Judd Apatow Breaks Down His Career, from ‘Superbad’ to ‘Freaks and Geeks’ | Vanity Fair

published on July 2, 2020

– I always enjoy working with people,

when it's not their 40th movie

People are great when
it's their 40th movie,

but it's different when
it's their first movie

and they really wanna score,

and they have so much energy and passion

When you get to you 40th
Harrison Ford movie,

he tends not to give you
that time, and he shouldn't

Hey Vanity Fair, this is Judd Apatow,

and this is the timeline of my career

– [Coworker] Good morning, Phil

– Good morning, okay

– And how are we, today?

– [sighs] We are great
[coffee splashes]

– Oh, thank God the rain just stopped, eh?

– The first thing that I ever directed

was The Larry Sanders Show

I never had the courage to ask Gary

to direct the Larry Sander Show

One day, he just walked
in my office and said,

"You're doing the next
one," which was terrifying

The weird thing was a
few weeks before that,

we were doing a show about a psychic,

and a psychic was
hanging around the office

and reading different people

And she said to me, "You're
gonna have a flood at your house

"and you're gonna direct soon"

And then, it rained and flooded my house

and then, two weeks later, Gary said,

"You're gonna direct the next one"

I saw that psychic for years
[jazzy piano music]

Once, that psychic told us to
be careful driving in Hawai'i

and it scared us so much that we went

to Hawai'i and never left the room

– Phil, do you like my outfit?

– Yes, I do

– Isn't it fetching?

– Yeah, that's not the
word I'm looking for

Excuse me
[upbeat rock music]

– [burps] Oh man, I gotta pee!

– How Freaks and Geeks happened was I said

to my good friend, Paul Fink,
"Do you have any ideas?"

And he said, "Let me think about it"

And then one day, he just
handed me an envelope

and it had Freaks and Geeks in it

It never works out like that

No one ever hands you
a script that's great

And you go, "All right, I
guess we'll just make that"

While in production, we
thought it was going well

and we really loved it, but we also knew

that some of the people who
ran the network didn't like it

So we always felt like it
was gonna end at any moment

And then, it did

We shot the finale in the middle

of our production 'cause we were so sure

that they were gonna
cancel us at any moment

that being neurotic, we just shot it,

episodes before the season was over just

in case the guillotine came down

And thank God that we did

– What if they trash the place,

'cause they think they're drunk?

– They won't
[old, upbeat music]

I don't think

– This could be bad

– Support whatever decision you make

– Thanks

Your support's awesome, you guys

Just really great to have you around

So I need the rent

– North Hollywood's a pilot
we did in 2002, I think

It was about a bunch of people who wanted

to be in show businesses
who were struggling,

living in North Hollywood

So it was Amy Poehler and
her day job was working

as Judge Reinhold's assistant;

Jason Segel, who played Frankenstein

on the Universal Studios tour;

and Kevin Heart, who had a
lot of money 'cause he was

in a beer commercial that was
questionable in its content

We made this show,
probably, mainly inspired

by the vibe of Curb Your Enthusiasm

ABC said they wanted edgy programming

And we had January Jones in it

and Adam McKay was acting in it

and we really had the best time
making it, but in the middle

of making it, we heard that
ABC changed their theory

about what they wanted the network to be

And they wanted it to be
more retro, like Happy Days

And while we were shooting, we thought,

they're never ever gonna order this

And they didn't

I always thought they would call and go,

"Okay, we don't wanna do this show,

"but we can tell all these
people are gonna be stars"

And they never called, they
showed no interest in anybody

– This is really embarrassing for me,

but I don't have money to
pay for the rent right now

I was hoping you could float
me for a couple of days

– I think I was in love, once

– Really, what was her name?

– I don't remember

– That's not a good start, but keep going

– Will Ferrell and Adam
McKay wrote the script,

Anchorman, and they showed it to me

and the first drafts were
really hilarious and crazy

It was about the anchor team flying

to an anchorman convention,
the plane crashes,

and they wind up on
the side of a mountain,

where they all are trying to survive

And it almost becomes like the movie,

"Alive," but with anchormen

And we were trying to get it made

for years and slowly, they
started changing the story

because nobody would make
this crazy version of it

I always thought that they
should still make that version,

that at some point, they
should go back and do that

– I love lamp

I love lamp

– You really wanna know what love is?

