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Amy LaVere, Throwing 'Anchors & Anvils'

Anchors & Anvils is the jazzy, torchy, after-a-breakup second album by singer, actress and stand-up bassist Amy LaVere. Jim Dickinson, who's worked with Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and the Replacements, produced the disc.

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Other segments from the episode on May 31, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 31, 2007: Interview with Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen; Review of Amy LaVere's album "Anchors and Anvils"; Review of Arnold Rampersad's biography "Ralph Ellison."

Transcript

DATE May 31, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Judd Apatow, writer/director of "Knocked Up"; and
Seth Rogen, star, talk about the making of the movie and working
together
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for the New York Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.

The new comedy "Knocked Up" from the creator of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" opens
tomorrow. It's written and directed by Judd Apatow and stars actor and writer
Seth Rogen. Today on FRESH AIR we talk to them both.

Apatow started out doing stand-up comedy as a teenager and also hosted a high
school radio show in which he interviewed comedians he admired. For a while
he wound up working in television, very good television. He wrote and
directed for "The Larry Sanders Show," co-created "The Ben Stiller Show," then
went on to two other outstanding cult comedies, "Freaks and Geeks" and his own
creation "Undeclared." He produced the movies "The Cable Guy" with Jim Carrey
and "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" with Will Ferrell, then took his
first stab at writing and directing a movie himself. It was "The 40-Year-Old
Virgin," which made Steve Carell a star and Apatow a hot property.

Seth Rogen was a supporting player in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," and both a
writer and co-star on "Undeclared," and at an even younger age, one of the
cast members of "Freaks and Geeks." Apatow befriended and championed Rogen
early. Like Apatow, Rogen also dared to venture into stand-up comedy as a
young teen.

Now, Rogen is front and center in Apatow's new film "Knocked Up." He plays
Ben, a young slacker who has a drunken one night stand with a beautiful woman
named Alison, played by Katherine Heigl from "Grey's Anatomy." Both are
shocked when it turns out that Alison becomes pregnant. Here they are on
their second date, having dinner at a restaurant, with Ben trying clumsily to
make a good second impression.

(Soundbite from "Knocked Up")

Ms. KATHERINE HEIGL: (As Alison) I thought we could just talk and get to
know each other. Better.

Mr. SETH ROGEN: (As Ben) Cool. OK. I'll start. I'm Canadian.

Ms. HEIGL: (As Alison) Oh, cool.

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ben) From Vancouver. I live here illegally, actually. Don't
tell anyone. But it works out in my advantage, I think, ultimately because I
don't have to pay any taxes. So, financially, that's helpful, because I don't
have a lot of money, you know. I mean, I'm not poor or anything, but I eat a
lot of spaghetti.

Ms. HEIGL: (As Alison) So, you know, the Web page, or whatever is just
something that you guys do for fun? Do you have a real job.

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ben) Well, that is our job.

Ms. HEIGL: (As Alison) Oh.

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ben) We don't technically get money for the hours we put in,
but it is our job.

Ms. HEIGL: (As Alison) So how do you...

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ben) How do I pay rent? When I was in high school, I got ran
over by a postal truck.

Ms. HEIGL: (As Alison) Oh my God!

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ben) It was my foot more than anything.

Ms. HEIGL: (As Alison) Uh-huh.

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ben) But I got like 14 grand from the British Columbia
government.

Ms. HEIGL: (As Alison) Right.

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ben) And that really lasted me, I mean, until now. I mean,
it's been almost 10 years. I have like 900 bucks left so that should last me
for like, I mean, I'm not a mathematician, but like another two years.

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: In the current issue of Newsweek, David Ansen raved about Rogen's
performance and wrote that having him as the leading man was quote "casting as
against the grain as Dustin Hoffman seemed back in the day of "The Graduate."
I asked Judd Apatow what he thought about that comparison.

Mr. JUDD APATOW: I'm obviously a big Mike Nichols fan, and "The Graduate" is
a Touchstone film. And I remember I was out on the road with Owen Wilson, we
were writing a movie many years ago, which we didn't get made, but we sat in
the hotel room, and I can't say that we were sober, and we watched "The
Graduate" and I outlined it as it was playing so I could understand why it was
so good. I didn't understand that, you know, there was so little exposition.
They explained so little about the characters, and I was fascinated with that.
And so the fact that people are saying nice things about Seth, comparing him
to another unconventionally handsome Jew...

Mr. ROGEN: Exactly.

Mr. APATOW: ...is wonderful.

BIANCULLI: Judd, why did you want to make this movie? Why these themes?

Mr. APATOW: I always wanted to make a movie about having kids, because every
time my wife and I went through the process, something heinous would happen.
A doctor wouldn't show up or a doctor would yell at us or a nurse would be
rude or--it just always felt like--we wanted it to be the most pleasant
experience that we would remember forever and the karma would swing back and
say, `You cannot control this.' And I always knew that these things that were
happening,, although painful at the time, were very, very funny. And I
obviously wanted to write about marriage and children and what that's all
about.

