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Judd Apatow on Funny People

Published July 20, 2009 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Images property of Universal Pictures
Funny People Poster Funny People
The movies Judd Apatow has written and directed have reflected different stages in his life. The 40-Year-Old Virgin was the sex comedy. Knocked Up was dealing with adulthood. Funny People deals with death, and a world of comedians Apatow knows. However, don’t mistake ailing comedian George Simmons (Adam Sandler) for Apatow.

Apatow Talks Funny People


“How I saw it was you have this person that traded in everything to be famous,” Apatow said. “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.’”

He also makes a lot of dick jokes, particularly with his new assistant, Ira Wright (Seth Rogen). “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 ¼ way of what a comedian would actually say in some of these moments.”

Despite the heavy themes and dark comedy in the film, Apatow wanted to maintain a certain sense of hope in Funny People. “Well, I can’t say that comedians are any more damaged than anybody else. 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.”


Balancing comedy with drama goes back to Apatow’s old wheelhouse. “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.”

Along the way, Apatow was able to take some potshots at Hollywood. Simmons’ ouvre is glimpsed in clips from his fictional films Merman and Re-Do. “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.’”

Funny People opens to theaters July 31st.

For the poster, trailers, stills and more movie info, go to the Funny People Movie Page.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Images property of Universal Pictures
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