This was an important interview for me: it was the first time I talked to Judd Apatow where I didn’t feel like a total douchebag afterwards. I can’t even watch my video interview with him for Forgetting Sarah Marshall because all I can see in his face is disdain. I think the problem is that every time I interviewed Judd in the past I tried to be clever or witty and just failed. You can imagine how annoying that would be to someone who is clever and witty.
So last week I just dropped the witty ‘Hey, I’m funny too, guy!’ bullshit and simply interviewed Judd. It helped that he was visibly exhausted after having done a weekend at Comic Con after doing a bunch of days at the Montreal Just For Laughs Comedy Festival. It also helped that I just didn’t want to talk about the movie he was there to promote, Pineapple Express. I mean, I love the movie – a second viewing a year after my first only confirms my belief that this is one of the great comedies of the decade – but I’ve talked about it with him and Seth Rogen and others for the last year. I just did a press conference for the film at Comic Con. I was all Pineappled out, and I suspect that Judd was as well.
I opted to spend a lot of time talking about Funny People, the next film he’s directing. I’ve read the script and it’s easily his best yet. Judd’s keeping the full premise of the movie under wraps at the moment, so in deference to that I won’t spill anything except to say that while the movie isn’t about stand up comedy it’s inextricably linked to the world of comedians – there would be no movie here if the leads weren’t comics. And it also reads as intensely personal – while The 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up started from basic comedic premises, Funny People feels like it begins with Judd Apatow and the people he knows. With his first two films Judd started with the general and made it personal, while Funny People feels like it’s going the other way, which is fascinating and part of what makes the script work so well.
You recently did a set at UCB [Upright Citizens Brigade theater].
Yes, I’ve been doing some sets at UCB.
How did that go?
It’s been going well. I’m going to be directing this movie in late
September, and many of the characters in the movie are comedy people –
comedians or comedy actors – so I thought I guess I should go on stage
and do stand up. I’ve only done it ten times since 1992. I thought I
had to remind myself of the terror and the diarrhea and how needy it
makes you feel so I can do this. And I have to write a lot of stand up
material for the movie, so I can work on some jokes. Also it reminds me
of the rhythm of that type of performance.
What kind of material are you doing?
In the movie… Adam [Sandler] and I are the same age, so a lot of the
material I was trying out was about being 40 and issues related to
that. At UCB the entire crowd was 22 years old, so that presented
challenges. But that’s fine. Me and Seth and Adam and Jonah Hill have
been getting up on stage trying to figure out what the stand up will be
in the movie.
I look at Eddie Murphy’s Delirious, which is amazing and then I look at Raw and it’s like something fell away because of the fame and the money. It’s like when rock bands
get famous and then write albums whining about how tough it is – you
can’t relate to that. Is that something you wrestle with in the stand
Sure. I did a bit about it on stage. I talked about how it stinks when
you have a friend whose life isn’t going well and you have to pretend
you don’t enjoy your life around him. You’re always saying ‘Yeah, it’s
a Porsche… but the lease is so expensive. When it breaks down it’s
murder! You get to ride the bus. At least you meet people. I don’t meet
anyone in a 911 Carrera.’ You do have to be aware of that, but that’s
why I started doing stand up, so I could pay more attention to what
someone like Adam’s character would talk about.
You said that you went to Garry Shandling and got his blessing on [Funny People] –
Well, not his blessing. I always, on every movie, talk about what I’m
writing with Garry because he’s my mentor and he taught me everything I
know about writing. When I’m writing if I have a problem I think, ‘If
this was an episode of The Larry Sanders Show, what would we do?’ That
makes it easier for me. He was nice enough to come to the table reads
of my other movies, and he came up with some really funny jokes and set
pieces for them. He came up with the idea in The 40-Year Old Virgin of
having him prepare to masturbate. We were saying, ‘Do we show him
masturbate? How do we deal with masturbation? That’s what people are
going to think. Is he sexual? And Garry said, ‘Show him preparing… he
combs his hair, he puts on a nice bath robe.’ He’s always very
Since the dynamic of Funny People is about a young comic’s relationship
with an older comic I was wondering if your relationship with Shandling
was an influence.
No, because Shandling is the greatest guy on Earth. It doen’t apply
because nothing interesting ever happened between myself and Garry
other than the fact that I was able to be around while he was creating
some remarkable work. He was always very kind to me – I can’t say the
same for Adam’s character in the movie. This is a little more about
looking up to someone and finding out they’re different than you
thought they were.
You have Garry as a mentor, and you’ve sort of mentored Seth and some
of those guys. Seth told me that he’s doing the same, reaching out to
People were very kind to me when I was trying to break into the
business. I opened for Jim Carrey on the road, I wrote for a bunch of
comics like Roseanne and Tom, whose support is what got me into the
business. It’s fun to have been helpful to other people I’ve met on the
way. I couldn’t be more excited for Seth and Evan Goldberg – to see
them accomplish what they’ve accomplished has been pretty stunning.
They’ve evolved into really amazingly gifted writers. I don’t think
about it that much, but it does come from the fact that people did it
I talked to Evan at Comic Con and he said that you and he always fight
about running times. He says that he tells you everything is a half
hour too long.