But, you know, for me I just really took to the idea of Seth having to go
through a lot of things that I went through. What it's like looking at the
gynecologist before his hand enters your girlfriend. I just--all those
moments where you find out someone's pregnant and you're in a panic and you
don't know if you can handle the future that lies ahead. I just thought Seth
going through this is the funniest thing ever. And through that story, I
could expand out and talk about relationships.

BIANCULLI: Judd, what gave you the confidence to cast Seth as a leading man
in the first place?

Mr. ROGEN: Self sabotage.

Mr. APATOW: Exactly.

Mr. ROGEN: Call it masochism.

Mr. APATOW: You know we've been working together since Seth was 16, which
always sounds wrong to say.

Mr. ROGEN: Exactly. Very intimately.

Mr. APATOW: It sounds like I'm a member of a the Man Boy Love Association or
something. But Seth came in and read for "Freaks and Geeks" back in '98 and I
just thought, this is a very strange young man. This guy really makes me
laugh, and I don't know what it is about him, but he had this very deep
Canadian voice back then.

Mr. ROGEN: I had a really thick accent.

Mr. APATOW: Yes. That's slowly disappeared. But as we did more episodes of
"Freaks and Geeks" I noticed Seth was able to carry emotional storylines while
still having this very caustic sense of humor. And I remember, after watching
one particular episode where he had a girlfriend and he discovered that she
had been born with ambiguous genitals--yes, that was what the episode was
about.

Mr. ROGEN: Yes.

BIANCULLI: This was on NBC.

Mr. ROGEN: This was prime time.

Mr. APATOW: Yes, this was on "Freaks and Geeks."

BIANCULLI: Yeah.

Mr. APATOW: We still don't know why we were cancelled. But it was a really
kind of a beautiful episode. It was nominated for all sorts of awards for its
sensitivity.

Mr. ROGEN: Yeah!

Mr. APATOW: One would not expect that.

Mr. ROGEN: No.

Mr. APATOW: And I thought that Seth really carried it. And afterwards I
thought, `I'm betting this guy could carry a movie. This is a movie star in,
you know, in the same, you know, universe of people that I like, like John
Candy and Albert Brooks and people like that.'

BIANCULLI: Well, it's really funny that you say that, because that's the
episode that, as a TV critic, really stood out to me as being bold back then.
And I'd like to play a little chunk from it...

Mr. ROGEN: All right.

BIANCULLI: ...just to get your reactions to it. It's a scene where Seth, as
Ken Miller, confides in his friends about that secret. You've already said
what the secret is, that his new girlfriend has told him. The friends are
played by James Franco and Jason Segel, both of whom are in "Knocked Up."

Mr. ROGEN: Yeah.

BIANCULLI: So let's play the clip. Here we go.

(Soundbite from "Freaks and Geeks")

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ken Miller) OK. Look, I'm going to tell you guys something
now, and you have to promise not to be jerks about it and not to tell anyone
ever. OK?

Mr. JAMES FRANCO: (As Daniel Desario) Yeah, that's cool, man.

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ken Miller) Amy's not really a girl.

Mr. JAMES SEGEL: (As Nick Andopolis) What?

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ken Miller) I mean, you know, she is. She's a girl, but
she's kind of, she's kind of part guy, too.

Mr. FRANCO: (As Daniel Desario) What's that mean?

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ken Miller) It means that when she was born she was packing
both a gun and the holster.

Mr. SEGEL: (As Nick Andopolis) Well, does she still have, you know, the gun?

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ken Miller) No! The doctors took care of it.

Mr. SEGEL: (As Nick Andopolis) OK. Well, then she's a girl

Mr. FRANCO: (As Daniel Desario) I don't think it works that way. I think
you better get rid of her.

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ken Miller) I don't want to break up with her. You know, I
really like her. I might even love her.

Mr. FRANCO: (As Daniel Desario) Really?

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ken Miller) Yeah.

Mr. FRANCO: (As Daniel Desario) Yeah. Does that mean you're gay?

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ken Miller) I don't know. Does it?

Mr. FRANCO: (As Daniel Desario) I was joking.

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ken Miller) Oh.

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: Seth, what do you remember about filming that scene?

Mr. ROGEN: I remember thinking this was the weirdest idea ever, that I
couldn't believe--it's funny because it was--the episode was actually like
brought up really close to the beginning of when we starting shooting. I
mean, John Kasdan co-wrote the episode and he's around my age. He's actually
like a year older than I am, so we kind of became friends and we'd hang out
and he'd talk about it a lot. And I just remember thinking like, `We're not
going to do that, that sounds crazy.' Like, `They're not actually going to do
that.' And they actually did do it. And it's funny listening to it. It made
me realize "Freaks and Geeks" should have been a radio play.

Mr. APATOW: It works so well on radio.

Mr. ROGEN: It worked really well like that.

Mr. APATOW: It was a controversial episode with the staff.

Mr. ROGEN: Yeah.

Mr. APATOW: I had heard someone talking about this topic on Howard Stern one
morning, and it struck me that we could do a sweet episode about tolerance and
also show how freaked out someone like Seth would get. And a lot of the
writers got really mad at me because they thought that it would just be either
maudlin or just so awful that we would never, ever be able to live it down.
And it actually, you know, came out very well. Mainly, I mean, you could tell
in that radio performance. It's an amazing performance by Seth. And even
hearing that, it makes me understand, you know, what I saw in him way back
then.

