Judd Apatow for “Funny People”

One of the most prolific writers of film comedy in Hollywood, Judd Apatow has only directed two other feature films. It can be said that Funny People is his most ambitious and personal.

The film tells of a hugely successful comedy movie star [Adam Sandler] who discovers that he is dying and has no friends to share the news with, except an aspiring comedy writer [Seth Rogen] he takes under his wing.

A dark and sometimes melancholy tale about loneliness, the business of comedy and success and failure, the writer/director talked about the film and its themes with PAUL FISCHER:

Question: Was there a conscious decision to use the comedians’ personas, like some gibberish comedy in Adam?

Apatow: You know, for us, we were just trying to be natural and do things that we found funny. We didn’t want to restrict it. I never like working in that way, like this is a completely different person so we must completely re-imagine everything. We’re trying to create a situation where everyone’s really comfortable and natural so we didn’t try to go towards or against anything specifically.

Question: How much of the roommate stuff was autobiographical?

Apatow: Some of the texture about how people communicate, some of it’s based on how we were like as roommates, how we were like with other roommates that we had and also with Seth and his friends, what their friendships are like. When you’re first starting out and everyone’s friends but you’re also mad when they start moving ahead of you, so there’s that subtle competition, like, ” How come they’re better spots at the Improv? How did you get that TV commercial?” When I lived with Adam, I remember he got a commercial for MasterCard, and it was this big, very expensive commercial where Adam was shopping and it was funny. I can’t say I didn’t think, ” How come I’m not the MasterCard guy. Or I could be the Visa guy. Discover Card, something.

Question: Where did his bitterness come from in you ?

Apatow: Well, I think because how I saw it was you have this person that traded in everything to be famous. He put more energy into pleasing huge crowds than figuring out how to connect with people one on one. So when he gets sick, he starts thinking, ” Was it worth it?” He literally has no one to call when he gets sick. On one level he starts getting mad at the audience because he sacrificed everything for them and it was a ridiculous sacrifice. And it’s not fair to be mad at the audience but in some moments, that’s how it comes out. ” I want you to like me so bad, and I didn’t even have children or get married because I was obsessed with you. And who are you? What was the point of that.”

Question: How do you balance the comedy and the drama, particularly in the third act?

Apatow: For me, the main thing I learned at The Larry Sanders Show from Garry Shandling was to just stick to the truth and if this story takes place in the world of people whose main goal is to be funny, then I could just tell a truthful story and it’ll come out funny because it’s happening to them. So I didn’t obsess on it too much but in editing, sometimes you think, ” Oh, this sequence is too funny. It’s going to be hard to get to the next one that isn’t.” And you’re finding ways to balance it. And sometimes I would think certain sections are so funny that it could change the whole tone of the movie and I have to be careful to make everything realistic.

Question: What is with all the penis jokes?

Apatow: Well, that’s what comedians do. Comedians are very desensitized. It takes a lot to make a comic laugh and their senses of humor are really nasty. If anything, I think maybe we go 1/2 way of what a comedian would actually say in some of these moments.

Question: The older you are, has your sense of humor changed?

Apatow: For me, I just think I’m beginning to understand why certain movies I liked as a kid are good. I might’ve had a visceral reaction to Being There when I was a kid and I loved it and now that I’m 41 years old, maybe I can begin to break down why it’s working and how brilliant it is, but my taste isn’t changing.

Question: Is it weird that you’ve reached this level to mentor people?

Apatow: You know, I never think of it in those terms. I just think, ” Who’s funny?” It doesn’t matter if they’re young or old. When we put Gerry Bednob who played the filthy guy in Smart Tech in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, he’s someone I used to work with at the L.A. Cabaret when I was 18 years old. That makes me just as happy as putting Jonah Hill in a movie. But when I see Jonah, in my head, I don’t think of him as a kid, I just think, ” Wow, that guy is awesome and that’s it.”

Question: Your daughter’s rendition of Memory is on the soundtrack.

Apatow: Yes, that’s a rerecord of the song that we did with James Taylor’s piano player. Not that that’s all he does, but he’s a great piano player.

Question: Does she get the royalties?

Apatow: Whatever money she gets is stolen by me.

Question: Will the full comedy show be on the DVD?

Apatow: Yes, yeah, and we hired Chris Wilcha, who directed This American Life and he did a documentary about the movie. It’s going to be on Comedy Central and a longer version is on the DVD. It’s a pretty extensive DVD. We have a website too, www.funnypeoplemovie.com which has extended versions of all the fake movies and Yo Teach and it’s a pretty elaborate internet campaign. We also have laughyourdickoff.com with Aziz. We’ve gone Randy crazy as well.

Question: How much are the fictional movies are self-satirization?

Apatow: I mean, we’ve all done movies where we like some better than others, but how I looked at it was that it was kind of a parody of the modern comedy star’s career. What’s funny is most of the movies we did at some point were made by Tom Hanks. He did the good version of Turner and Hooch and Splash. These are all kind of second generation copies of all these movies. Then we did Re-Do and so that’s like Little Man. I didn’t even quite even connect that most of these premises had been done before but that’s what I was going for. But after we shot all those fake movies, there was that moment where we said, ” We actually could make that movie. There is a version of Re-Do that we would enjoy.”

Question: What’s going on with your Sherlock Holmes film?

Apatow: You know, I’m not attached to that Sherlock Holmes film. It was something that a long time ago there was some discussion on but certain things just don’t drop off of IMDB for a long time.

Question: Not even with Will Ferrell?

Apatow: No, no, I’m not doing that one.

Question: How about a voice in Zoo Keeper?

Apatow: I just laid down my elephant. I got there and Cher was there. Very exciting. Very exciting to see Cher. Oh yeah, Cher was there.

Question: Do you battle the cynicism and the optimism of hope for a change?

Apatow: Well, I can’t say that comedians are any more damaged than anybody else and I have friends outside of the industry whose lives are just as messed up, but they’re not humorous about it. But there is always a moment in everybody’s life where they have to decide if they’re going to evolve and make some sort of change. We’re all in the middle of our midlife crises I’m sure and I like to make movies that have a hopeful message, that show some potential for redemption. In this movie, the point of it is it’s really, really hard for this guy, harder than for most people, and that you root for him to be able to pull it off. You ultimately don’t know if he will, but I want you to think that he cares to try to.