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In 'Funny People,' Lessons In Living And Dying

Writer-director Judd Apatow's new film Funny People is a vaguely autobiographical comedy starring Apatow's former roommate Adam Sandler as a comic mentoring a younger colleague (Seth Rogen).

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In 'Funny People,' Lessons In Living And Dying

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. My guest, Judd Apatow, is behind a
lot of hit comedy films. He wrote and directed “The 40 Year Old Virgin”
and “Knocked Up,” and he was a producer of “Superbad,” “Forgetting Sarah
Marshall,” “Step Brothers,” “Pineapple Express,” “Talladega Nights,”
“Anchorman” and “Walk Hard.” Apatow was the executive producer of the TV
series, “Freaks and Geeks,” which launched the careers of Seth Rogen,
Jason Segel and James Franco.

Judd Apatow wrote and directed the new movie, “Funny People.” It stars
Adam Sandler as George Simmons, a famous comic who’s diagnosed with a
rare blood disease that is usually terminal. Suddenly facing the
prospect of death, Simmons hires a young comic, Ira Wright, played by
Seth Rogen, to be his writer and all-around assistant at the mansion he
lives in by himself. “Funny People” follows the story of this successful
comic reevaluating his life and a group of younger comics, Ira Wright
and his friends, trying to make it in comedy. Here’s a scene just after
Ira, Seth Rogen, accepts the job with George, Adam Sandler. They’re in
George’s kitchen.

(Soundbite of movie, “Funny People”)

Mr. ADAM SANDLER (Actor): (As George Simmons) I want you to possibly do
me a favor.

Mr. SETH ROGEN (Actor): (As Ira Wright) Okay, yeah, what?

Mr. SANDLER: (As George) Kill me.

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ira) What?

Mr. SANDLER: (As George) Nobody knows we know each other. You’re a
stranger. You can get away with this. I got a gun in the other room,
it’s untraceable. I’ll give you $50,000. Don’t make me suffer. Please,
kill me, Ira. I’m begging you.

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ira) Can you at least give me, like, a night to think
about it?

Mr. SANDLER: (As George) Ha! Think about it? You would do it.

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ira) Oh, I hate you, man. Oh, no.

Mr. SANDLER: (As George) Ira, I misread you. You’re sick. You’re a
murderer.

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ira) Aw, screw – wait, man.

Mr. SANDLER: (As George) You wanted to do it. What would you have done
for $100,000? Chop my head off?

GROSS: Judd Apatow, welcome back to FRESH AIR. I really loved this film,
and I thought it was really interesting that you’re dealing with
mortality in it. You’re dealing with a character who’s getting older,
and it’s in part about a search for meaning, as well as, like, a search
for sex and comedy, though, yeah, there’s that, too. And I felt,
watching it, like maybe this was, like, your younger self and your older
self kind of meeting each other in a movie or being represented in a
movie.

Mr. JUDD APATOW (Writer, Director): It is like an episode of “Star Trek”
starring Frank Gorshin.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. APATOW: I think that that’s true. You know, I watched the movie.
Sometimes I feel like I’m more like Seth’s character, and then when I’m
honest with myself, I realize I’m more like George’s character. It’s
definitely - nothing in the movie is based on fact, but it’s all very,
very truthful to how I feel about things and things I struggle with. So
maybe it is my inner turmoil turned into comedy for America’s amusement.

GROSS: What’s the first idea that came to you for the film, the first
aspect of it?

Mr. APATOW: A long time ago, I wanted to make a movie about someone who
tried to win back their girlfriend from high school, and then “Something
About Mary” came out, and there were a lot of similar details, so I
scrapped it.

And then after “The Larry Sanders Show,” I thought I was going to
attempt to develop a show about a billionaire. I thought that would be
an interesting show, somebody who is at the center of everything
happening on the planet, but it was very lonely in their house and
actually just hung out with their staff and their housekeepers, but I
didn’t pursue that. And years later, I was kicking around the idea of
doing something about comedians and the moment when I first started
meeting established comedians and how much I enjoyed entering that
world, all of my first jobs and writing jobs and my earliest stand-up
days.

You know, then, you know, unfortunately, as I got older, more and more
you would see people struggling with very serious illnesses, and at
those moments, you know, their lives would change and their priorities
would change. And some people, it really transformed them in a positive
way, and other people, you know, went into denial, and they fought
against those lessons. And at some point, I realized I could combine
those concepts into one movie.

GROSS: Now, you and Adam Sandler were roommates in Los Angeles when you
were working at The Improv, and he had just moved out to L.A. And in
your movie – the movie actually - “Funny People” actually opens with
some video footage that you shot, back when you were roommates, of Adam
Sandler making phony phone calls, prank phone calls. Is that something
that he would do a lot?

Mr. APATOW: Well, back then, we were in our early 20s. Adam had been on
MTV, on the TV show “Remote Control.” He wasn’t successful, but there
was a buzz around him that he was somebody who was going to do very
well. There was no buzz around me, whatsoever.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. APATOW: I was MC’ing at The Improv, and Adam had so much energy to
be funny, that he would be very funny with strangers on the street. He
would yell out the car window. He would bug everyone on an elevator
because nobody knew who he was and he had no outlet. And one of the ways
that expended this comic energy is he made a lot of prank phone calls
for hours and hours.

