Judd Apatow: A Champion of Comedy on ‘Love’ Who Knows How to Initiate Diversity

Judd Apatow: A Champion of Comedy on 'Love' Who Knows How to Initiate Diversity

Can I ask you about the title?

It’s based on that foreign film with all the sex. [laughs]

Have you thought about it being the title from the start? 

We thought of it instinctively right away. We’ll just call it "Love" because it’s just so generic, it felt funny. I guess after the "The 40-Year-Old Virgin” I just thought, "What is it?" It’s "Girls." What’s the show about? Girls. [laughs]. When it’s "Trainwreck" it’s like, what is she? She’s a trainwreck. Because "love" encompasses everything, [it works.] It encompasses both happiness and a mess. So, I like that it can be anything. And I’m amazed that we cleared the Twitter — @Love — which seems crazy that you can get that Twitter [handle]. You think Larry Flynt would have bought it. [laughs]

•••••

Judd Apatow is hopelessly devoted to comedy.

If not evident from his immediate joke in the above exchange, the already iconic comic writer, producer and director became "obsessed’ with the art at an early age — specifically, in understanding how to craft the perfect joke. When he was in fifth grade, he paid a friend $30 to write out a paper he’d already written on the Marx Brothers simply because the other kid had better handwriting than Judd did — and the paper wasn’t for a class. It was for, as Apatow states, "his own personal use." His father would play old records of various stand-up performances like other dads would blast rock ‘n roll. His mother ended up working as a hostess at a comedy club where, at the impressionable age of 14, Apatow would sit and watch live comedy from ’80s icons like Paul Provenza and Jay Leno. From there, he snagged a job at his high school’s radio station and started booking interviews with various comedians in the Long Island area — only they didn’t know he was just a kid until he showed up at their doorstep, and by then, it was too late. They sat down, answered his questions and provided unparalleled fuel to the fire burning inside this young jokester.

READ MORE: Review: Judd Apatow’s ‘Love’ Season 1 Isn’t Like Any Rom-Com You’ve Seen Before

Stories like this — as well as the actual interviews Apatow continues to do with comedians to this day — are explored in fascinating detail throughout his second book, "Sick in the Head," but such background on the co-creator of Netflix’s latest original series, "Love," is key in appreciating what makes the show work. It becomes even more applicable when trying to understand why certain parts don’t work because, above all else, the new half-hour comedy feels like one of the more subjective experiences on television. What some may find hilarious, others might see as troubling, only to have their positions reversed in the very next scene. So digging into the background and the thought process of one of its guiding figures might help fans find relevance in the 10-episode first season that could otherwise go overlooked.

For one, Apatow doesn’t see his films the way others do; the way our culture tends to accept movies that appear to fit into a specific mold. Even if it’s a mold Apatow himself helped form, like the Bromantic Comedy, that doesn’t mean one can presume to know what happens when the credits roll. 

Based on your experience, where is it going? How does ["Love"] end?

Exactly. This is a fun one because what I like about Netflix is it’s not like a movie where people say it should end happy. I think it should end in whatever feels like the truthful result of all of it. That is what’s great about what is happening on cable and streaming services is you can just do the best work and the most truthful work. You don’t have to go, "If it doesn’t end happy, the box office won’t’ be big enough." You can just do what’s correct. 

Is that sometimes an issue in film?

It’s always an issue in film. You are trying to leave an audience in a certain place where they think they had fun, or they think they saw a good movie. Most movies are built for a third act that creates some sort of resolution that the studios want the audience to leave telling other people to go. That removes a lot of endings. A lot of things end weird. A lot of things end uncomfortable. 

[laughs] All things end like that.

It’s like "Knocked Up." At the end, they drive off, but people will say that’s a happy ending, and I’ll say, "I don’t know what happened the next morning." She could have booted him out before they woke up. So, that’s what’s fun about this format. 

