It’s intriguing to see Judd Apatow hard at work behind the scenes of a film he’s directing and every time we’ve been on one of his sets, he’s always welcoming and more than willing to talk to us at great length. On the set of Funny People was no different (Read Set Visit Report).
Q: Can you explain the location? Why is the scene being shot here?
Judd Apatow: We just wanted to get out of the apartment. We asked, “Where would they go?” Then we decided: three goofy guys in shorts exercising seemed a way to make it more colorful. And they claim to do this every once in awhile. I haven’t done it. I didn’t know there was so many people who loved their dogs so much and walked with them and cared about them. There’s a lot of people with very interesting relationships with dogs walking around here. Including Gene Simmons.
Q: Did you see him walk by?
Apatow: Yeah, I did. Victoria Jackson walked by.
Q: This is the first time that Adam Sandler has been in a movie that you directed. What’s that experience been like?
Apatow: It’s been great. He’s shot most of his stuff. He just has a little bit left. We’re shooting just with Seth and Jonah and Jason. It’s been easy. There’s been no problems. No drama at all. We talked about it for a long time, almost two years before we shot so there weren’t a lot of surprises. And we shot a lot of stand-up. So that was fun. And we’d worked on an act for his character to do and so a lot of performance. He hadn’t done stand-up in 12 years, and when we lived together–we lived together in like 1990–we used to go to The Improv every night to do stand-up and that’s how we started. So we shot the other day at The Improv and it was really exciting. When we were there back in the day we always hoped we could make a movie or do anything so it was nice to be there now.
Q: It’s like you have the different generations of comedy in this. The old school, the new guys, the Funny or Die or ones you’d find on YouTube. They seem like they’re all represented in your film. Was that part of what you were trying to do?
Apatow: Well, I wanted to do a life or death story about somebody dealing with a serious illness and the challenges of being sick and the challenges of getting better, but what would make it different is if it takes place in the world of all these strange comedians. So it just seemed odder than your normal tale of struggle and disease. The movie’s a lot about ego and egomania and why do people want people to like them so much and when you feel the need for approval and so it’s a universal theme I think for everyone in the world, but more so for comedians who really go for it hard.
Q: This seems like a departure for you. I know you’re a fan of James L. Brooks and this almost seems like a James L. Brooks kind of film.
Apatow: I’m always trying to make a screwed up version of a James Brooks movie or a Cameron Crowe movie. For me, that’s the bar and it’s somewhat unattainable. So for me we’ll see what happens. Before I start a movie I’ll watch “Almost Famous” or “Terms of Endearment” and see that type of work I grasp. I fail but hopefully it still interests me.
Q: Can you talk a bit more about getting Eric Bana? He really hasn’t had a chance yet to do a comedy.
Apatow: Eric Bana is hilarious and he started out as a comedian and a sketch actor. He had his own series in Australia. And his movies have been very serious – there’s certainly some funny things in the movies he’s done, but he hasn’t done any hard comedies, not that this is one. But he seemed like the perfect person to have in the movie because I wanted the film to be filled with different people who are funny and he’s someone who is great at something but most people just don’t know it. People will think he’s starting from scratch because they haven’t seen him do a lot of it, and he is hilarious. He’s fantastic.
Q: Can you talk a bit about the impetus for the story? You said it’s an idea that you’ve been kicking around for awhile.
Apatow: I always wanted to do a mentor movie because a lot of comedians were really good to me when I was starting out but nothing interesting ever happened because everyone was just nice. So I slowly figured out a story about the person you look up to going through a meltdown of some sort. Eventually it clicked in that it could be Adam. And because he’s a great stand-up comedian but no one knows it, it would be interesting to have him do stand-up again. I also could use in the movie footage from early in his career to establish his life that nobody has really seen for a long time and it would be an interesting mix of this fabricated characters and these clips that actually exist of him when he was starting out doing comedy.
Q: You mentioned earlier that you were roommates with Adam. Is this based off anything autobiographical?
Apatow: Not really. I mean only in the sense that, although I lived with Adam, I always had a sense he was going to do really well. And even though we were the same age, on some level you look up to him because he’s so great at what he does and you felt like he was this rocket ship that was gonna take off. Even before anything happened everyone knew it was going to because it’s so rare that you meet someone that funny and charismatic. So there’s some texture to it but it’s based on a lot of people in the world of comedy and how those relationships form between younger comedians and older comedians.
Q: Do you think he’s underrated as a dramatic actor?
Apatow: Yeah, I think he’s a fantastic actor who is really easy and fun working with him. And some of those scenes are very difficult because there’s scenes when he’s hilarious and the next scene he’s going through a bad moment when he’s ill and he changes gears very easily and it’s believable and heartbreaking in moments. I cry my eyes out every time I see “Punch Drunk Love.” The last 20 minutes I just cried the whole time.
