The Apatow Factor: Funny and Prolific to a Fault? Over the last few years, Judd Apatow had a hand in a host of Hollywood projects — Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Drillbit Taylor, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, to name a few. Is he spreading himself too thin?
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The Apatow Factor: Funny and Prolific to a Fault?

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The Apatow Factor: Funny and Prolific to a Fault?

The Apatow Factor: Funny and Prolific to a Fault?

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The movie "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" opens today. It's the latest of quite a few comedies from the past year that include Judd Apatow's name somewhere in the credits. He wrote and directed "Knocked Up."

Ms. LESLIE MANN (Actor): (As Debbie Scott) He's treating my kids like they're dogs.

Ms. KATHERINE HEIGL (Actor): (As Alison Scott) No. He's not.

Mr. SETH ROGEN (Actor): (As Ben Stone) Go get it, fetch.

Ms. MANN: (As Debbie Scott) He said fetch, the kids.

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ben Stone) All right.

NORRIS: He wrote songs for the musical spoof "Walk Hard."

(Soundbite of song "Walk Hard")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Walk hard, hard.

NORRIS: He produced "Superbad" and "Drillbit Taylor."

Unidentified Man: We need to learn how to take a punch. Let me go first.

(Soundbite of punch)

Unidentified Man: (Screams)

NORRIS: In just eight years, Judd Apatow has worked as a writer, director, producer, actor or songwriter in more than 20 films and TV shows. Some reviewers suggest Apatow may be spreading himself too thin, but our critic, Bob Mondello, offers his take.

BOB MONDELLO: You kind of know what you're getting with Judd Apatow comedies: optimistic romps in which really ordinary guys get really lucky. Or as Jon Stewart put it on the Daily Show earlier this week…

Mr. JON STEWART (Host, Daily Show): Funny movies where beautiful women fall in love with underachieving average-looking Jews.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: That certainly fits "40-Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up," and now, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." But Jon Stewart left a crucial ingredient out: the unapologetic vulgarity that makes Apatow's romantic comedies appeal to young men who see everybody else's romantic comedies as chick flicks.

Scenes like the "Knocked Up" conversation about how pink eye relates to flatulence or the chest-waxing sequence in "40-Year-Old Virgin."

(Soundbite of duct tape being pulled away from chest)

Unidentified Man: Oh, you (bleep). Oh, you were…

MONDELLO: In "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," there is full-frontal humiliation for an unbuff Jason Segel, countless mortifications were visited on Will Ferrell in "Anchorman: The legend of Ron Burgundy," and Apatow Juvenilia positively revels in the crude. "Superbad" for instance.

(Soundbite of movie "Superbad")

Mr. JONAH HILL (Actor): (As Seth) Why the (bleep) would it be between that and Mohammed?

Mr. MICHAEL CERA (Actor): (As Evan) Mohammed is the most commonly used name on Earth. Read a book for once.

Mr. HILL: (As Seth) Fogell, do you ever actually met anyone named Mohammed?

Mr. CHRISTOPHER MINTZ-PLASSE (Actor): (As Fogell) Have you actually ever met anyone named McLovin?

Mr. HILL: (As Seth) No. That's how you picked the dumb (bleep) name.

Mr. MINTZ-PLASSE: (As Fogell) (bleep) you.

MONDELLO: Judd Apatow is hardly the first filmmaker to realize that gross-outs and movie grosses can go hand in hand, nor is he the first with the average guy, gorgeous gal bit, which was, after all, a Woody Allen staple.

Individually, his narrative devices aren't new, but in combination, they feel new. What he's done is formulate a repeatable, recognizably realistic blend of cuddly raunch, and then he's produced a lot of it.

And because he uses a sort of Apatowvian repertory company, in which folks like Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill keep showing up in each other's films, movies that he directed, or wrote, or sometimes simply helped green light, all blend together in the public mind. And that, I think, is where this notion comes in, that the Apatow brand is over-extended.

A decade ago, Apatow had his fingers in just as many pies as he does now. "The Larry Sanders show," "The Critic," both on TV, plus "The Cable Guy" and two other movies all in one year. But nobody was saying Apatow, Apatow, Apatow, back then, they were saying Larry Sanders and Jim Carrey.

These days, Mister Multi-tasker is doing the interviews, and getting the attention. So, when his projects slip a little, he gets the fallout.

(Soundbite of movie "Drillbit Taylor")

Mr. OWEN WILSON (Actor): (as Drillbit Taylor) You'd be surprised, anything can be turned into a weapon of mayhem or destruction.

Unidentified man: Even a puppy?

Mr. WILSON: (as Drillbit Taylor) Especially a puppy.

MONDELLO: "Drillbit Taylor" was sluggish at the box office. Has Apatow lost his touch? Well, he didn't write or direct it. He was one of its four producers, which is also true of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall."

So, if those films feel less funny than "Knocked Up," which was itself, clumsier than the "40-Year-Old Virgin," should he get the blame? For reference, think back a generation or so to the Judd Apatow of the 1980s.

John Hughes, also a writer, director, producer, actor, and sometimes, songwriter. Hughes, in a three-year burst, directed the "Breakfast Club", "Sixteen Candles", "Weird Science", and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

And within a couple of years of that burst of activity, had written and or produced "Uncle Buck,", "Mister Mom," "Pretty in Pink," "Home Alone," two National Lampoon Vacation movies, and a dozen other comedies. Over-exposed? Absolutely. And in his old age, he's slowed down a little. That's a joke. He's still in his 50s.

Eventually, Apatow will slow down, too, but he's just turned 40. So, it's not quite time yet to make "Producer Man: The Legend of Judd Apatow." When somebody does, let one thing be noted; you know where the Apatowvians got their story for "Drillbit Taylor"? John Hughes. In Hollywood, legends recognize legacies.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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