Judd Apatow on his George Carlin documentary

Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

If only Judd Apatow had released a new feature this year (the bubble) and brought out a new book (sick in the head), then, as they say at the Passover Seder, dayenu — it would have been more than enough. But before the pandemic, the writer, director and man of a slew of other titles had already started work on another project, which is now seeing the light of day. The publication of the documentation George Carlin’s American Dream Couldn’t be more timely given the number of conversations surrounding the state of stand-up comedy in America. From discussions about freedom of speech to comedians being attacked on stage, it’s hard to figure out where Carlin would fit into today’s comedy landscape or how he would approach it.

Unlike his last document about a comedian from 2018 The Zen Journals of Garry Shandling, Apatow — a person who knows the comedy world from just about every possible dot — lets Carlin’s words and stand-up bits do most of the talking. While there are appearances from modern-day comedians such as W. Kamau Bell and Jon Stewart, as well as Carlin’s daughter Kelly, who help fill in some gaps, Apatow mostly lets the late comedian’s work and exploits tell the story. He simply put the pieces in place to offer a compelling, complete picture of a person whose legacy can be both misunderstood and misrepresented.

Apatow discussed what drew him to this legacy on a rainy day in his native New York City; he was in a good mood because he’d made it to a Mets game the day before.

Certain filmmakers seem intent on documenting the culture they love and trying to keep it alive. I think of Scorsese with his Film Foundation or Truffaut interviewing Hitchcock. You’ve been interviewing comedians for years and lately doing these documentaries – which I know doesn’t pay your bills, but you still do. Where does your need for documentation come from?
You know, I’m not sure because I’ve always been interested in how things are made and who the people who made them were. When I was in sixth grade, I wrote this 30-page report about the Marx Brothers, but it wasn’t a school assignment. I only did it for me. Looking back, that seems like a really strange thing for a young person. I paid my friend to write it because he had better handwriting than me. [Laughs.]

I’m a bit of a hoarder. I like organizing all the material and finding a way to tell someone’s life story. It saddens me to think that these experiences and performances will disappear into the digital black hole. I’m sure I’m trying to figure out how to behave in the world on many levels by examining people’s work – but more importantly their life choices and development.

Something that caught my eye was Carlin talking about how acid has changed the way he does comedy. It made me think of your Garry Shandling Doc because so much is about Shandling’s work on himself and about meditation – and meditation and psychedelics are similar in that they’re both about expanding consciousness. How else are Shandling and Carlin similar?
Both seem to exist in their own worlds. They both belonged to the comedian tribe, but went their own way. You haven’t seen George at the clubs; he didn’t hang around. He was very nice to comedians, but he wasn’t part of the social world of it. Garry was someone who created his own shows and invented a career that not many people had up to that point. Both had overbearing mother figures that influenced how they navigated the world. They liked being alone, but George loved to be out and about. And coming from a house where his mother divorced her husband because he beat up Carlin’s brother (when his brother was between 2 and 6 years old) – I’m sure it changes how you see reality if You hide from the beginning of your life. Garry lost his brother to cystic fibrosis. So it certainly makes very sensitive, thoughtful people who look at the world with suspicion.

They were definitely critical thinkers, and towards the end of their lives they both got to a point where they thought we were all connected in some way. They weren’t classically religious. They weren’t people who believed in heaven and hell. They were people who believed we were all in this together.

I was glad to see you made room to talk about Carlin’s fart jokes.
The only aspect of his career that I probably not spending enough time with it was his goofy, dirty, childish stuff. He spent an enormous amount of time farting and booging and shitting his pants, and often that was the first half of his set. Then in the second part he had more thoughtful political and philosophical ideas. So he had an approach to please an audience and do a lot of different styles of comedy in one set. That’s the really amazing thing about him: he managed to do high comedy and low comedy.

