Judd Apatow changed the face of contemporary comedy. In the early '90s, the former stand-up comic (he was quite good, though he won't admit it) co-created and produced the TV sketch comedy The Ben Stiller Show, which achieved cult status. Then he became a writer and consulting producer for The Larry Sanders Show, one of the best - and most influential - comedies ever made. Apatow also created the TV cult classic Freaks and Geeks, with a cast including James Franco, Busy Philipps, Jason Segel and Seth Rogen, as well as Undeclared, which gained acclaim despite poor ratings.
The 45-year-old produced the film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy before making his directorial debut with The 40 Year Old Virgin, which he co-wrote with star Steve Carell. It was a landmark in contemporary comedy. Where filmmakers Peter and Bobby Farrelly broke barriers by mixing heartfelt moments with R-rated humor in There's Something About Mary, Apatow's work was richer, mixing hilarious bits with credible and relatable lead characters.
Apatow later directed the massive hit Knocked Up, as well as Funny People. His producing credits include Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Superbad, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Pineapple Express, Get Him to the Greek and Bridesmaids. Whew. His new film, This is 40, is a sorta sequel to Knocked Up, starring Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, Apatow's wife (their two daughters play the daughters in the movie). Apatow and I spoke by phone recently.
NUVO: What's the experience like for you when you see Apatow-style movies you're not directly connected with, like I Love You Man or Cedar Rapids?
Judd Apatow: Well, they are called Apatow-style movies but I'm influenced by other people. What I do is greatly influenced by Barry Levinson, Kevin Smith, Cameron Crowe, James Brooks: It's a soup of people that I look up to. I'm just trying to promote a certain type of emotionally grounded comedy, or if it's a big broad movie, that is unique. So when you see all these movies that I produce, the only common denominator is that it's movies that I want to see. And people I like, actors I like, directors I like. So you get a sense of my taste. They were conceived by me and most of the time I'm just cheerleading for them.
NUVO: Much has been said about all the incredible actors you brought in or made more prominent. I was wondering about two actors I love that you haven't worked with that I know of: Paul Schneider (Mark Brendanawicz in Parks and Recreation's first two seasons) and Mike Birbiglia.
Apatow: I know Mike Birbiglia very well, I'm friends with him. Those are really talented guys. Birbiglia's movie Sleepwalk With Me is fantastic; I've seen it many times. And Paul Schneider, I haven't had the chance to work with, but I love the Jesse James movie (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). I think it's one of the great movies of the last ten years.
There's always a ton of people you wish you could work with, but you need an idea that has a place for them. I always start with the idea and then suddenly I have a list of parts, so I think "Who would be fun to work with? Maybe this time I'll beg Albert Brooks to be in the movie," but it all starts with a script.
NUVO: A couple of years ago, a news story said that you were talking about doing another Pee Wee Herman film. Has anything come of that?
Apatow: Yeah, Paul Reubens finished a draft and now we're trying to go make it - it's very, very good. I hope we get a chance to do it this year.
NUVO: You were pleasantly surprised not long ago to learn that your 22-year-old script for The Simpsons is going to be produced. Is it the exact script you sent in 22 years ago or did you have a chance to change anything?
Apatow: Oh, no, it will require a real rewrite, it's the first thing I ever wrote. It's a very good idea but I think the fun of this experience will be having a reason to collaborate with some of the great people who work at The Simpsons. Al Jean, who runs The Simpsons, was one of my first bosses. He hired me to write for a TV show called The Critic with Jon Lovitz back in 1993, so he's one of my earliest supporters. It will be really fun to see how their system functions and I'm sure they'll wind up making it much better than I would.
NUVO: Any chance of you making a cameo in the show?
Apatow: I never thought of that! You're right, guest voice! I'm going to push for that - you've lit my fuse!
NUVO: I saw that you read all the reviews of your stuff. That's got to be affect you on an emotional level. Have you ever had the urge to call or contact one of the reviewers?
Apatow: I used to do that when I worked in television. Every once in a when somebody would write something so mean I would call them and go, "What is the matter with you? How can you say that?" They say you shouldn't do that because then they'll hate you for life and then go at you harder next time, but I was a kid and I would just jump on the phone and call The New York Times and start yelling at people. Especially when I though it was needlessly vicious and personal. But for the most part I've given that up. Not that I don't want to, but in the old days there were certain reviews that could sink your movie or television show but now there are many more voices out there, so one opinion doesn't carry the same level of importance as it once did. I can't call 900 people.
NUVO: I was reading some of the reviews and, aside from people who just don't get what you do on a fundamental level, the most common criticism is your editing, that your films aren't edited tightly enough.
Apatow: Well here's the thing. I like a slower pace, that's just my natural rhythm. I don't like super fast-paced comedy. I like to play out moments. I'm a little more a fan of shows like the original English version of The Office. I like awkwardness and I like scenes to fully play out. That's just me. I don't cut my movies like it's Trainspotting. I respect that style, but I want these movies to feel like documentaries. Some people want a short movie, but most people can handle three hours of Harry Potter or Titanic, so for me to have a movie that's a little over two hours doesn't seem like a big deal. Movies are very expensive, it`s a pain in the ass to get out of the house to go to one, so why are people rushing to go home? You know, that extra 15 minutes is free. You don't pay extra for that. I've super-sized it for America!