To Amy Schumer, the Judd Apatow–directed Knocked Up is sort of a comedic Holy Grail. “What I loved about Knocked Up is what I loved about Richard Pryor: You’ll be laughing so hard at something that’s infantile and then a second later, your heart gets torn out,” she told me a few weeks ago. “That you can ride that wave of both comedy and drama in a relatable way … I left that movie kind of changed.” You can imagine how excited Schumer was, then, when Apatow agreed to direct her new comedy Trainwreck, which Schumer wrote and stars in. What did Apatow (who is also a writer-producer on the Lena Dunham comedy Girls) see in Schumer? He called up Vulture recently to talk about his admiration for the ascendant Inside Amy Schumer star, and he had plenty to say about the haters that both of them attract.
This is the first movie you’ve directed that you didn’t write yourself. What was it about Amy that prompted that change?
A few years ago I heard Amy on the Howard Stern show. I hadn’t really seen her stand-up at the time, but she was so funny and engaging while talking about very difficult topics, like issues in relationships and taking care of her dad, who has multiple sclerosis. She really drew me in. Other than Lily Tomlin, how many people like this can you name over the decades who are thought-provoking and funny and awesome like this? I’m sure they always existed, and I’m sure there are people who could have done this work, but I don’t think the industry always welcomed them.
So what’s different now?
The culture is starving for unique, original entertainment. All these services like HBO and Netflix are black holes of need. They have so many hours to fill, and then you have the internet, which has infinite space to fill. As a result, it’s created opportunities for every type of person, not just women. Now we get to see the work of a lot of brilliant people, because they can’t fill all these channels with just white dudes! And thank God. Hopefully, as a result of that, there are an enormous amount of women in college right now who realize they can direct movies, write movies, and produce art. Whatever they want to do, they can do, because they have people like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Lena Dunham, Mindy Kaling, and Amy Schumer and can realize this is possible. I don’t think there were as many of those people to look up to in the past.
Something I find troubling is that whenever we write about Lena or Mindy or Amy, the comment section suddenly fills with people who leap in to call them untalented and smear their looks. That doesn’t happen when we write about Louis C.K., for example. As someone who’s worked with both Lena and Amy, what do you think is going on there?
That’s a fantastic question and there must be smarter people than me who can answer it, but clearly it takes a certain kind of person to get upset and vicious about a woman creating art or speaking her mind. It reveals more about those people than it does about Amy or Lena. I’m sure if you met any of them, you’d immediately understand, and I wish there was a convention for people who did such things so we all could know how ridiculous and sad they are. Definitely there are thoughtful discussions about Lena and Amy’s work and what it means and what the point of it is, but that’s different than the people who just seem to immolate when they see women like that who create work. It’s like with Knocked Up, when people would get really upset that we had Seth Rogen get in a relationship with Katherine Heigl, and say, “That’s not possible!’ I would always think, “Have you ever walked down the street? Have you ever met anybody?” The people it would really bother, it said more about their lives and their relationships than it did about what we were doing. But it is fascinating, and I love that there are debates after every episode of Girls. It’s one of the best aspects of the show.
You’ve been working with amazing women as of late, but when you started out you got flak from critics who said your films had better-drawn male characters than female ones. Did that bother you?
It never did, because I always felt like it was a lot of loud people doing the complaining. Anyone who’s watched my earlier movies knows that the joke was about what idiots the guys were and how they needed to stop being idiots. I couldn’t start the movie with mature men — then there’s no story and it’s not funny. But I always wanted to write complicated, flawed women. I’m a man, so a lot of my movies will lean male, and that’s fine, but I’ve really enjoyed collaborating with all of the women I’ve worked with, and not just the ones we’re talking about. Like my wife Leslie Mann — who’s the inspiration in everything I do — and Catherine Keener, Elizabeth Banks, Linda Cardellini … they’re some of the greatest people I’ve ever had the chance to work with. So to me, it’s all a part of one arc — I’m just on a great streak of bumping into brilliant women who are willing to collaborate with me.
A lot of the time, when you have an actress who’s scripting her own character — as both Amy and Lena do — there are viewers who assume that the character flaws on display are unintentional, or who judge the actual woman based on her fictional character. Can that be frustrating?
You can’t please everyone, and you can’t assume that everyone understands. When we make Girls, we’re well aware of what might irritate people, and pretty much every time it’s our intention to show characters who are lost and making bad decisions and feeling insecure. That’s the fun of the show, is that they don’t know who they are yet and the entire series is about that discovery of feeling what kind of adult you want to be. I love immature people! I don’t know any great movie about a very mature person who has their shit together. James Bond? Even he’s got all sorts of mental problems.
So criticism like that doesn’t bother you at all?
Amy said it best the other day: “The people who complain are never funny.” That’s the case. I do think most people get it. Our audience understands our intentions.
Another common knock against you is that your movies are too long, but I know you have a strong opinion about that.
I always laugh about it because, really, they’re only about eight minutes longer than a movie in any other genre. So I’m asking for eight more minutes and that’s too much, but these are the people who’ll go home and watch 17 episodes of Breaking Bad in a row. The only difference may be that when you go to the movie theater, you can’t hit pause when you have to go take a piss or you want to text your friend. But I do find it hilarious that people will consume an entire TV season in a day and yet lose their mind if a movie crosses the two-hour mark. No one ever tells me that my movies are too long when they watch them for the first time on cable.