– Yeah

– Yes, tell us

– They were nice

You know, when you grab a woman's breast

and you feel and it
feels like a bag of sand,

when you're touching it

– I was one of the producers of Anchorman

and I would watch Steve
Carell on the set every day

and he was always so hysterical

So one day, I walked up to him

and I said, "Do you have any ideas

"about you being the star of the movie?"

And then a few days later,
he walked up to me and said,

"Ya know, I was working on this sketch

"I never really figured
out, at Second City,

"about a 40 year old virgin"

And then he said with the
sketch, it was like a poker game

and everyone's telling sex stories

and my character's clearly
lying 'cause he's never had sex

And he's saying, "You know when
you touch a woman's breast,

"it feels like a bag of sand?

"Then you go down her pants

"and there's all the baby powder?"

And I said, "I think this is
something that we need to do"

One of the most fun parts of
making "The 40 Year-Old Virgin"

was were able to put in a lot of people

that we thought were great,
who weren't giant stars yet

So Jane Lynch played his
boss and she was hysterical

And then, we had Mindy Kaling
as Paul Rudd's ex-girlfriend,

who he was obsessed over and I think

that was her first time in a movie

Romany Malco was someone that we love,

he did an independent movie with Paul Rudd

called, "The Chateau," and
they were so funny together

that we thought we should use them both

In this movie, Gerry Bednob
was a comedian that I used

to always work with in the
valley at the LA Cabaret

and we made him one of the
bosses at the stereo store

One of my favorite scenes is
when he's talking so filthy

to Steve Carell 'cause
Steve was always so funny,

reacting to people being filthy

So Seth Rogen was on the side,

writing up all these dirty phrases

and handing them to Gerry Bednob

– It's not about these rusty trombones,

and these dirty Sanchez

– Please stop

– And these Cincinnati bow ties

– Mooj

– I would do terrible, disgusting things

to hook up with Jules,
unforgivable things

– I hear you, man, I'd give my middle nut

to start dating Becca

– Becca's a bitch

– "Superbad" began when I
was working with Seth Rogen

on "Freaks and Geeks" and he
always talked about how him

and his friend Evan Goldberg
had been writing a script

since they were 13 or 14 years old,

and then after "Freaks
and Geeks" was canceled,

we were working on "Undeclared" together,

and we did a table read with
the cast of "Undeclared"

reading "Superbad" and
it was really hilarious,

but for years, nobody had
any interest in making it

And at one point, the producer
joined us 'cause we thought,

"Maybe we're not powerful enough,"

so we got this powerful
producer to jump on the project

to help us, and then suddenly he got hired

to be the head of a studio and we thought,

"Well now we're gonna get to make it"

And the first decision he made
as the head of the studio,

was to not make the movie
that he was the producer of

We started the casting
process with our director,

Greg Mottola, and he loved Michael Cera,

as did Seth and Evan, and we
were just all in love with him

But it was really hard to
figure out who was as good

as Michael Cera, Michael Cera's
the greatest in the world

And then one day we just got frustrated

because we couldn't
figure out who to cast,

and Jonah was just
hanging around on the set

of "Knocked Up" and we
all just looked at him

and went, "Do you wanna shave really good

"and put yourself on tape?"

And then he did

And then we realized he
was always a shave away

from playing a high school student

– This whole thing is bigger than you,

Fogell, so grow a pair of nuts

and fucking walk in there
and buy the alcohol

– What if I don't feel like
it anymore, Seth, what?

– Then I'll fucking kill you

– What?

– I'm pregnant

– With emotion?

