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SModCastle: LA's New Podcast Citadel

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SModCastle. Photo by Matt Cohen.
Anyone who routinely drives along the battered Santa Monica Blvd. blocks known as ‘Theatre Row’ has undoubtedly noticed there’s a new kid in town: SModCastle. Located in a downstairs corner theater of the always-bustling Complex (a series of small black box theaters squished together just west of Vine), the ‘castle is the new de facto home for all things podcast and Kevin Smith. After the successful 2007 launch of his weekly SModcast, Smith began taking live tapings of the podcast on the road for all to see. Eventually, the travel really started to catch up to Silent Bob, because he decided to bring the shows home to roost in their very own nest - SModCastle.

After a near-complete renovation, including New Jersey Devils carpeting, hockey sticks galore, and more Smith-centric fan art on the walls than you’d like to imagine, the ‘castle is now hurtling through its infancy with little regard for human life. The space itself is large enough to accommodate Smith’s mini-empire of podcasts and macro-legions of fans (seating runs around 50 people per show), but small and nimble enough to allow traveling podcasts to take over the space for a night and bring in some listeners of their own. And when all that foot traffic just isn’t enough, the SModCastle folks will organize video game tournaments, movie nights, and even Saturday morning cartoon sessions, complete with bowls of cereal. Hell, they’ve got food trucks parked out front nowadays; what ISN’T SModCastle taking over?!

Not much. By bringing all of his shows in-house, Smith has created a level of vertical integration that so far hasn’t existed in podcasting. Live shows generate income and feed into online downloads, which in turn fuel live shows and new listeners. Yet, despite the name conjuring images of impenetrable walls and dark, dank spaces, both Smith, his co-hosts, and his theater remain eminently approachable. On a recent night, LAist was invited to check out the Jay & Silent Bob Get Old podcast taping, in which Silent Bob (Smith) and Jay (Jason Mewes) of Clerks fame shoot the breeze about their current lives, before turning to the hairier days of Mewes’ fuzzy past as a drug addict. Yet, despite being heavy at times, the show never feels weighed down. Mewes, in a classic screen-to-life role reversal, is the small terrier to Smith’s hulking, overshadowing comedy bulldog, but both clearly need the other and the symbiotic relationship it creates is surprisingly engrossing to watch live. There are always self-deprecating barbs and sharp, witty moments to burst the room’s tension when a story gets too personal, and the overall dynamic between the two men is both familiar and earnest. Here again, the men themselves are immediately likable.

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In fact, after scrambling to find a parking space (which can be scarce), this writer was nearly late for the show, and stumbled through the door just in time to get checked off the list by Mewes himself, who took a moment to half-jokingly hock a signed poster before jetting off to the stage. Only at SModCastle. And as you climb the stairs to find your seat before the show begins, with the ghostly lights of a dozen open cell phones to guide your way, you can see that this level of openness lets them expand their market share as well. An older couple, a large contingent of ironic t-shirted comedy aficionados and film school nerds, a few young couples on a date, and the requisite die hard podcast fanatic all smush into the ‘castle seats as the lights dim to black. Music up, cue Smith in a hockey jersey, followed by Mewes sporting one of those girly headband things to keep his locks in place, and away we go. Not a bad way to spend a night in this stretch of Hollywood.