ARUN RATH, HOST:
Judd Apatow is 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 a New York Times best seller. He's collaborated with the white-hot Amy Schumer for the upcoming movie "Trainwreck," his fifth as a director. And when I caught up with him this week, he had just dropped shooting another movie out next year. We sat in his trailer and I asked him to explain the concept behind "Sick In The Head."
JUDD APATOW: It's conversations. 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.
RATH: I want to talk about "Freaks And Geeks" fans. There's definitely something special for them this book. It's just been like a touchstone for so many, many people. Did it feel like something really special when you were doing it, because it was not getting fully appreciated at the time.
APATOW: It did. 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.
And when it went down, I really felt like it was like shutting a band down in the middle of recording a great album. 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. And in my head, everything felt like an episode of "Freaks And Geeks." You know, "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.
RATH: (Laughter) Well, it's interesting you mentioned failure, because I think of, you know, "The Ben Stiller Show," where it seemed like a while you were the king of critically-acclaimed, brilliant stuff that the executives killed. What kept you going when it seemed like you were kind of swimming upstream for a while?
APATOW: 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. And 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.
RATH: Let's talk about Amy Schumer. What was it that you saw in Amy Schumer that made you want to work with her?
APATOW: Well, Amy Schumer is like a lot of people in comedy. You know, a lot of comedians, they started out writing jokes, and then they wrote sketches and then they wrote movies. That's what Woody Allen did. Hal Ramis was a joke writer for Rodney Dangerfield, and he wrote jokes for Playboy magazine. 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.
RATH: So "Trainwreck" is a story from Amy - coming from you. How did you - how did you come together on this?
APATOW: You know, oddly, I heard her on the radio. She was on Howard Stern, which is kind of like NPR. 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. And 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 anybody, ever.
So we got together. And 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.
RATH: She really feels like she fills a cultural need for us - like, Amy Schumer came along and we're like where have you been all these years?
APATOW: Well, I think it's crazy that we haven't had a zillion Amy Schumers. I mean, there have been brilliant female comedians in every era. We haven't had enough. You known, in each era, we've had like one or two when we should have, you know, obviously, as many as men. And I think now with the advent of the internet and people's ability to show their stuff on Funny Or Die or YouTube, comedy's become a job. And I think people like Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham are inspiring young women to realize you can be a director, you can be a writer, you can express yourself in this business. So I'm hopeful that in the next five or six years, we'll really see the fruit of how these people have inspired others.
RATH: Judd Apatow, thanks very much. It's been great speaking with you.
APATOW: Thank you. I appreciate it.
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