Immaturity is funny, so says all-American comedy maven Judd Apatow, who’s best known for creating the genius, short-lived, cult TV show, Freaks and Geeks and his ensuing plethora of raunchy blockbusters. What Judd’s not so known for is his abridged stand-up career, which ran shorter than Webster’s legs. After an early 90’s writing and producing gig on The Ben Stiller Show, Apatow saw the light, dropped his microphone, and left the stage in the dark. But, now that he’s more wildly successful than he could’ve ever imagined, he’s returning to his first love – stress free. Judd Apatow is a dreamer.
So, why now? What made Judd Apatow, the bearded man with busty box-office mojo, return to stand-up today?
At a recent show in Los Angeles, Judd explained how he suddenly developed a fear of public speaking. A little over a year ago, he was one of the scheduled presenters at an American Film Institute tribute for legend Mel Brooks – one of Judd’s (and everyone else’s) comic heroes. He watched with horror as one big name speaker after another killed it. He began freaking out and visibly started sweating. Normally, he’d look to his beautiful, practical wife, Leslie Mann, for encouragement. “She’d tell me to stop being silly and that everything will be fine. You’re funny. You’re going to be great.”
Except, on this night, Judd’s escort was one of his brutally honest, young daughters who’s appeared on-screen in some of Daddy’s films. He told her he was so nervous that he didn’t think he could go on. She turned to him, and said, with remarkable sincerity, “Then don’t! Don’t do it!” Awash with a confident meltdown, Judd quickly sought out the show’s Director and told him he could no longer go on. He didn’t, and the show ended up winning an Emmy without him. Judd Apatow is a troubled man.
This past summer, in between takes from his movie day job, Judd began popping up at the Comedy Cellar in New York City for short sets. Just testing things out – having some fun. He’s done no press about his casual return, instead choosing to keep a low profile. He’s simply doing it for the joy. His TV shows and Films may be for everyone, but his stand-up is for him. Although, he does tweet out many of his “surprise” appearances in advance. After all, comedy needs an audience.
Back home in Hollywood, Apatow hosts and performs at a semi-regular gig called “Judd Apatow and Friends” at the intimate Largo at the Coronet, a favorite spot among performers because of the venue’s strict no phones/cameras/drinks policy. Judd’s “friends” have included Adam Sandler, David Spade, Garry Shandling, Whitney Cummings, Louis CK, Ryan Adams, the Avett Brothers and Jackson Browne. At a recent Saturday night show, Judd admitted the show’s gotten a lot bigger than him. The buzz on his desire to do comedy is no longer the main attraction. And he’s okay with that. He loves comedians and loves entertaining. Judd Apatow is a comedy fanatic.
In an on-stage exchange with Sandler, Adam told the audience, “Judd was the only comic who liked other comedians.” Sandler, who lived with Apatow during their early years in Los Angeles, admitted, “Judd was always the nice guy.” Sandler recalled the time Apatow tried to get him to listen to an early Norm Macdonald record. Sandler was like, “Fuck him.” Despite Adam’s self-professed youthful arrogance, Apatow confessed, “Adam was always the funniest among us. Everyone knew he was going to make it.”
I’ve seen Judd perform twice now. He’s engaging, comfortable and yes, funny. Judd Apatow is the immature version of Jerry Seinfeld. To him, farts, bodily functions and genitalia will always be funny. And Sandler agrees. The two mentioned that farting, along with Adam asking to see Judd’s penis, were common occurrences when the two lived together. Not much has changed. Sandler told a story about recently farting in front of Selma Hayek’s daughter, who, like her mother, doesn’t find much humor in it. For the record, Adam says his own young daughters still think it’s funny. As did Judd.
The plain-clothed Apatow and Superman T-shirt donning Sandler seemed as natural a pair as any classic comedy duo, which, makes you wonder, if there’s a future with both sharing the stage on a more regular basis. It’s been 20 years since Adam Sandler toured as a stand-up, and 10 years since his last comedy album. The two worked together in 2009’s Funny People, which, not coincidentally, centered on a stand-up comedian. The film was also, curiously, their only professional collaboration. While the long-running rapport between the two icons was obvious, they really shined during their solo performances. As Adam performed several original comedy songs, Judd beamed from the stage in pure admiration. Judd Apatow is a comedy aficionado.