He couldn’t have been more amused by it. And it really was funny, and
after a while, I started recording them on audio, and then I started
videotaping them. Then when I was writing the movie, I thought, well,
this is a good way to start the movie because Adam looks so happy in
this footage. He just looks young and pure and excited about his life,
and then after the prank call in the movie, we cut to him in current
times, and his character, the light is just out of his eyes. He’s in a
giant house and he’s rich and famous, and he couldn’t look more unhappy.

GROSS: Were you ambivalent at all about the phony phone calls because of
the person on the other end who was being made the fool?

Mr. APATOW: I was never into phony phone calls. I don’t like
confrontation that much. Phony phone calls are something you do when
you’re young and you’re trying to pretend you’re an adult. That’s the
whole hook: Can you convince an adult you are an adult? And so when
you’re an adult, it’s easy. People will believe anything that you say.
So I would get very uncomfortable because people wouldn’t hang up. They
would talk to Adam forever.

A lot of the phony phone calls were with him calling restaurants and
complaining about the food. He would call as an old lady and say the
roast beef made him sick, and slowly he would try to finagle a free
sandwich out of them.

GROSS: What was your act like at the time when you met Adam Sandler and
you were working at The Improv and also functioning as the MC there?

Mr. APATOW: I wasn’t that funny. I started doing stand-up when I was 17.
I didn’t have any life experience except high school. I only went to
college for a year and a half. So I had almost nothing to draw on. I -
you know, I probably was a very mediocre - like if Bill Maher was
really, really boring and had no life experience, no edge and no wit,
that was me.

I did get funny enough eventually that I got on the HBO “Young
Comedians” special with people like Ray Romano and Janeane Garofalo. But
I knew that I wasn’t as good as the people that I was looking up to,
like Bill Maher and Seinfeld and Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey, but I can
write jokes for them. And my jokes seemed to work. So slowly, I became a
writer.

GROSS: “Funny People” is such a kind of valentine to - an ambivalent
valentine, in some ways, to young comics getting started, as well as
being about an older comic who’s become hardened and cynical. And, you
know, Seth Rogen is one of the young comics, and his character’s doing a
lot of, like, fart and masturbation jokes. And at one point, the Adam
Sandler character goes up to him and says: Is your act designed to make
sure no girl ever sleeps with you again?

Mr. APATOW: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Did you ever do that kind of humor, and - yeah, let’s start with
that. Did you ever do that kind of humor yourself?

Mr. APATOW: I wasn’t filthy. In fact, I got on the HBO “Young Comedians”
special, and it was the first time I got on cable, and I thought I
should take advantage of this and I should curse. But I didn’t have any
dirty jokes, so I just added the F-curse randomly throughout my act. And
every once in a while, they show it on Comedy Central, and they’re
beeping me constantly, and none of the jokes require cursing. And it’s
very, very embarrassing to me. So no, that wasn’t what my subject was
about because in order to have jokes about sex, you would have needed to
have had sex.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. APATOW: So I did not have the experience to do those jokes.

GROSS: Were you exposed to a lot of comics who did?

Mr. APATOW: I was exposed to a lot of comics who did. There was – you
know, there’s definitely a correlation between people who want to
perform and people who want to meet the crowd and have sex with them.
There’s definitely a lot of sexual energy in the comedy clubs. Do not
chat with the comedians after the show, people. You’ll put yourself in a
dangerous situation.

Me, I’m uncomfortable. I’m the guy that wrote “The 40 Year Old Virgin.”
I never walked up to a woman cold in my entire life. You know, I need a
formal introduction. I need to sit next to them at work for a year or
two before I talk to them. I could never approach anybody.

GROSS: But you seem to be fascinated by the kinds of guys who are more
brazen and who talk about sex all the time and brag about it, whether
they know what they’re talking about or not.

Mr. APATOW: Yes. I find that endlessly funny. I don’t think it’s
healthy. I find all sexuality really, really hilarious. You know, it
always made me laugh that if you’re young, and you walk up to a woman
and you say hello, on some level, the code is I’m interested in you. And
if she says hello and keeps talking to you, she’s - in code - saying
okay, we can continue to talk because there’s a chance maybe I could
like you at some point.

And because I was so aware that there was this constant, coded
conversation happening, I never wanted to have that conversation. I just
felt strange about it. But people doing it I find endlessly fascinating,
and maybe I’m jealous. I don’t know.

I spent many years talking to other people, saying, like, and you did
what? And then she said what? And then you did that? And she said okay?
That’s, you know, that’s how I spent most of my young life, shocked at
what other people did.

