Acclaimed US director, producer and screenwriter shares his comedy nuggets
Judd Apatow’s short-lived, now-cultish TV series Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared had been cancelled and his wife, Leslie Mann, was pregnant with their second child. So he took a reading year. This resulted in his new eclectic collection of short works: I Found This Funny: My Favourite Pieces of Humour and Some That May Not Be Funny At All. We spoke to the director of The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up to get an insight into his latest work.
In the intro, you say you were never really into books until you took that reading year. I had to drop out of the University of Southern California when I was 19 because I ran out of money and interest. I also never had interest in anything except being a stand-up comedian, so when I finally admitted to myself I was not going to be the next Jerry Seinfeld and I was going to be a screenwriter and director, it struck me that, man, I wish I was more well read because this new direction requires me knowing more words.
There’s a cartoon in your book of a woman who says ‘I can save him’ about a man who’s irredeemable – passed out with a swastika on his chest. You’ve said most of your work is based on that premise: women helping men grow up. Yes. Without a Nazi aspect.
Why does that appeal to you? I’m a big self-help fan. Those are the main books I read: Do I Have to Give Up Me to Be Loved by You? – titles that sound like that.
Are you serious or are you joking? I’m very serious. I love self-help. I can’t get enough of it. I believe in most of it. It’s just very hard to live. And that is a recurring theme in self-help – that men are often emotionally shut down and women, sadly, are forced to help them get in touch with their feelings and learn to express them.
And how does that filter into your relationship with your wife, Leslie? I’m very lucky to have married a strong woman who’s smart and funny. She’s my ultimate bulls*** detector. She’s emotionally connected and sensitive, and that’s been very helpful to me as a creative person and an adult.
The way you talk about gender sounds pretty stereotypical: women and men, Venus and Mars… I think that all that stuff is true. I really do. I think we have those clichés because there’s something accurate about it.
What about your two daughters? Do they have an interest in comedy? They are very funny. Every time they do something funny, I’m so delighted that on some unconscious level I’m training them that laughter makes people like Daddy happy. I don’t know if that’s an awful thing or a good thing.
Given the book’s title, what do you find funny? When we did Freaks and Geeks, we asked all of the writers to list the worst moment they had in high school, the worst experience, the most trouble they ever got in with their parents. The more people reveal themselves, the funnier I find it.