He’s been hailed as ‘One of The 50 Smartest People in Hollywood,’ writer-director-producer Judd Apatow is a pioneer of the bromance genre, and is largely responsible for protégé Lena Dunham’s phenomenal rise to success.
This 47-year-old New Yorker and Hollywood heavyweight continues his astonishing career with the upcoming comedy Trainwreck (released August 6) starring up-and-coming comedienne Amy Schumer and Saturday Night Live alum, Bill Hader.
Most notably, Apatow directed The 40-Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and This is 40. He also served as producer on numerous comedies including Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. At the same time as the release of Trainwreck, he has a book on the shelves, Sick in the Head, a collection of interviews he conducted with the world’s most successful comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld, Gary Shandling and Howard Stern.
In his private life, Apatow is married to comic actress Leslie Mann (who appears in almost all of his movies), whom he met on the set of The Cable Guy, in 1996, for which he served as producer. They married in 1997 and have two daughters, who appeared in Knocked Up, Funny People, and This is 40.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT MENTORING COMEDIENNES AND WHO HELPED YOU OUT EARLY ON IN YOUR CAREER?
Well, you know, people mentored me, people like Gary Shandling were very kind to me and taught me how to write and gave me great jobs. It always felt like that’s what you do because young people have amazing ideas and an enormous amount of energy and all of comedy is a collaboration. I feel like as an actor or an actress it’s very hard if you don’t write also so when I was young I would see Jim Carrey struggle to get a job and then he decided to write and he rewrote ACE VENTURA and he became a star. Adam Sandler and his friend wrote BILLY MADISON did the same thing and Adam became a star so I’m always pushing actresses and to figure out how they want to tell stories. Working with people like Kristen Wiig and Lena and Amy has been great for me because they all have very strong voices.Women have been very under-served around the world in movies and television which doesn’t make any sense because they’re half of the inhabitants on earth so the fact that we don’t do this in an equal way it doesn’t make any sense culturally or financially. It’s ridiculous. So the fact that it’s beginning to change is encouraging.
BOTH LENA AND AMY USE A LOT OF SEXUAL HUMOUR. DO YOU TELL THEM WHEN THEY’VE GONE TOO FAR? WHAT IS YOUR INPUT?
In terms of the sexual aspect of it, people decide what they want to share and Lena has some very strong ideas about sexuality in her work and why she does it and the conversation that it elicits but it’s not something that’s mandatory for anybody. Kristen Wiig doesn’t want to be naked in BRIDESMAIDS and she has her own joke about sexuality and she expresses it in a different way. It’s more about having a forum to express yourself and I think people respond in a big way because it just hasn’t been enough projects out there and hopefully Trainwreck will be another step towards I think inspiring women to become directors and producers and writers because there aren’t enough of them.
WERE YOU EVER SORRY YOU SHARED SOMETHING, BE IT STAND UP OR IN A MOVIE? OR MAYBE YOUR WIFE SAID, ‘I REALLY WISH YOU HADN’T SAID THAT.’
Well, you know, I have my book out “Sick In The Head” which is a series of interviews with comedians I’ve done since I was 15 years old. My dad called me the other day (laughs) and he said, ‘Why did you put that in the book?’ It was just a story from whenI was a kid and my parents had divorced. I said dad, ‘I didn’t tell them any of the good stuff!’ I think every artist has to decide what they’re comfortable sharing – some families are cool and some not.
IN TRAINWRECK THERE’S THE PERVASIVE THEME ABOUT MONOGAMY ‘NOT BEING REALISTIC’. HOW REALISTIC IS IT FOR YOU?
(laughs) It’s realistic in my house but that’s only because I never think a second person would want to have sex with me (Laughter). I’m shocked that there’s one person. I’m not going to push my luck.
DO YOU THINK MOST COMEDIANS COME OUT OF DIFFICULT SITUATIONS LIKE AMY SCHUMER? HER FATHER WENT BANKRUPT AND HE SUFFERS FROM MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS? SHE SAID SHE HAD TO BE FUNNY AS A CHILD TO GET THROUGH THAT VERY DIFFICULT PART OF HER LIFE. HOW PREVALENT DO YOU THINK THAT IS WITH COMEDIANS?
I think there’s a divide there. I probably fall more in Amy’s camp and used comedy as a saviour or a defense mechanism to survive. Some people are just smart and funny and see the world from a unique place and their family is fine and nothing bad ever happened. It can work both ways.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE REACTION TO THE ALL-FEMALE CAST OF “GHOSTBUSTERS?” A LOT OF PURISTS ARE APPALLED BY THE IDEA
Well, I think that it’s a very small minority who is loud. I think the vast majority of earth is incredibly excited to get a Paul Feig movie with Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig. There’s probably a few nerds in a basement somewhere who have issues with women and can’t tolerate it. But I think most people are very excited and there’s a very insignificant few who aren’t.
