Writer, producer, and director
Born December 6, 1967; married Leslie Mann (an actress); children: Maude, Iris. Education: Attended the University of Southern California, midto late 1980s.
Addresses: Agent —United Talent Agency, 9560 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 500, Beverly Hills, CA 90212-2427.
Director of films, including: The 40-Year-Old Virgin , 2005; Knocked Up , 2007. Executive producer of films, including: Heavyweights , 1995; Celtic Pride , 1996. Producer of films, including: The Cable Guy , 1996; The Whistleblower , 1999; Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy , 2004; The 40-Year-Old Virgin , 2005; Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby , 2006; Knocked Up , 2007. Associate producer of films, including: Crossing the Bridge , 1992; Kicking and Screaming , 2005. Film appearances include: Heavyweights , 1995; Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy , 2004. Uncredited author of screenplays for Happy Gilmore , 1996; The Cable Guy , 1996; The Wedding Singer , 1998. Received story credit for Celtic Pride , 1996. Author of screenplays for Fun with Dick and Jane , 2005; Knocked Up , 2007. Television work includes: co-creator and executive producer, The Ben Stiller Show , FOX, 1992; series co-creator and executive producer, Freaks and Geeks , NBC, 1999-2000; executive producer, Undeclared , FOX, 2001; co-executive producer, The Larry Sanders Show , HBO, 1997-98; consulting producer, The Critic , FOX, 1994; also directed episodes of The Larry Sanders Show and Freaks and Geeks ; writer for The Ben Stiller Show, The Larry Sanders Show, The Critic, Freaks and Geeks , and Undeclared.
Awards: Co-recipient of an Emmy Award for writing, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, for The Ben Stiller Show , 1993.
Judd Apatow's career as a film and television writer had several false starts before he scored with the 2005 comedic film, The 40-Year-Old Virgin. As the creator of the television critics' favorite Freaks and Geeks for NBC in 1999, and another much-lauded series, Undeclared that was also cancelled after its first season, Apatow was one of Hollywood's best-known writers, but had a difficult time producing a winner for nearly a decade before finding his niche in R-rated comedies. An appreciation for life's underdogs and a sharp sense of the absurd was evident in his projects as well as interviews he gave. "I always wonder, why will people watch a guy slowly die of a brain tumor on a hospital show but they don't want to see a kid get beat up in high school?" he reflected when discussing what clicked with viewers on network television in an interview with Entertainment Weekly 's Josh Rottenberg. "I have no answers for that."
Apatow was determined to forge a career in comedy all the way back at Syosset High School on Long Island in the early 1980s. He hosted his own show on the school radio station, which utilized interviews he conducted on his own time with soon-to-be famous comics as well as a few well-known names. When he managed to book a subject for his show, rarely would he tell them that they had agreed to do an interview for a high school radio station, and they were surprised to find a teenager with a tape recorder in hand. As he recalled in the Entertainment Weekly article, "I'd go to Jerry Seinfeld's house and he would look at me like, I can't believe I have to do this, " he told Rottenberg.
One of Apatow's first jobs was as a dishwasher at the Eastside Comedy Club on Long Island. Eventually he started doing his own stand-up act, and went on to the University of Southern California's film school to study screenwriting. He abandoned his degree plans after becoming immersed in the Hollywood stand-up scene, and forged friendships with a number of other struggling performers and writers who achieved fame more quickly than he would. Adam Sandler was a roommate for a time, and Apatow opened for Jim Carrey and then began writing material for him, some of which found its way into the comedy-sketch series In Living Color. From there, he progressed into writing jobs for Roseanne Barr, Tom Arnold, and Garry Shandling, and Shandling even used some of Apatow's material when he hosted the Grammy and Emmy awards ceremonies.
