For somebody who is now one of the most powerful people in the comedy world, it is hard to ever imagine Judd Apatow getting rejected.
But it is possible that one very painful rejection early on in his career is the reason he is so great today. During a conversation with Ira Glass at 92nd Street Y to promote his new book “Sick in the Head,” Apatow told a story about one rejection he never forgets.
Back in the 1980s, Apatow and his roommate Adam Sandler were scraping by in the L.A. comedy scene. After Apatow stopped doing stand-up, he began auditioning for various roles.
One of them was a TV series that never came to fruition created by “Muppets” mastermind Jim Henson.
“When I stopped doing stand-up, one of the things that made me doubt myself was when I was like 22 years old, Adam Sandler and myself auditioned for Jim Henson to host this show where we would drive across the country with video cameras. And I didn’t get it. Adam didn’t get it either.” Apatow told Ira Glass.
It wasn’t the rejection that got him; it was how he was rejected.
“And the feedback I got [from the casting director] was, ‘Jim Henson likes your ideas but he wants to buy them from you…but he doesn’t want you in the show because he thinks that you lack warmth.’ That’s like the meanest thing a person could say!” Apatow said.
The real pain was hearing this from a childhood hero.
“It’s like Mr. Rogers telling you to get f—ed. I mean…he taught me how to read.” Apatow lamented. ” It’s like Kermit the Frog telling you that you don’t need love.”
In recent years, Apatow has started to doubt whether Jim Henson actually said that. Now that he has had to see people audition and reject them, he knows that you’re supposed to be nice to the person you’re rejecting.
“I guess he could have said it to the casting director. But I don’t think he gave instruction to tell me.” Apatow said. “I audition people all the time but I never say, ‘tell them to call the agent and tell them to tell the actress she’s terrible!’ You tell everyone they’re great because you want them to have self esteem for the next job.”
Despite all the success that would follow for Apatow in both television and film, this incident still looms over his head. It “planted the idea” in his head that he lacked warmth.
A month after Apatow auditioned, Henson passed away.
“And then he died like a month later. And that f—ed me up too. Because I felt bad for him and I knew I could never ever bump into him and go, ‘Oh, I like warmth!'” Apatow darkly joked to the crowd.
Apatow’s new book, “Sick in the Head,” is now available. His next film, “Trainwreck,” will be out in theatres on July 17.
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