GROSS: My guest is Judd Apatow. He wrote and directed the new film,
“Funny People.” More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Judd Apatow, and he wrote
and directed “40 Year Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up” and the new movie,
“Funny People,” and he directed - he produced all the Judd Apatow films.
You’re such a brand name now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. APATOW: I’m like Kraft cheese.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You really are a brand. One of the things I really like about
“Funny People” is that the comics who are in the movie, we see excerpts
of the movies and the TV shows that their characters have made over the
years. And the George Simmons character - this is the character played
by Adam Sandler - one of his movies is called “Re-Do,” and it’s a movie
in which the character meets a wizard and asks the wizard to make him
young again, and the wizard makes him into a baby. So he’s like a baby
with the adult Adam Sandler’s head on his body.

And I want to play a clip from this movie-within-the-movie. And if our
listeners want to see it, you actually have, like, a fake Web site for
the comic George Simmons. So here’s a scene from this movie, “Re-Do,”
and he’s talking to his younger brother, who’s played by Justin Long,
the actor who’s also famous for his role in the Mac commercials.

(Soundbite of movie, “Funny People”)

Mr. JUSTIN LONG (Actor): (As character) What you doing?

Mr. SANDLER: (As George) (As Craig) Listen. We’ve got a meeting at 5
o’clock, and if I’m not there, the whole thing falls apart.

Mr. LONG: (As character) No, Craig, you’re not going to the meeting.
You’re a baby.

Mr. SANDLER: (As George) (As Craig) Really? Thanks for telling me. I
forgot for a second that I had a one-inch penis.

Mr. LONG: (As character) This is not a picnic for me, either, Craig.
Who’s been changing your diapers, huh? Who’s been feeding you with the
airplane noises?

Mr. SANDLER: (As George) (As Craig) If you would have met me at lunch
like we said we were, I wouldn’t have wandered off into the woods and
fell into that cave.

Mr. LONG: (As character) Craig, listen to me. I’m doing the best I can,
okay?

Mr. SANDLER: (As George) (As Craig) I wiped your ass our entire
childhood. Now it’s your turn, buddy.

Mr. LONG: (As character) Well, you’re the one that asked a wizard to
make you young again.

Mr. SANDLER: (As George) (As Craig) I didn’t mean this young.

Mr. LONG: (As character) Listen, Craig. I know this has been hard on
you, pal. I do. I - it’s been hard on all of us.

Mr. SANDLER: (As George) (As Craig) It’s not you. It’s this whole
situation.

Mr. LONG: (As character) Unfortunately, there’s no handbook for this
kind of thing. I’m just kind of winging it here, pal.

Mr. SANDLER: (As George) (As Craig) You know, it took me becoming a baby
to realize what it means to be a man.

Mr. LONG: (As character) Well said.

Mr. SANDLER: (As George) (As Craig) Okay, get the BabyBjorn. We’re going
to go find that wizard.

Mr. LONG: (As character) Now that sounds like a plan.

GROSS: That really cracks me up, and that’s an excerpt of Judd Apatow’s
new movie, “Funny People,” and it’s a clip from the movie that the Adam
Sandler character made.

Mr. APATOW: It’s very complicated.

GROSS: Yeah, I mean, you’re talking about a movie-within-a-movie.

Mr. APATOW: It’s a clip from a movie that isn’t real, but it’s in the
movie, which is also not real. It’s many meta-meta-levels. But I would
like to point out that that clip, only about 10 seconds of it is in the
movie, and then we created a much longer version of the clip just for
the Internet because we wanted to have a very elaborate Internet site
which followed the careers of all the characters in the movie.

GROSS: This strikes me as a kind of movie that could have been pitched
to Adam Sandler - you know, a man in an infant’s body because of a
wizard’s curse or a wizard’s magic wand or whatever, and, you know,
mayhem ensues. So tell me about coming up for this idea of the movie-
within-the-movie.

Mr. APATOW: Well, what we wanted to do was, you know, have fun with the
modern comedy star’s career because we’ve all made all of these movies.

If you just go down the list of all the big comedy stars, they have the
times they tried to do their dramatic movie. They have their Disney
movies. They have their R-rated movies, their kind of bromantic
comedies, if you will.

So we wanted to just have fun with his career. And it was also important
to me that he was a star who - he wasn’t like Richard Pryor. He’s just
trying to make people laugh and make people happy. He doesn’t take it
that seriously. He’s not meant to be an artist in the movie.

Then when he gets sick and he thinks about his life, he really wonders,
you know, was it all worth it? I basically didn’t attempt to have real
relationships with people so that I could be this big movie star, and
now I’m sick and I’m all alone.

GROSS: There’s another clip of a TV show within the movie, and, you
know, Seth Rogen plays a young comic in the movie, and one of his
roommates is played by Jason Schwartzman. And the Jason Schwartzman
character gets the lead part in a TV series called “Yo Teach!” And this
is supposed to be, like, the hip-hop version of “Head of the Class.”

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. APATOW: It’s “Dangerous Minds: The Sitcom.”

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Yeah, perfect. So I want to play - you’d have to go to the Web
site to hear this. We see a clip of the TV show in the movie, but the
Web site has, like, a whole fake ad for the TV show. So I want to play
that.