•••••

And being open to new formats is a crucial part of appreciating Apatow’s work. When he first broke out as a director, many critics slow to jump onboard the Apa-train complained about the length of his films. Seen through the lens of traditional romantic comedies — or just straight-up comedies — Apatow’s 116-minute "Virgin" and 129-minute "Knocked Up" were critiqued for being bloated, even while being praised for their consistent humor throughout. They didn’t fit the studio mold of 90 minutes and out, but through persistence and box office success came a gradual acceptance. Even if some still argue he needs to be stricter in his edits, Apatow has continued to push the boundaries of what’s acceptable in comedies meant for mass consumption. 

While "Funny People" and "This Is 40" weren’t met with the same praise (or financial returns) as his previous entries, each film illustrated the funnyman’s desire to find deeper meaning in his comic offerings. They not only ran longer ("Funny People" topped out at 146 minutes) and darker ("This Is 40" probably shouldn’t even be considered a comedy, even as a pseudo-sequel to "Knocked Up"), but they both continued to shed expectations associated with what Apatow was capable of creating. 

"Love" feels like the next step in that process. Emboldened by the acceptance and success of "Girls" on HBO, a project he wrote and produced for the more experimental premium cable giant, Apatow is returning to TV for the first time as a creator since working on multiple one-and-done series on network TV ("The Ben Stiller Show" and "Undeclared," both picked up and canceled by Fox, as well as the legendary "Freaks and Geeks" on NBC). And he seems excited by the possibilities, both in narrative and time. 

Love. What is to you to make a comedy of it?

I think the basic instinct was, "What if ‘Knocked Up’ was a TV series?" What if you could just show the next day and the next day and how that relationship played out? I like the idea of that. I think one of the reasons my movies are long is that you need more time to explore these characters and all their ups and downs. So the idea of doing a series on Netflix is like doing a five-hour movie with pauses to go to the bathroom — which I like. That’s my ultimate dream, the five-hour movie. 

Can you talk about your editing process and how that differs from when you’re writing the scripts as opposed to post-production, if you directed it or produced it?

It feels exactly like how you edit a movie. On some level you are shooting the script, you are improvising, you have a sense of the story and, in editing, everything goes out the window and you try to figure out what it became. Then if you are still shooting the show, you can write new scenes and fix things. We didn’t do much of that this season. While we were making the show, we were figuring out what it was, so it took us a while to really land on it’s style. But you do have the ability to go back and say, "You know what? I think we can do that scene better." It doesn’t happen often but you can make a show that’s mediocre fantastic because you fix one moment.

When you’re writing, do you think about, "I just want to be able to fix this later," or "I want to be able to have room for this to grow later," so you don’t have to worry about keeping it to 30 pages?

I think we keep them all [between] 30-35 pages, but sometimes they expand. People improvise. In the moment, you feel this scene isn’t right. A lot of what we are figuring out in post is just how funny we want it to be. Like, should this be funny? Maybe, this is a more dramatic one and let’s lose the jokes. It’s very hard to make it real and grounded and have people be funny the way they are in life so it doesn’t feel sweaty. I don’t want to make you feel like some comedy writer thought of some witty joke. I’m trying to remove your thought that there is any production behind it. I don’t want you to think, "Oh, that director did a really cool shot there." You really should disappear into it like you’re watching a documentary. 

•••••

"Love" very much speaks to this ideology. "Real and grounded" are two descriptors that should pop up again and again for the series, whether you love "Love," like it or run away as fast as you can. There are so many tonal shifts in the show they create their own distinctive pattern, setting a tone that’s hard to pin down and engagingly fresh. 

Yet a criticism Apatow has faced a few times throughout his career does pop back up again. The central couple of "Love," played by Gillian Jacobs ("Community") and Paul Rust ("I Love You, Beth Cooper") are your classic TV pair — physically. He’s a little dorky and she’s, well, very attractive. While it’s not quite the same extreme as a schlubby pothead played by Seth Rogen ending up with a put-together reporter portrayed by Katherine Heigl, the idea of an imperfect male still snagging the bombshell woman is one perhaps a bit too familiar to TV.

READ MORE: Which ‘Love’ Should You Watch on Netflix This Weekend?

