- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2007

Judd Apatow is finally pouring his life experiences into his own movies after years of putting the words into the mouths of stars like Will Ferrell and Garry Shandling for other directors.

So what do we get from the writer-director’s long-gestated navel gazing? “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and, now, “Knocked Up.”

Talk about your arrested developments.

It may not be pretty, but it’s good business for Mr. Apatow, who, after slumping commercially with the critically adored television shows “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared,” is now a major player in comedy circles.

“I’m trying to continue to hone what my point of view is … and allow myself to believe my point of view is interesting,” says Mr. Apatow, who has produced hits like “Talladega Nights” and “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” in recent years and has the buzz-heavy “Superbad” coming later this summer.

For “Knocked Up,” Mr. Apatow grows up, but only a little.

“I wanted to do something personal and try to go a little deeper this time into my experiences,” the father of two says.

In “Knocked Up,” Seth Rogen stars as a regular Joe who impregnates a beautiful TV correspondent (Katherine Heigl) during a drunken one-night stand. Now, with both prepared to raise the child, comes the difficult part — finding if there’s any real love between the two.

The film is even bawdier than “Virgin,” with enough blue material to make Redd Foxx clutch his chest. But as with “Virgin,” there’s a sweetness behind the pranks, and a genuine attempt to understand how a man-child can become an adult under the right circumstances.

It’s no coincidence that the first two features Mr. Apatow has directed teeter between coarse humor and hugs.

He points to 1983’s “Terms of Endearment” and 1982’s “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” as his template, movies where the comedy and drama intertwined without giving viewers whiplash.

“That’s the bar I’m trying to reach,” he says.

At a time when salacious entertainment routinely gets called on the carpet by religious and conservative groups, Mr. Apatow says his films remain above the fray.

“Our heart is in the right place in these films,” he says. “We feel good about the ethics of the movies. You can interpret them as being pretty conservative, even though they’re dirty and frank.”

In “Knocked Up,” the couple in question never considers aborting the baby, even though neither is technically prepared to be a parent.

In the film, the ultrasound seals the deal.

“Once you see a heartbeat, it’s difficult to make a decision to stop that,” says Mr. Apatow, who nonetheless says he is pro-choice. “It’s a story about two people trying hard to do the right thing for the baby and each other. It’s sad that that seems like a strong, different choice in this day and age.”

Mr. Apatow, who recalled on Sirius Satellite’s Howard Stern Show recently that as a young teen he once stalked Steve Martin for an autograph, began his comedy career doing stand-up.

“It was the only interest I had,” he says. “I didn’t want to direct and write movies.”

Joke writing paid the rent, both for himself and other comics. The process gave him some insight into his own path.

“I realized I wasn’t as funny as any of them as a stand-up,” he says. “Maybe I should be a writer instead.”

He went on to write and produce the short-lived but critically praised “Ben Stiller Show” and contribute to “The Larry Sanders Show” before getting a crack at his own television projects.

A bit of Mr. Shandling remains with Mr. Apatow. The comic writer sometimes imagined he was still writing for “Sanders” while working on scripts for his television shows. It helped keep the material grounded in character, not artifice, he says.

“It would always guide me,” he says, adding Mr. Shandling was able to get to the core of people on the show.

He’s proud that the approach is finally paying dividends, even though projects like “Freaks and Geeks” didn’t last long.

“The lure of staying on the air is never as strong as my fear of humiliation for making garbage,” he says.

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