(Soundbite of Internet video for film, “Funny People”)

Mr. JASON SCHWARTZMAN (Actor): (As Mark Taylor Jackson) (As character)
Who is your favorite rapper?

Mr. SANDLER: (As announcer) This fall on NBC, school is back in session.
Mark Taylor Jackson is “Yo Teach!”

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (As Jackson) (As character) All right. Do you guys know
who the greatest rapper of all time is? William Sh-sh-sh-shakespeare.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (As Jackson) I play Teach. I teach at a school to a
classroom of teenagers who society has kind of left behind, that society
feels are unteachable and have been forgotten, But my character is young
and passionate and really wants to lead these kids into a brighter,
better future.

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) What if I try and I find out
I’m stupid?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (As Jackson) (As character) Whoa. Who says you’re
stupid?

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Everybody. My mom and my coach.
Calvin says I’m stupid. Calvin’s the stupidest kid in this room.

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As Calvin) Yeah, call me stupid. Come on.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Calvin, you stupidest kid in this -
look at you. You’re wearing a sleeveless shirt and a winter hat.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (As Jackson) (As character) Okay guys, guys, knock it
off. You’re all stupid if you don’t help each other out and support one
another.

GROSS: I love it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That’s a fake ad for…

Mr. APATOW: That’s a - yeah, a fake ad for a TV show in the movie. So
that ad isn’t actually in the movie. It’s just part of our Web site.
Clearly, we have way too much time on our hands to create all of these
worlds. It’s our “Dungeons & Dragons,” I guess.

GROSS: Did you have friends like the Jason Schwartzman character who
became famous for really bad TV shows, but they wouldn’t admit that it
was bad? Or maybe they didn’t even know it was bad?

Mr. APATOW: Yeah, we had one friend who got on a sitcom, and suddenly he
would get a check every other week I think for about $40,000. And he was
just a young guy, 21, 22 years old, and he would leave the checks around
the house as a way of making fun of us. Like, oh, did I just leave that
check there? I’m sorry. I have so many of them. I - they’re hard to keep
track of.

And that would happen sometimes in the world of comedy. There’d be a guy
and he would have a good set in front of someone from NBC, and suddenly
he would get a holding deal for $50,000 or $100,000, and suddenly this
guy who was broke would have a big chunk of change. And rarely did their
series work out, but for a short period of time, they were loaded.

GROSS: You had to write a lot of comedy routines for “Funny People,”
because all the characters in it are comics, and they’re all doing their
acts in clubs, you know, from Seth Rogen to Adam Sandler. So what was it
like writing these comic routines for different characters, for
different personalities, for people who are really different from you -
and some of them like you?

Mr. APATOW: You know, that was the part I was most excited about. I was
such a big fan of Adam’s stand-up comedy. He hadn’t done comedy in 10
years. So it was a great way to force him to do it again. What we did
was we sat down and did these round tables with people like Patton
Oswalt and Brian Posehn, and we would write jokes. And then Adam would
go off and write jokes by himself and with his friend, Allen Covert, who
works on his movies. And the main intention was to build an entire act.

I didn’t try to be specific and say, in this scene, I need this joke. We
basically wrote an entire, new routine. By the end of it, Adam had a 50-
minute set of jokes he could tell at any given time. And then we shot
him doing his act in multiple locations, and then later I tried to
decide which jokes to use in which part of the movie.

And the act is filthy. You know, we didn’t want him, you know, to be a
thoughtful comedian. We thought it was more important that he was in
denial. He doesn’t want to think about being sick. He wants to go on
stage and tell all of these dirty jokes. So it was fun to come up with
this filthy routine for him.

GROSS: So did it unleash the filthy part of you that you never really
did on stage?

Mr. APATOW: I’ve got to say, I’m still not fantastic at writing a filthy
joke. Seth can write filthy jokes all day long. He could write a 10-hour
act about pleasuring himself, and it probably would be amusing beginning
to end. He was like: I thought of another bit today about trying to
pleasure yourself to nothing, to just think of nothing and pleasure
yourself. Can you do it? And he - every day, he would think of
something. And I showed incredible restraint by only putting one of
those jokes in the movie, because I had about 300 of them to choose
from.

GROSS: Judd Apatow will be back in the second half of the show. His new
film, “Funny People,” opens next week. I’m Terry Gross, and this is
FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross back with Judd Apatow, the
writer and director of the "40 Year Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up," and
the producer of "Superbad," "Pineapple Express," "Talladega Nights," and
"Anchorman."

He wrote and directed the new film, "Funny People" which stars Adam
Sandler as a successful comic who's just been diagnosed with a rare
blood disease that is usually terminal. The film also stars Seth Rogen,
Jason Schwartzman, Jonah Hill, Eric Bana, and Leslie Mann.

Judd Apatow got his start as a standup comic.

GROSS: Do I have this right, that your mother worked in a comedy club
when you were a teenager?