– With a baby, you're the father

– How "Knocked Up" happened,
is I was sitting with Seth

and Seth was pitching
me some ideas for movies

and they were big, science
fiction type of ideas,

and I was trying to convince
him that he was so funny

that he didn't need anything like that

I was trying to kill his imagination

So I said, "You know, Seth, you're funny

"just standing there, you
don't need any of that

"You could just, like get someone pregnant

"and that's enough for a movie"

And then we went, "Wait a second"

It was great working
with Seth as the lead,

I think that people always work
harder when its their big

lead break

So I always enjoy working with people

when it's not their 40th movie

People are great when
it's their 40th movie,

but it's different when
it's that first movie

and they really wanna score,
and they have so much energy

and passion, so when we auditioned people

to play what became
Katherine Heigl's part,

Seth read with every single
woman who came in, for months,

and that's part of how he
developed his character,

was by reading with a
hundred different people

And when you get to your
40th Harrison Ford movie,

he tends not to give you that time

And he shouldn't

– Okay?
– Okay

– I couldn't take it, I
can't raise this baby alone

– Remember, and it gets all–

– You don't get it, see you
don't understand how it works

I don't wanna shop at old lady stores

I wanna go to J Jill and
Chico's and Ann Taylor Loft,

I'm not ready yet, I need two more years

– That is so insane,
it kind of makes sense

– We were trying to figure
out a way to talk about

that moment when you turn 40
and you look at your life,

and you just have to
assess how it's going

And we came up with this idea

that they would have birthdays
in a similar time frame

and they would have some sort of fight

and nervous breakdown which
would make everything bubble up

to the surface, and we were really lucky

to get a chance to work with Albert Brooks

and John Lithgow on the movie

That was very, very
exciting, having them around

That was the dream, I didn't
even think it'd be possible

to get them in any of my movies

– Happy birthday and go fuck yourself

– Hey, see you when the
Cubs win the pennant

– I got to work with Maud and Iris

They were a little bit
older, and so it was fun

to find a way to show their
sibling rivalry on screen

And sometimes I was just
setting up multiple cameras,

giving them a subject
and letting them actually

have a fight, and then
Paul and Leslie always

have such hilarious chemistry as a couple

And I would get such a
kick out of coming up

with scenarios that would make us laugh,

and a lot of it was based on
things that all our friends

were talking about, and
we were talking about

at the time, about
flashpoints of a couple,

what drives each other
crazy about their behavior

The most fun about making
movies like "This is 40"

is working with Leslie, we
collaborate on all the scenes

and all the ideas, so we
do get the chance to sit

with each other and come
up with comedic takes

on these different situations

that have driven each other crazy

The funny thing about that movie is,

the poster is Paul on
an iPad, on the toilet

And at the time, in 2011, the
joke of an annoying husband

who's always sneaking away to get a break

and play video games on his
iPad, was kind of a new joke

No one had really made that joke before

about sneaking off to be on your phone,

and now it's our entire lives

– Hey

– What are you doing?

– Going to the bathroom

– Mahalo

♪ Everybody hates you ♪
[piano music]

♪ Everybody wishes that you were dead ♪

– When we were working
on "Freaks and Geeks,"

I loved working with Jason Segel

He really made me laugh, and
he was so creative and smart

I kept saying to him, "I
don't know if you're gonna

"get a movie that's perfect
for you as the lead,

"'cause you're kinda like a weird guy

"I don't know if you'll match in perfectly

"with scripts that are laying around town

"I think you probably need to write it

"to show people what you can do"

And one day he pitched me the story

for "Forgetting Sarah Marshall,"

and he wasn't a big star at that moment

He was kind of between
things in his career,

he was just getting going
on "How I Met Your Mother,"

and I said "You know, to
get the studio to make this,

"the script has to be unbelievably great"

And Nick Stoller, who was
a writer in "Undeclared,"

said "Can I direct that, and
I'll help him with the script?

"I'll give him notes
and see what I can do"

And the script was unbelievable,

and then they let him make that
movie and then they all got

to hang out in Hawai'i for many months

♪ 'Cause Peter you suck ♪
[piano music]

♪ Peter you suck ♪

♪ Peter your music is fucking terrible ♪

♪ Peter you suck ♪

– It's no the right casino, wait!

– Ah!

Sh, calm down

– I'm having a heart attack

You're not having a heart attack, are you?

Jesus, why can't
everything be this simple?

After "Forgetting Sarah Marshall,"

Nick Stoller and I were so taken

by Russell Brand, we were trying

to think of something
else to do with Russell

Obviously, we wanted to do
something else with Jonah Hill

Nick had this idea about having
Russell play a rock star

And Jonah Hill playing someone

at the record company who has to deal

with this out of control rock star

Our problem was that Jonah played a waiter

in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall"

So it made no sense that if we

had Russell play the same
character that he played

in Sarah Marshall, wouldn't
Jonah be the waiter?