Q: Can you talk about when you first started doing stand-up and how brutal it was or difficult?
Apatow: The first time I did stand-up I invited my friends to come and I had them do this thing where I couldn’t handle hecklers so I said, “Look, I don’t know how to handle hecklers so can you heckle me so I can learn how to do it?” And the crowd just went crazy. On the tape you can hear my friend threaten the hecklers, to beat them up for yelling at me. That’s how bad it was. That was on Long Island. Chuckles Comedy Club in Mineola.
Q: Seth was telling us earlier that there’s scenes of him not being that funny. He said that because life is so good now he thinks he’s run out of jokes so he didn’t have to try so hard to be bad at stand-up. Is that true?
Apatow: The truth was Seth is a young comedian in the movie that it’s more difficult to make him look like someone who doesn’t know what he is doing. I even adjusted the movie a little bit so that he’s a little better at stand-up because it’s hard to fake not being good. And he’s so good you don’t want to not use it. So I won’t know until editing how good a comic his character is. It’s hard to resist using his good jokes as opposed to his bad jokes.
Q: Did you let him write his own material for the stand-up?
Apatow: He wrote the majority of his jokes and we also hired a lot of the great stand-ups who are working now to write material for Seth and Adam and Jonah. Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn, Allen Covert who works with Adam a lot helped out writing some of the jokes for Adam. Anybody who had a joke we were open to it.
Q: Did any of them make it in the movie?
Apatow: We shot Adam and Seth doing stand-up. Then we shot a lot of other comedians doing stand-up and we had it figured out what we were going to use and how we would use it.
Q: Does the film get into sort of the dark side of stand-up comedy? There’s a sad side and a sort of angry side to a lot of stand-up comics. Does the movie get into that at all?
Apatow: Yeah, that’s what the movie’s about. It’s just like anybody else but maybe more twisted and intense so that’s the point of it. It’s experiences we all have but experienced by a comedy person. There are some funny, dark bits.
Q: So it won’t be like “Punchline” that was more of a drama with some comedy in it? That maybe played it too straight?
Apatow: It’s hard to define what it is. I try to tell a story that people care about that and make it as real as I can and at the same time make it as funny as I can where appropriate. So there’s some higher stakes issues in the movie, but sometimes I make certain sequences even funnier because you care more and you relate. We’ll see. That’s what I’ll have to figure out in editing.
Q: So is your script kind of a launching pad? A barebones story where these guys can go off?
Apatow: Not really. I tend to rewrite more on my feet so when you see the actors performing a scene you think, “Oh, the scene should be this.” So when I shoot a scene I have notes of what I could do in the scene. Maybe that scene would work somewhere else. Maybe I could use that line 20 minutes earlier. Maybe this one line would let me cut six other scenes so I look at all the scenes as jigsaw puzzle pieces that might have a lot of different functions. But it’s not a rambling improv fest. Everything has a pretty specific function. But we definitely talk a lot about what else we could maybe in this moment and adjust as we go.
Q: Will you be doing any stand-up scenes in the movie?
Apatow: No, but I did stand-up to write the movie and I did stand-up to try out some of the jokes the comedians do in the movie with varying amounts of success. There were good nights, there were bad nights.
Q: Can you talk about the idea of bromance? We’re seeing that word more now. It’s funny. It works.
Apatow: There’s movies about women, and then men and men and women. So there are only three options. I look at it like Marx Brothers movies where comedies about these weird male friendships. Martin & Lewis would be. There’s a grand tradition–“Stripes”, “Animal House”–about the weird ways guys interact with each other because they’re idiots. They’re fun to watch. Women are more dignified for the most part. But this movie also turns into a romantic comedy about Adam’s character pursuing someone that he hurts and wanting to have a life and a family and all the things he sacrificed to be a comedian.
Q: In your first two directorial movies you have guys who break out, like Jonah. Is this kind of an ongoing mantra for you to pluck someone out and give them a start?
Apatow: It’s more that you try to find people that the audience doesn’t know because it’s fun to discover somebody when you watch a movie so that they aren’t really familiar. Then if they’re really funny someone else gives them a good job. Aubrey already has gotten a couple of really good jobs. I think she’s in “Scott Pilgrim” and she’s talking about doing a TV series. So it’s great.
Q: Can you talk about any other projects that you have in-development right now?
Apatow: I’ve really scaled back to focus on this. My brain only has so much elasticity. We have “Year One” coming out in the summer, the Harold Ramis movie. Then we’re gonna shoot sort of the sideways sequel to “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” called “Get Him to The Greek,” which stars Jonah Hill and Russell Brand. They’re gonna shoot that in April. So for now I’m just trying to keep my eye on the ball here.
ComingSoon.net also talked to Rogen, Hill and Schwartzman. You can read the interviews by clicking their names below!
Funny People opens in theaters on July 31st.