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Clerks II’s Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson hit the road to discuss their signature characters

With the opening line of “Mama Said Knock You Out,” the title track of his 1990 classic, LL Cool J delivered, “Don’t call it a comeback/I’ve been here for years,” an amazing knockout punch to his detractors in the Rap game. The black-and-white video captured LL in a boxing ring, armed and ready for action.

About four years later, multi-hyphenate Kevin Smith bumrushed the scene with Clerks, his own black-and-white fantasy featuring Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson), a pair of Jersey boys fighting boredom behind the counters of a Quick Stop convenience store and the neighboring video rental store. Smith’s innate sense for their raunchy flow made him an indie darling and put him on the fast track from the Garden State to Hollywood.

As the budgets and the star appearances — from relatively small-timers like Mallrats and Chasing Amy to Dogma and the doomed Jersey Girl — it was clear that Smith was hell-bent on remaining true to his own muse: his hometown crew.

So here he is 12 years later, returning to the boys at the Quick Stop for Clerks II. But when the opportunity arose for a quick sit-down with the fellas behind the vaguely aspiring Dante and the raging id of Randal, who are making a promotional pitstop here in the Queen City at the Hyatt Regency, right away I made a decision: Don’t call it an interview.

It made perfect sense in a way. Dante and Randal are not the kind of guys to sweat something like a 15-minute question-and-answer session. So I wasn’t about to make them start now. I also realized that the release of Clerks II shouldn’t be seen as a comeback for the boys either, because much like LL, they’ve been right where the first film left them 12 years ago.

Things are a little different for O’Halloran and Anderson. For instance, O’Halloran has spawned a whole line of Hickses onscreen. Besides the Clerks movies, Dante made a brief appearance in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. But there was Gill Hicks in Mallrats, Jim Hicks in Chasing Amy and one Grant Hicks in Dogma. Apparently they’re all related, but Smith’s the only one who knows for sure, and he’s not telling.

O’Halloran relays a scenario from a fan: “You guys should do a CGI scene where you have all the Hicks in one room and you’re serving yourself.”

Anderson was more reluctant to sign on behind the register again. He, too, has made an appearance in one of Smith’s non-Clerks projects, as a gun salesman in Dogma, and now he has joined the multi-hyphenates of the film world with Now You Know, his own take on the lives of Jersey-ites. The film brought Trevor Fehrman to the attention of Smith, who ended up casting him as Elias, Randal’s naive Christian punching bag in Clerks II.

For him, the return had to be worth spending time with Dante and Randal again, because left to his own devices, “I’d probably avoid that store altogether, if I knew they were working there.”

Life on the road during this promotional junket has offered the duo a glimpse into what ticks off different parts of the country, since Clerks II fearlessly pokes at our social and cultural sore spots with a sharp stick.

Anderson recalls a disc jockey in San Diego who told them “right off the bat that (he) didn’t like the movie,” but in between station breaks he talked about everything he thought was funny while remaining cool on the air.

“The guy was a recovering drug addict who found God and didn’t like the Elias character, that we were poking fun at him for being religious,” Anderson says. “It’s like all the other stuff is funny, but when it gets too close to home… ”

“Kevin (Smith) is very religious,” Anderson explains. “So he starts there and pokes fun at himself, and if everyone else would do that it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.”

O’Halloran chimes in with memories of Salt Lake City. “They had a lot of questions about Jay and his tucking,” he says. During a dance sequence outside Dante and Randal’s new place of employment, Jay (Jason Mewes) performs nude with his penis pulled back in scene that comically inspires thoughts of Silence of the Lambs.

In Phoenix, O’Halloran recalls, “It was the donkey show stuff. I guess it was because they’re close to the (Mexican) border. I have no idea.”

From pillow-pants to porch monkeys, Clerks II‘s racy topics inspired comments from around the country, except for the online argument with the crippled guy.

“The handicapped seem to be forgotten in the arguments,” O’Halloran says.

I share personal experiences from my days working with people with disabilities and how the film offers them up as magical innocents and not regular people with good days and bad days. Anderson, seemingly channeling Randal, agrees.

“Yeah, they show up and they can be assholes,” he says.

The guys are quick to make a few jokes at my expense.

“And (you’re) an advocate,” says O’Halloran between laughs.

“That was his old job,” Anderson replies quickly.

I can’t help joining in on the gag, because we all need to be able to laugh at ourselves. That’s one of the points of the movie.

It’s good to see O’Halloran and Anderson laughing and enjoying their current ride, because this promotional tour might be their last live-action adventure together. If so, the film’s conclusion makes it clear that we know exactly where they’ll be.

Dante and Randal are at home again. (tt clinkscales)