And we shot something when we shot,

"Get Him to the Greek"
where we reference him

as having been a waiter in his
past, but then we cut it out

and just decided who cares about logic?

[flames burst]

– Now, this is what the
music industry is all about

– Sergio's gone crazy

– I love this game!

– I never wanna kill anybody else again

– Ever

– Yeah, that's something you
can just dip your toes into

– Ya know?
– Ya know,

it's like we dipped our toes into murder

It's done, let's move on
– I killed six guys

– For years, Seth and
Evan and I were trying

to get "Superbad" made and
nobody would pay for it

And I was trying to
think of something else

that they could do that
might be more commercial

And I always had this idea
about a pot head action movie,

because I love "True Romance,"

and there was that scene with Brad Pitt,

where all the assassins come
in and he's really high

And it was one of my favorite
scenes and I thought,

"I wish that was the whole movie

"I wish you followed Brad Pitt out

"and he was on the run
from the assassins"

So I said, "Why don't you guys try

"to come up with a movie
based on that thought?"

And Seth and Evan wrote
this amazing script

And then, we found out that
that was way less commercial

than "Superbad" and everyone
said no to that, also

And only after "Superbad" did well,

did somebody say, "You
guys have anything else?"

And we were like, "Well,
we have this other thing

"that everyone rejects all the time"

And that was "Pineapple Express"

– I shot someone who was already dead,

so that doesn't really count as a murder

– But apparently, you hit
him with your car, I'm told

You killed him

– Why are you telling me this, George?

– 'Cause I want you to
possibly do me a favor

– Okay yeah, what?

– Kill me

– What?

– For a long time before "Funny People,"

I was trying to think
about how to make a movie

about why we like making comedy
and how we feel about it

Are we crazy, are we egomaniacs,

are we paying some sort of price

for this obsession, is it making us jerks?

And I also wanted to write about

observing my mom when she was sick

and how when she didn't
think she was going

to live, she seemed happier

And then, when she thought
the medicine was working,

she got very neurotic,
again, and caught up in life

And I would see that happen, time

and time again over many years

So the movie became about, can we

accept the wisdom that
being ill provides us?

And one day, I realized oh,
maybe that's the same movie

as the movie about why are we
in comedy, what does it mean?

I talked to Adam Sandler
early in the process

of writing "Funny People"

So he was a big part of
helping me develop the idea

And it was always my
dream to work with Adam

We were roommates when we were kids,

when we were first
starting out in standup

I had never gotten a chance to
direct him in a movie before

and one of the great pleasures
of my life was how fun he was

to work with and what
a great actor he was

He was always a great friend
but it was the first time I got

to see up close how
brilliant he is in his work

I always knew that Erin Cabana was funny

I had seen online these
crazy sketches he used to do

He had some sort of variety show

in Australia and he used
to do Arnold Schwarzenegger

and he had this really
hysterical Tom Cruise Impression

that he did

So I was very excited to put him

in a comedy because he was
really getting these incredibly

serious parts, intense parts,

but he hadn't shown his
comedic side yet, in a movie

And he was so fun to work with

– He's really funny

I don't know why his movies
aren't funny, though

That's weird, isn't it?

– And then, we also laugh because we feel

like we're such goofy idiots

So when a real actor shows
up who knows what he's doing,

who's way better looking than all of us,

it always makes us laugh,
like "Look, a professional

"A professional's here
today, working with us

"How did this happen?"

– Kill me, Ira

I'm begging you

– Can you at least give me
a night to think about it?

– Ha!

– Dude, you had sex with him

[plate clinks]

– We had an adult sleepover

– Hmm, did you let him
sleep over in your mouth?

