but still ancillary role, improbably giving good advice to Ben Affleck’s confused, lovestruck comic book artist in “Chasing Amy,” an occasionally muddled rom-com that, yet, scored Smith his best reviews to date. Sure, the whole “lesbian finally falls for the lovesick straight friend” plot hasn’t aged well, but the film was endearingly earnest, ambitious and – dare I say – mature, and seemed to be Smith’s cue to hang up the in-jokes (and bodily function jokes) and really find who he was as a filmmaker.

His next movie, the intentionally controversial knockabout religious comedy “Dogma,” was sort of a lateral move, maintaining the View Askewniverse vibe (and Jay and Bob), while attracting bigger stars, and once more showing the affably filthy Smith as a guy from Jersey using his films to figure out some things while he goes for the big, often disreputable laughs. Next, though, “Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back,” as the title might suggest, was all-out View Askew, as the ever-present sidemen got their own cartoonish road-trip adventure. (I actually thought it was pretty funny.) 

A one-shot foray outside the View Askewniverse, in the form of the universally panned but heartfelt love story “Jersey Girl,” seemed to seal the deal, though, as Smith hurried back to his comfort zone, making the 14-years-later “Clerks II.” Another attempt to break away from what some might call his least ambitious instincts led to the disastrously unfunny studio cop comedy “Cop Out” and the underrated (if Smith-outrageous) “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” both of which bombed. It seemed that, without Jay and Silent Bob in tow, the world just wasn’t that into Kevin Smith the filmmaker. 

Luckily, Kevin Smith the media personality is someone everyone seems to like, so Smith debuted lucrative speaking tours (the “An Evening With Kevin Smith” DVD set is absolutely worth a look), a thriving podcast network (the SModcast Podcast Network), a website (viewaskew.com), a View Askew-themed comic book store in New Jersey, and a successful merchandising empire. Even his two most recent films – before “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot” – spun off, improbably, from a goof on one of his podcasts about a guy who’s unsuspectingly lured into a mad scientist’s lair and turned into a walrus-man. (See: the bananas “Tusk” and the defiantly unnecessary spin-off/sequel “Yoga Hosers.”)

And now Jay and Silent Bob are back, once more furiously attempting to keep their life rights from being exploited by a greedy Hollywood machine intent on rebooting the film loosely based on them from “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.” And while there’s undeniably a certain self-deprecating humor to Smith making a movie about regurgitating old characters in new packages, the sight of the now 50-ish Smith and Mewes (and View Askew vets like Affleck, Jason Lee, Matt Damon, Joey Lauren Adams, and Smith’s wife and daughter, Jennifer Schwalbach Smith and Harley Quinn Smith) still doing stoner pratfalls hasn’t exactly wowed the critics. My A.V. Club colleague Ignatiy Vishnevetsky called it “a succession of crudely drawn-out puns, painfully winking self-references, and underwhelming, listlessly directed cameos,” which, sadly, I can’t argue with.) 

But Kevin Smith is hard to dislike. As open, generous and garrulous as they come (even if he didn’t respond to requests for an interview made through his press contacts), Smith has, despite improbable beginnings and plenty of setbacks, become a beloved figure. His recent near-death experience saw him emerge leaner but no less energetic, riding his fans’ love to an absurdly dedicated roadshow tour of “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot,” which runs right through the State Theatre on Thursday, with the never-boring Smith on hand, in person, to answer questions, tell great insider Hollywood stories, and generally be his irrepressibly entertaining self. And if the one outlier in Smith’s filmography, the dark, disturbing, and – again, dare I say – tightly directed apocalyptic political 2011 cult thriller “Red State” didn’t inspire Kevin Smith to branch out creatively, at least he’s announced “Clerks III.”

“Jay and Silent Bob Reboot” Roadshow is happening at Portland’s State Theatre at 7 p.m. Thursday. Smith will be there to introduce his movie, and tickets can be purchased at statetheatreportland.com.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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