Mr. APATOW: When I was in junior high school my parents got divorced and
they owned a restaurant and there was a bartender name Rick Mesina(ph)
there and after he left the restaurant he opened up a few comedy clubs
and one was called the East End Comedy Club which was in Southampton,
New York. And my mom moved to Southampton, and for one summer she was
the hostess at this comedy club. And suddenly I was 15 years old and I
was allowed to sit and watch the shows at a very adult comedy club every
weekend. And it was just an incredibly exciting summer for me. I would
get to chat with some of the comics.

Jay Leno performed there that weekend, maybe it was 1982 or something,
and that really made me want to do it. Suddenly it seemed possible.
These comedians were real people. You could actually talk to them. And
the man that owned the comedy clubs, Rick Mesina, later gave me a job as
a dishwasher at the Eastside Comedy Club and Eddie Murphy used to come
in and Rosie O'Donnell. And then I realized why am I working as a
dishwasher? I'm in the kitchen, I can't see the show - so I became a
busboy. And Rick later on went to California and became a manager and he
manages Tim Allen, and then became a very successful man, so we’ve had
this relationship since I was about 10 years old.

GROSS: You know so many of your movies are about that kind of tension
between like juvenile sexist and sex-obsessed versions of manhood - of
maleness and the more adult version of what it means to be a man. And I
guess why well, I'm really interested in why you're so interested in
that divide?

Mr. APATOW: I really I feel like everybody on earth is very immature. As
I get older, I'm 41 now, I'm realizing that adults are not smarter than
young people - some might say they're dumber. I don't meet many 70-year-
old that I think what a wise person who could give me so much wisdom. I
think most people are a mess and they're either covering up the mess or
they're openly a mess and we’re all struggling and a 60-year-old man can
be as immature as a 15-year-old boy. I'm sure there are exceptions. I
doubt Walter Cronkite was that way...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. APATOW: ...but most of us are that way and I also think it's funny
to expose it and talk about it. Now that my friends are all in their
40s, I really do think man, we’re just as dumb as ever. I actually think
it's even funnier when people think that they are wise or they do have
their act together, that you know the funniest thing in the world is
someone who's self-assured. You know who's more hilarious than Donald
Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney? People who think they have all the answers;
they're the people to be the most frightened of.

GROSS: Did teen comedy shape your idea of sexuality in what it was like
to be you know, to be cool or adult or attractive?

Mr. APATOW: No. Not at all. I wasn’t - I don't think that any movie or
television show affected how I felt about myself as a kid. It just
wasn’t part of the equation. I was just a little kid. I was born in
December. I was always the youngest kid in the grade so I was small and
bad at sports and the daily humiliation of being picked last and not
having an angle on how I could be popular was the thing that shaped me.

And solely, I started discovering these comedians and they were very
rebellious and they talked about how the system wasn't fair or whether
it was the Marx Brothers or Monty Python, and I gravitated towards that.
But I was already that person before I found comedy.

GROSS: Did you have another angle on how to be popular before you found
comedy?

Mr. APATOW: Comedy didn't even make me popular. People at my school
couldn’t have been less interested in the things I was interested in. If
I said to somebody at my school, hey guess what I'm doing this weekend?
I'm going to interview Dr. Demento for our high school radio program...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. APATOW: ...that was not going to make me popular. But when I moved
to California and I met a lot of comedians and we all had similar
interests, it really was like that Blind Melon song, where the Bee Girl
walks in the field and then there's all the people dressed like bees,
that's how I felt when I came to California.

GROSS: So many of the characters in your films, including "40 Year Old
Virgin," and "Knocked Up," and the new one, "Funny People" are so you
know ambivalent about becoming really adult and about entering into a
committed relationship or staying in a committed relationship. So where
does that fear or ambivalence come from? Is it from observing other
people or something you had to deal with yourself?

Mr. APATOW: You know I'm not very ambivalent about it. I'm so happy to
be married. I can't believe my wife is there every day. I'm just I think
that we’re on a first date and she's going to climb out the window when
we go to a restaurant.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. APATOW: I feel like I've lucked out. On some level I feel like I've
tricked her and she's married to me and I feel bad that she's not
allowed to escape. So there's no ambivalence on my part. I'm really,
really happy and have these incredible kids that I just I don’t even
know how it happened. Now, I write about people who are unhappy is
because I don't think there's anything funny in happiness. People who
are really comfortable with their situation, I just don't want to watch
in a movie theater. I'd like to hang out at a barbecue with them but
there's no drama in things going well.

So people say now why is everybody so immature? Why do these people say
these sexist things? Because it's funny to watch people evolve and learn
from their mistakes and it's funnier if they're horrible. It's funny if
the marriage is horrible. It's funnier if he's really immature. It's
funny if he's really sexist. It's funny if she's very angry because
people who are mature, for the most part, are kind of boring.

GROSS: Now your wife, Leslie Mann has been in all three of the films
that you wrote and directed. She was a kind of...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...you know wild and drunken woman who meets Steve Carell at a
bar?

Mr. APATOW: She actually meets him at a nightclub...

GROSS: Yeah. And then...

Mr. APATOW: Nicky.

GROSS: And then they go off together and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...she's drunk and driving really terribly and that's a really
funny scene.

