Judd Apatow: Comedy is hard, but ‘it’s not hard to make people cry. Kill a dog’

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I recently saw The Big Sick, which I enjoyed a lot. My least favorite part of what was a really solid film was the fact that there were several moments where I felt like I could actually see Judd Apatow’s fingerprints on the script. I don’t even know how to properly describe it at this point, but Apatow-as-producer is so prevalent, I can just sense when Apatow had a hand in a script or film. It’s not that Apatow has bad instincts or makes bad choices as a producer – it’s that all of the films he works on sort of blend together, like he’s the official voice of American comedy now. It bugs. Anyway, Apatow has a lengthy (and I do mean LENGTHY) interview with NY Mag’s Vulture, and I thought some of you would enjoy his ramblings about feminism, comedy and more. You can read the full piece here. Some highlights:

He still believes in Twitter even if he thinks it’s not fun anymore: “Because comedians are supposed to point out madness and hypocrisy. What I’m doing is pretty straightforward: I think we have an incompetent, corrupt president, so I point that out. And it’s also the comedian’s job to give people some levity — we’re all so stressed out now from not being able to trust the person in charge of the country. Every comedian has to decide the tone of the joke that they’re comfortable with, but what are we all going to do? Not talk about what’s going on?”

Whether he’s a “traditionalist” who believes in people settling down & getting married. “I don’t know about traditionalist, but what I want is for characters to do better. I want people to get it. There’s only so many stories, right? Either someone gets it and learns a lesson or they don’t… I know who I am as a storyteller: I want to feel hope about people’s abilities to incrementally learn. This is related to the reason why you don’t see movies and television about Republican and conservative ideas — because Republicans are trying to present themselves as correct, as clean, as Mike Pence-y. Unlike them, I want people who actually evolve. Does it make me a traditionalist if the way they evolve is towards a healthy relationship? Maybe.

Comedy, politics & honesty: “We’re either going to be honest about what’s going on in our lives or we’re not. To me, what’s interesting is people telling the truth about the fact that they’re a mess. It doesn’t matter who they are. Hillary Clinton’s a mess. Trump is obviously a mess. But I do think Hillary Clinton could probably talk to you about what she struggles with and the mistakes she makes. Can you imagine Donald Trump doing that? Can you imagine him going to a therapist? He might do a better job if he did.”

Why broad comedies aren’t being made: “When you make the list of the best movies of all time, you’re always going to put Airplane! on it. And if movies like that aren’t being made right now, it’s because people aren’t smart enough and funny enough to make them. I don’t think it’s a result of studios or audiences rejecting anything or trying to copy anything else. If someone made a movie as funny as Airplane! right now it would make a billion dollars. Occasionally people try; most of the time they fail. When you do a big broad comedy and it fails, it’s an easy target for criticism. I also don’t think critics have a great respect for the effort it takes to make people piss their pants laughing. They think it’s more honorable to show someone in torment, but being able to do that doesn’t make you more of an artist than being able to make The Naked Gun. It’s not hard to make people cry. Kill a dog.

Whether he felt like feminist criticism or praise were warranted: “No. I never felt any of those criticisms were accurate. I produced Roseanne’s standup special in 1992. Freaks and Geeks was about Lindsay Weir… So, I never felt like the idea that I wasn’t interested in women or was portraying them negatively warranted much reflection. The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up are satires of immaturity, and in a lot of ways, the projects I worked on that people suddenly thought were about championing women were just the female version of that — of showing someone figuring out how to grow up. So no, none of my work has been a reaction to anything. People talk about the Bechdel Test. Leslie [Mann, his wife] has been giving me that test for decades.

Whether he thinks of himself as a feminist: “I don’t, at least not in those terms. I just try to do what’s right whenever I see the opportunity. I’m sure I make mistakes. But I’m not working with Lena because I want women to do better; I’m working with Lena because she’s so inspiring. With Bridesmaids, I never thought it’d be great if there was a movie that starred a lot of women and maybe that will help open some doors. It’s great if that ends up happening, but that sort of thinking is never the starting point. Same thing with The Big Sick. I’m not thinking about representing minorities. I’m not thinking about society. I’m thinking no one else’s ever made a movie about someone like this. That means it’s not going to be hacky. It’ll be new. Now let’s make it great.

[From Vulture]

I appreciate what he says here: “They think it’s more honorable to show someone in torment, but being able to do that doesn’t make you more of an artist than being able to make The Naked Gun. It’s not hard to make people cry. Kill a dog.” That’s really true – grief-p0rn, struggle-p0rn is the name of the game these days, especially if you want to win the big awards. It’s difficult – perhaps even MORE difficult – to make a solid comedy. As for what he says about not viewing himself as a feminist – I understand what he’s saying in context, in that he doesn’t have a sense of feminism that influences his career. But I wish he would have identified as a feminist ally, and I wish he would have acknowledged that as a white dude, he gets to brush off those criticisms and discussions and everyone is like “oh, he’s a hero!”

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11 Responses to “Judd Apatow: Comedy is hard, but ‘it’s not hard to make people cry. Kill a dog’”

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  1. JustJen says:

    I’m neutral on him, but his wife is fabulous!

  2. INeedANap says:

    I agree with what he says about comedy, which is interesting because I typically don’t like his style of comedy.

    And his comments on feminism…seem like what feminism is supposed to be? Treating people based on merit and not gender? Someone come get this boy and give him Feminism 101.

  3. Anon33 says:

    “How dare you suggest I haven’t been producing stories about strong women, when that’s all I do…but I’m not one of those pesky feminists!”

    The hardest of eye rolls for this pile of BS.

  4. lunchcoma says:

    Eh, I’d say it goes both ways. It’s not hard to make people laugh – anything involving poop at an inconvenient time will do. Getting a cry or a laugh without making people feel manipulated afterwards is hard.

  5. Pandy says:

    I appreciate anyone who can make me laugh. And he’s right. Comedy is more difficult than drama in many ways.

  6. Miss S says:

    I’m not going to give him a purity test. I understand what he says and agree with most of it.

  7. Lucy says:

    I didn’t read it as if he was rejecting feminism. To me, it sounded more like he doesn’t think of himself as an icon of the movement.

  8. elimaeby says:

    I’m a comedian, and I agree with the sentiment that it’s much harder to make people laugh than to make them empathetic. A lot of what makes us laugh is what makes us uncomfortable about ourselves. What makes us cry is our humanity, which most of us posses (Baby Fists, et. al. notwithstanding).

  9. DesertReal says:

    He has a wife who he respects, and a career he (seems to) support.
    He’s raising 2 funny thoughtful seemingly intelligent daughters.
    Why couldn’t his answer to whether or not he considers himself a feminist just be yes? Is it that hard? Difficult to say? Admit? Articulate in a way that doesn’t offend people who don’t know what it means?
    Interviews like this makes me want to slap people (sometimes).