– I was always a huge
fan of Kristen Wiig's

I saw her in the first
episode that she was

on of Saturday Night Live, and she killed

on the first episode she
was on, which nobody does

Usually it takes people a
long time to get comfortable

on the show, so we put her in "Knocked Up"

and she played an
executive at the E! Channel

and she was so funny in
these scenes with Alan Tudyk,

giving Katherine Heigl all
this awful, insulting advice

And her part didn't exist,
it was all made up by her

in improvisations, then we
worked together on "Walk Hard"

She played Dewey Cox's first wife

who didn't think he was gonna make it

So we were always
looking for opportunities

to work with her, and one day her

and Annie Mumolo said
they wanted to do a movie

about a maid of honor
who can't really afford

to even do all the events
and the things that she needs

to do for her friend, and
how it made her feel bad

that everyone seemed to be
doing better in life than her

And at the time, we didn't
even think it was a movie

that was a female-driven comedy

It never even occurred
to us, we just thought,

"Oh, we're making a movie with Kristen"

And then when it was done,
people started saying,

"Oh isn't this great, a
female-driven comedy"

And we were like, "Oh, I guess"

I mean that really wasn't
something that was on our minds,

we just thought, "Let's make a movie

"with all these hilarious women"

We didn't think it had any meaning,

we didn't think it was significant

But then afterwards, I
think it became important

that it was such a big
hit and was so funny,

because I hope it opened up opportunities

for other people to make movies

– Holy shit, you look amazing
[all exclaim]

That dress is so pretty
it makes my stomach hurt

– We're professors, Hannah, professors

We can't keep bankrolling
your groovy lifestyle

– My groovy lifestyle?

– Somebody slipped me a
DVD of this movie called

"Tiny Furniture" that Lena Dunham made

and I didn't know who Lena Dunham was

I didn't even know that she
was the person in the movie

I thought that she was the
filmmaker of the movie,

and then when the movie ended it said,

"written and directed by Lena
Dunham, starring Lena Dunham"

and I was like, "Oh my god,
so that girl did all of this"

And I felt a real connection to her

She does very personal work,
she's so funny and open

and brave, and I feel like
a lot of the work I did

on "The King of Staten
Island" was inspired

by lessons I learned from
collaborating with her,

because she was always so courageous

about really baring her
soul in all of these scripts

and all of these stories

– Hannah, look at me

He never, ever texts you back

– Maybe we should call him,
I mean didn't you say texting

is the lowest form of communication
on the pillar of chat?

– Hey there, it's Darren

– Oh, this is Amy

I think you butt dialed me

– No, no I dialed you with my fingers

– What's she saying, what's she saying?

– Shh

I was a giant fan of Amy
Schumer's from her standup,

and I heard her on The
Howard Stern Show talking

about her family, and her relationships,

and I asked her if she
wanted to work on a movie

and at first we worked on a
different movie for a while,

and then one day we just sat down

and we started talking
about relationships,

and Amy came up with the
idea for "Trainwreck"

and it was one of the
great, fun experiences

We got to work with Colin
Quinn, who played her dad,

who's someone that I did a
pilot with 15 years before,

who was the biggest star
we knew when I was a kid

He was on Remote Control,
and he would talk to us

and he was the comedian we looked up to,

so it was great to work with Colin Quinn

Bill Hader is somebody that
has been in a few of our movies

and it was real fun to
try to have him play

this leading romantic lead,
which he always found funny

He thought it was a weird thing

that he would be the romantic lead

I found him romantic

But before he got the part,
I went to New York with Bill

and had him and Amy hang
out and have dinner,

almost like a date, and I sat at the table

and just watched them, and he said

it was the most uncomfortable
thing he's ever gone through,

just me creepily deciding
if they were sexy together

– Did you guys make love?

– Yeah

– Oh, woo!

My boy got intimate

– Yeah

– Sexual intercourse, woo!

– What do you think the
employee discount is

at the dollar store?

[crowd chuckles]

There you are

You think it's just take it?

– "Crashing" began when
Pete Holmes had a talk show

and he asked if he could come do a sketch

where he pitched me movie ideas,

and in the sketch he's pitching
me tons of terrible ideas

for movies, and we're improvising,

and in the improvisation I said,

"But seriously, Pete, what's the idea?

"Do you have any ideas for like a movie

"or a TV show, like come on,
what's the personal idea?