Mr. APATOW: And then she vomits on his face.

GROSS: Yes. And then in "Knocked Up" she plays the wife and the married
couple and that's her sister-in-law who gets pregnant through the Seth
Rogen character. And then in the new movie, why don't you explain her
role in the new movie.

Mr. APATOW: In the new movie George Simmons is a famous comedian and
when he gets sick he calls his old flame, Laura - and we’re not really
sure why they don't talk anymore or why she's so mad at him. But it
comes out that when they dated about a dozen years earlier he cheated on
her and he broke her heart.

So when he's sick she visits him and she thinks he's going to die so she
tells him you were the love of my life and I love you more than I love
my husband, who by the way also cheats on me. And that she basically
tried to find someone very different from George and found someone who
was very similar. And part of the movie is about George thinking he can
win her back when he gets better.

GROSS: So your wife's been in all three of the movies you wrote and
directed and your children have been in two of them. They were the kids
in "Knocked Up" and they're the kids...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...in the new movie and they're two really gorgeous little girls.
There's a great scene in "Funny People" in which the character who your
wife plays asks...

Mr. APATOW: Laura.

GROSS: Yeah, Laura asks George, the Adam Sandler character to watch a
video of her daughter performing in a scene from a high school play and
she's singing "Memory" from "Cats." And it's just an amazing video. I
assume it's a real video that your daughter made from a real school
show?

Mr. APATOW: My daughter performs in these plays that are part of an
After School Program and she was going to sing "Memory" from "Cats." She
refused to sing it in front of us - and she was 10 years old. We show up
at the show not knowing if it's going to be great or terrible, and she
starts singing and it's incredible - and incredible to the point where
strangers are crying and crying hard. It's like she's an old soul and I
don't know where it comes from or what it’s about but it’s really
powerful. And at some point I thought well, if Leslie's character showed
this to Adam's character and he didn’t care and he wasn't moved, it
would say a lot about his ability to be an adult and to share the
spotlight. And so that's one of the sequences in the movie.

GROSS: So how does your daughter feel about the video being in the
movie?

Mr. APATOW: The fascinating thing is that my kids, who are 11 and six,
they really couldn’t care less about the movie. They're not allowed to
see the movie because it's R rated and they...

GROSS: Oh, of course.

Mr. APATOW: ...they have not seen "Knocked Up." So when they shoot these
movies it’s just like a strange two week vacation where they see Seth
and Adam a lot and there's a crew around and lots of candy on a craft
service table. I try to get them excited about it, but they would rather
watch the new 10 episode marathon of "SpongeBob Square Pants." So I
guess that's healthy. You know if other people call and say you know can
your kid be in my movie? We say no.

GROSS: My guest is Judd Apatow. He wrote and directed the "40 Year Old
Virgin" and "Knocked Up," and he made the new film, "Funny People"
starring Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen.

More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Judd Apatow and he wrote
and directed the "40 Year Old Virgin," "Knocked Up," and the new movie,
"Funny People."

I mean you know we were talking about what makes something funny and you
were saying you know like happiness isn't funny and something needs to
like go wrong or be imperfect. And we were talking about like filthy
humor and everything. There's a scene I've always wanted to ask you
about ever since I saw "Knocked Up" and you know at the end of the movie
the woman who is pregnant out of wedlock with Seth Rogen and they are so
- they're such different types that they kind of end up falling in love
and you know she has the baby. And at the end we see her giving birth
and he's you know by her side the whole time.

And one of his really immature friends walks in in the middle of this
birth sequence because he hears her screaming in pain and he thinks
maybe there's something I can do to help. And he walks in and he sees
the baby crowning between her legs and we see it too. And he is just -
well you can explain how he is because I'm not sure to say about. But
he's just kind of like shaken by the experience of seeing this. And he
goes out and he's kind of ashen and the Jonah Hill character basically
says to him oh yeah, after seeing that you'll never be able to be
sexually aroused again.

And so when I saw it in a movie theater people acted liked oh yeah,
that's the real gross out moment watching the baby come out. And I'm
just wondering like what did you want...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...people to see when they saw that film - that part of the film?
What did you want us to think?

Mr. APATOW: What always made me laugh when my wife was pregnant was
there were always some guys who would say don't look when the baby comes
out. Don't look because you'll never want to have sex again. And you
know I certainly looked and it didn't trouble me at all. But the type of
person that can't handle it I think is really funny. And there were
those people who you know their wives had babies and they had never read
the baby books and they stayed in denial about it for most of the time.
But I wanted to do the thing that you never see in a movie.

You know there's been a lot of births in movies but you never see the
baby come out. In fact, I was hoping that I could shot a real birth with
Seth there and pan from the baby coming out directly to Seth's face and
get a real reaction to Seth seeing a birth. But then later I found out
that I couldn’t do it because the baby would need a work permit and
could not...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. APATOW: ...get a work permit unless you have been born. So I had a
Catch-22 there. But that is you know one of my favorite scenes and Jay
Baruchel is hilarious flipping out.