BIANCULLI: Judd, I think maybe the boldest thing you did in this movie, even
though you're getting an awful lot of credit for casting Seth, is casting your
wife and kids in the movie. And it looks like you're going to get away with
it. I mean, they're terrific in it. But wasn't that a big risk to do that
all in the same film and give them so much to do?

Mr. APATOW: Well, it was a risk to my marriage. But my wife is a hilarious
woman. She never thinks of herself as funny, necessarily, and...

BIANCULLI: We should say it's Leslie Mann who plays Debbie in the movie,
right?

Mr. ROGEN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. APATOW: Yeah. You know people who know her as a drunk driver in "The
40-Year-Old-Virgin," and she was in "Big Daddy," and "The Cable Guy." She's
just hilarious, but she also has this very raw method acting DeNiro spirit to
her. She's not messing around.

Mr. ROGEN: No.

Mr. APATOW: She's really going there.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Mr. APATOW: When we shot the movie, Paul Rudd really thought that she hated
him and she tried to explain to him, `No, I hate Judd.'

Mr. ROGEN: `And you're Judd right now.'

Mr. APATOW: And so that wasn't a difficult decision. And we had talked a
lot about things from our lives and people that we knew that made us laugh,
about marriage and the obstacles to getting along over the long term. So I
knew that that would be exciting, especially since it was fun working with her
in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."

Hiring the kids was an idea that I came up with, you know, probably partially
inspired by old John Cassavetes movies where people would be playing a scene
and his kids would be just running around, and it made it feel more real,
almost like a documentary. And I think that kids in movies are generally
pretty terrible because you don't believe that that's that woman's kid, and
they're stiff and scripted. And I've worked with kids, and it's pretty tricky
to make it seem natural. And the key to the movie was to really see what a
family feels like so Seth can see his future. So I knew this would be a good
idea, and I knew my kids were adorable and very funny. But...

BIANCULLI: How old were your daughters at the time of filming?

Mr. APATOW: They were eight and three. But I had a--so anyway, you know, I
kind of asked my wife's permission. I kept asking her, but saying, you know,
`Don't worry about it, honey. You don't have to answer now, but think about
it. It might be a good idea. Think about it.' And then about a week before
shooting, she claims I said, `Well, we have to have them. I don't have anyone
else. What are we going to do? We're shooting in a week!' So she claims I
manipulated her into it. I was just very careful during the shoot to have the
set pre-lit before the kids arrived.

Mr. ROGEN: Yeah.

Mr. APATOW: I would buckle them into a chair for, say, a scene where they're
eating. I would not feed them much before the scene, put a lot of food in
front of them, and I knew that when they were done eating the bacon, they
would ask to leave.

Mr. ROGEN: Yeah.

Mr. APATOW: And that I would not be allowed to force them to stay.

Mr. ROGEN: It's like getting a tiger to work in the movies, with food.

Mr. APATOW: And slowly my daughter Maude got very, very good at it to the
point where, right now, I'm trying to convince her that she was terrible in
the movie so she will not pursue this.

BIANCULLI: Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, collaborators on the new comedy film
"Knocked Up."

More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to my conversation with Judd Apatow, the writer and
director of "Knocked Up," and Seth Rogen, the film's star. It opens tomorrow
and features many of the actors from Apatow's TV series "Freaks and Geeks" and
"Undeclared."

Seth, it's true, I guess, that the guys playing your best friends in the movie
are your best friends in real life.

Mr. ROGEN: Yeah, pretty much.

BIANCULLI: So does that make filming...

Mr. ROGEN: Is that sad?

BIANCULLI: Does that make filming easier or just for fun or take longer or
what?

Mr. ROGEN: I don't know if "easier" is the word. It makes it more fun, you
just hang out with your friends. And I guess it does make it easier to kind
of have that natural rapport and banter with people. I mean, it's funny that
in like in the movie, Martin's the guy with the beard and everyone makes fun
of him, because in real life that's exactly how it is, is when we're all
together everyone makes fun of Martin. And it's just kind of nice to be able
to have those kind of dynamics in the movie. You know, for us it just makes
it really fun. And I don't know--if it reads at all, that's a bonus.

Mr. APATOW: And for me, you know, the reason to do that was because I'm
lazy.

Mr. ROGEN: Yeah.

Mr. APATOW: And I could just tap into a dynamic that already exists, as
opposed to using creativity...

Mr. ROGEN: Yes.

Mr. APATOW: ...I could just tap into the natural comedy of these guys giving
each other a hard time. The only person that it was really hard on was my
wife Leslie Mann, who is in the movie.

Mr. ROGEN: Yeah.

Mr. APATOW: Because she would have to, you know, sit with all of them in
these scenes and, in between takes, there's literally no difference between
shooting and not shooting.

Mr. ROGEN: No.

Mr. APATOW: And so while they're lighting she has to sit there while they
discuss fetish porno Web sites.

Mr. ROGEN: It's true. We keep talking about this like what we were talking
about after they cut. So I would notice, I'd be like, `We could just keep
rolling right now.' That's sad. It's embarrassing a little.

