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Judd Apatow on Sexism and Funny People

With about ten days to go before the release of the most ambitious film of his relatively young career as a film director, Judd Apatow stopped by the Museum of the Moving Image in midtown Manhattan last night to preview Funny People. As part of the screening, Apatow agreed to sit down with the museum’s chief curator, David Schwartz, for an hour-long conversation that traced everything from his start as a 15-year-old Syosset resident so obsessed with comedy that he used to hunt down luminaries like Jerry Seinfeld to be interviewed for what was a basically nonexistent radio show to his current place as Hollywood’s reigning king of all things bromantic. So how does he feel about the box-office prospects of what could certainly be described as his most personal film to date? “I feel pretty good,” he commented. “[Universal marketing execs] tell me that people will go, and that’s important. I’ve had them not go before, and that does not feel as good. The first few reviews have piddled in, and seem like they won’t haunt me at night. And that they like the movie. Some people really like the movie, and some people hate my fucking guts. So, it’s a good healthy mix.”

Over the course of the hour, he told a lot of hilarious stories we had never heard before, covering the gamut from how he arrived at the title for Funny People to the hilarious original draft of Anchorman that no one in Hollywood would touch to how The 40-Year-Old Virgin almost got shut down over concerns about Paul Rudd’s weight. Here’s a rundown of some of our favorite outtakes.

On whether Joe Moviegoer will go to see a movie simply titled Funny People:
You never know if your title is gonna be good or not. Universal said that it would be good to have “funny” in the title. It shouldn’t just be called “Adam Sandler in the Death Movie.” But there’s a Sarah Jessica Parker movie called Smart People, and it didn’t make that much money, so we’re not sure we like the word “people.” […] But it seems to not sicken people and I like it, and it was meant to say people who are a little bit “off.”

On the cancellation of the critically adored but tragically low-rated Freaks & Geeks:
There was a new head of NBC brought in after we did the pilot. He told us that he didn’t understand the show because he went to private school. So I said to Paul [Feig, the creator of the show], “Maybe you should write the finale.” And we shot the finale early in the run assuming that it was going to end suddenly. We wanted to have a conclusion to our story.

On how Garry Shandling first taught him how to take events from real life and use them for inspiration:
I bought his house when I was working on The Larry Sanders Show. The set for It’s Garry Shandling’s Show was based on Garry’s actual house. So when I bought Garry’s house, I basically lived on the set of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. […] But I never thought about writing about my life, because I couldn’t think of anything less interesting than my own life. But slowly during Freaks & Geeks, I would slowly pitch out stories from my young life. Then when we did the scene with Martin [Starr] watching the Dinah Shore Show, I realized it was probably my best work and that maybe I should work up the courage to do more personal writing.”

On the original script for Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy:
Basically, it was about anchormen flying to an anchorman convention. Mid-flight, they hit some sort of UPS plane and they crash into a mountain and it becomes like the movie Alive. All the anchormen start dying, they start eating each other. And occasionally, the contents of the UPS plane — which was monkeys and throwing stars — start attacking their base camp. And we sent that around, and it was SO funny, but we couldn’t get anyone to make it.

On the bumpy first few days of shooting The 40-Year-Old Virgin:
They shut down the movie after two days because they thought that Steve [Carell] looked like a serial killer. He had that brown jacket and they thought that he looked like Jeffrey Dahmer. And they thought that Paul Rudd was too fat. And I was like, “I don’t really know what I can do about that. That’s just how he showed up.”

On charges that his films are sexist toward women:
I think, really, what a lot of these issues are is that women are romanticized in movies. [My] movies go pretty hard at having women have as many problems as men. They make mistakes that are as big as men’s. So when someone says Knocked Up seems sexist, I’m like, “Really?” I mean, Seth has an earthquake, and he grabs his bong before his pregnant girlfriend. That’s pretty bad. But I try to weigh it evenly so it’s not really about men or women, it’s just about miscommunications and us at our worst.

On the somewhat disturbing influence of Adam Sandler on his career and writing style:

Adam is very open about certain things. He’s the first guy I knew who would talk about masturbating. […] When I moved in with Adam, he’d be like, “Hey man, let’s go to Red Lobster but first I’m gonna go whack off. I’ll see you in ten minutes.” And then he’d come out and be like, “Okay, let’s go.” And that threw me. And he had a running thing where he’d would always say, “Let me see the cock. Lemme see. Lemme see what you got.” And I was like, “I’m not going to show you my penis.” And he was like, “Lemme just see it, let’s get it over with.” And one day when I was peeing, I saw him standing behind me in the mirror. [Mimes Sandler looking at him quizzically] And then he just goes, “Alright, man, alright.”

Judd Apatow on Sexism and Funny People