Thursday, January 28, 2016

Judd, The No-Longer Obscure

If you had to pick a single person to represent modern comedy, it would probably be Judd Apatow.  As a young man he wrote material for stand-up comedians (after giving up the art form himself), including Roseanne Barr and Garry Shandling.  Then he was a writer and producer on The Ben Stiller Show and The Larry Sanders Show.  Then he created Freaks And Geeks and Undeclared before going mostly into the movies.  For instance, he's written and directed The 40-Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up and This Is 40 and is still going strong, having directed Trainwreck last year.  Along the way he's also produced Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Superbad, Pineapple Express, Step Brothers and Bridesmaids.  Quite a resume.

Growing up, Apatow was a self-described comedy nerd.   Comedians like Mel Brooks, Woody Allen and the Monty Python troupe were his personal gods. He watched shows like Saturday Night Live religiously, even transcribing them to try to understand how they did what they did.

In high school, he worked for the school's radio station. As such, he would call up his favorite comedians' managers and line up interviews.  Plenty of them fell for it, and soon the comedian would find himself being interviewed by a fifteen-year-old kid with a tape recorder.  These tapes were collecting dust until Apatow decided to make a book out of them.

But not just them.  To complete his book, he went around interviewing a number of other modern names in comedy.   In fact, the book is made up of three types of interviews--the old interviews from the 1980s, the new interviews, and transcripts of interviews he's done over the past several years during big events or for magazine publication.

They're arranged quite oddly.  Instead of chronologically, they're alphabetical--and then by the first name.  I'm not sure if this is whimsy or if Apatow had a point to make. In any case, I don't think it makes too much difference.

The young Apatow figured he could get his own comedy career going if only these comedians would explain to him just how to do it.  They're quite helpful, and quite accommodating, to this young man. This interviews include such illustrious names as Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, Harry Anderson, Jay Leno, Martin Short, Michael O'Donoghue (who's not the type to suffer fools gladly), Sandra Bernhard and voluble old-timer Steve Allen.

Later interviews, including names like Adam Sandler (a roommate before either was famous), Albert Brooks, Chris Rock, Harold Ramis, James L. Brooks, Jmmy Fallon, Jon Stewart, Louis C.K. Mel Brooks, Mike Nichols, Sarah Silverman and Steve Martin, not to mention catch-up interviews with Seinfeld and Shandling--feel different.  By this point, Apatow is a peer, and often they compare notes--about success and failure, about family and career, even about religion--and maybe talk a bit less about the pure mechanics of comedy.

When it's so easy to go to YouTube and see interviews with famous entertainers, perhaps such a book doesn't seem necessary.  But its secret, I suppose, is it reveals more about Apatow than it does about its subjects.

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