In 1991, Apatow met Ben Stiller, who was pitching a sketch-comedy series to the FOX network. Stiller hired him as the show's executive producer and writer, though Apatow had virtually no television experience. "We were completely winging it, " Apatow recalled in an interview with David Handel-man for the New York Times some years later. "I would sit in my office and read books on how to have a staff." The Ben Stiller Show lasted just 13 episodes before FOX pulled the plug, but Apatow and his writing team shared an Emmy Award for their work. Around this same time, he left the stand-up circuit for good, realizing he had better luck writing material for others.
Apatow went on to serve as a writer and consulting producer for Shandling's highly acclaimed HBO series, The Larry Sanders Show. His work there netted him four Emmy nominations with the other writers, but Apatow had decided to branch out into film by then. He was an associate producer for the 1992 Mike Binder movie, Crossing the Bridge , and served as executive producer for the 1995 comedy about overweight youngsters at a sadistic weight-loss camp, Heavyweights. A year later, he and Saturday Night Live star Colin Quinn wrote the sports caper Celtic Pride , for which Apatow also served as executive producer.
Apatow spent the rest of the 1990s switching back and forth between writing for films and the occasional television job. He was involved, either as a producer or script doctor, on movies that served as vehicles for both Carrey and Sandler, including Happy Gilmore, The Cable Guy , and The Wedding Singer. He also wrote and served as consulting producer for The Critic , the animated FOX series that featured the voice of Jon Lovitz. Apatow was also still working with The Larry Sanders Show , and served as co-executive producer in its final 1997-98 season. His next project teamed him with Paul Feig, who had been part of the L.A. comedy circuit in the late 1980s. Feig wanted to mine his late 1970s Midwest suburban background for an hour-long comedy-drama, and NBC agreed to a deal with Apatow serving as the executive producer.
Freaks and Geeks debuted in September of 1999 and starred a number of unknown teen actors. The series revolved around Lindsay (Linda Cardellini), a good student and "mathlete" who finds herself drawn to a less-ambitious group of high-school pals. Subplots revolved around the exploits of Lindsay's younger brother, Sam, and his moderately geeky friends. Critics loved Freaks and Geeks , with Entertainment Weekly 's Ken Tucker calling it "one of the most fully realized pieces of comic entertainment in any medium of the past few years."
Apatow's show was hampered by the network's lack of faith in it, however, which started when NBC decided to make it part of its Saturday-night lineup. "They always tell you that's a good time slot, " Apatow joked with Mediaweek writer Alan James Frutkin. "You don't have to do well because they don't expect anyone to do well. And then you don't do well, and they're very upset." After an intermittent fall run—preempted by major-league baseball games and pulled off for the November sweeps— NBC moved Freaks and Geeks to a Monday-night prime-time slot at the beginning of 2000. Then they cancelled it altogether. A cable outlet, Fox Family, picked it up for re-broadcast later that year, and the 18-episode run posted impressive ratings. The show went on to accumulate a devoted cult following in subsequent reruns on the ABC Family cable network.
Freaks and Geeks was also hamstrung by comparisons with a lighter-hearted series about teens also set during that era, That '70s Show. Tucker compared the two in an Entertainment Weekly article in 2001, and noted the surge in popularity of the latter show, thanks in part to its quickly paced sitcom wisecracks and rising star, Ashton Kutcher. "I wish Apatow and his crew, " he concluded, "could somehow rescue the '70s cast and bring them over to a series that's fresh and unafraid to take its characters seriously."
By then, Apatow was working on a new project, Undeclared , which had a brief one-season run on FOX before it, too, was axed. The show was set in the present day, at the fictional University of North Eastern California, and centered around incoming freshman Steven (Jay Baruchel), and his new dormitory-mates. Apatow described its concept to Dan Snierson in Entertainment Weekly as "a way to find out what happened to the geeks after high school, because the freaks aren't going to get into college." Once again, critics gave the series high marks, with New York Times writer Caryn James finding it "wonderfully cast and acted, with a tone of larger-than-life realism. Its humor comes from the instantly believable characters who try to behave like grownups but have a complete lack of social assurance." This time, Apatow's creation even enjoyed a solid time slot—following That '70s Show and just before the first season of 24 —but FOX canned the show after ordering 22 episodes.
