Judd Apatow's love of stand-up comedy started early. As a teen he washed dishes at a Long Island comedy club to so he watch comedians as he was too young to get into the club any other way.
In high school he had a radio show and was able to land interviews with comedians including Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno. You can hear some of those in Apatow's 2015 interview recorded for Fresh Air with Terry Gross.
Naturally, this all led to a stint as a stand-up comedian himself.
But by 1992 Apatow was getting more work as a writer than as a comedian, so he switched gears. Since then his success as a writer, producer and director includes the beloved TV show, "Freaks and Geeks," and the movies "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up." He's also been the executive producer of "Girls" and "Crashing," and he was a producer on the 2017 film, "The Big Sick."
While working with Amy Schumer on the 2015 film, "Trainwreck," Apatow found he was getting the stand-up itch. He attended some of her sets at a comedy club and realized how much he missed being on stage. Apatow began doing the occasional stand-up sets in Los Angeles and it led to the making of his new Netflix comedy special, "The Return."
Judd Apatow spoke with The Frame's John Horn about his love of stand-up and his go-to topics — marriage, parenting, and politics. Below are some highlights of their conversation.
Screenwriting versus stand-up:
Doing stand-up is much different because it really is like a speech that you are punching up night after night, and you really are presenting yourself in a raw fashion. When I tell a story in a movie a lot of it is made up. Some things are inspired by things that happened in life and I'm trying to hit certain themes by telling this story. But when I'm doing stand-up, I'm just talking directly to the people and saying, This is my life, this is what happens, this is how I feel about it. It's a direct conversation. And it feels connected to the movies because I think people know me from the movies, they can tell that this stand-up is an extension of it. For instance, I live with my wife and my daughter. My daughter's 15 now, my other daughter went to college. So onstage I say, "Four people is a family, but three people is a child observing a weird couple, and that's what my life is right now." And that's what I'm doing, I'm talking about a lot of the same things, but just directly.
How the dilemmas of modern parenting factor into his comedy:
Modern parenting is about the fact that we are so confused about what will hurt our children: Is it bad that they are putting these photos on Instagram? Are they turning their brains into mush by being on social media and being on the computer and binging TV? And I think that the parents are a mess because it is the equivalent of being mad that Elvis is shaking his hips on "The Ed Sullivan Show." We really don't know yet what will damage them. Or maybe this is the future and they need to fully engage it. So that's a lot of what I talk about — What is right? Is it good or bad?
I think we all wonder about this need for approval. All these kids are putting their photos up and they want likes and they want for people to tell them that the photos look good and to say nice things. What is that doing to kids? And the truth is, I don't really have an answer, but I do talk about it with my kids constantly and I think we have a pretty good conversation about it. And so far it's been okay, but I don't know. I try to think, What would I have done as a kid? I would have been more obsessed than anyone. I used to go to the public library to look up articles of Lenny Bruce dying. I wanted information so badly, what would I have done if I had endless information? I don't know.
How comedy helps us understand the world:
Comedy is an important way for us to process how much news and information is out there. If you watch Seth Meyers every night, or "The Daily Show," they are pretty reliable interpreters of what is going on. I feel like we have this problem where people tend to watch news and comedy that already agrees with their point of view. So, I think that's a difficult thing. But I also think that for a younger generation, they are probably watching a lot of those shows and developing their way of watching news and deciding what they believe or do not believe. So I do think it's very important. And, every artist decides for themselves how political they want to be.
I don't think it's anyone's responsibility to jump into the muck and comment about it every day. There are certain issues that trouble me deeply, and a lot of that is about disrespecting women or the abuse of young people in Hollywood. If something is really hurting people, I find it difficult to not speak up when others may not be, and saying, We can't let this happen.