Evan is a little more for brevity than I am. Seth, I think, is on my
side. I asked him about the length of one of our movies, and I said ‘Is
it too long?’ He said, ‘You know what my dad always says is no one’s
ever mad that they get more free shit.’ Bertollucci once said, ‘What
else do people have to do? Sit in traffic?’ I thought, that’s true.
When I like a movie, I’m not dying for it to end. I’m dying for bad
movies to end. When I look at the running times of movies I admire,
most of them are two hours, two fifteen. Jerry Maguire, Broadcast News,
Something About Mary’s an hour and fifty five. I made a big list of
them and rationalized my length.
When you do the DVDs of the films you put out the director’s cuts.
You’ll swap out entire scenes and jokes – it can be an almost
unfamiliar experience watching them. When you put them out you put the
theatrical out as a separate release. Any chance of getting both
versions in one set?
We are doing that. The technology has just recently allowed for a DVD
that has the theatrical and the extended on the same DVD. We always
wanted to do that. It’s called branching technology. It’ll be on all
How ‘official’ are the extended cuts? Are they for fun or are they really your original vision for the movie?
It’s a good question. We debate it all the time. When I put out The
40-Year Old Virgin, it’s 17 minutes longer than the original movie, and
that’s a lot. But what I put back in I really liked. Some of it I think
is very, very funny. Some of it is funny in ways that didn’t get giant
laughs in a movie theater, but at home is really interesting. Some of
it clarifies character. There’s definitely an argument to be made that
it’s excessive and crazy; when we did it on Walk Hard we made a joke
out of it and called it the Incredibly Long and Indulgent Director’s
Cut and we added a half hour. But that was on a DVD where you got both
the theatrical and the extended version. Superbad we added very little
on the extended cut, only a few minutes. Pineapple I’m not sure how
much we added, if any. Some people in our group say, ‘This ruins the
movie! This is all the stuff we didn’t want to do!’ and some people
say, ‘No there are these great jokes that didn’t work in the movie
theater but we liked them anyway.’ It’s a never-ending debate but the
fact that you can see either now makes us more comfortable.
Is there the possibility now with Blu-Ray that we can see more options?
Like if you did five great versions of a scene giving us the chance to
see all five and decide which to have in the movie?
Yeah. What’s funny is that even with Blu-Ray technology there’s still
memory, time-capacity issues. If someone said ‘Hey the new DVD has ten
hours,’ we’d think of more things to do with it.
With Funny People you’re making a movie about comedians, and it’s hard to think of movies about comedians that people like.
None. The only movie about comedians that anyone speaks of positively is Lenny. Other than that, it’s a washout.
Is that daunting or is it a challenge? Are you feeling ballsy and think you can do it?
I’m excited about it because I think the story lends itself to being
about comedians. The movie isn’t about comedians in clubs trying to get
ahead and people trying to make it. It’s about something else, and what
gives it a weird texture is what they do, they try to be funny at their
job. It makes more of the life or death issues in the movie much more
interesting because it’s this wounded, funny creative person dealing
with all of it.
When you do the UCB sets is the feedback positive? My girlfriend was at
one and said it was adorable. Is adorable what you’re going for?
[laughs] I was going for adorable. Hey, as long as she wasn’t
disgusted. The funny thing about me performing is that it doesn’t
matter if it goes well or goes badly. I learn just as much about what I
need to know to make this movie from bombing as I do from getting big
But as a person and as a performer, and having some of that performer’s
neediness you talked about before, you’re learning but isn’t it tough
to be standing up there and having it not work?
For me, if I do well the next day I still feel ashamed of everything I
said, and a little creeped out. I get the same feeling you get the next
morning after you were really drunk and know you were obnoxious all
night. I get that post-drunk shame, even when it goes well. But you
also get the feeling that you have to do it again to keep refining it.
You instantly feel the neediness to do better and get your hit of joke
crack going. That’s part of what the movie’s about, people who have an
insatiable need for approval.
Talking to you for Walk Hard you said you were aware that the Apatow
brand was becoming very omnipresent. Are you going to dial it back a
Well, for me personally I start directing this movie at the end of September –
So you’ll be out of it.
That shuts me down for a year. All I have on the runway is Year One
next summer, the Harold Ramis movie, and then we’re going to make a
movie that stars Russell Brand in which he plays the same character he
played in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. He goes off the wagon and Jonah
Hill has to get him to his concert.
That’s Get Him to the Greek.
Nick Stoller wrote and will direct it. It’s the same team as Forgetting
Sarah Marshall. That script is done and fantastic, and we’re going to
shoot it in the spring after I’m done with [Funny People]. But other
than that, I don’t have anything sitting on the runway.
Are you going to be shooting the stand up for Funny People in real environments or in controlled settings?
Both. I’ll build a space and shoot at a comedy club.
If you take Seth Rogen out on stage and have him bomb in character for
the movie, you might have an audience at a real comedy club that
doesn’t let him bomb since they’re so excited to be there seeing him.
I think anyone can bomb! I thought to myself the easiest way to have
Seth bomb is to have him do his act, keep the crowd there and do it
again. I know he won’t do as well the second time.