Why Judd’s Funny People will be even funnier on the DVD
Jewish Telegraph, August 2009
Entertainment editor Mike Cohen meets the man behind some of the top comedies of recent years
FUNNY People only opened in cinemas today, yet writer-director Judd Apatow is already promoting the DVD.
The plot revolves around stand-up comedy, so New Yorker Judd made stars Adam Sandler and Seth Rogan perform on the stand-up circuit.
And while the film only features short bursts of their performances, Judd is planning to include complete shows as extras on the DVD.
He said that for one scene where Adam’s character, George Simmons, was performing in a theatre, he only used one joke in the film — although Adam did 50-minutes.
“The DVD will be one of the best ever made,” Judd, 41, said. “There is so much extra material that is really, really funny and entertaining.
“I shot each guy performing about 10 times and there is archival footage of Adam’s first time on Late Night With Letterman, Seth doing stand-up at 15 and me doing stand-up at 23.
“We also made a one-and-a-half hour documentary about the movie and our history and there will be an entire James Taylor concert on the DVD. I’m excited about it.”
The film opens with megastar George being told he has untreatable leukemia.
After doctors put him on experimental drugs, he decides to return to his roots of stand-up.
He comes across struggling comedian Ira Wright (Rogan), who he invites to be his assistant and joke-writer.
During the film, George makes it clear to Ira that they aren’t friends as celebrities don’t have close mates.
Los Angeles-based Judd told me: “It’s easier for a celebrity to doubt people’s friendship.
“A lot of celebrities have friends they also work with, so there are financial entanglements complicating matters.
“George Simmons has friends who are comedians, but he is also the guy who can put them in his movies.”
In Judd’s previous film, Knocked Up, the nerdy Jewish characters joked that the only reason they could get women was because of Eric Bana’s performance as a Mossad hitman in Munich.
Funny People goes one stage further, having Bana as one of the lead characters.
“We loved him in Munich,” Judd said. “At some point during the writing, my producer, who had produced Munich, suggested we get Eric.
“He hadn’t done a comedy for 10 years. I don’t know why he hasn’t; he is one of the funniest guys around.
“It’s a side you don’t get to see. I knew he’d get a kick out of it.”
Seth’s character lives on a sofa bed in an apartment owned by Mark Taylor Jackson (Jason Schwartzman) who has gained some success in a third-rate sitcom.
Fellow comedian Leo Koenig (Jonah Hill) — described as an extra-large version of Seth — also lives there.
With such a Jewish cast, there is naturally plenty of Jewish humour.
Judd said: “In my head I don’t think of any of it as Jewish humour.
“I’m not a very religious person, so I don’t consciously think of it in that way.
“But when it’s done, it feels very, very Jewish and there’s a ton of Jewish humour in it or Jewish comedic attitude. I’m wired that way.
“I couldn’t put my finger on what it means or could never break it down to understand it.
“I’m not practising Jewish, more a Jewish outlaw. Adam goes to temple and is practising.”
Amazingly, Funny People is only Judd’s third film as director — although he has been involved in 11 box office hits of recent years — including the much-maligned Year One.
“I never thought all this stuff would be put under an umbrella,” he said of the perceived ‘Apatow stable’.
“I developed Superbad for seven, eight years, while Pineapple Express was a story idea I gave to Seth and Evan Goldberg when we were unemployed.
“For years we were working on scripts together.
“Some of them I get too much credit for, where I’ve just liked a script and put a team together, and some of them I’ve been deeply involved with.”
Judd’s association with Adam Sandler goes back a long way. The pair used to live together when they were first starting out.
And a whole episode of Judd’s TV sitcom Undeclared was based around the comedian visiting the characters’ university.
Judd also co-wrote and produced You Don’t Mess With The Zohan last year where Sandler played the Mossad’s top agent, who faked his death to become a hairdresser in America.
There have been some reports that Sandler was upset by the bad language in Funny People.
But Judd explained: “Adam didn’t mind the crudeness. He was just embarrassed that one day his children may have to see the film.
“Part of the point of the movie was you had this guy in a serious situation and how he dealt with it was by telling ridiculously dirty jokes as a way to be in denial.
“But Adam felt ashamed when he drove his car home to his lovely wife and two daughters that that’s what he did all day.
“The world of comedians is much dirtier than I showed in the film. It’s really dirty in the movie, but comedians are so desensitised from hearing jokes all the time that only the most shocking jokes make them laugh.
“If anything it’s a little watered down in the film.”
Another point of contention for critics has been the film’s length. Like Knocked Up, Funny People clocks in at well over two hours.
“I like longer movies, so why not have an extra 10–15 minutes,” Judd said. “There is no second episode. It’s the same price for the audience whether its 90 minutes or two hours.
“I’ve made 90 minute movies that people thought were way, way, way too long.”
He added: “I told the studio that the new film was about comedy and mortality and was 10 minutes longer than Knocked Up.
“It’s challenging for an audience as it’s a different ride. They don’t know where plot points will land and it doesn’t have the same structure as a normal movie. It’s a bit like a European movie.”
Midway through the film, George discovers that the experimental drugs have worked and he may be cured. At this point, Funny People becomes a love story as George tries to rekindle his romance with Laura — played by Judd’s wife Leslie Mann.
The only problem is that she is married to Clarke (Bana) and has two kids, Mable and Ingrid (played by Judd and Leslie’s children Maude and Iris).
Ira is put in the awkward position of trying to stop his boss from making a mess of things and ruining a marriage.
“I thought the illness might be cured earlier,” Judd said. “What is interesting to me is what does someone do when they unexpectedly get better? Does it make you a better person or do you fight against the wisdom that is presented to you.
“It’s about how hard it is to wake up and appreciate life. Even when you get sick it’s hard to stay in that place.”
As an example, Judd tells a story of when a chimney fell into the bedroom of his new house after an earthquake.
“For a few days I appreciated life, but a week later, it was like it never happened,” he said.
Judd compares himself slightly to Ira — although he was never verbally abused in the way that Ira is by George.
He said: “I wrote for a lot of comedians. Roseanne, Tom Arnold, Gary Shandling.
“They were all nice to me. That’s why it took so long for me to write this script because nothing happened other than I wrote jokes that they paid me more for than they should have done.
“I did have that sense of excitement of entering the world of comedians. It’s all I ever wanted to do.
“I set Funny People in the world of comedy because comedians have the same life and death issues as normal people, but it’s more amusing for comedians.
“And I’m trying to show different comedians of all ages. They are all competitive. They all want to be George Simmons, but they don’t realise how unfulfilled he is.
“Seth slowly sees what success can be and what the negative side can be. He has to come up with a path that’s healthier than George’s.”
Judd revealed that he always casts his films before he has finished the scripts.
“This way I can talk to them while I’m writing,” he said. “Everyone is making a contribution from step one.”
Before his directorial debut with The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Judd made two TV programmes which were cancelled after their first series.
“I was upset because Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared (which both starred a teenage Rogan) deserved to have more time to find an audience.
“But only good things have happened as a result of it. I’m happy to have met all those people and been able to collaborate with them.
“I always believed in Seth. It was difficult for him to break through and get opportunities because he is not your typical leading man.”
Funny People opens in cinemas today.