Judd Apatow: the king of Hollywood comedy

Hollywood's laugh meister Judd Apatow talks family, funnies and his new film, 'This Is 40'

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He’s been called ‘the king of Hollywood comedy’. He topped a list of the 50 smartest people in Hollywood. He is Judd Apatow, and his fingerprints are all over the past decade’s biggest comedy hits.

He produced ‘Superbad’, ‘Pineapple Express’, ‘Bridesmaids’, and Lena Dunham’s ‘Girls’. He wrote and directed ‘The 40 Year-Old Virgin’, ‘Knocked Up’ and ‘Funny People’.

His new film is ‘This Is 40’. It’s a sort-of sequel to ‘Knocked Up’, picking up with two of the supporting characters Pete and Debbie, who are married with two kids and turning 40. Paul Rudd stars as Pete. Apatow’s wife Leslie Mann is Debbie and his daughters Maude and Iris play the couple’s kids.

You cast your wife Leslie and two daughters in ‘This Is 40’. Were you the boss on set?

‘Yes! They listen to me when I’m the director. They don’t listen to me at home.’

Did you think twice about putting your kids in the film? Critics can be brutal.

‘Leslie worries about that. I’m the one who pushes to do it. For purely selfish reasons, because I find them really hilarious.’

Why pick up with Pete and Debbie from ‘Knocked Up’ rather than Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl’s characters?

‘In my mind, both couples in “Knocked Up” are the same couple. They are two eras of Leslie and myself. So it felt natural to catch up with Pete and Debbie, see where they’re at now.’

Their marriage is on the rocks. They’ve got money worries. He’s a 40-year-old man in Lycra on a bike. Is this your mid-life crisis movie?

‘Everything I do is a mid-life crisis movie! Every show, every episode of anything I’ve ever done. Nothing I do is about confident people who feel at peace with the universe.’

How close is the film to your life?

‘The story is made up. Really it’s more about our anxieties. We worry about being good parents to the point of making our kids crazy. We try to change each other when we should be trying to change ourselves. Working with Leslie on this movie was like very expensive therapy.

What did you learn from it?

‘We asked ourselves this a few weeks ago. We’ve learned nothing!’

You’ve taken some flak from people who say you’ve made a film about ‘first-world problems’. Should we care about Pete and Debbie?

‘I guess those people wouldn’t like “The Great Gatsby” then. The film is about the fact that they don’t want to downsize. They don’t want to feel like they failed. That’s what’s interesting about the movie. They’re narcissistic and neurotic. They’re not worried about the homeless. They’re self-involved and it makes them blind to a lot of things.’

So that’s the point of the movie?

‘Yes. It’s like “Girls”. People who have those kinds of issues are also the kind of people who are mad at Lena Dunham and think she got the job because she comes from privilege. Lena’s parents are artists in New York, and she’s successful because she has a nice family. No one got her a job. I can list a lot of children of celebrities who didn’t do well. Almost every single one of them.’

You produced ‘Girls’ and ‘Bridesmaids’ but you’ve been criticised in your movies for writing two-dimensional women. What’s your take?

‘I think what I’m exploring is anger. In most films women are objects of worship, or gorgeous, but can’t find a man. And there’s something dishonest about a lot of it, especially in comedies. I thought it would be interesting to show how annoying guys are to women. If you’re with a man who’s immature, it’s going to piss you off. I find that funny. But that’s probably because of the way I am with Leslie.

‘There’s a lot of bad pop psychology that talks about men wanting to go to their caves. But there’s something truthful about that. Because a lot of the time, men are so obsessed with their careers or escaping or hanging out with the boys, and women are constantly trying to drag them back.’

You’ve said before that there should be an Oscar for comedy. Why?

‘I feel like comedy is so devalued. It is just as hard to be as funny as Zach Galifianakis in “The Hangover” as it is as it is to play Lincoln.’

You work with a lot of funny people. Who is the funniest person you know?

‘Seth Rogen is really funny to pal around with. His comments as things are happening are riotously funny. And it’s effortless, he’s not “on”. Will Ferrell is very funny when he’s in the mood to be very funny.’

You make comedies about guys a bit like you. Ever had a burning ambition to write a sci-fi or thriller?

‘I’ve been trying to write a play about victims of the justice system in the United States – I feel like the country is a mess in that respect. But I like writing about things that I know. And it may be just a block – maybe I should kill someone in a movie and see what happens. But I’m just so much more focused on what’s wrong with me and my mind and why I can’t just settle down and be happy.’

This Is 40’ opens in UK cinemas on Thurs Feb 14.


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