BIANCULLI: Well, in terms of improvisation. I guess this is a question for
Judd in terms of framing it. When you've got these people who know each other
so well and like each other so much and you've got to film and build upon and
write around their improv, how do you go about doing it? How many drafts are
there? How much, you know, what's the shooting ratio? How do you get the
creativity out of them and then get it back from yourself to them?

Mr. APATOW: Well, it's not a rushed process. It starts very early. I
finished writing the screenplay for this movie in 2005. I had a draft. And
I, you know, immediately get as many actors as I can who I know I'm going to
put in the movie and I have them read it out loud and rehearse. So about
seven months--six, seven months before we shoot, I'm already rehearsing a
little bit to see if I'm on the right track and to figure out some character
details that are left open. And then, you know, by the time we get to
shooting we've table read a few times and we've done a lot of rehearsal. So
we love the script and we're really happy. But it's always better if I can
tell the actor that after a few takes it really can move in other directions.
Because when they surprise each other...

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Mr. APATOW: ...that's when you get all sorts of real moments, and that's
when the magic happens! No, a lot of times the things that they're
improvising are things we've already worked on in rehearsals or ideas that
came up during auditions. I'll yell things out, ideas I think of in the
moment. You know, I always know the beginning, middle and end of every scene
and what I need to get out of it, but I find that the details can change. So
if I have Katherine Heigl telling Seth that she's pregnant for the first time,
I have a couple of funny lines that Seth could say. But I know that the best
one will probably be the eighth one that Seth says off the top of his head
when he's not thinking about it too much.

BIANCULLI: In terms of filming improv scenes...

Mr. ROGEN: Yeah.

BIANCULLI: ...Seth, there's one in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" which is, I
guess, a famous example of what you can do with improv. It's the waxing
scene.

Mr. ROGEN: Yeah.

BIANCULLI: Can you talk about how you filmed that and prepared for that, and
how you guys reacted once the cameras stopped?

Mr. ROGEN: That is a good example of just kind of, you know, our little
mantra of `What would you do?' you know, as Stanislavsky said. We just put
many cameras on it. There was a lot to talk about that day leading up to it
and how, you know, exactly it would go down. And Judd just said, `Well, do
it. Well, just do it. We'll just wax him with six cameras filming it,' and
he told us just to react, you know, exactly how we would react. There's
absolutely no acting going on there. I mean, we are watching Steve Carell get
waxed, who's in a lot of pain. And it was disgusting, and we reacted. Again,
it was very hilarious to watch. And that's a very good--that's a good example
of just, you know, why try to script that? You know? That's all I would say.
Look...

Mr. APATOW: For a minute it becomes a snuff film.

Mr. ROGEN: Exactly. It's like watching "Jackass." But like, why try to
script that? Like what are we--what are you going to think of that will be as
funny as your actual reaction when watching a man get his hair ripped off?
So, you know, that's a very good example of Judd just kind of trusting
everyone to react naturally and, you know, hope that, you know, that would be
funny. And, you know, in that situation it definitely was, to me.

Mr. APATOW: Mm-hmm.

BIANCULLI: Talk about your co-star, Katherine Heigl. I really like her. I
think she's one of the best actors on "Grey's Anatomy." And I was impressed
here by how much she committed to both the comedy and the reality...

Mr. ROGEN: Yeah.

BIANCULLI: ...in her scenes. What was it like to act against her?

Mr. ROGEN: It was awesome, I have to say. I mean, she's very--she's tall
and--physically speaking--and she's loud, kind of, and she's just like a real
presence like, you know, I'm a loud kind of big guy, you know. And I can
curse and I'm just, you know, you pit a small actress against me then it might
just look like I'm going to eat them or sit on them or just do something
terrible to them. But she really scared me. I mean, she really put me on my
heels. And she's a lot, you know, smarter than I am in a lot of ways. So it
was great. It made it so it was a real, you know, balance, you know.

It was important to us going in that I, you know, it was too one sided, it
wasn't always like she was wrong and I was right or the other way around. It
really had to be viewed, you know, from both sides of this situation. And she
was just really strong and could really articulate her point of view well. So
it made it great for me. And I remember thinking, like, I could be a lot
funnier with her just because, you know, I can scream and curse at her and she
can just bring it right back, and it will really just up the volume and anger
of the entire movie.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow, the star and writer/director, respectively, of
"Knocked Up." More of our conversation in the second half of the show. I'm
David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli.

We're talking with Judd Apatow, the writer/director of the new comedy "Knocked
Up," and Seth Rogen, who stars in the film. They also collaborated on the
film "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." They first started working together when Apatow
cast Rogen in the critically acclaimed but short lived series "Freaks and
Geeks." Rogen went on to write and act in Apatow's next show, "Undeclared."

Seth, did you learn anything from your experience in the TV shows that carried
over into film, in terms of your acting or even your writing your improv?

