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A Conversation with Director Judd Apatow

October 25, 2010 at 6:17 PM EDT
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Jeffrey Brown talks to producer and director Judd Apatow about what's behind his string of successful movies and his new book, "I Found This Funny." Apatow has been the force behind hit films such as "The 40 Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up."
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TRANSCRIPT

JEFFREY BROWN: Now: a filmmaker on learning to be a comic, having success in Hollywood, and not wearing suits.

If there is a king of comedy right now in Hollywood, you could argue it is Judd Apatow. The 42-year-old writer, director and producer is the force behind films that, combined, have earned $1.5 billion in recent years, including megahits like “The 40 Year Old Virgin”…

ROMANY MALCO, actor: Are you a virgin?

SETH ROGEN, actor: You’re a virgin!

STEVE CARELL, actor: I am — shut up.

JEFFREY BROWN: … and “Knocked up.”

KATHERINE HEIGL, actor: I have something I really need to tell you. I’m pregnant.

SETH ROGEN: With a baby?

JEFFREY BROWN: His leading characters might be young men who can’t or won’t grow up, the humor, well, sophomoric.

ACTRESS: So, ready?

STEVE CARELL: Yes.

(SCREAMING)

STEVE CARELL: I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

JEFFREY BROWN: But the formula is working. And Apatow insists, his movies do have a serious purpose.

JUDD APATOW, director/producer: I feel the responsibility to make things which on some level have something positive to say.

So, although there is a lot of people that are acting immaturely, shall we say, but, to me, what it is really about is trying to figure out how you are going to be a good person and how you are going to fit into society. And most…

JEFFREY BROWN: You do care about that? I mean, that’s…

JUDD APATOW: Yes. Well, that’s all I care about, really. I just think it’s funnier to start with people in the worst possible place.

JEFFREY BROWN: Apatow’s latest pursuit is actually quite high-minded, a book called “I Found This Funny,” a collection of his favorite works by writers, from past masters F. Scott Fitzgerald and Flannery O’Connor, to contemporary humorists David Sedaris and Steve Martin.

The proceeds benefit a nonprofit writing and tutoring program called 826 National. When we talked recently at his modest Los Angeles office, Apatow admitted that he himself came to love reading only as an adult.

JUDD APATOW: I was a big TV kid. When I was a kid, I would go home at 3:00 and watch TV straight through to the end of Letterman at 1:30 in the morning. I was obsessed with comics. And I would watch Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno and study them as if it was Tolstoy.

JEFFREY BROWN: Apatow is indeed a serious student of comedy. And that too began as a kid on Long Island, when he managed to pick the brains of leading comedians appearing at a local club.

JUDD APATOW: I started a radio show where I interviewed comics. And I interviewed Leno and Seinfeld and John Candy and Father Guido Sarducci and Garry Shandling, all when I was 16. And they kind of told me what to do. Here is how you get on stage. Here is how you write a joke. Here is how you come up with an idea for a sitcom.

And they thought it was for the radio, but they didn’t realize it was only for me, and I wasn’t even airing almost any of the interviews.

(LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY BROWN: If, as Apatow says, his comedy obsession helped get him through the pain of growing up, it’s that very pain that is the obsession of his professional comedy.

His breakthrough came as producer and writer of the TV show “Freaks and Geeks,” a funny and sometimes agonizing look at teenagers trying to cope and coexist in a suburban high school.

ACTOR: I’m sorry. Did I crush your Twinkies?

JEFFREY BROWN: The show was canceled after just 12 episodes, but developed a cult following and lives on, on cable and DVD.

ACTOR: Oh. Well, you know, I was just bending down to talk to him and I accidentally leaned on it.

JUDD APATOW: A lot of the turning points happen in high school and in college, and it defines a lot of how you see the world and how you decide to defend yourself from the world. Some people, you know, they — their defense mechanism is, I’m really smart or I’m sexy or I’m the leader. And other people, you know, they hide or they make jokes. And we are all figuring out what our plan is going to be.

PAUL RUDD, actor: Do you know how I know you’re gay?

SETH ROGEN: How? How do you know I’m gay?

PAUL RUDD: Because you macramed yourself a pair of jean shorts.

JEFFREY BROWN: And those young men in his recent movies glued to video games, avoiding relationship and responsibilities, they’re still trying to figure out who they are going to be.

JUDD APATOW: Most people are really fighting to not be adults. And, when it happens, it’s a big transition. And a lot of that is just awful. It’s awful to have to get a job and, you know, really be responsible for other people. And it is funny, too.

Like, we’re all kind of little idiot kids trying to act like we know what we are doing. Look at you. You are in a suit. You are trying to look like you know what you are doing.

JEFFREY BROWN: I know. Yes, yes, yes.

JUDD APATOW: And you do.

JEFFREY BROWN: Is it working?

JUDD APATOW: It’s not. It’s not working.

(LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY BROWN: Of course, Judd Apatow may not wear a suit, but he is a grownup, a family man who runs a successful business, a stressful, demanding business. And he remains unapologetic about criticisms that his comedy aims too low.

JUDD APATOW: There are people who want Noel Coward, and there are people who want “Superbad.” And, you know, I just think all entertainment and art is just — it’s just a grab bag. Just take what you like.

JEFFREY BROWN: And don’t expect serious drama any time soon.

JUDD APATOW: I don’t think I’m going to get so mature that I lose touch with the whatever wounded part of myself that feels the need to be funny. I’m already old enough that I realize that’s not going to happen. I wish…

JEFFREY BROWN: This is you, huh?

JUDD APATOW: Yes, I wish it did happen. I wish there was a moment where, like, I feel great and all my wounds are healed, and now I will do drama. But it’s not happening.

(LAUGHTER)

I still feel like a weird kid who is about to take a punch in the face. So, I think it’s permanent.

JEFFREY BROWN: Judd Apatow’s next film, called “Bridesmaids,” is due out in the spring. His story collection, “I Found This Funny,” has just been released.