"Tell me the idea"

And in the sketch, he said
"Well, I was a young comedian

"and I was married and
my wife cheated on me,

"and then I was religious
and I went to New York

"to try to be a comedian
and I had to crash

"on a lot of people's couches"

And in the sketch, I said,

"Yeah no, that's too sad

"That's too sad, no
one wants to see that"

But then six months later, he called me

and he said "I kinda
really do wanna do that

"idea I was talking about in the sketch"

And that joke became the show

– I thought maybe I could go on earlier,

you know, while the crowd is still here

– Yeah, yeah

Nah

– What do you mean, nah?

– Please welcome the
lovely Garry Shandling!

– [Male Host] Garry
Shandling is over here

Here he is, Garry Shandling

– [Female Host] Garry Shandling

– Ten years
– It's been ten years

since you were here,
isn't that remarkable?

– It's remarkable

– And is there a problem?

[crowd laughs]

– "Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling" began

when I was helping his family
go through his belongings

and he had all these incredible journals

and memorabilia from his life
and these books with thousands

of jokes, and when we held
the memorial service for him,

I cut these little five
minute documentary pieces

about him and pretty quickly, I realized

there was a great documentary
to be made about our friend

And I got permission from
his family, and I called HBO

and I said "I think this
might need to be two parts

"It might need to be like
the Bob Dylan documentary"

And I said, "How come Bob Dylan's

worth four, four and half hours?

"Garry's worth same amount
of time as Bob Dylan"

And they said "Well, if
it works at that length,

"we'll do it"

And that's what we did

I was excited that it got
such a great reception,

because I really felt like
there were all these ideas

that Garry wanted to share with the world

that were related to his spirituality,

to all the work he had done
to try to heal himself,

to focus on love and
kindness and Buddhism,

and he was just beginning
to understand how

to find a way through art to
talk to people about that

So in my mind, I always
felt like this movie was,

hopefully, what Garry was
trying to express to people

– [Garry] As you grow, you
have to find a new purpose

and intention for doing what
you do, or you won't grow

– I wanna become a real tattoo artist

– Your work is mad inconsistent

Obama ain't right

– I love your tattoos,
this is my favorite

– I met Pete Davidson when
I was casting "Trainwreck"

I said to Amy Schumer, "Who's funny?"

She said "There's this kid, Pete Davidson

"He's 20 years old, he's way funnier

"than he has any right to be at that age"

So he gave a very, very
brief cameo in the movie,

and Bill Hader enjoyed
working with him so much

that the next day he called him and said,

"I'm gonna recommend you to Lorne Michaels

"for Saturday Night Live,"
and then he auditioned

and he got Saturday Night Live

Over the next few years,
we talked about one script

that he worked on with
his partner, Dave Sirus,

and then after a few
years we realized maybe

that wasn't the one, and
we slowly started talking

about this idea, which became
"The King of Staten Island"

"The King of Staten Island"
is made up, it's fiction

but we like to think of
it as emotionally truthful

because it is about a
lot of what Pete went

through in his life

His father was a firefighter
who died on 9/11,

and that was something that
was very, very difficult

for him to deal with as a
kid and throughout his life

And in this movie, it's
a bit of an imagining

of what might have happened to Pete

if he didn't find comedy,
because at about 15 years old,

he started going to comedy clubs

and through comedy and
getting on stage and traveling

around, he became a very
ambitious, driven person

But in the movie, he's
someone that didn't find

that interest, and he's
just sitting around,

smoking pot, hanging out with his friends,

and he's about to get in a lot of trouble

In the movie, his mom,
played by Marisa Tomei,

hasn't really dated since his father died

And she starts dating a fireman,

and this forces Pete's character to have

to deal with all the issues and obstacles

that have held him back in his life

And what we were trying to do is,

hopefully a really funny movie,

but a movie which talks about grief

and how people and families get

through that kind of traumatic event

Recently, I was talking to Mindy Kaling

and she said, "You know, I
think in all your movies,

"somebody's stuck, like they're stuck

"It's about them getting unstuck"

And I never thought of
that, my entire career,

that that's what it was, and I thought,

"I think she's right, I think
Mindy Kaling understands me

"more than I understand me"

And then I felt really weird

That's it, Vanity Fair, that
was a timeline of my career

I am exhausted from reliving it

[sighs heavily]

I hope your day is good

Be well, be safe

I'll be here, for the next year

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