Mr. ROGEN: Yeah. I mean, all those things, without a doubt. I mean, I feel
like if you watch "Freaks and Geeks" and pay attention only to me, as I do,
you can pretty much chart the growth of my acting ability and comfort level
from episode to episode. I mean, if we had shot--I mean, it just so happened
we shot that hermaphrodite episode like near the end. If that was near the
beginning, we would not be here right now talking. Judd would not have
thought `I should put that guy in the movie.' He would have thought, `Why did
I take him out of Canada?' And, you know, it just, I grew immensely more. I
mean, that was literally the first acting I ever did. I grew way more
comfortable in front of the camera as we went on and just kind of learned how
to do it.

And then "Undeclared," I really learned how to write. I mean, I felt like I
could write funny dialogue at that point. But I really didn't understand, you
know, structuring a story, you know, looking at the emotional side of it first
and then kind of filling in the humor holes as needed. And that's something
Judd really, you know, taught me how to do. And I, we, you know, to this day,
when me and Evan are writing, we talk about things, you know, that Judd told
me during "Undeclared" days, you know. I mean, that was really--we all called
it Comedy College. And it really felt like that.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ROGEN: It was really all the writers and actors learning, you know, how
to be funnier.

Mr. APATOW: And, you know, the culmination, I think, of all of that work is
that Seth and his partner Evan wrote this movie called "Superbad" that--Seth
is in it, and plays the cop and Bill Hader from "Saturday Night Live," and
plays another cop. But it stars Jonah Hill and Michael Cera from "Arrested
Development," and it's a really filthy but very sweet high school movie. And
it's something that Seth started writing when he was 15 and we would table
read it during "Undeclared" and we never could get anyone to make it because
people were just not up for making an R-rated high school movie.

But in a lot of ways, I mean, I'm very, very happy that it's coming out after
"Knocked Up" because it's so freaking funny I really think that "Knocked Up"
would pale, it wouldn't be received in exactly the same way because his
"Superbad" movie just rips the house down in a way that, for me, just as a
comedy fan, I haven't seen in forever. I literally cannot think of a movie
that gets laughs this big. And I think it actually works like the best
possible "Freaks and Geeks" episode, if "Freaks and Geeks" was really going as
hard as it could at comedy, also. And that--you know, that's a lot, the
result of Seth being a writer for "Undeclared" and being a producer on
"40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up."

BIANCULLI: How important is the R?

Mr. APATOW: It's all about the R.

Mr. ROGEN: All about the R.

Mr. APATOW: I think that life is R.

Mr. ROGEN: Yeah.

Mr. APATOW: If we followed you home, within 15 minutes, some of your
behavior would put your life into an R rating.

Mr. ROGEN: Exactly. For me, it'd be 30 seconds.

Mr. APATOW: You know, there's no way to show honest human behavior with a
PG-13.

Mr. ROGEN: Yeah.

Mr. APATOW: You can do something funny and creative, and I've worked in that
rating and I'm really proud of the work, but if you really want to be
realistic, you fall into the R very quick. And you can't show how people get
pregnant, how the baby comes out, the fights you get in when you're pregnant
when you say awful things. It just all instantly is an R.

Mr. ROGEN: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. APATOW: So we enjoy it because we just think it because it allows us to
show things as they are. At least in our dirty little life experiences.

Mr. ROGEN: Exactly.

Mr. APATOW: Maybe William F. Buckley's life is clean.

Mr. ROGEN: No, maybe not.

Mr. APATOW: You know.

BIANCULLI: Seth, with "Superbad," if you started writing it when you were
15...

Mr. ROGEN: Yeah.

BIANCULLI: ...and you actually became a writer even on "Undeclared," weren't
you on the staff of that...

Mr. ROGEN: Yeah.

BIANCULLI: ...before you were 21?

Mr. ROGEN: Yeah, I was 18 when we did that.

BIANCULLI: So, I mean, we hear a lot about child actors in Hollywood, but you
actually have a legitimate claim to being a child writer.

Mr. ROGEN: I guess so, huh? What does that mean?

BIANCULLI: How did you get started so young, and what got you so interested
in actually putting jokes to page?

Mr. ROGEN: I just loved comedy, you know. I just--I knew that was what I
had to do when I got older. As soon as it became clear that you didn't have
to get an actual job and that there were people out there getting paid to just
kind of be funny, that's all I wanted to do. So there was really no other
option. I really had no other career ambition in any way. I've never had
another job. I've literally never done anything other than this. I started
doing stand-up when I was 13 at my parents' encouragement. You know, a lot of
people's parents wouldn't encourage that.

It's funny, when me and Evan were actually writing "Superbad," I would
always--his mom thought we were wasting our time. Like, admittedly she'll
talk about it still. She really thought we were completely wasting our time.
And my mother would encourage us to write, you know, into the wee hours of the
morning if, you know, we were enjoying it. So I think, you know, my parents
really had a lot to do with me having the confidence to actually, you know,
try to do any of this stuff.

BIANCULLI: How do you do stand-up at 13? I mean, who are you standing up in
front of and how are you getting there?

