Some folks spent their pandemic figuring out how to make sourdough bread. Judd Apatow made two movies and wrote a book.
Soon after everybody hunkered down in March 2020 due to COVID-19, “I realized I needed to do something,” the filmmaker/author says. “I was aware that I was about to gain 70 pounds and just descend into something dark.”
So after getting into “long, multi-hour walks” daily, he started lining up interviews for “Sicker in the Head: More Conversations about Life and Comedy” (Penguin Random House, out now), his follow-up to 2015’s “Sick in the Head.” His new book by him features insightful interviews with Mindy Kaling, Whoopi Goldberg, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Cameron Crowe and more. Apatow figured folks were likely agreeable to chats “because I know they’re home and available.”
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Everyone’s talking about his viral (and now deleted) Oscar’s night Will Smith tweet, but the real highlights this week in Apatow Land are his new book and film. Wondering if he could write comedy during the coronavirus, plus being inspired by the “pressure cooker” of the NBA bubble, led Apatow to make “The Bubble” (streaming April 1), a new Netflix ensemble comedy starring Karen Gillan, Pedro Pascal and Keegan-Michael Key – as well as Apatow’s wife Leslie Mann and daughter Iris – about actors who isolate themselves at a British hotel to make a blockbuster dinosaur film during the pandemic.
“It felt like we were all going through a hellish experience together. And at some point someone was going to try to figure out a way to make a comedy about it,” says Apatow, who also directed the upcoming documentary “George Carlin’s American Dream” (airing on HBO in May) and is a producer on Billy Eichner’s gay romantic comedy “Bros” (in theaters this fall).
Apatow, 54, talks with USA TODAY about “Sicker” stories, his show-business brood and COVID-era comedy.
Question: One interview in “Sicker in the Head” that stands out is a 1984 sit-down with John Candy. Where were you at in your life then?
Judd Apatow: I was interviewing comedians for my high school radio station – the signal of that station barely made it out of the parking lot. It felt important to meet the people that I looked up to, to ask them questions, which might be helpful to me. John Candy was one of my favorites of all time. At that time, he had been in “Stripes” and I somehow was able to convince a publicist to let me talk to him for 20 minutes. It sticks out in the book because it’s clearly such a gentler time. He’s so sweet and direct. You really feel his kind heart in that interview.
Q: Which of your newer interview subjects surprised you the most in terms of what you were expecting vs. what you got?
Apatow: I had never had a long conversation with David Letterman. I heard him on Marc Brown and he was very open about what it was like to have a talk show for three decades and also what the demands were on him emotionally. But for me, most of it is about what it does to you personally to attempt to be funny and have a balanced life. He spoke very frankly about that.
When you’re trying to do a good job, sometimes the rest of your life can pass you by because you’re so focused on the work at hand. That’s something that everybody in the arts is dealing with, because you basically could be working 24 hours a day. Learning how to turn it on and turn it off can be a real challenge. Because if you fail, it’s embarrassing in a massive way. (Laughs) Nobody wants worldwide humiliation. There’s definitely an aspect of it that encourages losing yourself in the work.
Q: Iris is in “The Bubble,” and your older daughter Maude stars in “Euphoria.” Are you thrilled they’re thriving in the family business?
Apatow: I’m very proud of them because they’re doing great work. They entered the business very slowly over multiple decades. Maude had a funny scene in “Talladega Nights” as a kid who knew everything about car racing that got cut out. Iris was in a funny scene in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” when she was tiny, 2 or 3, that we cut out. If they wanted to pursue it, they could, and if they didn’t want to, they shouldn’t. They did it at a reasonable pace where they learned a lot and were surrounded by people who loved them and made the set a place where they had access to educate themselves about whatever they wanted to know. Now that they’re young adults, that’s paying off for them.
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Q: What’s it been like making the Carlin doc?
Apatow: It is about a man who found a way to kind of shape shift during different decades and continually find new ways to get better and to speak very frankly about a lot of the bad things that are happening in the world. We wanted to make the movie because unlike most comedians, his stuff about him is not aging badly. His stuff from him gets better with time. When things come up in the news, you see his name trending because he has a routine that talked about this that he did decades ago. Even though he is not around, he seems to be a very important voice about the issues that we’re all debating.
Q: Has the pandemic changed our collective sense of humor or what we find funny?
Apatow: I’m not sure what people want from comedy at this moment. Certainly (“The Bubble”) is a test of that. And when I have shown it to people, they all seem very grateful to have something big and silly to watch. I know for myself, I kept thinking during the entire pandemic, “Man, I wish they would make another ‘Hangover.’ I want some hard laughs. I’m thrilled to get “Jackass Forever.” I need that.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism