Ming Chen, right, talking smod with Michael Zapcic at Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash last month.  (Photos by Dan Natale. Click to enlarge)


Bites2_SmallAMC’s Comic Book Men, a reality TV show set at Red Bank’s Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash that airs its season finale tonight, features a cast renowned for snide and jaded banter on the world of comic books, movies, and television.

Throughout their playful, occasionally ball-busting discussions conducted online on ‘smodcasts‘ that anchor the show, store employee Ming Chen tends to be the brunt of the jokes due to his laid-back, friendly and unassuming disposition.

Chen, 38, started on his path to comic book heaven in 1996, while attending the University of Michigan. There, he studied everything from economics to organic chemistry, until he found himself skipping class to follow his true passion: web design. Chen says he “fell backwards” into his life as a professional nerd after he created a fan website for Kevin Smith’s movie ‘Clerks,’ which prompted Smith to offer him an internship. Since then, Chen has formed lifelong friendships with Smith and the cast, which includes Bryan Johnson, Michael Zapcic, Walt Flanagan, and “Steve-Dave.” This chemistry, Chen says, is what creates the show’s natural feel.

redbankgreen sat down with Chen, who also hosts the show “Puck Nuts” and is often featured on the podcast “Tell ‘em Steve-Dave,” for an installment of our infrequent Human Bites feature, which focuses on people and their passions.

How and when did you get into comic books and movies? Was it when you were a little kid?

Yeah, I think comics you always get into when you’re a little kid, you know, once you turn two or three. I think some of my earliest memories were waking up to watch Super Friends when they used to do Saturday morning cartoons. That was some of my first exposure. You see some of the cool superheroes like Superman and Wonder Woman, and the Wonder Twins. Well, maybe not the Wonder Twins.

When you’re a little kid it’s your gateway into reading. I think Mike, who I work with, mentioned that’s how he learned how to read, and I don’t think it hurt me. I got my first real book in first grade. A friend of mine gave me a copy of the Avengers 214, and I still think I have it in a box somewhere. I’ve kept it all these years.

What is it like being interested in things like comic books and collectibles, something that a lot of people give up when they’re younger?

I think it’s a good test. I mean, some people will scoff at it. They’re like, “What, you like comic books? Comics are for kids.” Same with toys. They’ll say toys are for kids. Not anymore. That’s kind of a good test. If they kind of scoff at it then it’s like, Ok this guy isn’t very open minded… or woman. If you watch movies, or read, or you’re just interested in great stories, then most of the great stories are in comic books. Take Walking Dead for example. People love the show. I would say 80 percent of the people that watch it don’t know that it started with the comic. It’s cool. Comics are cool!

Was it Kevin Smith’s idea to get into podcasting and stuff like that?

Yeah, he and his producer Scott Mosier started that in 2007, February. They made ‘Clerks’ together. They did all the movies together. They used to live here in Jersey. They used to hang out together a lot. They moved to L.A. and they got busy, so they didn’t see each other that much, and they figured that podcasting was a way to get together for at least one hour a week and just talk about whatever.

Yeah, it seems like there’s a big problem with content control because there’s so many people that can film and record stuff.

Yeah but in the end, the good ones will stand out and rocket to the top of the charts on iTunes. You can pick ‘em out pretty easily. And for the people that are good at it, it’s great for them, because they can do it when they want it, they can do it how they want it, and there’s no one above them that tells them, ‘hey you can’t say this, or you can’t talk about this.’ You can skip a week; big deal.

What are some tips to being a good podcaster?

Be yourself. One of the big things is just to keep talking. No dead air. What I do is to make a list of what I’m gonna talk about. It works as a safety net.

It definitely seems like a really cool job.

It’s fun, and it’s not something that I ever pictured myself doing. I’m not very talkative, so I never saw myself doing it. But it’s weird: when you work with Kevin, you do things that you never thought you’d do, and if you do it enough times, you start to get kinda decent at it — sometimes even good.

Would you say the other guys pick on you a bit?

Yeah they do, but I’ve known Bryan and Walt for about 17 years. I’ve known Mike for over 10 years. That’s what happens when you’re friends with someone for over 10 years. You don’t hold back anymore. Sometimes one of the guys in your group of friends makes it easy. It happens to be me, unfortunately, for the most part, but sometimes I give it back to them. Not as often. I’m more laid back then they are. If you see a guy like Bryan Johnson or Walt, they’re quick, man. If you leave an opening they’re gonna take it. They’re gonna take that shot ant they’re gonna hit a bulls-eye.

Would you say you got tougher skin from working on the show?

Yeah, most definitely. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s still one of those things where my friends can make fun of me. But if anybody else, if you don’t know me well enough, don’t even try.

What’s your favorite part of doing the show?

I’m not gonna lie: it’s great seeing yourself on TV. It’s fun. I think everybody in this world wants to be on TV, even if it’s just for 10 seconds. And to get a whole show out of it, that’s amazing. For the most part, I’m usually in here getting made fun of and just talking Star Wars or comic books with these guys anyway, so to have it in front of cameras, and on AMC with Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, and Mad Men, I mean how amazing is that? Even if I was on the Fuse channel or TLC or whatever, that would be cool, but to be on AMC, which is like the big leagues, is amazing.

What’s your favorite kind of nerd?

My favorite kind? Back in the day, I used to be kind of a film nerd. I would go see a movie on opening day. Sometimes I would go see it twice if it was good enough. I was trying to be like Quentin Tarantino. I would read all his interviews, and I saw an interview where he would go see a movie twice; once to drink it in, and another time to analyze it. A lot of people can recite lines and little details, almost like a walking IMDB. I would say that those would be my favorite kind.

Comic book nerds are great too. I work with them, and I’m friends with two of them who can look at a panel with no words and no frame of reference, and tell you who drew it, what issue it came from, what number, what was going on in history at the time, when they bought it, what they were doing when they bought it, how old they were. Comic book nerds are fun too. It’s like “Rain Man.”

This might have been on the show before, but if you were a superhero, who would you be?

I have a couple. There was a comic book that D.C. put out called Star Men. They kind of re-updated it. They had a character called Jack Night. He’s the son of the original Star Man. He’s kind of reluctant. He finds a thing called the Cosmic Rod that his father developed, and he’s not a dude who dresses up in tights. He doesn’t really have any super powers. In his day job, he’s an antique junk toy collector. I think all those elements kind of hit me. He wears a cool leather jacket and sun glasses, and if I were a superhero, I would do that.

Finally, what’s more important: comfortable shoes or good food?

Oh good food by far. One: you need to eat to live. You’re gonna do that, so might as well eat good. Two: the thing with food is that you have so much variety. Even if you pick the simplest thing– say, hotdogs – there are a hundred different ways you can prepare a hotdog, especially here in Jersey. I love variety. I like going to a hundred different places even for the same kind of food. One guy will do it one way, and another guy will do it another way, and you can see which one is better. I’m very into food, if you can’t tell. The first thing I do when I go into a new city is search for the best restaurants and then I go to them.  Comfortable shoes—not such a big deal. I’m more about good-looking shoes.

Dan Natale of Red Bank is a student at Brookdale Community College, where he’s the assistant editor of the student newspaper The Stall, and an intern at redbankgreen.