Mr. ROGEN: I would go to bars and stuff. You could go to bars. You're
allowed to perform in bars. I would have to leave immediately after,
generally speaking. But I was embraced by the other comics in Vancouver.
They really liked me. And I think it's because I wasn't--I didn't try to use
my age as a gimmick. I tried to speak honestly about things I was going
through, but I always hoped that these jokes would be funny, you know, if a 30
year old was saying them or a 13 year old was saying them. I just tried to be
honest. I knew that was kind of my one thing I had that the other comics
didn't is that, you know, anyone can talk about what they went through when
they were 13 or 14, but I actually was 13 or 14. So that kind of gave me a
little, you know, extra insight, maybe. But it was all about my grandparents,
you know, and my bar mitzvah and trying to touch nipples on women and just
kind of, you know, real--I tried to be as honest as humanly possible, really.

BIANCULLI: Judd, we talked about Seth getting an early start in terms of
comedy, you did, too. How did you get interested, and what led you to it?

Mr. APATOW: Well, my grandmother was friends with this comedian named Totie
Fields, who was one of the first really edgy Joan Rivers-like comedians. And
so when I was a kid, when I was about 10 years old, we used to go see her do
stand-up at the Westbury Music Fair on Long Island. And it seemed like a
pretty good way to make a living. She had just had diabetes and just had her
leg amputated, and she was doing this big comeback tour. And she...

Mr. ROGEN: That's a lot of material.

Mr. APATOW: Yeah. And she talked about losing her leg, and she was really
happy and got standing ovations. And I think somewhere deep in my psyche, I
thought, `Wow, that's pretty cool.' Because I felt like a legless person.

Mr. ROGEN: A legless diabetic.

Mr. APATOW: So for me, I was like, `Wow, that's pretty powerful stuff.' And
I think that's what lit the fuse.

BIANCULLI: Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, collaborators on the new comedy film
"Knocked Up." More after a break, this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to my conversation with writer/director Judd Apatow
and actor/writer Seth Rogen. Their new film "Knocked Up" opens tomorrow.

Seth, describe your style of acting?

Mr. ROGEN: Well, or lack thereof. I really just, you know, try to be real,
you know. I mean, that's pretty much my main priority when I'm doing these
things is just, `How would this go down?' You know, what would this be like if
it was actually happening, you know. I try to think of it like...

Mr. APATOW: That's an Uta Hagen term, how would it go down.

Mr. ROGEN: Yeah. Exactly. That was Stanilavsky--did you say that? `How
would you do this?' Yeah. I mean, I'm not--I don't feel like I need to
create, you know, odd affectations in order to feel like I'm giving a
performance, you know, or, you know, I don't need to limp or have a monocle or
something like that. It just doesn't--to me, that isn't what makes it, you
know, challenging or interesting to me. I really just, I just try to make it
seem real. I just, you know, ideally I don't want people to even think about
the acting, you know. I don't want to give--I just want to--I think of it as
a writer more than anything, I think.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ROGEN: When I read the script, I think, `If I'd written this, what would
I want these actors to do to bring this story to life?' And that's basically
all I do. I mean, I just try to serve the story while improvising many
genitalia-related jokes.

Mr. APATOW: But, you know, the best compliment we've ever received was when
"Freaks and Geeks" was on the air, somebody--maybe it was you...

Mr. ROGEN: Yeah.

Mr. APATOW: ...said that it was almost a voyeuristic experience, like you
were watching something that you shouldn't be watching.

Mr. ROGEN: Yeah.

Mr. APATOW: And on some level, everything we're doing is trying to emulate a
movie like "The Last Detail"...

Mr. ROGEN: Yeah.

Mr. APATOW: ...the Hal Ashby movie where you...

BIANCULLI: Wow. Mm-hmm.

Mr. APATOW: ...just believe that it's happening.

Mr. ROGEN: Yeah, exactly.

MR. APATOW: I want people to forget that I exist, and I don't want people to
be paying attention to any of the cinematic construction. I'm just trying to
trick them into believing this reality level.

I always go back and watch "Tootsie," which is a movie that is very simply
shot, but effective, and "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" is another movie
that's shot in a simple, but incredibly effective way. And, you know, we have
a couple of rules. No push-ins.

Mr. ROGEN: Yeah.

Mr. APATOW: No craning down from tree branches.

Mr. ROGEN: Exactly.

But, you know, I will say like going into this, the one real thought I had
that I'd never had before going into a movie was like, `How do I make sure I
don't really annoy people, A, and how do I make it that people believe that a
woman would actually want to talk to me?' So I actually thought of movies like
Albert Brooks movies and Woody Allen movies and just thought like, `How do
these Jews pull it off?' Literally what it was. It was like Albert Brooks
doesn't really annoy people. How does he do that? Woody Allen seems to get
hot girls, how does he pull that off? And there was actually--if there was
any thought I put into the movie, it was how to do those two things.

BIANCULLI: And then finally, one last question for Judd. In the "Freaks and
Geeks" DVD set, in the booklet that came with it, you wrote--let me quote
here--"I shall use the warm feelings that this country showers on this show to
prolong my career well past the point where I have stopped making comedy
work." And I just want to--are we there yet?

Mr. ROGEN: That's good!

Mr. APATOW: We are so close. I was saying to somebody this morning, I'm so,
you know, everything about comedy for most people, but especially me, is based
on feeling unappreciated...