They spend some time in the documentary exploring the idea of ​​stand-up as a modern philosopher with Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld getting involved. How do you feel about the idea of ​​approaching comedians?
When I made my book sick in the headI interviewed Samantha Bee and she said she doesn’t think her show has changed anyone’s mind, but it’s a way to tell people they’re not crazy — and show they’re understood . I’ve always believed that it could help young people between the ages of 10 and 25 who see a lot of the current political comics to develop their philosophies straight away. You probably won’t suddenly think that women should have the right to vote when you’re 50 years old. I wish people would have listened to George Carlin in 1970 when he warned us about what was happening to our environment.

Are there comedians carrying on his legacy?
There are people who do excellent work. Trevor Noah couldn’t have done better at the Correspondents’ Dinner. What Seth Meyers is doing is truly remarkable. John Oliver. Bill Maher. Samantha Bee. Jimmy Kimmel. But people don’t watch TV the same way, so it’s not like 10 million people watch it. It’s not like the whole world was watching Johnny Carson, and when he seemed to have a particular opinion on an issue, people were touched. I wish more people would listen because comedians find a way to express a lot of concerns we all have about the direction of the country and how corrupt so much in our government and political life has become.

It feels like Carlin has the same problem as George Orwell when it comes to people trying to claim his legacy. People he wouldn’t agree with at all seem to misinterpret his work.
His positions on most important issues are clear. He was certainly in favor of gun control and women’s suffrage. He was very concerned about the behavior of the military and our interventions around the world. He thought there was something immoral about the drug wars.

Sometimes the right wing tries to claim him because they distrusted the government so much. He talked a lot about how everything was a scam. But his main view was that we should all take care of each other. He felt the earth was a great gift – and the opportunity that we have together here on this planet was something that people didn’t handle properly. He seemed disturbed by the people’s behavior.

With everything from free speech talks to Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle being attacked on stage, what do you think Carlin would do with that moment in stand-up comedy?
I think he would love what people are doing. There are so many stand-up events, and comedians sell a lot of tickets at huge venues and challenge themselves. He was always in favor of hitting, not hitting, but he also believed that comedians were allowed to make mistakes. He said, “My job is to find the line, guide you across it, and make you glad you did.”

You were known to call a lot of comedians as a kid. have you ever called him
I interviewed him once for Canadian TV when I was 21, but that was the only interview I couldn’t find.

Oh wow!
This really depressed me, although I’m sure I did a terrible job. [Laughs.] And the other interviews I found were much better. It’s lost to history.

If he were alive today and you interviewed him, what would be the first question you would ask him?
Everyone is discussing whether he’s gone too dark. I always thought his hope was that seeing him in that comedic attitude of someone cheering on the destruction of people and humanity was a funny way of urging people towards the light. He said if you scrape the cynic you find a disappointed idealist, so I’ve always taken his darkest material. He was definitely disappointed that people didn’t take better care of each other and the planet, and by being so over the top in his anger, he challenged people to live differently. So I would probably ask him if I was right or wrong about that.

Totally off topic: There are legions of people who say, “I wish freaks and geeks had a different season” or “I want super bath 2,“But is there one thing that people are asking you for more than any other project – regardless of whether it could happen?
I am often asked about the production this is 50. This movie seems to have reached a much larger audience because everyone who turns 40 sees it. Hopefully we’ll get the chance. The only problem is that Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd don’t look like they’ve aged. It could look like this This is 41and we may need to reverseIrishman Technology to make them look older.

I’m all for it. You were a writer then The critic, do you think we could get that back? I have a feeling that today would be great.
I’m following an Instagram account that just posted some clips The critic, which I’m so excited about because I found this show so funny. The first jobs I got on scripted shows were The Larry Sanders Show and The critic. I did half a week at every show in 1993 and 1994. I learned so much from Mike Reiss, Al Jean and James L. Brooks on how they approached this show. The other days I was with Garry – learning his way of writing comedy. That was really the most formative year of my career. There was nothing funnier than watching Jon Lovitz give a table read.

Anything else?
the bubble still airs on Netflix. It will be there for the rest of people’s lives.

This interview has been edited and abridged.

https://www.vulture.com/2022/05/judd-apatow-george-carlin-documentary-interview.html Judd Apatow on his George Carlin documentary

Lindsay Lowe

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