Judd opened his 30-minute set by recognizing the evening’s benefactor, The David Lynch Foundation, which brings Transcendental Mediation to at-risk individuals in Los Angeles. Apatow admitted he’s tried to meditate, but, “It’s difficult when you hate yourself.” He said his mantra should be “asshole” because that’s all he hears in his head. Judd Apatow adds fuel to the comedy consensus that all comics are inherently miserable.
Judd then went on to discuss Bill Cosby, claiming, “He was the reason I got into comedy.” Judd now questions what this says about himself. He pulled out some old Cosby comedy album jokes and read the transcripts in his best Bill Cosby voice. The jokes were uncomfortably funny and fiercely relevant. Apatow profoundly concluded, “We’re all in Bill Cosby hell.”
One of the biggest laughs of the two nights came when Judd mentioned his daughter getting in trouble at school. She dropped the “F” bomb during a schoolyard swing incident. Apatow proudly boasted to us, and to the teacher who relayed the event to him, “We’re a fuck house.” That’s one cool Dad, right? Not according to Apatow’s kids. “My kids think I’m lame. I’m like, if I’m not the cool Dad, who is? I make movies about drugs and sex!” Such a simple, truthful observation; yet, Judd knew how to make it spectacularly funny.
Serendipitously, I ended up sitting directly behind Mann at one of the shows. I witnessed her genuinely laugh at pretty much everything that came out of her leading man’s mouth. Leslie Mann has a great laugh – just the kind of laugh a guy who depends on laughter for a living could desperately fall in love with. The two married in 1997. She’s been a staple in many of Judd’s films since. In This is 40, she seduces Paul Rudd and says the word “fuck” with unbridled magnificence and splendor. And why shouldn’t she? Leslie Mann is the Queen of the ‘House of Fuck.’ And Judd Apatow is the King – albeit, an unlikely one.
Judd will be the first to tell you he got lucky landing the spunky actress and California charmer. According to Judd, he suffered through like 900 rejections from other women before the magic happened with Leslie. The two met during the making of Judd’s first film, The Cable Guy. The man with an under-stated confidence, confidently claims he knew he would marry her as soon as they met. Letting his friends go down on her in his movies was a bonus. Judd Apatow is a romantic.
Much like Apatow did with Sandler, Judd led Garry Shandling in a casual comedic Q&A, which included a diatribe on how Garry fucked Judd over in a house he sold him in 1994. A week after he bought the house, it was seriously damaged in the Northridge Earthquake. The fucking continued when Judd later sold the house to a 3rd party who ended up suing him for a septic tank issue.
Seeing Garry and Judd together reminded me why I got into TV writing -The two worked together on HBO’s first landmark series, The Larry Sanders Show – a show which revolutionized TV. Like Judd use to do before he got famous, I boldly cold-called a Hollywood insider – Sanders producer, John Ziffren, who actually invited me to the set; and years later, I wrote a spec for the show, Not Just The Return of Larry Sanders.
Today, Apatow’s influence is generously sprinkled through out Hollywood like the sprinkles atop a Bababooey inspired Crumbs cupcake. Judd just celebrated his 47th birthday and one of his original proteges, Seth Rogen, simply thanked him “for existing.” By the way, all of Judd’s Largo performances benefit various local charities and causes. You see, besides just being abundantly funny, Judd Apatow is a mensch.
Now, if only I can get Judd to mentor me. Perhaps we can begin my development process by exploring our common obsession with that handsome musician from New Jersey, the one they call The Boss.
Judd Apatow’s next scheduled appearance on stage with his friends is tonight. It’s sold out. Zach Galifianakis is one of the announced guests…Judd Apatow is a friend.
Laughspin editor Dylan Gadino sat down with Judd Apatow this past summer to chat about his return to stand-up, his upcoming movie Trainwreck with Amy Schumer and more. Check it out below.