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Judd Apatow on Funny People

We talk with filmmaker Judd Apatow about his movies – “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Superbad” – and what he finds funny.

Judd Apatow, a producer of "Get Him to the Greek," arrives at the premiere of the film at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, May 25, 2010. (AP)

Every era has its reigning Hollywood comedy style. Julia Roberts and romances in the ‘80s. Gross-out Jim Carey in the ‘90s. And lately, the new reigning way: the “bromance” of Judd Apatow.

“The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” “Knocked Up.” Often gross. Maybe stoned. But also searching, with a touching honesty, on friendship, sex, marriage, maturity.

Now, Apatow has raised his head up out of the movies to look at what else is funny. He’s been reading, and sharing his reading list – from Ernest Hemingway to Alice Munro to Adam Sandler.

We talk with Judd Apatow about what he finds funny.

-Tom Ashbrook


Judd Apatow, renowned comedy filmmaker, director, and screenwriter. His movies include “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Taladega Nights,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,” and “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.” His new book is “I Found This Funny.”

We live-tweeted this show. Here’s the running thread, with special thanks to WBUR’s Sarah Knight:

OnPointRadio Twitter

@JuddApatow “Messages need to be insidious in movies for people to undersand & absorb them.” Look @ the big picture in his work

Not just for the dudes, @JuddApatow has been working on some woman-centric movies/tv shows, coming soon

Tom asks @JuddApatow if the Bromance genre is over: “It’s probably over already, it’s just reverberating for people.”

@JuddApatow “Comedians are very desensitized. Only the harshest things make them laugh.”

@JuddApatow “Life is so ridiculous we have to have fun with what we’re ashamed of and what makes us uncomfortable.”

Proceeds of “I Found This Funny” benefit http://www.826national.org/

Movie person instead of a book person? Will @JuddApatow’s book make you read?

@JuddApatow met (stalked) @SteveMartinToGo at age 13. Have you met your idol? (comedy or otherwise)

@JuddApatow dropped out of college to go on the trip he won on The Dating Game.

@JuddApatow’s Aunt Pat has joined the conversation, what about you? http://bit.ly/awZYOO

@JuddApatow “If you’re looking to kill some time in the dentist’s office, this is a good book for you.”

AV Club’s review of @JuddApatow’s new book “I Found This Funny” http://bit.ly/bJoRJ0

@JuddApatow’s reading list: Hemingway, Ephron, Robert Smigel, SNL alums, Steve Martin, F. Scott Fitzgerald and more

“I would love to make another Superbad…They treat it like Lawrence of Arabia, they don’t want to mess it up with a bad sequel”

Carrgregator @OnPointRadio @JuddApatow would love to be listening to this! But I am stuck at jury duty in queens #whatsfunny or rather #tragicomedy

crmonks: Playing Assassins Creed while listening to @JuddApatow on @OnPointRadio discuss the @mcsweeneysbooks book I helped him edit.

@JuddApatow lists Stephen King and stand-up comedy (the angry kind) as early influences in his comedy.

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  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Superbad rules! My 95 year old mother LOVES Superbad, we’ve watched it numerous times together.

    Every time I say “good to go” my mother cracks up and she can’t even remember the context of the line anymore.

    My wife, however, isn’t so crazy about Superbad but she cracks up seeing me crack up at the low brow humor. Hey, who cares what makes her laugh as long as she laughs.

    Superbad is so bad it’s great!

    McLovin for President!

  • Pancake

    Richard: Picture McLovin getting his balls dribbled in the TSA line. Are you laughing?

  • Brett

    Yes, Richard, how dare you forget about all of the problems in the world for a moment and laugh!!! Commenting on this forum is serious business; please never forget this!!! Thankfully, we have “Pancake” to set you straight!!! (I was going to make a joke about that sobriquet, but I was afraid of the finger wagging!)

  • Sam E. Ann Arbor, MI

    Could you ask Mr. Apatow if he thinks that taking a darker more cynical tone in Funny People was a commercial mistake and if he thinks his future films are going to be more similar to Funny People or Knocked Up and 40 Year Old Virgin?

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Pancake: You made me laugh. Thanks.

    We need Apatow to do a short with the three Superbad “dudes” in TSA garb arguing over who’s going to pat down each person who comes through the line. The thing that’s great about the movie is you can put those guys in any situation and imagine what dorks they’d be and crack up.

    Brett: The only way I can consider the problems of the world is with the knowledge that I can watch a movie like Superbad.

    And, frankly, I don’t give a flying #### about what my liking a movie like this says about my taste or maturity. One can only take so much of My Dinner with Andre before one needs a good dose of Superbad.

  • Pancake the bit torrent queen in NC

    Richard, I was only joking until Brett assumed I was serious. There are serious undertones in Apatow films though. It’s a tender idea that a 40 year old could be a virgin, and young men’s mechanical conception of women is often maudlin. And then again, I’m sure there is side money from alcohol manufacturers for product placement.