Apatow spent some of 2002 and 2003 on two other series that never made it onto a network. In 2004, the long-lamented Freaks and Geeks was released on DVD, thanks in part to an online petition submitted by the show's dedicated fan base. Writing in Variety , Josef Adalian gave the six-disc set unstinting praise, claiming it could "serve as a more than sufficient time capsule of a show that demonstrated just how good network TV can get when producers with passion are allowed to execute their vision."
Returning once more to the film industry, Apatow scored a minor hit when he served as producer for Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy , the 2004 Will Ferrell comedy. Some of its supporting players were cast in Apatow's next project, The 40-Year-Old Virgin , which also marked his big-screen directorial debut. He wrote this script about a nebbish, inexperienced guy heading into middle age along with Daily Show veteran Steve Carell, who also played the lead. The movie was part of a new trend toward R-rated comedies, including The Wedding Crashers , and pulled in strong box-office numbers after its August of 2005 release. It was a hit with critics, too. Writing in Entertainment Weekly , Rottenberg called it "a blissfully refreshing alternative to typical studio summer fare." Rolling Stone 's Peter Travers commended Apatow's first run as a director in a similarly laudatory review. "What he doesn't yet grasp about framing a scene he makes up for with his intuitive grasp of the architecture of a joke, " Travers noted, and predicted "Apatow has a big future making movie comedies[b]ecause he knows that laughs fly higher and wilder when the characters keep it real."
Later that year another film that Apatow had co-written, Fun with Dick and Jane , appeared in theaters. This Jim Carrey-Tea Leoni comedy was a re-make of 1977 classic that starred George Segal and Jane Fonda as a middle-class couple who resort to a life of crime. His next project was Knocked Up , tentatively scheduled for a 2007 release, and he would once more direct his own script. Again, he cast familiar faces, including Seth Rogen, one of the "Freaks" from Freaks and Geeks whom Apatow had also cast in Undeclared and The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
Another star of Knocked Up was Leslie Mann, Apatow's wife, whom he met on the set of The Cable Guy back in 1996. Mann played the drunk date in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. She and Apatow have two daughters, and she was briefly mentioned in a notorious e-mail exchange that made the rounds in Hollywood before being reprinted in its entirety in the March 2002 issue of Harper's. The correspondence was between Apatow and Mark Brazill, creator of That '70s Show , and initially began over a guest appearance by one of the latter show's stars, Topher Grace, on Undeclared. It quickly devolved into an argument over a comedy-series pilot Brazill had been discussing ten years earlier with MTV about a hapless rock band, which he accused Apatow of stealing for The Ben Stiller Show in the e-mails. "Nobody has ever goofed on rock bands, not Spinal Tap or The Rutles or 800 Saturday Night Live sketches, " Apatow responded with characteristic dry wit in one of the messages. "I should have told everyone on the show, no rock band sketches, that's Brazill's area."
The e-mail exchanges provided an unusual behind-the-scenes glimpse into the insular world of Hollywood writers, many of whom, like Apatow and his cohorts, had all known one another at varying stages of their career struggle. Apatow himself summed up the sometimes-brutal nature of the entertainment industry from a writer's perspective in the interview with Frutkin for Mediaweek. "In a lot of ways, you're like a runway model, " he reflected. "You have a window of success, but you don't know when that window closes."
Entertainment Weekly , September 21, 2001, p. 48, p. 67; August 5, 2005, p. 29; August 26, 2005, pp. 30-33.
Film Journal International , August 2004, p. 55.
Harper's , March 2002, p. 23.
Mediaweek , September 3, 2001, p. 19.
New York Times , December 28, 1997; September 25, 2001, p. E8.
Rolling Stone , August 25, 2005, p. 111.
Variety , September 20, 1999, p. 43; August 23, 2004, p. 31.
— Carol Brennan