Somebody was commenting earlier on the super dorky guy scoring the super hot blonde. The conversation revolved around how we can’t have authentic dorky women. 

Well, we do have authentic dorky women. 

Beautiful dorky women, though?

First of all, here’s the thing. Who says a dorky woman isn’t beautiful? Who says Paul Rust isn’t beautiful? There’s all these definitions now as we talk about what is beauty, what is nerd. Who knows? It’s a nerd culture now. The nerds rule the world. The nerds will be with every type of person. It’s not like 30 years ago where a nerd was a guy with glasses with the tape on it and you think he’d never get a girl. The nerd is Bill Gates. 

I guess I’m asking if there are standards you have to adhere to?

I kinda don’t care about all of that. They look like a couple. You can see they are attracted to each other. It’s very easy to go like, "Do we just want pretty women on TV?" But I think we have seen every version of beauty. Also, everyone’s interpretation of what they want to see is different. What someone thinks is beautiful is different for everybody. I think the flip is, "Should we not have any pretty women in a relationship on a TV show?" It shouldn’t be everything. No one show or movie should have to be the symbol of it. It’s like having all races and creeds and sexualities on TV. We should have a bit of all of it, but no one show or story can be the thing that does it all right and checks off all the boxes. 

Do you think there is something that characterizes relationships today, or how we see relationships to today?

I think it’s always different because everyone likes something different. For me, I don’t think it’s a beauty issue. I think people are attracted to people that rile them up; with what’s wrong with them. I think you find your mom. I think you find your dad. I think you find the person in your life who fucked you up and might try to heal it through your relationships. More than you think, "I must be with a pretty blonde." I think people unconsciously sniff out people that force them to heal. And that’s weirdly healthy if you can handle it. But every relationship I think people have sought that out, but it really isn’t the looks.

•••••

When speaking with Apatow about topical issues like diversity, it becomes clear he’s as focused on the future of comedy as he’s aware of its past. As dismissive as he is of the idea that comedies have to adhere to certain standards, he holds himself up to the loftiest of goals. Considering his devotion to studying the art of what makes people laugh, it’s fascinating to see him experiment with the many different ways in which comedy can be integrated into other projects. 

Think about his career arc: Apatow moved from network TV comedy to studio-produced feature comedies to experimental studio dramedies to similarly challenging material on premium cable to a streaming series all his own; one that’s as indefinable as its title is generic. He could have kept pumping out big ticket laughers as a producer or recreating past successes as sequels to his first features, but instead Apatow always seems aimed toward what’s next. 

And considering the unpredictable nature of not only "Love," which (as Apatow mentioned earlier) doesn’t have to end happily, but of Apatow’s consistent practice of toying with expectations, it’s no wonder he ended up at Netflix — even if he’s far from the end of anything.

There has been a bit of a complaint that there is a talent drain towards platforms like Netflix and Amazon. And because you have all these amazing freedom, is it that actually true and can you go back to making a movie now?

I’m sure there are people who have been trying to get their passion movie made forever and then some place like HBO or Netflix or Amazon says, "Hey, do you wanna do a season of a show on the same topic?" You’re gone. You’re not gonna make that movie. I actually think what’s gonna happen is a lot of independent film is all gonna move to the streaming services. All those $5-40 million movies are slowly gonna become streaming movies, and it’s gonna be great. It’s sad to not see them in a theater, but I think all those movies that are a little too expensive for the indie world do make sense for places like Netflix. So hopefully, all those movies that people said you can’t make any more will come back.

Who’s to know when to say when to stop it? If it’s a successful series and to not just add another season?

How do you know when you’re finished?

Yeah. 

Well, you usually can tell. You usually sit in a room one day and say, "I think we’re done."

•••••

Remembering that 30-page paper on the Marx Brothers a young Apatow wrote for fun, two things seem certain: When this devoted comedian thinks something should end, he’s probably right — even if he himself will be making us laugh in new and exciting ways for much, much longer.

READ MORE: Review: ‘Broad City’ Season 3 Prevails as a Singular and Innovative Comedy of the Now

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