GROSS: I'm interested in your approach to casting because you have this
whole like stable of people, like a whole repertoire of cast you develop
from basically from "Freaks and Geeks." There's like Seth Rogen and
Jason Segel and...

Mr. APATOW: James Franco.

GROSS: James Franco. Yes. James Franco. And it's just kind of amazing
that you started working with these people before they had worked any
place else, before anybody knew who they were, and you’ve kept working
with them. They’ve all become stars. Can you talk a little bit about
like discovering people who you want to work with and then staying with
them?

Mr. APATOW: When we were looking for the cast for "Freaks and Geeks," we
knew that we would rewrite the script based on the actors we found. Paul
had very specific ideas for each character. But it seemed more
interesting to just find unique personalities and have Paul revise it to
their traits. And so, we fell in love with all these kids. And when the
show was cancelled, I thought, well, I’ve just scratched the surface of
what you can do with these people. So I used a lot of them in
“Undeclared.”

And now I’ve made movies with a bunch of them. And they’re great people.
They’re really funny and talented. A lot of the ones that I haven’t
worked with from “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared,” I hope to work
with in the future. I certainly feel a responsibility to work with them.
A lot of them didn’t go to college because they got a job on a show that
was cancelled. So I want to keep all of them out of the penitentiary
system. So we’ll see what happens. Maybe I’ll succeed.

GROSS: Now I want to get back to “Funny People.” In “Funny People,” you
know, Adam Sandler is this, like, 40-something comic who’s been
diagnosed with a terminal illness. He has an eight percent chance of
recovering from it. And he hires the Seth Rogen character to be his joke
writer but also his assistant. And one of the things he wants Seth Rogen
to do is to talk him to sleep at night.

The Adam Sandler character, even though he doesn’t like being around
people - he doesn’t really care much about what other people think -
when the sun goes down and he’s alone at home in bed, he gets those kind
of, like, nighttime scares that so many people get. And he wants to be
talked to sleep. Where does that come from?

Mr. APATOW: It comes from a few places. When I used to live with Adam,
he found a chair on the street - we were both 21, 22 years old, and
living in a crappy apartment - and he put this chair next to his bed.
And at night, he would say, hey, talk to me while I try to go to sleep.
And we would recap our day and slowly Adam would fall asleep. And I
realized, oh, he doesn’t want to be alone right up until the moment he
goes to sleep. Now that’s something he has since outgrown.

But what I do nowadays is I will download on my iPod, FRESH AIR, “This
American Life,” Deepak Chopra books. And every night, when it’s time to
go to sleep, I’ll put something on and I’ll listen to it because I don’t
want to hear the voices in my head, and I’d rather hear you talking to
Tobias Wolff or something. And for some reason, it makes me very happy.
And I’ve slept much better since I realized that I could put the earbud
in one ear, and not in the other ear and put that ear on the pillow.
Because it would hurt if I had the earbuds in both ears. And so, maybe
it’s me, and it’s not from Adam.

GROSS: Well, I’m thrilled that FRESH AIR plays some small part in…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: …in helping you get to sleep at night. That’s really great.

Mr. APATOW: Now, I have to pick a FRESH AIR that is a topic that I think
will calm me down.

GROSS: As opposed to making you more nervous.

Mr. APATOW: You’re talking…

GROSS: Right, exactly.

Mr. APATOW: Yeah. If you’re talking Iraq war, I can’t go to sleep to
that. But I can slowly, over the course of an hour, calm down to a combo
show with, like, Bill Murray and Diane Keaton. It’ll just kind of make
me happy. And I’ll listen and then I’ll drift off. And the next night,
I’ll start from the point I fell asleep, and I’ll listen to the end.
This is the highest praise for you.

GROSS: Oh, you’re kidding. You know, it absolutely is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: It’s great.

Mr. APATOW: It’s just you and Pema Chodron…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. APATOW: …are keeping me going.

GROSS: No, I read - and I hope you don’t mind me bringing this up – but,
that you used to get anxiety attacks.

Mr. APATOW: Yes.

GROSS: And, what kind of thing would bring them on?

Mr. APATOW: Probably - I wasn’t resting and I was working too much. And
I was in a phase of my life where I was experimenting with smoking pot.
I wasn’t smoking that much pot, but I was a lightweight. And very
quickly I started having anxiety attacks. And I remember, I had a
meeting with Lorne Michaels and I – a panic attack kicked in hard and I
knew that I had to sit and talk to him for over an hour about a punch up
of a Chris Farley movie I was going to do. And all I thought of the
entire meeting was, if I have to leave the table, I’ll tell them I just
had Pollo Loco and my stomach hurts.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. APATOW: I just thought that, okay, it’s okay. I got the Pollo Loco
excuse. So, you know, if I freak out - and my heart would race and I was
sweating and I was completely melting down while pitching my fixes for
this movie. And that happened several times. Until finally, I - one day
I couldn’t get on a plane in Chicago and I had to call my therapist and
say, what’s going on? And he explained what a panic attack was. I just
thought I was going crazy. And I flew a friend in to fly home with me.
And over the course of a year, this is in the mid ‘90s, it went away.