    All dessert (crude laughs) is unhealthy for anyone. Mia and I watched “Cold Souls” last night (starring the actor who played Harvey Picar) and it was wonderful. A serious film can be filled with a dark humor that stays with you and makes you strong emotionally so you can put fun silliness in the right context.

    I think Judd Apatow has a capacity for serious films if he’d step away from the money formula for a year. Some of the actors in his circle would not be spoiled by some serious drama study. He might even teach humorous portrayal to some serious actors. As culture changes I expect his completed films will not be classics. Take the films of Christopher Guest (Best In Show, Mighty Wind, and so on) for comparison. They hold up only as curiosities. The mind too must mature or atrophy. You can see how SNL is in the corporate toilet I expect…

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    I agree Pancake, the Apatow ensemble could easily morph into more serious stuff. Oh, and I’m a huge Christopher Guest fan (don’t forget Spinal Tap).

  • Brett

    What makes you think I thought you were serious?

  • Julia Morehead”Pancake” Rankin

    Well, Brett, if you could understand that I’m a dissident daughter of the landed Confederate aristocracy, a trust-funded baby who dropped out of grad school after being an injured hate crime victim, and coincidentally a bisexual living with a lesbian, in a society that is becoming progressively more authoritarian and repressive, you might see how I could be hypersensitive to what amounts to disembodied anonymous comments. So, do you think we need reminding to be serious? (My favorite film is “Blazing Saddles.”)
    And, by the way, Spinal Tap is a Rob Reiner film. He has matured beyond Guest. I was hoping Apatow could find his soulfulness too. That Adam Sandler film about the terminally ill comedian illustrates that maturing can be fun. What’s it called? I only wanted you to get what I meant.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Judd: Give us an example of actor improvisation in Superbad. What was in the script, what did the actor do to change it.

  • Al Dorman

    “Freaks and Geeks” was the finest U.S. comedy ever aired, at least until the similarly character-driven “Arrested Development.” I’m so glad Mr. Apatow’s career has kept going strong, because F&G was always my little secret. Can’t understand why it didn’t take off.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Spinal Tap is a Rob Reiner film (his first) but Guest played a leading role and helped write it.

  • http://danietashian.com Daniel Tashian

    I’ve wondered this a lot…..why do you think F Scott Fitzgerald couldn’t write scripts, but was such a great observer and listener for dialogue?
    Also, how do you feel about marijuana in the workplace?

  • Pancake

    Funny People, that’s Judd’s best work. Even the groupie screwing was handled well, with the celebrity obligated to fulfill fantasies. I wonder if that’s accurate. I hope it is

  • BHA

    I couldn’t watch Freaks and Geeks. It was nothing more than a painful reminder of my years in Junior High and High school.

    Fortunately the jerks who make life miserable for high school ‘freaks and geeks’ mostly disappear at the ‘gates’ of college campuses. Or maybe they never get to the ‘gates’.

  • Pancake

    My amp goes up to 12… don’t touch it. (That’s ad-libs, not writing.)

  • BHA

    I should add that things have not changed in 35 years despite the emphasis on bulling in schools today.

  • Patrick

    Undeclared and Freaks and Geeks are two of the best shows to ever appear on television, yet both never made it to a second season. Do you see yourself returning to Network television anytime soon?

  • Brett

    Well, Julia (and thanks for your real name), as far as this forum is concerned, I may be disembodied but I am not anonymous (at least not by the Interwebnesses standards, anyways). At least you admit to hypersensitivity…on a lighter note: do you remember the ads for Spinal Tap when it first came out? There were “news” reels of Scandanavian cheese competitions or something while Reiner was being mock interviewed about his mockumentary…also, I once stopped a friend from listening to Metal music by having him watch This is Spinal Tap…I know, I’m such a killjoy…

  • michael from Quincy

    Like the 40 year virgin, Super bad was pretty good but Knocked up was one of the worst movies he produced.

    Funny people was pretty bad as well.

    It just wasn’t really funny at all,

    But Jud and his movies are still “Like a Boss”

  • Kathy

    Speaking of “Funny People,” how did you convince James Taylor to swear like a longshoreman?

    KathyB from Sudbury

  • Brian Klassen

    Hi Judd. I just put the finishing touches on a screenplay that is right in your wheelhouse. Unfortunately I’m stuck in the screenwriter’s Catch-22 (literary reference apropos the shows subject matter) of not having an agent, therefore no one will read my work; I have no industry footprint so agents aren’t interested in representing me. Also, is there a market for original screenplays these days or is it all comic books and book adaptations?

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Absolutely incredible scene in Superbad where girl gets drunk and hits on Cera and he doesn’t let it happen. This was handled beautifully. Wonderful response to Rachel.

    Warren, Connecticut

  • wieting

    I have extremely funny kids. They are always doing stand up…..even in class, writing there own joke. One does voices as well. What should I do to cultivate this humorous side of them? Their English skills are great. They love to write their own stuff. This is the positive side.
    Loved your movies, A.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    …and everybody throws up! Great finale!

