Judd Apatow is the writer/director of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” producer of TV’s “Freaks and Geeks” and creator of the follow-up to that show, “Undeclared.” The following is the first in a series of guest columns by Apatow for MTV News.
I was asked to write a column about the year in comedy. I think the most interesting comedy of the year was “Borat.” It is original and screamingly funny. I would be jealous if I thought I had the courage, energy or inspiration to attempt something like Borat, but I don’t. Several years ago I met with Sacha Baron Cohen about the possibility of writing a movie that would star this Borat character. At the time it was being discussed as a traditional film — you know, the kind with a script. I didn’t get the gig. Someone else did. And apparently that person never bothered to write the script. He got busy I guess. The next thing I heard was that Sacha was going to shoot the film the way he ultimately did. So in a way it’s good that I had a bad meeting, because if I had talked Sacha into hiring me, there would not be the Borat you are all seeing today. So in a way, as a result of my failure to amuse him that day, you got a classic comedy.
The movie I did work on with Sacha was called “Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby.” I was one of the producers. I lived in Charlotte, North Carolina, with my family while we shot the film. My family misses Charlotte. Here’s one story that illustrates why: I live in Los Angeles and recently we celebrated my child’s birthday party at a kids’ store in an outdoor mall. At the end of the party we exited the store and there were cops everywhere because someone had been stabbed at the mall. They pointed us in another direction to avoid the ambulances and police. As we walked away I noticed there was blood all over the sidewalk. I had to push my kid’s stroller around the puddles of blood. This type of thing makes my wife want to move back to Charlotte. I assume this type of thing happens in Charlotte too, but since their mall seemed really serene, I have no argument against moving out of Los Angeles. That is not a funny story and has nothing to do with the year in comedy. We just miss Charlotte.
Currently I am editing a movie that I wrote and directed that comes out June 1 called “Knocked Up.” It stars Seth Rogen, Katherine Heigl, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann. It is about a guy (Rogen) who gets a woman (Heigl) pregnant on the first encounter. A simple premise. I know Matthew Perry did a movie with a similar premise a few years back. What can I do? If you really think about it, every great comedy idea one could think of has been done as well as it could be on “The Simpsons.” I recently accepted that most every concept has been done and it is more important to approach the work honestly and bravely from one’s specific life experience and point of view than it is to try and reinvent the wheel. And Charlie Kaufman is so good at reinventing the wheel that even reinventing the wheel has been done. I attempted that with “Knocked Up,” and it seems to have come out well. If you want to see Seth Rogen naked, this is the film to see.
It seems like comedy is more popular than ever right now. There have been many very successful comedies as of late:
“Nacho Libre,” “Click,” “The Break-Up,” “You, Me and Dupree,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Babel.” But I think people always love comedies. I assume in the 1930s, people thought comedy was really popular because they had hit movies from the Three Stooges, the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, and Laurel and Hardy. I think every decade has its huge comedies and comedy stars. We need comedy. Life can be brutal, and watching something funny with strangers in a large room somehow makes it a tiny bit more bearable.
When I saw “Borat” at the premiere, I was sitting near Eric Idle of Monty Python, one of the greatest comedy minds of all time. I said hello before the screening. I told him I made “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” but he had not seen it. Still, he was very nice. While the film was playing, he would turn to me every so often during one of the more hilarious and outrageous moments, like the naked fight. His eyes lit up with joy and a facial expression that said, “Can you believe this?” It was as if he was so delighted by the movie that he needed to share it with someone, even if it was just some drooling fan that made a film he hadn’t seen.
That’s what comedy does. It brings people together. It makes us happy. It relieves the pressure, even if only for a moment. And 2006 was a year when we needed some laughs between all the madness that is happening in the world, and luckily for us there are a lot of great comics out there willing to oblige.
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