Judd Apatow, as a writer, a producer, and a director, has become something of a brand name within the realm of the studio comedy. Seemingly, and going on 20 plus years in the business, Apatow can do no wrong, at least when it comes to making sure that the funniest, most intelligent, unique voices in comedy get their time to shine under the spotlight afforded by his acumen for high production values in the field of comedy writing. While it might be easy to poke holes in some of his lesser works, with Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and Drillbit Taylor standing as two of the biggest embarrassments in commercial entertainment for all parties involved, such a denigration of his professional character would be entirely unfair and shortsighted. Love him or hate him, Judd Apatow has made it a point over the course of his career as a producer, writer, and director in Hollywood to step back and let others with the chops to carry a performance take the microphone–his latent love for stand-up comedy the fuel that has kept him relevant going on into the twenty-first century.
Where some of Apatow’s contemporaries have seen fit to slink into the background of general ubiquity and rhetorical redundancy, Apatow has never ceased to hone his innate sense for directing other comedians’ voices through mediums by which they appear the most articulate. And if you’ve ever seen one of Apatow’s early appearances as a stand-up comic on one of HBO’s young comedians specials in the 1980s, then you know that such a talent is rooted in an understanding of what doesn’t work in live comedy. In films like The 40-Year-Old Virigin, Apatow works with co-writer and actor Steve Carell in order to bring out Carell’s innate likability in a role that could have easily been applied too broadly and, in effect, would have become perverse. Instead, Apatow was able to see Carell’s intrinsic ability to emote and empathize, something that had largely been overshadowed by the former Daily Show correspondent’s then contemporaneous role on the American version of The Office. Where the majority of Americans saw Carell as an unsympathetic, buffoon and lazy misogynist, Apatow worked with the rising lead performer, helping launch a career that has included such highlights as the Nat Faxon and Jim Rash penned independent dramedy The Way Way Back, in addition to a haunting turn in Oscar contender Foxcatcher.
What’s more, Apatow has never been shy about lending a helping hand to some of his favorite collaborators and comic muses, often paving the way for original feature releases for more than a couple of the stars of his cult-classic NBC teen comedy Freaks and Geeks. With actors like Seth Rogen and Jason Segel, who might otherwise appear detached and self-interested, Apatow featured them as premiere talents within the studio comedy format; he helped bolster their personal careers in producing many of their independently developed ideas into feature films, most notably in Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, respectively. If it weren’t for Apatow, Rogen would still be fulfilling the role of the stoner roommate or anonymous best friend in such fare as the likes of You, Me and Dupree, and Segel would probably have never have had the courage or the opportunity to produce such passion projects as his revitalization of The Muppets franchise. Bottom line, Apatow is a tastemaker within the realm of popular and commercial comedy, a role that has its roots in Freaks and Geeks at the beginning of the twenty-first century and has traced its way through and up to the present.
With Judd Apatow’s latest feature film set for theatrical release this Friday, July 17, 2015, it bears repeating just how invaluable, smart, and capable he has become as a distributor of mainstream comedy fare. It would be easy to make fun of him for his crass, sophomoric schtick, or his cinematic lack of nuance and substantial character development, but that would be missing this particular Hollywoodian’s greatest strength. Apatow isn’t great because of who he is. He’s great because of who he knows, and tells you about through the process of making films with the funniest people currently working in comedy. In pairing up with the shooting star that is Amy Schumer for Trainwreck (which also supports a script written by its lead actor), it shows that Apatow clearly has an understanding of how to make friends and influence people within the business of studio filmmaking. Apatow is both eligible and deserving of Cinema Sainthood.
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