- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 25, 2016

The first time writer/director Judd Apatow became aware of his surname being used to describe a new breed of comedy, which he read in The New Yorker, he claimed that it wasn’t “really about me” but rather was his continuation of the work of such forebears as Garry Schandling and James L. Brooks.

“I think of it as comedy that cares about the emotional life of characters,” Mr. Apatow told The Washington Times. “It’s just something that I’m doing my variation on.”

The filmmaker known for “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,” “Trainwreck” and producing and writing many others will be appearing in a stand-up comedy showcase alongside pals Michael Che and Pete Holmes at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theatre Saturday evening. The event will serve both as entertainment for District audiences as well as a fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

“It’s a fun comedy program, and it’s a ridiculous honor to get to perform at the Kennedy Center,” Mr. Apatow said, adding that his friend Schandling’s brother, Barry, died of the disease when Schandling was just a boy.

Mr. Apatow, a native of Syosset, New York, came to Hollywood as a teenager to follow in the footsteps of heroes like Schandling and Steve Martin. He started out as a producer on such shows as “The Critic” and “The Ben Stiller Show” before moving on to work with Schandling on the seminal “The Larry Sanders Show.” All the while he was churning out scripts and refining his comic touch. He once roomed with Adam Sandler, who would later star in Mr. Apatow’s “Funny People” in 2009.

Soon he was on the inside, talking shop with those whose output he grew up admiring. Mr. Apatow even wrote a book called “Sick in the Head,” in which he recorded conversations with Mel Brooks, Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Stewart, Harold Ramis and Lena Dunham.

Miss Dunham is the star and creator of “Girls,” the raunchy HBO show about contemporary dating that freely traffics in graphic nudity and sex. Mr. Apatow has written several episodes of the show himself.

“All of our daughters are those characters whether we like it or not,” Mr. Apatow said when asked if he worries his own children might become like the characters on the show. “The theory [is] that they don’t know who they are; they’re flailing about.

“I don’t think [my daughters] are avoiding that, I just don’t want to hear about it,” he said of the often-difficult transitions of adolescence. “Sometimes your kids would like to tell you what happened in detail,, and you have to remind them, I don’t want to know.”

With perhaps too-knowing timbre, he added, “It’s important to keep secrets from your parents.”

Mr. Apatow began a trend in his films with comedies that clock in at over two hours. Whereas the director’s cut of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” found even more humor with deleted scenes restored, critics complained that “Knocked Up” and “Funny People” dragged with their two-hour-plus theatrical run times.

“My favorite movies like ‘Terms of Endearment’ [are over two hours], and I thought people watch seven episodes of TV shows at a time, so people are basically watching what is like a long movie at home all the time,” Mr. Apatow said of his decision to go long. “I generally just need like seven more minutes to say what I gotta say.”

“The 40-Year-Old Virgin” was a runaway success in 2005. Mr. Apatow developed the script with his friend and fellow comedian Steve Carrel, who was then best known as a correspondent on “The Daily Show.” The film would rocket both men into stardom.

Mr. Apatow said the first test screenings were encouraging, especially during the scene where Mr. Carrel has his chest waxed, but even then he had no idea it would be a hit.

“I didn’t really know much about movies, so I guess I just thought, I guess this means somebody will go,” he said. “And then when I made more movies, I realized how rare that is, the type of connection with a character.”

As Mr. Apatow’s star rose and his stock company of actors — including Mr. Carrel and Seth Rogen—became comedy’s go-to players, he was able to have more and more of his own screenplays produced, including the mock rockumentary “Walk Hard” and “Pineapple Express,” the latter of which had a joke sequel in Mr. Rogen’s own film, “This Is the End.”

“I haven’t been able to succeed in my attempts to make that happen,” Mr. Apatow said of the potential real-life sequel to the stoner comedy that starred Mr. Rogen and James Franco. “The window may have closed, but I always want more from characters I like.”

He would also like to revisit Dewey Cox, the fictional hero of “Walk Hard,” played by John C. Reilly.

“Some characters only get better as the actor gets older, so we won’t need the age makeup in 20 years,” he said of revisiting the dimwitted musician with Mr. Reilly at some point.

So entrenched has Apatowian comedy become in the culture that the chain restaurant Chipotle even tapped him to pen a quote that would appear on the burrito joint’s takeout bags. After thinking hard about what wisdom to impart, his pearl of knowledge appears on the bag as such: “Don’t be a jerk. Try to love everyone. Give more than you take. And do it despite the fact that you only really like about seven out of 500 people.”

“It’s very good to be on bags in restaurants. It’s affected more people than anything I’ve done,” he said with a flat tone that betrays neither self-knowledge or irony. “If only the world listened to my quotes.”

Mr. Apatow broke from form last year when he directed “Trainwreck,” a script he did not himself write. Written by TV sensation Amy Schumer, the film about a commitment-phobic New Yorker (Miss Schumer) who may have met her romantic match grossed over $100 million.

While it was not his own pen charting the movie’s course, Mr. Apatow said the process of realizing the film with Miss Schumer’s script was in fact the same as his own.

“I just encouraged her to write from a very personal place, but if it was truthful, it wouldn’t be hard to make it funny,” he said. “It was more important to get the emotional arc of that story. She was brave enough to do that, and I think that’s why it resonated with people.”

While in the nation’s capital for the benefit show Saturday, Mr. Apatow plans to see the Newseum with his family — his wife, actress Leslie Mann, has appeared in most of his films, as have his two daughters, Maude and Iris — as well as take in one of the Smithsonian museums and perhaps dine at Founding Farmers.

“I won’t use time effectively. I won’t see what I want to see,” he said with typical self-deprecation.

Judd Apatow & Friends will be at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater Saturday at 7 p.m. Tickets are $49 to $99 by going to Kennedy-Center.org.   

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