BIANCULLI: Yeah.

Mr. APATOW: ...insecure, feeling like a freak, if you will. And the amount
of positive reaction that we've been getting to the work pretty much
guarantees that the rest of my work for the rest of my career will be awful.

Mr. ROGEN: It'll suffer.

Mr. APATOW: Yeah. It will beyond suffer. I will lose all connection with
my crowd and just be writing...

Mr. ROGEN: Exactly.

Mr. APATOW: ...a movie about my relationship with my housekeeper.

Mr. ROGEN: It'll be like if Kafka won the lottery.

Mr. APATOW: Yes.

BIANCULLI: Well, I don't buy that for a second. I love the work you guys
have done together, and the work I hope you keep doing together. Judd Apatow,
Seth Rogen, thanks for being on FRESH AIR.

Mr. APATOW: Thank you.

Mr. ROGEN: Thank you.

BIANCULLI: Writer/director Judd Apatow and actor Seth Rogen of the new comedy
movie "Knocked Up." It opens tomorrow.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Review of album "Anchors & Anvils" by Amy LaVere
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

Amy LaVere has developed simultaneous careers as a singer and an actress. She
played the rockabilly singer Wanda Jackson in the Johnny Cash biopic "Walk The
Line," and had a small role in director Craig Brewer's "Black Snake Moan"
earlier this year. Now, she's released her second album called "Anchors &
Anvils." It's produced by Jim Dickinson, who has worked with everyone from Bob
Dylan and The Rolling Stones to The Replacements. Rock critic Ken Tucker has
a review.

(Soundbite of "Killing Him")

Ms. AMY LaVERE: (Singing) He didn't come home till the light of the day.
He wasn't with her, he would say
They fought through the morning and all of the day
She'd have to kill him to get him to stay

Killing him didn't make her love go away
Killing him didn't make her love go away
Killing him didn't make her love go away
Killing him didn't make her love go away
She gave him everything...

(End of soundbite)

KEN TUCKER reporting:

Amy LaVere gets things off with a bang on "Anchors & Anvils" with "Killing
Him," a revenge song in which a woman who sounds suspiciously like a stand-in
for Amy LaVere says she murdered her duplicitous boyfriend. But, as she says
in the wistful refrain, killing him didn't make her love go away. And if it's
one thing Amy LaVere knows from, it's wistfulness. Her languid voice drips
the stuff.

(Soundbite of song "Pointless Drinking)

Ms. LaVERE: (Singing) Pointless drinking, where does it end?
Where to begin, who are your friends?
Who are your foes?
You'll never know...(unintelligible)

Pointless drinking,
Till it seems like...(unintelligible)...in Spanish
Who do you wish would totally vanish
It's only you, and all you can do

I'm not an actor, but I act like I am
I really am awful, but I act like I'm not
Pretending my days hold the value of gold,
And they only hold one thing, and it's all that I got

Pointless drinking...

(End of soundbite)

TUCKER: Like the recent song from another Amy, Amy Winehouse and her tune
"Rehab," LaVere sings about substance abuse habits that she understands aren't
good for her but which help numb the pain of bad romance. In other words,
that song's title, "Pointless Drinking," gets it slightly wrong. There is a
point to her drinking. It's just not very healthy. Maybe this is one reason
Jim Dickinson producer of bad boy dissolutes like The Replacements and Big
Star, as well as the keyboardist who accompanied Aretha Franklin and the
Rolling Stones was drawn to LaVere's music. She's a philosophical screw-up
who likes a little walking on the wild side--with fiddles.

(Soundbite of song "That Beat")

I went walking
Along the highway
Lost in a trance
As I went on my way

I heard a backbeat,
That that weird, weird thing
Everywhere I put my feat

It all started
About a week ago
When my lover told me, he said,
`Well, baby, you gotta go'

I heard a backbeat,
That weird, weird beat,
Everywhere I...(unintelligible)

It was the beat of the sorrow,
It was the beat of the moon
I know I'll be here tomorrow
Because I don't plan to...(unintelligible)

(End of soundbite)

TUCKER: That's Amy LaVere covering an obscure Carla Thomas tune called "That
Beat." Like much of the album's music, it makes a hash of different genres,
mixing R&B with country and a loping rock and roll with a variety of time
signatures, such as the waltz and the blues.

Amy LaVere was born in the Southwest, has lived in Detroit and Nashville and
now Memphis, which is where she connected with producer Dickinson. He brings
out the best in her voice which is tiny and delicate, even as her phrasing is
wry and barbed.

(Soundbite of "Cupid's Arrow")

Ms. LaVERE: (Singing) I found a bow and a little wooden arrow
In a store that was full of nothing that I was there for
I bought it for a song I had saved up in a pocket
And I tucked it in my coat like a sniper with a rocket

I walked around the cold, cold town
Just a maiden on a mission
Consumed with ideas of revenge and redemption
But you've got to learn to shot first
If you're aiming to kill

I practiced on...