But, it was pretty terrible, you know, when you get claustrophobic
outside. It was just bad, but I feel like now it was just body saying,
you’ve ignored me and now I’m going to put you on the floor. I’m going
to make you rest. And so, whenever I hear about people having those
moments, like Mariah Carey or someone - I know exactly what that moment
is. It’s just pushing yourself too far and there’s a part of your body
that says, okay, you’re done, you’re going to lay down now. And then
you’re going to pay attention to yourself and be healthy and if you
don’t, you’re going to lay down even longer.

GROSS: You know, one of the things I find really interesting about this
is that the first time you had a panic attack, you had been smoking
marijuana. And, you know, maybe it was related. I don’t know. But like
in “Pineapple Express,” one of the movies you produced, it’s about two
stoners who, you know - well, particularly the James Franco character,
like he - nothing fazes him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: He can like…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. APATOW: Yes.

GROSS: …smoke 24 hours a day and nothing would faze him. Do you really
admire that ability and wish you had it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. APATOW: I don’t. I was always a panic attacker when I smoked pot,
the few times I did it. I’m a terrible drinker.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. APATOW: I’m basically not that fun a person generally. You do not -
you know, at a party, if I’m having any fun at all, if I have even two
drinks and I’m lightening up, Seth’s like, hey, look at Judd. He’s going
crazy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. APATOW: So, I’m not a proponent of any of that. Seth and I always
argue about it. I think that what, you know, when we show those things,
I’m basically showing that people who do it are idiots. You know, the
people in “Pineapple Express” - a lot of people die, a lot of people get
hurt. It doesn’t really seem like a great life path. But, Seth would
disagree.

GROSS: My guest is Judd Apatow. He wrote and directed the new film
“Funny People.” We’ll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Judd Apatow. He wrote and directed “The 40 Year Old
Virgin,” “Knocked Up” and the new film “Funny People,” starring Adam
Sandler and Seth Rogen.

Because your movies are so popular, do you ever wonder what effect they
have on, like, the sensibility of teenagers who see them?

Mr. APATOW: I think that there’s a lot of good that comes out of these
movies. I don’t know if it has a gigantic effect. But I was thinking
about it the other day, you know, when you watch shows like the “Colbert
Report” or “The Daily Show,” they really make fun of homophobia. And so
there’s a whole wave in comedy that mocks people who are not tolerant.
And it may feel like it’s just jokes, but culturally over 10 or 20
years, people who are prejudiced, they are the outcasts. And I think
that there are little, small cultural changes which have a larger
effect.

My movies are very simple. They’re just about, you know, don’t be a
jerk. That’s basically the theme of all my movies. People trying to
figure out how to live in the correct manner and all the obstacles to
that: people trying to figure out how to love other people even though
they’re neurotic and have fears. But the basic point is, you know, don’t
be a jerk, be a nice person. And that’s a hard thing to do in this life.
It is difficult to be the best version of yourself. And I think that if
people watch all of these movies and, you know, maybe it implants there,
in the smallest way, in combination with all sorts of other things that
are positive in the culture.

GROSS: Just one more thing. When you and your wife, Leslie Mann, had
children, I think she left acting for a while to raise the children. And
you were really obsessed with, you know, the TV shows and other work you
were doing. But, you know, in your movies, you’ve given her really good
roles, particularly, you know, bigger roles in the second two of the
three that you did. And I’m wondering if that makes you really happy
that you’ve been able to - after she took time off from her career to
raise her children, that now you’ve been able to, like, give her
terrific roles.

Mr. APATOW: My wife and I – we were thrilled to have children, but it
really does slow down an actor’s career. And after our kids were a
little bit older, Leslie felt more comfortable trying to pursue her
career more aggressively than she had been. Leslie is the best actress I
know. She is brutally real and viciously funny. And she does something
that I just don’t think any other people are capable of. And she’s just
such an endlessly interesting person that it’s been fantastic it turned
into such a positive collaboration.

I definitely was scared to collaborate in the beginning because people
always say, oh, that could create so many problems. There are so many
new things to fight about when you work so closely with your wife. But I
think some of the best movies were made by people who were in love or
best friends. That’s why we love Scorsese and Robert De Niro, and Woody
Allen and Diane Keaton, and Gena Rowlands and John Cassavetes. And
that’s why I work with Leslie and that’s why I like to work with a lot
of my best friends, like Adam, because I think we know things about each
other that we can reveal in the work that I could not do with strangers.

GROSS: Well, Judd Apatow, it’s really been great to talk with you. Thank
you so much.

Mr. APATOW: It has been a pleasure being here and soon I will be
listening to this while putting myself to sleep.

GROSS: Sweet dreams.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. APATOW: Thank you.

GROSS: Judd Apatow’s new movie “Funny People,” starring Adam Sandler,
Seth Rogen and Leslie Mann, opens next week. You can find links to comic
videos featuring the characters from the film on our Web site,
freshair.npr.org, where you can also download podcasts of our show. I’m
Terry Gross.
..COST:

$00.00
..INDX:
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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