Funny People Set Visit: Jonah Hill


Judd Apatow gave Jonah Hill a small part in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and since then, he’s gone on to star in some of the biggest comedies of the last few years. Hill talked to about his latest Apatow film, Funny People, and what he had to do to prep for this role.

Q: Tell us about your character.
Jonah Hill: I’m a fellow stand-up comedian along with Ira – Seth’s character. We live with Jason Schwartzman and he’s on a sitcom called “Yo Teach.” He becomes more successful and I’m slightly better than Ira. He’s kind of realizing that he’s getting this writing opportunity and he’s going more in that direction. He’s feeling low because I’m the better comedian and Jason is finding more success with his show so he’s kind of feeling the lowest out of his group of friends. Then he meets George – Adam Sandler’s character.

Q: If you’re the better comedian why does Sandler’s character mentor Ira?
Hill: He’s interested in both of us at first – romantically. That was a joke.

Q: How long have you guys been friends in the movie?
Hill: I think we probably met a few years ago as opposed to being childhood friends. I think it’s kind of like how Judd made his friends when he moved out here. It’s kind of interesting because it’s kind of like me, Seth and Jason except I’ve actually known Jason for seven or eight years since I was in high school. But kind of like Seth and I. We were friends when we both were starting to kind of do stuff. We weren’t life long friends.

Q: Did you do stand-up to prepare for this role?
Hill: I’ve never done stand-up in my life before Judd asked me to do this movie. I’m constantly terrified by doing it. It’s been the hardest thing I’ve done as an actor so far because most of my characters are unemployed. They don’t have skills of any kind and I had to become in three or four months a passable comedian. Judd booked us stand-up gigs. Literally one day someone called me and said, “you have a stand-up gig in two weeks. Write material.” I wrote my material and got up there and did it. Every one of our shows has been documented.

Q: How’d you do?
Hill: I think I’m a passable [stand-up comedian]. I think I’m pretty good. I would study other stand-ups like Louis C.K., who is a friend of mine. He’s a brilliant stand-up. These guys have been doing it for decades some of them. It’s a real art form. I will never do it again after the movie. I’m not going to try to pass as a real stand-up comedian, but I think for the movie it’s possible that I’m a decent stand-up comedian.

Q: When they told you to write your own material, did you take anything from your real life?
Hill: It was basically that, yeah. It was observations that I had. It wasn’t much different from writing a movie which I have done before. I mean it is way different, but a lot of times you’ll have a scene about something when you’re writing a movie and you’ll just need dialogue for them to be bullsh*tting about before they get into the actual story of the scene. A lot of times that will be an observation you have. In a lot of our movies it will start with an observation about something and you’ll riff on it and that’s kind of what it is. My girlfriend would do something and I’d go, “oh that’s funny that she does this,” and then you learn how to structure that and write it into a bit. It’s not something I’m super fond of. I don’t think I’ll ever do it again after the film’s done. I’ll let the professionals take care if it.

Q: How intimidating was it the first time you walked on stage?
Hill: It was pretty intimidating I gotta say. It was at the UCB Theatre which is a really great place. All of the audiences are kind of comedy fans. I think I got helped out a lot by the fact that people recognize me from comedic movies. I think they were like, “oh we think some of his movies are funny. I like that guy.” I’d be way more nervous knowing they had never seen me before. But then I got freaked out because I was like, “oh wait they think I’m funny so they’re expecting me to be really funny” and then it got harder. First, I was like “f*ck it who cares.” I just went out there and kind of didn’t care. It helped. The first one was probably the best one I ever did.

Q: Talk about how you can relate to your characters in your own life.
Hill: It’s not like a movie where a guy gets a girl pregnant on the first date. It’s not really something you can explain. It’s really about these characters and what they’re going through. I think it’s just a fact that everyone is going through something in life. Everyone of you people and everyone you know is going through something. You just figure out what it is and a lot of times it’s explained to you what your character is going through and you use that to form how you talk and what your motives are in each scene. Everybody is going through some sort of struggle in life and in this movie. That’s kind of the way I look at it. It’s really a movie about all of these people. Not about something really in particular.

Q: It seems like the field is really wide open for comedians because of the Internet and YouTube. Adam Sandler is considered kind of like an old school comic now at this point…
Hill: Yeah, Sandler’s comedy records to Seth and I if you talk to us were hugely inspirational to us when we were young. I’m 24-years-old so when I was like 12 when I was forming my sense of humor and what I wanted to do, I was listening to those records. Now young kids who are 12 are watching some of our friend’s movies and kind of being into that like we were with Sandler. I think it’s funny now to see there’s something totally different from what we were doing where as a couple of years ago what we were doing seemed new and interesting. Now there’s “Tim and Eric Awesome Show.” It’s absolutely nothing like what we’re doing. There’s all kinds of facets within the genre of comedy.

Q: Do you think it attracts people who really aren’t that funny but determined to make it?
Hill: I think a lot of people get competitive like I want to be the only person doing something, but if comedy is doing well then it’s great for everybody. If more people are getting out there and were trying to be funny then it’s only helping. If a genre is popular, we’ll have a job hopefully. I want everyone to be funny.

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Funny People opens in theaters on July 31st.