(End of soundbite)

TUCKER: As an actress, LaVere has yet to really prove herself. She barely
registered as brassy Wanda Jackson in "Walk The Line." But as a singer in her
own eclectic style, Amy LaVere uses "Anchors & Anvils" to establish herself as
a sly boots, a throwback to pre-rock styles who nonetheless fits right into
the cut up, patchwork, assemblage pop culture we all live in right now.

BIANCULLI: Ken Tucker is editor at large for Entertainment Weekly. He
reviewed "Anchors & Anvils" by Amy LaVere.

(Soundbite of "I'll Remember You")

Ms. LaVERE: (Singing) I'll remember you
When I've forgotten all the rest
You to me were true
You to me were the best

When there is no more,
You cut to the core
Quicker than anyone I knew

When I'm all alone
In the great unknown,
I'll remember you

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: Coming up, book critic Maureen Corrigan on a new biography of
Ralph Ellison.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Review of new biography of Ralph Ellison by Arnold
Rampersad
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

Arnold Rampersad is a professor of English at Stanford, who has written
celebrated biographies of Langston Hughes and Jackie Robinson. Now Rampersad
has turned his attention to the writer many people think of as having written
the great American novel of the 20th century. Book critic Maureen Corrigan
has a review of Rampersad's new biography of Ralph Ellison.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN reporting:

There've been some colossal writing blocks throughout literary
history--Dashiell Hammett, Joseph Mitchell, Harper Lee, Henry Roth, to quickly
name a few--all were bedeviled by decades-long bouts of blankness. But no
writing block has ever been played out so publicly as the one suffered by
Ralph Ellison. After his debut novel "Invisible Man" was published in 1952
and subsequently won the National Book Award, as well as an ongoing avalanche
of honors for Ellison, there was, well, nothing, at least in terms of fiction.
Ellison would visibly sadden or even flinch when an admirer would ask the
awful question, `When's your next novel coming out?' In his authoritative,
vivid biography of Ellison, Arnold Rampersad exhausts all the
diagnoses--psychological, sociological, animal and mineral--of why Ellison
failed to produce a second novel. But there's no question that the one and
only novel he did finish was a masterpiece.

A contender for the great American novel, certainly of the 20th century,
"Invisible Man" is one of those everything-but-the-kitchen-sink tales. It
draws on Ellison's own life story as well as jazz, folklore, classical
mythology, African-American history, off-color jokes, contemporary politics
and the work of American masters like Melville and Twain, as well as European
modernists like Joyce. Except for the central section, which gets bogged down
in Communist Party politics, "Invisible Man" manages not only to be
encompassing and erudite, but also terrific fun to read. It became an
impossible act for Ellison to follow, but not for Rampersad to match, in a
sense, with this superb biography.

In addition to chronicling Ellison's classic, up from obscurity rise to fame,
from his impoverished beginnings in Oklahoma to his eventual chumminess with
presidents and captains of art and industry, Rampersad also serves up a rich
account of 20th century American literary life. Ellison came to know almost
everyone worth knowing in the New York literary world. And the constant boozy
round of mutual back-slapping and sniping with the likes of Richard Wright,
both an early mentor and a later antagonist; Robert Penn Warren; Saul Bellow;
Langston Hughes; Norman Mailer; and Amiri Baraka, no doubt distracted Ellison
from the problem of a second novel.

All through out this biography, Rampersad offers shrewd commentary on
Ellison's near-life-long struggle to reconcile his racial identity with his
Universalist artistic ambitions. Ellison always said he wanted genuine world
fame, not condescending praise for being a good Negro writer. Ellison
achieved that goal through "Invisible Man," but got slammed, especially by an
up and coming generation of black artists like Baraka for being a sellout, in
artistic thrall to high art pale faces like T.S. Eliot and Hemingway.
Ellison's own demeanor didn't help matters. As Rampersad describes him, he
was an aloof man and frequently ungenerous to younger black writers like Toni
Morrison and Henry Louis Gates.

But, of course, he wasn't made of stone. In a telling anecdote, Rampersad
describes a conference at Grinnell College in 1967 where Ellison was
confronted by a guy dressed like a Black Panther. `You're an Uncle Tom, man,'
shouted out the militant, `a disgrace to the race.' The room of students and
academics froze. Ellison shot back, `I resent being called an Uncle Tom.
What do you know about my life? Get on your motorcycle and go back to Chicago
and throw some Molotov cocktails. That's all you'll ever know about.' As the
Panther and his buddies roared off on motorcycles, Rampersad said two separate
witnesses who recall Ellison breaking down in tears and sobbing, `I'm not a
Tom, I'm not a Tom.'

Later, Cornel West and other black cultural critics recuperated Ellison. The
wheel turned, and for this next generation of black intellectuals, Ellison was
black enough after all. "Invisible Man" ends when the unnamed hero, hiding
underground, throws this question out to the reader: "Who knows but that on
the lower frequencies I speak for you?" Just who Ellison spoke for or to, what
diction he chose to speak in, what cultural symbols he reached for, these will
always be vexed questions. The mystery isn't so much about the lack of second
novel, the mystery and wonder is that, given all these landmines, Ellison ever
found his way into writing that first novel at all.

BIANCULLI: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed a new biography of Ralph Ellison by Arnold Rampersad.

(Credits)

BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.

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