Jesus Christ Supafly

Matt Smith is praying. The waiter at DJ's, an Old Town Scottsdale bar that serves darn good burgers and even better kamikazes, has just dropped off Smith's chicken sandwich, and now -- like every good Catholic boy -- he's bowing his head and clasping his hands and muttering quietly to himself. I try to eavesdrop: Is Smith thanking God for the season he spent as a recent cast member of MTV's The Real World? Is he maybe asking for a cool endorsement deal, or a guest spot on The Osbournes?

In fact, the always-decorous Smith is merely thanking God for this white-meat-on-sourdough sandwich and side of fries. After he crosses himself, he dives in and, around mouthfuls of chicken breast, tells me about life as a reality TV idol and his post-Real World role as a spokesperson for Life Teen, a Catholic youth organization.

New Times: How'd you go from cable network television stardom to Christian teen talking head in Phoenix?

Matt Smith: After The Real World, I went back to Georgia Tech and got my degree in industrial design, moved to New York City and then moved here on September 10. A lot of Real Worlders travel and speak at universities, so I took a job as a spokesperson for Life Teen, which is based out of Mesa. My goal is to do whatever I can do to help the most people.

NT: Your nickname is Supafly.

Smith: Supafly! One day, when I was a junior in high school in rural northeast Georgia in Appalachia, I wore a pair of leather pants to school. And my trig teacher said, "Hey, Supafly!" I had never heard of blaxploitation films or anything of that nature, but I liked the name, and since then it's kinda stuck. After college, it was the only name I had.

NT: But on The Real World, everyone called you Matt.

Smith: On The Real World, where every character is quietly jockeying for the lead role, having a name like Tech or Cyrus or Supafly just rushes you to the front of the viewer's attention. My roommates on the show weren't interested in humoring me with a sensational nickname that would exalt me above the rest. They were content with the good old Eurocentric "Matt." I was still called Supafly, but you didn't hear that name in the show.

NT: The Real World Web site describes you as a "straight-edge religious hipster who loves graffiti art, break-dancing, hip-hop culture and customizing his souped-up Honda." That's kind of a goofy combination.

Smith: My faith is who I am; everything else is my interests. Do I still spray [paint graffiti]? No. Do I still have my low-rider bicycle? Do I still break-dance? Yes. But my faith is consistent; it always has been. It's my reason for existing every morning when I wake up. I've been banging through nightclubs since I was 16 years old; that hasn't stopped. Just because I'm not taking the hot chicks home to my sheets doesn't mean that I'm not having a good time.

NT: Still, a Catholic spokesperson who's banging through nightclubs. With pierced ears! What would the Pope say?

Smith: So many Christians retreat from pop culture, and from experiencing the world, because they get criticized by people who aren't Christians and who don't understand. In the gospel it says to be in the world but not of it. I have so much fun it's almost embarrassing, but it doesn't mean that I'm causing trouble or sinning or anything else.

NT: After The Real World, you became an instant celebrity.

Smith: I couldn't believe it. I watched the first show the night it aired, and I walked outside and the girls in the condo next door said, "Hello, Matt."

NT: Speaking of girls, Julie, the Mormon girl on the show, wanted in your pants.

Smith: A lot was made of that, but there just wasn't a natural chemistry between us. There was an expected chemistry between us, but much to the dismay of the producers, nothing happened. Because on The Real World, they strive for high drama. It's how you get 10 million viewers rooting for the two virgins to hop in bed. She's still a good friend of mine, but it just didn't happen. And that's been the case with every other girl I've met. It happens all the time. It will happen again tonight when I go out, only the thing with Julie was captured on television.

NT: So a lot of the stuff on The Real World isn't all that real after all.

Smith: It's a tragedy that, when they edited each episode, the only parts of each of us that made it were the parts of us that relate to drama. You never knew about the heartfelt conversations that brought me and my roommates to tears, because they weren't tinged with drama, the kind of drama where you're throwing tables and chairs. If they weren't tinged with drama or sexuality, they never made it into the edited version.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela