Conversation About Life And Comedy: Judd Apatow
FHM is lucky to be speaking to Judd Apatow right now. Not just because his work will crop up over and over in any bloke’s Films I Could Happily Watch 16 Times In A Row list. Not just because we could spin a globe, drop a finger anywhere and confidently bet that anyone under our digit would also know what “I love lamp” meant, and not just because everyone around the planet wants to speak to him about his new flick This Is 40 right now. To all intents and purposes, Judd Apatow shouldn’t be anywhere at all.
On January 17, 1994, Los Angeles was shaken by a monstrous earthquake. It measured 6.6 on the Richter scale, moved the earth for 30 seconds, wrecked at least 5,000 buildings, killed 57 people and injured around 900 while the city was sleeping at 4.31am. At least, most of the city was sleeping...
“I was outside painting the house when it hit,” Apatow tells us. “When it was over, I went back inside to see how my home had held up. I opened the door to my room and all I saw was the sky. Where my bed usually was –and where I should have been – there was three foot of chimney bricks.”
Perhaps such a scrape with death shaped him as a person today, and played a part in Judd reaching the dizzying heights of success that he’s reached? “Sure, it made me appreciate life, but only for about two-and-a-half days. I had a moment, but it was way too short. I took a picture to remind myself of that moment and be appreciative for what I have, but I lost the frame.”
We don’t need to remind you of what a generation of men would have missed out on if Judd, then 27, had been just a normal guy laying under his duvet that morning instead of slapping tins of Dulux on his walls. San Diego may never have had to go fuck itself, Andy Stitzer would be way past 40 and still a virgin, Ben Stone would never have knocked up a girl on his first date and McLovin wouldn’t be a super badass. He’s written, directed and produced films that have defined a population, birthed characters that we love more than some of our relatives and even universally changed the way we speak. Thank God Judd paints his house at four in the morning.
From bellboy to billions
Judd’s humble route into comedy, one that would eventually lead to box-office takings in excess of two billion dollars, started in the late ’80s, well before the quake. “I worked at a comedy club on Long Island called East Side Comedy Club. I was dishwashing, because I wanted to watch comedians, like Rosie O’Donnell and Eddie Murphy, and learn how I could do it. I soon realised that being stuck in the kitchen I could never see the show, so I switched to a bellboy. I got to watch stand-up shows five nights a week. In order to get home I would have to take a taxi, and all of the money I made as a bellboy I had to spend on that taxi home. But I didn’t care, I still got to see the shows.”
After studying the funny men and women that came and went through the East Side’s doors, Judd had gained enough knowledge and confidence to take on stand-up comedy for himself. It wasn’t meant to be, though. He’d spend two decades behind the microphone and never get the break he wanted. He would, however, buddy up with a fellow unknown comic who would later be cast in the lead role of Judd’s 2009 film Funny People. “Adam Sandler and I had an apartment together when we were in our early 20s. He was a messy flatmate who liked it cold. He’d always have the
air conditioning at 62 degrees fahrenheit, and I didn’t understand why. It was so freezing. But now I like it that way, it’s forced a habit upon me. I prefer an icy environment.”
Friends with freaks and geeks
Judd’s on-set environment is anything but icy, though. As well as Sandler, he can happily refer to a stellar troupe of actors, including Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Will Ferrell, Seth Rogen and Jason Segel as his good friends and call on them time and time again to feature in his movies, all for a very simple reason: “It’s hard to find actors who are really funny and willing to give up their personal problems and use them in a story. When I find someone great, I tend to stick with them.” It’s hard to disagree that it’s precisely this money-can’t-buy on-screen chemistry between friends that has helped make his films so damn good.
Judd’s box office-smashing relationships with Knocked Up’s Seth Rogen and Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s Jason Segel, as well as Pineapple Express’s James Franco, began during the casting for one of America’s finest television failures, Freaks And Geeks. Even with Judd as executive producer, it was an epic flop that would only gain cult status in retrospect. Looking back at the cast, many of whom were appearing in their first major role when it debuted back in 1999, it’s a who’s-who of modern blockbuster comedy.
“It was so heartbreaking to have the show end and I felt like it wasn’t fair. We had so much potential. When I make movies, sometimes in my mind it feels like I’m just making another episode of Freaks And Geeks,” Judd recalls. “Knocked Up is like an episode where Seth Rogen’s character Ken Miller gets a girl pregnant on the first date. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is an episode where Jason Segel’s Nick Andopolis is falling in love or going on vacation. A lot of my films are my way of pretending we actually got 60 episodes.”
It’s not just this school of actors-cum-friends that Judd employs over and over. His wife of almost 15 years, Leslie Mann, is another of his long-time onscreen collaborators. Spot her in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Funny People and this month’s This Is 40, in which, if you can prise your eyes away from Megan Fox rolling around in a bikini, she plays spouse to Paul Rudd in a marriage that’s heading up the creek and towards Shitstorm Waterfall. Surely directing your own missus in a sex scene with a good friend is kinda weird, right? “Not really. It doesn’t bother me. She and Paul are like brother and sister, so I know it must gross them out. Unless they’re faking it and they’ve tricked me…”
Burgundy is back
We know full well what the rest of this year holds for Judd Apatow, and he knows that we know, too. The storm surrounding This Is 40 will look like a drizzly shower compared to the Hurricane Sandy-sized chaos that’s set to hit shores this autumn. If we’d left this phone call without trying to dig out some info on a certain sequel that he’s producing, we would never have forgiven ourselves:
“Most of this year I’ll be spending inside Ron Burgundy’s head. It’s very exciting. Adam McKay has written a great script [for Anchorman 2]. He’s one of the great comedy writers of all time, so it’s fun to be around a bit and see how they do and help out where
I can,” he says. “I can’t tell you who’s going to be in it, because I don’t even know yet. Most of the conversations started happening in January. There’s a lot of funny parts, so we’ll see what Adam and Will decide to do.”