HOW YOU CAME TO WORK WITH AMY?
I was listening to Howard Stern and she was a guest on his show. I didn’t really know her work that well but she was really interesting telling all these stories about her father and her relationships. It just sounded like someone who could write movies because she was talking in this really harsh but warm-hearted way. Sweet storiesabout what it’s like to take care of a dad who has MS and then she talked about her relationships and what she thought the obstacles were in making them work. It was just one of those rare moments where I thought, ‘I’d like to see that movie but it’s not going to get done if I don’t make it so I should call her.’
DID YOU SIT TOGETHER AND WRITE IT?
She wrote it but we spent years kicking it around trying to figure out the best way to create this story.
WHAT DID YOU THINK WAS SPECIAL ABOUT AMY WHEN YOU MET HER?
She reminded me a lot of Lena. She has very strong ideas, she’s a real visionary. She’s very funny, she has a funny sense of humour about herself, she’s very thoughtful, has important feminist ideas but comedy always comes first for her. She’s a really nice person and maybe the hardest worker I’ve ever collaborated with. If I give her notes on the script where normally it might take 8 weeks for someone to do it, she might hand it back to me in 5 days. She really committed to making this whole project work in a way that I’ve never seen before.
“SICK IN THE HEAD.” IS A SERIES OF THIRTY-SEVEN INTERVIEWS THAT YOU ACTUALLY COMPILED. WHAT WAS THE GENESIS OF THE BOOK?
Well, when I was a kid I wanted to meet comedians so I started a radio show at my high school radio station. I wouldn’t tell the people that it was a high school radio station. I just said, ‘Will you talk to me for this radio station?’Then I would show up as a 15 year oldand they would seem disappointed (laughs) but they wouldn’t cancel it and I interviewed everybody from John Candy to Harold Ramis, James Brooks, Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, Paul Reiser. I did 45 interviews at that time and then over the years I’ve interviewed people for magazines or panels and people have interviewed me. I was talking to Dave Eggers who has a charity called 826 which provides free tutoring and literacy programs to kids in a bunch of cities around the United States. I said maybe I can put all those old interviews in a book and I’ll give you guys all the money and I can do some new ones and so I interviewed Louis CK and Chris Rock and Lena and Amy and Roseanne Barr and it just turned out great. It really is the book I wish existed when I was a kid because it’s not just a ‘how to’ book in terms of being a comedian, a writer, a director, everyone talks very personally about their lives and their journey as a creative person. It also addresses their spiritual journeys and it’s a very intimate book. I really feel like it’ll be the book most actors and actresses and comedians all feel the need to own. It was #6 on the New York Times Best Seller List which is crazy.
IN TERMS OF PUSHING THE ENVELOPE – WHAT DO YOU TELL LENA OR AMY?
Yeah. Well, we’re debating that the whole time. When we’re writing we try to be free and push the limit. When we did the scene in BRIDESMAIDS when everybody got sick at the bridal shop, we basically said if this doesn’t work we can get from this part of the movie to that part of the movie and we’ll just jump over that scene. But it just happened to be the biggest laugh in the movie so it’s a constant negotiation. We show it to audiences and if they don’t like it, it tends to disappear. The audience usually tells us what the line is.
BUT IN TERMS OF BEING OFFENSIVE?
The audience lets you know. I’ll give you a weird example: in ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ Jason Siegel is bottomless and when it was like 25 seconds people would start walking out but when it was 4 seconds it became everyone’s favourite scene.
WHAT IS THE CORRELATION BETWEEN COMEDY AND THE TIMES WE LIVE IN? THE FINANCIAL CRISIS AND THE SENSE OF DISPARITY, A BLACK PRESIDENT TO THE SUPREME COURT DECISION ABOUT GAY MARRIAGE IN THE UNITED STATES?
Well, comedy is always there to comment about everything. I think that comedy played a major role in the Supreme Court decision recently. I think that people like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbertand shows like SOUTH PARK and MODERN FAMILY and WILL & GRACE were part of what greased the wheels for Americato become comfortable with this idea and to see these people in the same terms as they see themselves as just human beings trying to be happy and I think it moved much quicker for cultural reasons. You can’t watch MODERN FAMILY and fall in love with all those characters and then want to deny them the same rights that everybody else has and I think it had, you know, somewhat of a large effect on the culture in the best possibleway. I mean, it’s a great day in America when positive things like this happen.