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From Early Failures To New 'Trainwreck,' Judd Apatow Gets Serious

Director, writer and producer Judd Apatow has both a new memoir and a new movie right now. <em>Trainwreck, </em>which he directed, is in theaters starting July 17 and <em>Sick in the Head</em> was published in June.
Kevin Winter
Getty Images
Director, writer and producer Judd Apatow has both a new memoir and a new movie right now. Trainwreck, which he directed, is in theaters starting July 17 and Sick in the Head was published in June.

It's a bit of an understatement to call Judd Apatow busy.

His new book, Sick in the Head, a 500-page collection of Apatow's conversations with some of the greatest minds in comedy, is on the New York Times best-seller list. Meanwhile, his film collaboration with the white-hot Amy Schumer, Trainwreck — his fifth movie as a director — is set for release within two weeks.

Oh, and he just wrapped up shooting another movie that's due out next year.


When NPR's Arun Rath caught up with him in his trailer, he asked Apatow to explain the concept behind Sick in the Head, which features discussions with comedians dating from as early as Apatow's teenage years.

"It's conversations," Apatow tells Rath. "It's not an interview in the sense of how they probably speak to the press; it's a discussion between two comedy people about their lives and their work. And it's also a discussion between a child and an adult comedian about how to be a comedian, and I think that that's what makes it different."

Interview Highlights

On the personal significance of the show Freaks and Geeks, which he produced


Every second we were working on it, from the day Paul Feig handed me the pilot script, we thought, "Oh, this is, this is great. This is the show we wish existed." Because we didn't relate to a lot of the high school shows, which was all just pretty people and they were soap operas; they're basically child versions of Dynasty. And Paul wrote something that really reflected our lives and our struggles, and he also wasn't afraid to have the kids fail and to show how they responded to failure.

When it went down, I really felt like it was like shutting a band down in the middle of recording a great album. And I was devastated. I had back surgery afterwards because I had so much stress I herniated a disc because I just didn't want to acknowledge that the show ended. In my head, everything felt like an episode of Freaks and Geeks. Knocked Up is an episode of Freaks and Geeks, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is an episode of Freaks and Geeks.

And it was a way to stay connected to all these people who I loved and believe in. And now, as an older person — not that old — but I do feel like a bird that's watching the little birds fly the nest and then almost starting a war with North Korea. And I couldn't be prouder.

Judd Apatow (left) interviewed Jerry Seinfeld in 1983. The interview took place at Seinfeld's West Hollywood apartment ("Note the lack of decor," says Apatow.)
Courtesy of Random House
Judd Apatow (left) interviewed Jerry Seinfeld in 1983. The interview took place at Seinfeld's West Hollywood apartment ("Note the lack of decor," says Apatow.)

On dealing with failure and rejection early in his career

What I used to do is if a movie failed, I would go back and work on television, and if my television show got cancelled, I would go and make a movie. And I did that back and forth for about a decade.

And I think everything changed when Will Ferrell hit, because he was in the Todd Phillips movie Old School, and that helped me, Adam McKay and Will get Anchorman made. And as soon as Anchorman worked, and then The 40-Year-Old Virgin worked, suddenly I was just allowed to make movies.

And if those movies failed, I don't know what I would have done. But, you know, everything changes when people think you can have a success, because for the first half of my career nothing was a financial success. So it's hard to tell people your next one will be a hit when none of them have been a hit. So that was probably the turning point.

On what drew him to working with Amy Schumer

Amy Schumer is like a lot of people in comedy. A lot of comedians, they started out writing jokes, and then they wrote sketches and then they wrote movies. ... So I think it is a natural progression for Amy.

What's remarkable is that it's all so good. And that's just because she has a very strong point of view. She is a hard worker, and I think what she's talking about is very resonant in this moment where people cannot believe there's income disparity between men and women and people can't believe how awful rape culture is right now with all the issues with the military and colleges and Bill Cosby. And we do need a strong female voice to say, "Hey, this is insane." And she finds a way to attack it while also being hilarious. And she always puts comedy first, so the messages go down easily because she's so crazy funny.

On putting together the movie Trainwreck

Oddly, I heard her on the radio. She was on Howard Stern, which is kinda like NPR [laughs]. And I was listening, and then I pulled into my parking spot at work, and I just sat in the car for an hour because she was so engaging telling stories about her relationships and about her relationship with her father who has MS [multiple sclerosis]. She talked about the challenges of that, and it was really dark but really funny and very heartwarming.

And I just had this sense: Oh, she's a writer; this is a real storyteller. And I don't think I've ever had that instinct about anyone, ever.

And so we got together. Then one day, we had this conversation where I said, "Well, what's happening in your relationships, what's working? What's not working? When it blows up, what happens? And what do you think would change it? Like, what do you think it'll take for you to have a great, healthy relationship? If the perfect guy showed up, how would you handle it?"

And then she started outlining Trainwreck and that's what Trainwreck's about.

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