    Warren, Connecticut

  • Kathryn

    That student seems to misunderstand that initial intentions of the protagonist don’t indicate approval of the thought process or ideas of the character by the writer.

  • Michael

    Just a point of interest: a question was brought up on the show about vulgarity in Shakespeare’s work, and it was suggested that there was not any, but the truth is that Shakespeare’s plays abound with sexual humor, including genital jokes. For example, in Elizabethan England the word ‘nothing’ had several subtle meanings, one of which is a euphemism for female genitalia, so the entire play, Much Ado About Nothing involves, on some level, a genital joke. Also, consider the porter’s drunken speech in Macbeth–a penis joke if ever there was one. There are countless other examples as well, so vulgarity in popular humor is nothing new.

  • Brett

    Great comment, Michael!

  • http://na Tim Evans

    I killed my television 10 years ago, never heard of Judd. I enjoyed the show. Tell Judd WMRA in Harrisonburg, Virginia just sold him a book.

  • http://jambloggin.blogspot.com/2010_10_01_archive.html Rachel, “Student from Boston”

    Hi All,

    Thanks so much for your responses to my questions for Mr. Apatow on WBUR today.

    First, I just want to say that, while I’m grateful for Mr. Apatow’s willingness to address my concerns, I never actually got the opportunity to as him my questions. This filmmaker has been confronted with these issues for years and has a clever way of skirting around the bigger and more pressing questions that folks like myself would like to have answered.

    Kathryn, a contributor here, states that I am “confused” about the “characters’ intentions” in the film and the filmmaker’s supposed approval of these characters’ intentions. Well, no. I’m not.

    The fact that the women in these films do NOT get raped (yes, raped) by the protagonists who pursue them is because these women are, and must be, according to Apatow, one step ahead of the males’ predatory natures. The women are either intoxicated and PREDATORY themselves (as in The 40 Year Old Virgin and Superbad), or are “too smart” for these men. But what if they were not? What if they drank? What is Apatow saying about women’s accountability? If women “make the mistake” of getting drunk, as he puts it, and fall prey to the premeditated plans of these male protagonists, is it their own faults?

    Some of you might answer “yes,” but I ask you to think of your daughters, who watch these movies. In the world in which I work, as an advocate for victims of sexual violence, a woman is not at fault for her rape because she was intoxicated, especially, as Apatow demonstrates in his films, when they are practically force-fed alcohol to the point of incapacitation.

    Sadly, Apatow cops out on us in both the 40 Year Old Virgin and Superbad, because as he said in my questioning of him, the “sex” never happens. These would-be rapists never commit their assaults, and they get on the good sides of the women on whom they preyed. Ultimately, these male characters are sympathetic, and we root for them. We are happy for Seth’s character when he ends up with the very woman whom he was trying to intoxicate and sleep with while she was incapacitated. In the real world, men who attempt this will do so with at least 8 other women. If he were to succeed, there would be a less than 20% chance she’d report it to police, and if she did, there would be a 2% chance of his ever being found accountable.

    This is the reality of sexual violence among people ages 15-24 in the United States.

    I am not for censorship. I do not believe these films shouldn’t be made. Rather, I hope for a day when popular figures in the media, when confronted with these issues, can address them in a real way. I gave Judd Apatow several opportunities today to call what he implicitly illustrates in his films as “sexual violence,” and for whatever reason, he wouldn’t. Or couldn’t.

  • Bill Joplin

    An earlier writer is certainly correct about Shakespeare being bawdy, especially in the comedies but also in the tragedies. My favorite example is when Hamlet and Ophelia are waiting for the visiting players to perform a brief play that will “catch the conscience of the king.” Any double meanings you suspect are indeed here. And I think this passage doesn’t just provide comic relief but a further glimpse into Hamlet’s personality. In part, he’s just another bright but mixed-up college kid.

    Hamlet: Lady, shall I lie in your lap?
    Ophelia: No, my lord.
    Hamlet: I mean, my head upon your lap?
    Ophelia: Ay, my lord.
    Hamlet: Do you think I meant country matters?

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Rachel: All I can say is, you’re not getting it.

    Apatow paints each guy in Superbad as a dork who thinks the only way he’ll have sex is to get a girl drunk. He’s not celebrating that idea, he’s using it to paint these guys as losers and that’s what’s funny. Did you actually watch the movie?

    Seth gets himself drunk and pisses off the girl he’s trying to get with by passing out on her and giving her a black eye.

    Becca is drunk before Evan gets to the party and he stops her from having drunken sex with him in the tenderest way. She throws up on him.

    Fogel is the only one to get anywhere (with Nicola) and it’s mutual and neither of them is drunk.

    If anything, the movie paints a picture of an array of losers, mostly guys, who have no clue.

    Yes, there are people in the world who get partners drunk and force sex on them but not only does that not happen in Superbad, Apatow is using the idea of it as a vehicle to paint the guys who talk a big game as losers who in fact couldn’t and wouldn’t do it.

    Consider having a few beers, popping some corn and watching a movie that makes you laugh.

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