When Kevin Smith came up with the idea for a fast-food chain called Mooby's, it was just supposed to be the setting for a scene in "Dogma," his fourth film. Mooby the Golden Calf is a fictional children's television character in the movie based on Mickey Mouse.
He wasn't expecting to open an actual Mooby's – not even as the pop-up restaurant experience that brings the golden calf to Phoenix for a 10-day run beginning Feb. 5.
"I never imagined we'd actually have a restaurant where I would see old women walk in and order a (chicken sandwich with a sexual innuendo for a name) and giggle," he says, with a laugh.
"That's the kind of (expletive) that does it for me. I don't need to win an Academy Award. I just need to have little moments like that."
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The 50-year-old director got into the pop-up world through his partner in the Mooby's venture, Derek Berry, whose previous pop-up experience includes Saved by the Max (based on "Saved by the Bell") and the Peach Pit (from "Beverly Hills 90210").
Last year, Berry planned to do a "Clueless" pop-up tied to the 25th anniversary of that film. When the pandemic hit, Paramount, pulled out, so Berry reached out to Smith about doing a Mooby's for a month in LA.
It performed so well, they did a second month. Then, Gianni's Pizzeria in New Jersey reached out and asked if they could host a Mooby's.
Now, they've got six cities lined up in the next six months.
Smith remembers hanging out with Jason Mewes, Chris Rock and Linda Fiorentino outside the original Mooby's (a repainted Burger King) on the set in 1998 when Rock suggested a real-life version of the restaurant.
"He was like, 'Do you think this could ever be real?' And I was like, 'Why would you do this? You've got a Burger King. You've got a McDonald's. You've got Kentucky Fried Chicken.' I never once thought there would be a world where fans would go to Mooby's."
If he had foreseen it, he says, with a laugh, "Believe me, I would've put Mooby's in every (expletive) movie I ever made."
In addition to being a "hoot," these Mooby's pop-ups have afforded Smith another way to keep his brand alive as he approaches the third anniversary of the heart attack that nearly killed him.
"My job is the Kevin Smith business," he says. "And if you're not aware of me, I'm out of business. So this is another way to be relevant.
"If someone opens up the newspaper and goes, 'Oh, the dude who almost died and made 'Clerks,' he's got a restaurant coming this week. He's still around? Go figure,' it's just one more arrow in the quiver, so to speak."
Doing a Mooby's pop up is very on-brand, he says. "You know me, man. ... I'm about to make 'Clerks III.' I never let a joke die."
"Clerks," of course, is the low-budget black-and-white comedy set in a convenience store with which the young director effectively launched his career in 1994 while also introducing Silent Bob, the character he's played in several films.
It also introduced the View Askewniverse, the fictional universe in which a number of his films are set, with characters and concepts crossing over from one movie to another.
Mooby's, for example, made appearances in "Clerks: The Animated Series," "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" and "Clerks II" after being introduced in "Dogma."
Originally, Jay and Silent Bob were the only things connecting "Clerks" and the director's second movie, "Mallrats." Then he shot a new ending to "Mallrats" that tied directly into "Clerks." And just like that, a universe was born.
At a certain point, he started making films outside the View Askewniverse because he'd gotten too much grief for repeating himself.
"They're like 'He just does those Kevin Smith movies. ... It's getting boring.' That's when I was like, 'I guess I need switch it up.' And so I put my toys away."
It took a heart attack to bring him back around to those old characters.
"After the heart attack, I felt like such an old man," Smith recalls. "I was like 'What would make me feel better and young?' Playing with my toys. I pulled them all down out of the attic and started setting them up again."
That led to "Jay and Silent Bob Reboot," a 2019 film that gave way to a traveling roadshow he compares to falling backward into a pool of pure nostalgia.
"It was a lovefest," he says. "It was like going to church every night, where I was both the priest and Jesus at the same time. And everybody was celebrating me and my dopey little world."
He recently finished the second draft of a "Clerks III" screenplay, which he's thinking may be shot before the project he had planned to shoot this year, a "Mallrats" sequel titled "Twilight of the Mallrats."
"Clerks III," he says, is very close to real life, with one of the two main characters, Randal, suffering a heart attack.
"I certainly know how to write about that," Smith says. "And he's so freaked out by his heart attack, he has a midlife crisis and decides, 'I've wasted my life. All I did was sit around and watch movies. Well, from now on, I'm making a (expletive) movie about my life right here at the convenience store."
So he and Dante, the other main character, essentially shoot their own version of "Clerks" within a sequel to that film.
""That's not anything that's gonna win you an Academy Award," Smith says. "But I was never gonna do that anyway. And so you look for things that just excite you."
In the meantime, he's living the dream.
"I was just like, 'I'm gonna make a movie,' and it all worked out," he says. "So now I'm playing on borrowed time since the heart attack. ... It's fun. People like it. The moment people don't like it anymore and they're like 'This is boring,' we'll just stop."
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Kevin Smith on 'Clerks 3,' Mooby's, mortality: 'Never let a joke die'