An Evening with Judd Apatow
_When Judd Apatow walks onto the stage, the audience gets quiet. One by one the cast of Funny People trickles in until seven of the eight seats on stage are full - Apatow, Leslie Mann, Adam Sandler, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Eric Bana and Aubrey Plaza. Seth Rogen is the last to run in, having finally fought off the crowd in the lobby.
Apatow claims from the start that he’s going let the actors do the talking (the screening and Q&A have been set up through SAG, after all), but over the course of forty minutes it is hard for a man with the Midas touch to refrain from stepping in every once in a while. Even when he doesn’t talk, the conversation often focuses on him.
“I was so young and dumb,” Sandler says, “that I had no idea Judd was filming me.” Although he’s not telling jokes, comedy is ingrained in Sandler’s head, and he can’t help leaving pauses for laughs. “I think [Apatow] would even call ‘action’ to himself.”
The conversation drifts to the bonding Apatow and Jason Schwartzman did while working on the music for the movie. “I didn’t know you guys had this relationship,” Leslie Mann laughs. Schwartzman is no stranger to making music. He was part of the band Phantom Planet of The O.C. theme song fame and in 2006 started an indie act, Coconut Records, so it’s good to see him putting his compositional skills to use on the big screen.
Daggers shoot from the eyes of every actor in the audience when newcomer Aubrey Plaza admits Funny People is only her third or fourth real movie, which is somewhat misleading. In reality Aubrey’s been working hard lately, with a role in NBC’s Parks and Recreations, among other projects. Having worked with the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York since 2004, she was more than ready to take on something bigger.
The host does a great job of asking smart questions that get everyone involved, but once the floor is opened to questions from the audience, all bets are off.
The first question is poorly designed; no one can tell whether it is the victim of bad phrasing or malice. Were this ancient Rome, Apatow might call out this man, who would then hunker down in shame while the rest of us boo and throw stones at him, but Apatow takes the high road, gracefully dodging what comes across as a backhanded compliment about the stand-up comedy in the film.
Most of the questions are fluff, quick praise or a comment on how Eric Bana uses his Australian accent for the the first time in his acting career. There are moments when the Q&A reminds me of the Chris Farley show.
“I don’t actually have a question, I just wanted to say that, you know the part where Jonah Hill makes a joke? It was awesome. Jonah’s so funny. I mean, not funnier than Seth. But everybody just did such a great job...”
This kind of free reign complimenting is common at Q&A’s where everyone’s goal is to raise their hand and ask, “How does this all relate to me?” Praise is the simplest form of this; a person offering flattery is saying, “I liked it. You obviously liked it if you made it. We sure do have a lot in common!”
There is a growing qualm in the room as people begin forcing their way into the conversation. By the fifth question, few wait to be called upon before shouting out. From nowhere, Gary Busey cuts into a woman’s question. He babbles on about spontaneity and its place in film and life, ending by thanking Rogen for inspiring him in a scene in the doctor’s office. Busey paraphrases the joke Rogen made and appears to have missed the original intent, but no one cares.
Now everyone is inspired by this questioning bravado. The intelligence level of the questions lessens, but the confidence with which they’re asked skyrockets. No one bothers to cater to everyone on stage any longer.
“This is a five part question for Mr. Sandler,” the woman Busey cut off stands to say, launching into a ten minute diatribe that covers everything from a T-shirt Sandler wore for five seconds in the movie to the specifics of what she’d like to do with a picture of the two of them. Sandler finally puts and end to everyone’s pain with the magic words, “I’ll do whatever you want.”
After a while it’s my turn for a where-do-I-fit-in question. I’ll show these people how to ask something. As soon as I raise my hand it takes every effort to remember what I’m going to say. All of the blood that should be in my brain helping me focus has suddenly sped off, trying to keep my arm from going numb. I’m missing some likely relatable comments that I should have listened to, but, who cares, they’re calling on me, and what was my question again?
Without realizing it, I’m mumbling some unintelligible remark about improv, and then I’m done, slowly sinking down in my seat, looking around to see if there’s a vodka IV somewhere nearby to calm my nerves. No more criticizing the questioners; I am now among their ranks.
Thankfully, like he did with all the questions before, Apatow patches mine up into something smart and logical and artfully answers it. Still trying to catch my breath, I jot down what he says about improv being particularly useful for arguments and how it works best in his three-camera scenes where they can just roll the film (at some point he says they used 2 million feet of film, a half million being the norm for most projects). Bana chimes in, commenting on how most of the improvising is done during rehearsal where random lines that would have been lost to the ether are meticulously logged and added to the script later.
When it’s all over, most of the cast disappears, sneaking through the alley to their limos. Only two stars remain. Apatow lurks in the corner while Sandler signs autographs and takes pictures with the lady he promised everything to.
As I’m walking out, I see Sandler pulling off in his Lexus, the only one in the group who drove himself. “Hey, Adam,” I want to yell after him. “You drove yourself. I drove myself too! See how much we have in common?”